Home Barista’s Guide to the Best Espresso Machines
ESPRESSO MACHINES CAN BE TERRIFYING. Look at them, with their scorching metal, searing steam, and gleaming chrome tubes. Every one of those strange tiny components contributes to the properly pulled shot. Because espresso is as personal as it is technical, finding a home espresso machine can be a nightmare. Everyone has strong ideas, and it might sometimes feel as if you need to be an expert to know how to buy an espresso machine.
That is why we have created this tutorial. The WIRED coffee nerds have pooled their ideas and skills after testing dozens of coffee machines over the years to develop a list of espresso machines to turn your kitchen into a café.
When you work at WIRED, it’s difficult not to be a coffee addict, therefore it should come as no surprise that we have a sizable coffee library. Check out our other coffee recommendations, such as the Best Latte & Cappuccino Makers, Best Portable Coffee Makers, Best Coffee Subscriptions, and Best Coffee Grinders, for more information.
One of my favorite dual-boiler espresso machines is the Rancilio Silvia Pro (7/10, WIRED Recommends). It’s jam-packed with professional features and made to last. This isn’t the Silvia Pro; it’s the Silvia M, which is nearly identical and hundreds of dollars less expensive.
The slim silver body fits on most apartment countertops and generates steady water and steam pressure, resulting in consistent, well-extracted café-grade espresso. Most notably, the machine’s inside is devoid of plastic, and it’s built like a tank, as evidenced by its weight (30 pounds).
Because frequent expansion and contraction induced by heat can render plastic components unstable over time, the business insured the machine would last longer by limiting plastic inside and exterior.
Best Dual Boiler :
Most home espresso machines only have one boiler: the pressure chamber, which converts water to steam and drives it through the packed beans to produce espresso. With a single boiler, you’ll often have to wait until the machine is ready to steam milk or create a second drink after you’ve brewed your espresso. Having a second boiler is a convenience that makes living a lot easier.
Professional machines, like as the Breville Dual Boiler (9/10, WIRED Recommends), contain two boilers within. This has a number of benefits: It primarily allows you to switch between the machine’s three primary functions (coffee, hot water, and steam) without having to wait for it to catch up. Other professional features include a built-in (and changeable) temperature gauge that allows you to precisely regulate the temperature of your boilers, which can result in truly exquisite espresso if you know what you’re doing.
(Hint: Lower temperatures, around 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit, produce a brighter shot, albeit it may be slightly more vegetal and sour.) Higher temperatures, approximately 200-205 F, will provide a deep, chocolatey flavor with plenty of natural sweetness, but there may be some bitterness.)
Best for $100:
It’s difficult to find a nice budget espresso machine, but the Delonghi Stilosa is one of our favorites, and it’s generally under $100. The Stilosa doesn’t come with high-end amenities like a pressure gauge or a built-in grinder, but it does come with everything you need to brew superb espresso at home, including a robust portafilter, a dependable steam pump, and a steaming wand. You’ll want to brace it when mounting and dismounting the portafilter because it’s a little light (or it might slide around on you).
The Stilosa never slowed down or broke down after brewing cup after cup of espresso, unlike many less expensive machines. If an espresso maker is constructed too cheaply, you’ll notice a sputtering steam wand after a few months of use and notice that the machine is straining to produce pressure. These symptoms were never seen in the Stilosa, and it completely changed my mind regarding cheap espresso machines. It’s not as fast or powerful as one of the more expensive machines on this list, but it’s a wonderful place to start learning the basics of espresso and will last a long time.
Another Good Budget Option:
Keep the following in consideration while shopping for a low-cost espresso machine: First, search for metal construction rather than plastic (plastic does not react well to heat and pressure), and second, make sure it can withstand at least 15 bar of pressure (for even and consistent espresso extraction). This Gevi machine ticks both of those crucial criteria, and it’s a tiny darling to boot.
It’s sturdy and well-made. No, it’s not nearly as solid or long-lasting as our top picks, but the metal structure suggests a level of durability you won’t get in a less expensive, more plasticky machine.
This Breville machine grinds beans for you and creates constant espresso pressure. It also steams milk with an easily adjustable steam wand. It’s like having a coffee shop right on your counter. The Barista Express, like its more expensive siblings (we also like the Barista Pro), progressively increases water pressure, which you can see on the attached pressure monitor, resulting in a smooth and equal extraction. Its durable, mostly-metal structure and ease of cleaning have also contributed to its popularity throughout the years—and made it a lifelong favorite of ours.
Best for Small Spaces:
The Bambino is a small, charming creature that is roughly the size of two cereal boxes placed side by side. It’s a compact, no-frills espresso machine with only a steam wand and power, one-shot, and two-shot buttons, but it packs a lot of brewing punch. There is no shot timer or temperature control. It’s only a little boiler within a small machine, but it’s capable of extracting espresso just as well as larger and more expensive Breville equipment.
Because it’s a little light, brace it with both hands while twisting the portafilter in place; mine had a tendency to slide around.
Best Hand-Powered Machine:
There’s something fulfilling about extracting your own espresso shot, and this machine lets you do just that. A milk steamer, a boiler, and even a power line are all missing. This contraption is entirely powered by humans. Simply fill it with coffee and water according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and press it vigorously. A pressure gauge is incorporated to ensure that your extractions are as consistent as possible.
Best for Portability:
This is another “espresso” machine that runs on human power, and it’s ideal for travel. Consider it a large syringe: you load it with coffee and hot water, press the plunger down, and enjoy a cup of coffee!
It isn’t quite espresso. To be termed espresso, coffee must be extracted under at least 9 bars of pressure, and the AeroPress is an infusion brewing device: The coffee grinds and water cling to one other and steep like tea. Still, forcing the water through the grinds produces a cup of coffee that tastes very much like espresso, with the same rich, complex flavors as a classic pressured extraction.
Great for Stovetops:
My first coffee maker was a Moka pot, which lasted a long time. This one is made of solid stainless steel with a few plastic details, like as the grip, and it’s a good choice for stronger coffee than a normal drip machine.
If you want to get technical, espresso must be extracted at a pressure of at least 9 bars, and most stovetop Moka pots, including this one, fall short. If you’re not picky, however, it’s usually near enough. This stovetop not-quite-an-espresso machine can create a delicious latte with a nice milk frother like this one.
Accessory for Pre-Brew
There’s always space to improve, and there are a number of extra equipment that can assist you in making the greatest espresso possible. All of these instruments would be used before the brew to create the environment for a great extraction.
Keeping your coffee beans in a vacuum canister is an excellent idea. The Fellow Vacuum Canister prevents the destruction of all those tasty oils and chemical compounds inside your (preferably locally roasted) favorite coffee beans by removing all air from the chamber every time you close it.
In our Best Coffee Grinders guide, this is one of our top selections, and it’s also a good espresso grinder. Espresso necessitates a precise and consistent grind, which a burr grinder can readily provide. Just remember to get in there every now and again and sweep your burrs—maintenance that the OXO makes simple with a bean bin that pops apart with ease.
Nothing beats a bottomless portafilter for improving your espresso brewing. It won’t improve your coffee; it will improve you by making you more conscious of your errors and inconsistencies. Bottomless portafilters are finicky, and when your grind is off or you’ve over-tamped your grounds, the espresso coats the bottom of the filter and flows down into the cup, the bottomless portafilter lets you see it. However, double-check the circumference of the group head on your espresso machine (the place the filter attaches). Because there are several standard sizes, you must ensure that you order the correct one. The most popular sizes are 53 mm and 58 mm, which are available in practically every bottomless portafilter.
Tamping mats are nothing more than a thick, soft piece of rubber or silicone that makes it much simpler to maintain consistent tamping pressure (as well as a clean tamping place so you don’t stain your kitchen table with coffee or scratch it with the bottom of your tamp). A folded kitchen towel can also be used, although these mats are easier to clean.
After you’ve placed the grounds in your portafilter, give them a nice, even tamping. While you can use a scale to figure out how much pressure to use, I find it’s easier to just press with your upper body, then extract a shot and see how it went. You tamped too hard if it’s too bitter; you didn’t tamp hard enough if it’s too watery. A distributor (also known as a leveler) makes it simple to create an even surface for tamping, and this one includes a tamp on one side and a distributor on the other, allowing you to level your beans before flipping the tool over and giving them a good tamp. Just make sure it fits the circumference of the portafilter on your machine!
These are my favorite shot glasses in general, but they’re especially good for espresso shots since they’re tall and narrow enough to allow a gorgeous aerated crema to form on top, and they’re made of tempered glass to withstand the heat. They’re also ideal for presenting smaller beverages like macchiatos, which consist of a shot of espresso with a dab of froth atop.
Accessories for Post-Brew
It’s time to think about what you’re going to do with your espresso once it’s brewed and steaming away in its little little cup. These are some of my favorite accessories for making a great hot or iced beverage.
Most hot espresso beverages require steamed milk, which necessitates the use of a steamer carafe. It’s likely that your machine came with one, and it’s probably fine! Consider this pitcher an upgrade. It’s made of solid stainless steel and has a nice little paint job, and it’s tilted to give you plenty of room to steam and shine your milk. What’s not to appreciate about that?
When steaming milk, I like to place a bar mop below the steam nozzle and crank the steam on high to clear any debris that has accumulated in the wand. Having a mop underneath means you won’t get water all over your floor, and it also gives you a rag soaked in hot water to clean up your steam wand and countertop when you’re finished.
If you’re going to make a sweet drink, you should definitely invest in high-quality syrups. Holy Kakow is by far my favorite brand, and it’s a staple at cafés throughout the Pacific Northwest. It’s because of Holy Kakow that if you’ve ever drank a mocha in Portland and wondered why yours never tasted as wonderful. The company produces a variety of syrups, but my personal favorite is the chocolate syrup. A good iced mocha is one of my favorite drinks.
For the finest flavor, I recommend extracting your espresso into a shot glass, but if you’re creating a latte, you’ll need a cup once your milk is frothed—and what’s a latte without an adorable tiny porcelain mug to drink it out of? Although these are costly, they are quite well-made. For my morning or afternoon coffees, I have a few.
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