CNET's best espresso machine

CNET's best espresso machine ...

Gone are the days when you had to pay a fortune to get delectable, authentic espressos, lattes, and other specialty espresso beverages. Espresso machines are now more popular than ever as kitchen appliances, and commercial espresso machines are available for all tastes and budgets.

Though challenging, getting the perfect espresso machine can be a challenge. Espresso is one of those beverages that can go oh-so-right or oh-so-wrong. If you do not do your homework, you might end up with an awful espresso maker that serves terrible coffee.

The ideal espresso machine for you will be the one that best accommodates your needs without exceeding your coffee budget. For example, look for features like a dual portafilter basket for double-shot drinks or a milk frother and steam wand for acappuccino or latte.

When it comes to espresso machines, you should expect to pay at least $500 for a legitimate cafe-caliber espresso (or just an espresso shot), so make sure you know how much you'll be saving at the specialty coffee shop.

A good espresso coffee is both powerful and flavorful, making it the ideal test for homebrewers.

If you're willing to pay $100 for a poor espresso, you can also get a lower priced one. I encourage you not to invest in an espresso maker that's less expensive, especially if you're planning to make espresso regularly.

Espresso brewers (in the $30 to $50 price range) typically lack motorized pumps and are powered by steam pressure only. This coffee isn't moka pot; it will not taste as good as the espresso you've previously enjoyed at your local coffee shop or cafe.

I spent over 80 hours testing 10 commercial espresso machines before deciding on the ones that make espresso from a coffee pod or capsule. (After all, is espresso from an espresso pod really espresso?) I also reviewed three other machines I reviewed previously. Basically, I made and sampled scores of espresso shots, double shots, cappuccinos, and pitchers of steamed milk and milk froth.

Based on my experience, these are the three Id choose as the best home espresso machines. While they all perform well and have all of the necessary equipment you need, including a steam milk frother, a robust water reservoir, and a easy-to-clean stainless steel base, the major difference between them is the price.

I limited my selection of espresso machines to automatic and semiautomatic. Krups, Philips, Miele, and others are all included. Those machines are a breed apart, costing many times more ($2,000 to $3,000). We can also suggest products for excellent iced coffee and even cold brew.

This best espresso machine list is updated periodically and youll find my testing methodology below. Still with me? Keep going delicious espresso will soon be yours!

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Breville Barista Express is an exceptional espresso machine with excellent performance, features, and price. It also produces excellent espresso beans and smart technology that doses grounds directly into the portafilter basket, plus its robust frother steams milk well and makes thick foam.

The control panel may be a bit intimidating at first, but once you master the basics, you'll be rewarded with a delectable espresso, latte, or other freshly ground coffee beverage of choice. Breville includes premium metal tools, such as a dose trimmer and tamper.

I will warn you that this machine isn't that big. If counter space is a concern in your kitchen, you may want to look into the next item on the list instead.

Read our Breville Barista Express review.

Brian Bennett/CNET

The Breville Bambino Plus is the ideal companion for a novice barista who wants to try great espresso at home but is hesitant to get the coffee ground down and espresso-making techniques down. I liked how easy it is to froth milk with the Bambino. Just insert the steam wand into the Bambinos stainless-steel milk pitcher (included) and press one button. In less than a minute, youll have expertly steamed milk foam ready for lattes and

The Cuisinart EM-100 has a lot going for it when it comes to making an espresso, cappuccino, or latte. It also has a long stainless steel frother for steaming milk, and a built-in cup warmer heating element, both for a third of the price of the Breville.

Espresso machines: how do we test them?

My home espresso machines' evaluation process is similar to that used for standard drip coffee makers: first, I handwash and dry all removable components and accessories. For most espresso items, that includes the filter basket, metal portafilter inserts, the water tank, and so on, then I start one brewing cycle with just hot water to remove any remaining material from the manufacturing.

The majority of automatic espresso machines, except for the fancy super-automatic models, lack a coffee grinder. I prefer to test with freshly ground coffee, not preground coffee. Thats because it produces a coffee bean grind that is fine. The second factor is that both are critical for a successful espresso brewing process.

I start with the suggested technique outlined in a given machines' product manual. Usually that includes the quantity of coffee grounds expected per shot, as well as any guidelines concerning the coarseness level. Likewise, I follow tamping directions (light, medium, or hard tamp) if the manual provides them.

When I can, I make double espresso shots for all of my test runs. I record the weight of the grounds I use and the quantity of espresso I use for each shot I take. This information, along with readings from a portable refractometer, allows me to compute two important percentages: total dissolved solids and extraction percentage.

The ideal espresso extraction percentage for espresso is between 18% and 22%, which gives you a balanced cup, provided you achieve an even and effective extraction of coffee compounds from your grounds (both flavor and caffeine).

Not many home espresso machines can produce high-quality espressos. This one was taken from the Breville Barista Express.

If you overextort, you run the risk of leaking out unpleasant flavors (bitterness) after the good. On the opposite end of the scale, underextracted brews tend to have undeveloped flavors. These shots will taste sour, weak, and watery.

Barista quality espresso should be concentrated, not a cup of drip coffee. While excellent drip typically has a TDS percentage of 1.3 or 1.4%, great espresso has a much higher percentage. For example, the Breville Barista Express produced shots with TDS percentages as high as 12.4%.

The espresso I brewed was balanced, with an extract of 18.6%. The test coffee beans I use are the same varieties I use for standard coffee makers Costco Kirkland Colombian. It's a medium dark roast suitable for espresso as well.

Many espresso machines have steaming wands for frothing milk. The Breville Bambino makes steaming milk a breeze.

Lastly, I test my hand at milk frothing with each coffee machine equipped with a steam wand. I record the entire process with the steam wand, whether it's a breeze, a tricky chore, or somewhere in between.

Steamed milk is also possible to make cafe-style espresso drinks, such as lattes and cappuccinos.

We tested other espresso machines.

FAQs about espresso machines

Is it possible to make espresso without a machine?

No, in short. What you can do is make coffee beverages that match. For example, moka pots brew coffee under pressure thats very high. Likewise, you use an aeropress brewer to make strong espresso-like joe.

What do I need to do to clean an espresso machine?

Espresso machines require regular cleaning in order to maintain their optimal functioning. In fact, espresso machines can be particularly susceptible to maintenance neglect. Some espresso machines include machines for steaming milk and grinding beans. Each subsystem requires specific steps to keep them clean and clear.

The portafilter, the main brewing chamber, should be hand-washed with soap and hot water daily. And to make the task easier, go through a water-only brewing cycle before and after each espresso shot you pull (brew). Youll likely have to clean the water shower screen weekly too.

What other beverages can I create with an espresso machine?

If your espresso machine can also steam milk, the possibilities are endless. There are many traditional Italian beverages such as cappuccinos and lattes. The flat white is an Australian variation. You can also enjoy these hot or over ice as well.

More coffee and tea suggestions for coffee and tea lovers

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