December 1, 2023

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The Best Espresso Machines Will Make You Want to Break Up With Your Barista

The Best Espresso Machines Will Make You Want to Break Up With Your Barista

If you’re researching the best espresso machines, chances are you’ve ended up diving down a Reddit rabbit hole. Too many people with way too much time (who are probably wired on caffeine) will talk your ear off as to why one machine is better and another is absolute trash. And the online discourse makes perfect sense. The market is fraught with enough competition—not to mention a whole lot of java jargon—to turn your uncaffeinated brain into mush. Weeding out the best espresso machines out of the lot is something we would never wish upon our worst enemies because, well, we did exactly that and it is a journey. We unboxed, tamped, steamed, and did shots like it was our job, because, well, it was our job to help you find the best espresso machine for your needs.

There are many routes to making great espresso, whether you want a beast of a dual boiler machine or a tiny Moka pot for one, but the good news is that we’ve got the road map right here for you. Though we dabbled in some pretty bad coffee along the way, we did end up with some tasty espressos, cortados, lattes, and Americanos. Whether your goal is to save yourself from hemorrhaging money at cafes or to learn how to serve up sublime cappuccinos at home like a barista, there’s something for you. With a little help from our friends—i.e. actual coffee experts—to guide our hand, we found the best espresso machines on the market, and just what the hell you need to pull the shot of your dreams.

The Best Espresso Machines, at a Glance

Those caffeine jitters won’t get started on their own. Find our top espresso machine picks right here and what kind of model is suited for you.

  • The Best Espresso Machine, Overall: Breville Bambino Plus, $500

  • The Best Affordable Espresso Machine: Gaggia Classic Pro, $449

  • The Best Upgrade Espresso Machine: Diletta Mio, $1,300

  • The Best All-in-One Espresso Machine: De’Longhi La Specialista, $900

  • The Best Automated Espresso Machine: Breville Barista Express Impress, $900

  • The Coolest Looking Espresso Machine: AnZa, $1,400

  • The Best High-End Espresso Machine: La Marzocco Linea Mini, $5,900

  • The Super Budget “Espresso” Option: Bialetti Moka Pot, $30

How to Shop for an Espresso Machine

Andrea Allen, founder of Onyx Coffee Lab, says the first thing you should consider is how you’re going use it and what kind of coffee drinker you are. “If you’re gonna make one or two drinks in the morning, something more automatic is great,” Allen suggests. From there, consider whether you’re someone who really wants to dive deep into the espresso making process and how much control you want over the process. If so, you probably want a machine that’s more manual and hands-on. And if you’re planning on making milk-based espresso drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites (versus a more basic espresso or Americano), you’ll probably want some steamer attachments that can froth your milk for you.

Another crucial point to consider is how many people will be using the espresso machine (or how many people will want coffee but will ask you to pull the shots). If you live with a partner or roommates who drink coffee at the same time as you, you’ll want to consider machines that heat up quickly and maintain their temperature shot after shot. That all, ahem, boils down to the size of the boiler and how many your machine has.

Espresso Machine Terms to Know

Single boiler: Single boiler machines are more affordable, but that’s because they rely on just one boiler to heat water for espresso and milk. That means you can’t pull a shot and steam milk simultaneously and you’ll have to wait for the machine to adjust to the correct temperature whenever you switch from espresso to milk and vice versa. For some people, the time spent waiting for the machine to come to temp is worth the dollars saved. This also means that it slows down the process for everyone else in line who desperately needs caffeine.

Dual Boilers: Dual boiler machines have two boilers (duh): one dedicated for espresso and the other dedicated for the steam wand. These espresso machines can perform both tasks simultaneously and save a ton of time in the process. However, the cheapest dual boiler espresso machines start around $1,500. Because of the extra components, they also require more counter space.

Heat Exchange (HX): There is a class of espresso machines that utilize heat exchange technology to heat and swap water between the group head, where the portafilter attaches to on the machine, and the steam wand simultaneously which means you can steam your milk at the same time you’re pulling a shot.

Brew pressure: Do not be fooled by cheap machines that tout 15 or 20 bars of pressure. Most cafes these days have their machines set to nine bars of pressure. Though there are plenty of home baristas tweaking their machines in all kinds of ways, those nine bars are you need. That’s not to say that an overpowered machine can’t make good espresso—as with any brewer, you’ll get to know its quirks and figure out the best process along the way.

Temperature Control: At higher price points, some machines will come with programmable temperature controls which allows you to fine-tune your shots even further. Starting out, it’s not really a must-have. Once you get into the mid-rage machines, you’ll start to see this feature more frequently.

Ultimately, when it comes to making your own espresso at home, New York City-based coffee consultant Elliott Foos says that most people overcomplicate the process and think they need something that resembles a professional cafe setup. “If I don’t need a Ferrari at home and I’m the professional coffee consultant, you don’t either,” he says. He also recommends scoping out secondhand options on places like Facebook Marketplace and eBay to save some scratch.

You can spend as little as $100 on an espresso machine, neglecting things like Nespressos, up to $6,000 on something good enough for a professional barista. We tried picks at different price points to find eight of the best espresso machines on the market right now.

The Best Espresso Machine for Beginners: Breville Bambino Plus

Breville Bambino Plus

$500.00, Williams Sonoma

Dimensions: 7.8 x 12.5 x 12.3 inches
Built-in grinder: No
Single or dual boiler: Single boiler

Never made espresso in your life? Start here. “I’ve never had a bad shot from a Breville machine,” Crabbe says. The Bambino Plus is an absolute primo device for learning the ins and outs of espresso. It’s highly compact to preserve your counter space, handsome enough that you’ll hardly mind what space it does take up, and blessed with a bevy of features that make preparing your perfect cuppa a breeze. The Bambino Plus is also quick to warm up, offering you basic control over the temperature of the water, and features a quiet, effective, self-cleaning steaming wand, which just means it purges itself after you’re done steaming milk (so you’ll still have to wipe down the actual thing).

Folks who have never steamed milk before will also appreciate its automatic milk frother, which doesn’t work quite as well as if you were steaming it up by hand, but is still an excellent shortcut to some sick latte art. In other words: It’s packed with everything you need to master the basics and fall in love with waking up to fresh, hot espresso and espresso-based drinks without ever having to worry about how much to tip your barista.

The Best Customizable Espresso Machine: Gaggia Classic Pro

Gaggia Classic Pro

$499.00, Amazon

Dimensions: 8.0 x 9.5 x 14.2 inches
Built-in grinder: No
Single or dual boiler: Single boiler

The Gaggia Classic Pro is a widely beloved model that’s often considered the gateway option for legions of coffee drinkers. It clocks in around the same price as the Bambino Plus, but if you plan on owning the machine for a while, Gaggia’s track record for longevity will at least ensure that you don’t need too many tuneups down up the line. And since a machine in the $400 range is probably the least you’ll want to spend on a quality espresso machine, it’s a great starter model if you’re getting serious abut your espresso setup.

Part of the fun of the Classic Pro is how much room it leaves for espresso enthusiasts to tinker with the internals to get the most out of it. Third-party hardware coupled with hacks can help you fine-tune this humble machine into a powerhouse that can go toe-to-toe with machines more than double its price (that is, if you don’t mind getting under the literal hood). If the Breville Bambino Plus is akin to a Toyota Camry, the Gaggia Classic Pro is more like a fixer-upper Honda Accord with plenty of potential.

The Best Upgrade Espresso Machine: Diletta Mio

Diletta Mio

$1299.00, Seattle Coffee Gear

Dimensions: 17.0 x 15.0 x 10.8 inches
Built-in grinder: No
Single or dual boiler: Single boiler

For anyone looking for a great combination of control and ease of use, the Diletta Mio is the obvious step up from our previous picks. It’s a relative newcomer to the market from Seattle Coffee Gear, which is known for its reliably solid coffee wares and also its educational YouTube videos that walk you through helpful coffee hacks. Though you may not be paying for the honed expertise of a multi-generational espresso heritage brand or the name recognition of a brand like Breville, Diletta offers the most bang for your buck at this price point. That’s because SCG can offer its product direct to consumer, which means they really pack in a ton of great components and features while cutting out third-party retailers, saving you a ton of money in the process.

Its machines are made in Italy, in the same factory as other respected names in the business, so even if the Diletta name is fresh, the people making its machines are well-seasoned. The Diletta Mio includes higher-end functions like temperature control, an adjustable over-pressure valve, and a built-in shot timer, among other features. The heat exchange boiler system is quick to come up to temp and allows you to steam your milk at the same time as you pull shots. It’s the perfect middle ground for both advanced users and barista beginners alike.

The Best Automated Espresso Machine: Breville Barista Express Impress

Breville Barista Express Impress

$900.00, Bed Bath & Beyond

Dimensions: 12.9 x 14.9 x 16.1 inches
Built-in grinder: Yes
Single or dual boiler: Single boiler

Terrible name aside, Breville’s souped-up Barista Express Impress improves upon the brand’s existing Barista models by including an auto-tamping ability (which yields a perfect puck of coffee every time) and an intelligent dosing feature that spits out the exact amount of grounds you need—as informed by your last shot.

Much of what makes the Breville name so great comes through in this model, like its ingenious storage solutions and an easy-to-fill water reservoir (which we wish would actually remind us when it needs refilling like the Barista Pro does). Our tester argues that because this machine basically does everything for you—and makes really good drinks—it’ll probably make you want to upgrade to a better machine so that you’ll rely more on your espresso-making skills than that of a machine. Then again, some people might just want a really good latte without having to work for it, and the Barista Express Impress offers that with ease.

The Best All-in-One Espresso Machine: De’Longhi La Specialista

De’Longhi La Specialista

$900.00, Wayfair

Dimensions: 17.5 x 15.0 x 14.5 inches
Built-in grinder: Yes
Single or dual boiler: Single boiler

Maybe you’ve been making espresso on a basic machine for a minute now, and you’re ready to step things up. Or maybe you’re just looking to make a slightly bigger investment to jump straight into the espresso game with both feet. In either case, the De’Longhi La Specialista gets our vote for the single best pound-for-pound machine we tested. For starters, you can feel the build quality from the moment you flick it on—all of the buttons and knobs have a heft and pleasing tactility to them. The built-in grinder allows you to customize the grind size and dial in the dosage depending on the type of coffee you have, which streamlines the two most finicky parts of the espresso-making process. La Specialista is like the Barista Express Impress, both of which have an auto-tamp function, except Breville’s machine does it without the need for you to press an additional lever. Then again, this De’Longhi machine makes it more practical for you to practice tamping grounds on your own to achieve the correct amount of pressure.

In addition to making stellar shots of espresso, the machine also doles out killer Americanos and hot water for tea—rendering your kettle obsolete—at the touch of a button, and it’s exceptionally easy to clean and refill. Our one quibble is with the steaming wand, which works great and quickly but ranks among the screechiest and loudest we tested. In any case, the La Specialista is a stellar, all-in-one beaut that’s perfect for beginners and experienced folks alike.

The Coolest-Looking Espresso Machine: AnZa


$1400.00, Huckberry

Dimensions: 15.4 x 9.7 x 13.4 inches
Built-in grinder: No
Single or dual boiler: Single boiler

The AnZa is undeniably cool. It’s literally made of concrete and sold at cool-kid website Ssense. The folks at AnZa put design high on the priorities list and it’s safe to say they nailed it. The machine is encased in heavy-duty concrete and comes with premium materials like brass, marble, and porcelain. Allen says that the design of the machine should also matter to you. “After all, it’s taking up a lot of counter space, so you might actually want to consider how it fits in with your home decor.” Looks aside, the AnZa is built with quality internal components and can pull great shots, but it’s a bit slow to pull shots back to back, especially if you want to steam milk for each shot.

The Best Double Boiler Espresso Machine: La Marzocco Linea Mini

La Marzocco Linea Mini

$5900.00, Seattle Coffee Gear

Dimensions: 14.0 x 15.0 x 21.0 inches
Built-in grinder: No
Single or dual boiler: Double boiler

You’ll recognize the La Marzocco name if you’ve ever been to a coffee shop worth its weight in beans. That’s because the brand specializes in commercial espresso machines, which means it can pump out consistent shots back to back to back for a whole crew of under-caffeinated people. They’re probably overkill for the average coffee drinker, but the brand does make options for home use, like this Linea Mini that’s essentially a more compact version of its industrial Linea model. (The brand recently released an even smaller Linea Micra, which we’ll test out soon.)

This is the machine for the person without a budget. Maybe you’re really, really into coffee, or maybe you’re just a go-big-or-go-home type of person. Either way, this is often considered the end-game home espresso machine. It’s fully capable of running shot after shot without slowing down thanks to its double boiler, can steam milk effortlessly, and offers flow control so you can experiment endlessly with your brew recipes. Basically, you can start up a modest walk-up cafe with this thing.

The Super Budget “Espresso” Option: Bialetti Moka Pot

Bialetti Moka Pot

$30.00, Amazon

Dimensions: 4.0 x 5.6 x 6.7 inches
Built-in grinder: No
Single or dual boiler: None

Coffee snobs will tell you that, despite what the box says, the iconic Bialetti Moka Pot does not make espresso. That’s because it’s simply not capable of building the amount of pressure needed to produce espresso coffee. That said, it’s perfectly capable of making a tasty brew that is espresso-like. It’s perfect for anyone just starting out their espresso journey with a limited budget and a shaky confidence that they’ll still be into this concentrated bean juice thing a few weeks down the line. Lauren Crabbe of Andytown Coffee Roasters in San Francisco describes it as the gateway drug into the world of espresso and notes that she and her husband have shared countless Moka pot coffees. With a little know-how and finagling, you can brew good coffee from any brewer.

What You Need to Make Great Espresso

Building out your espresso setup requires a few pieces. Can you get by without some of these things? Of course. But they sure do make the process a whole lot easier.

  • Beans

  • Grinder

  • Scale

  • Espresso Machine

  • Knockbox

  • Milk Pitcher

  • Portafilter

  • Tamp

The Key to Great Coffee Is High Quality Beans

No matter if it’s pour over, cold brew, French press, or espresso, great coffee starts with high-quality coffee beans. Coffee beans from local roasters and third wave cafes will typically sell specialty coffee which is a higher grade of coffee that meets strict quality standards. You can ask your local coffee roaster for suggestions and they’ll provide you with options for your particular palate.

Most supermarkets only carry pre-ground coffee and high-volume low-quality whole beans which you should try to avoid if you can. That said, the rise in demand for specialty coffee means that reputable roasters are becoming a more common sight in your local grocery store.

You want to make sure that your coffee is fresh, so pay attention to the roast date. Generally speaking, coffee should be brewed within one to three weeks of the roast date. Once beans are ground, they oxidize and lose flavor rapidly, so you should always try to buy whole beans and grind them right before you brew for the best results.

Trade Coffee subscription

$16.00, Trade Coffee

Do Not Overlook the Coffee Grinder

Also consider whether or not you want to buy a separate grinder. With most espresso setups, you have to consider also setting aside money (and space) for a grinder. Crabbe says she can wholeheartedly endorse the Breville Barista Express Impress and its built-in grinder, but also says that, “You can get better results out of a $200 espresso machine and a $500 grinder than you can with a $1,000 machine and $50 grinder.”

All of the coffee experts we talked to said that the grinder is actually more important than the espresso machine. “All the espresso machine needs to do is brew water and push it through the coffee. That’s really it,” Allen says.” Assuming you have high-quality coffee beans (the most important factor of any coffee brewing process), the coffee grinder will have a greater impact on your shots than the machine. Foos says that an espresso machine is, counterintuitively, actually not so complicated. “It really is a simple thing. It’s there to push water through coffee, steam some milk if you want it, and that shouldn’t be super complicated. The grinder should probably get equal billing if not a little more.”

Essentially, coffee grinders break down whole coffee beans into small pieces. A major key in brewing good coffee is having a uniform grind size which produces a more even extraction which translates to a tastier cup. The less uniform coffee grounds are, the more uneven the extraction will be, meaning you’ll get a mix of coffee that’s over-extracted (bitter) and under-extracted (sour). It’s quite difficult to do this, especially at lower price points, which is why most experts will push budding coffee enthusiasts to invest more in your coffee grinder than the espresso machine.

Baratza Encore ESP coffee grinder

$200.00, Seattle Coffee Gear

Weigh It Out with a Coffee Scale

A coffee scale is essential for making espresso. It allows you to have more consistent brews and also more accurately dial-in your recipe. Coffee scales aren’t so different from the average kitchen scale, but they do come with a built-in timer. Many true bean fiends recommend coffee scales that can weigh to 1/10th of a gram for the best accuracy possible. You can get away with a regular kitchen scale, but you’ll want to time your shots using your watch or phone.

TIMEMORE Coffee Scale

$59.00, Amazon

Milk Pitcher, the Latte Artist’s Paintbrush

Sadly, most espresso machines that have a steam wand don’t include a milk pitcher in the box. You don’t necessarily need a fancy one, but if you want to pour latte art like the pros, a milk pitcher with a narrower spout like this one from Fellow will get you closer to those rosetta patterns.

Fellow Eddy

$35.00, Fellow

Knock Out the Grounds with a Proper Knockbox

You could totally knock out your coffee puck into the trash can. However, a knockbox like this one is specifically designed with a soft bar to ensure you don’t damage your portafilter while dumping out your coffee. Plus, there are no drips as you carry your spent puck from the machine to the trash.

Dreamfarm Big Grindenstein

$35.00, Amazon

Upgrade for Later: Tampers and Portafilter

Espresso machines will always come with a portafilter and a tamper so you can get to pulling shots straight out of the box. That said, these are components that experience the brunt of the cost-cutting measures and will often be made from lower-quality materials like plastic. You can certainly make do with an out-of-the-box setup, but it’s easy to upgrade these components later down the road when you’re ready.

Anza Concrete Tamper

$65.00, Huckberry

Normcore 58mm Bottomless Portafilter

$64.00, Amazon

Originally Appeared on GQ

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