Sometimes we imagine a world without the best espresso machines, and we don't like it. Like many people we like a strong coffee to start the day, and we're pretty partial to a double espresso after a fine meal too. But as much as we enjoy the flavors of drip coffee and the lattes the local independent coffee shop brews up, there's something special about the unique and intense experience of a home-made espresso on a lazy Sunday morning – not least because unlike a coffee shop espresso, nobody judges you if you drink it in your PJs.
Espresso makers aren't just for making little coffees that contain so much caffeine you can't sit still, though. They're also the foundation of some of the world's greatest coffees: foamy cappuccinos, milky lattes and many more. And the best espresso machines can make those coffees and make them quickly, easily and for a fraction of what you'd pay to order in.
It's worth noting that these espresso makers are a subset of the best coffee makers, which come in all shapes and sizes including some of the best bean-to-cup coffee machines: they also help you achieve barista-quality results, and because they include their own integrated bean grinder there's even less effort involved in making your morning coffee. However, that extra equipment adds bulk and often cost too, and you'll usually find that single-serve or pod coffee machines are faster, more affordable and take up a lot less space.
For us, though, the king of coffee machines is the espresso maker – and no matter which model you go for, they all have the same crucial feature: they make great espressos. That’s important in its own right, but it's also important for any coffee: a lousy espresso makes an equally lousy latte or crummy cappuccino. If you'd like some expert advice on how to make coffee-shop worthy drinks at home we have some great tips and tricks for you – and while you're at it, check out our guide to the game-changing coffee maker trick that will ensure you never drink bitter espresso again.
The hardest thing about getting a new coffee maker is deciding which of the best espresso machines is right for you. That's why we're here. We've tested so many coffee machines our eyeballs are vibrating, so we can help you decide between Gaggia and DeLonghi, Nespresso and Breville (Sage in the UK) and let you know which one delivers the goods in the best possible way. And when you've decided on your shortlist, check out our constantly updated list of the best cheap coffee maker deals to make sure you get the best coffee maker for the best possible price..
Best espresso machine: tried and tested by us
If you’re looking for the best espresso machine you can buy right now, and money is no object, then the Gaggia Classic is the ideal choice.
It comes with single and double espresso filters and a crema perfetta filter. Gaggia says it will produce a shot of coffee with a thick crema without experimenting with the coffee grind size, making it ideal for those who want to learn how to use an espresso machine before attempting to play barista. It also offers complete manual control over how much water is dispensed, allowing you to create the volume of coffee you want.
On test, we were impressed that the coffee was rich and intense. With all three filters, it had a stable crema that reformed when we sprinkled sugar on top. The built-in steam wand ensures you can make milk-based coffee drinks too. However, this is the most expensive espresso machine.
Read our full review: Gaggia Classic (opens in new tab)
Suppose you want a good espresso machine that lets you experiment with tamping the coffee and dispensing the water, but you're on a budget. In that case, the De'Longhi Dedica Style is one of this category's more affordable espresso machines.
Simple to use, it takes ESE pods and ground coffee, which means you can use it to make decaf coffee. On test, it created an intense espresso with a stable crema. It can brew two single espressos simultaneously, but placing two cups under the spout on such a compact machine proved tricky.
We were disappointed that the machine couldn't make espresso straight after steaming milk. So if you're planning to make several coffees with milk, you'll need to brew all of the espressos before starting on the milk-based drinks. We also experienced some dripping after we poured espresso.
Read our full review: De'Longhi Dedica Style EC685 (opens in new tab)
Known as Sage in the UK or Breville in the US and Australia, this premium kitchen appliance brand is recognized for making some of the best espresso machines (opens in new tab) you can buy. The Barista Express is a mid-range model and sits above the entry-level espresso machine - the Bambino (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab): it has a built-in burr grinder to dispense freshly ground coffee right into the portafilter, but unlike the more automated bean-to-cup style machines from other brands, this one allows you to flex your barista skills. You’ll need to tamp the coffee yourself, use the razor tool to get it to the perfect level, and steam your own milk. That might take a bit of practice, especially if you're a novice, but the sense of satisfaction is enormous.
This is a great machine if you want to be your own at-home barista, but that also means it's not the best choice for every kind of coffee drinker. If you just want fuss-free coffee whenever you feel like it you'd be better off with a more automatic option, and if you're short of counter space then you might be better with the smaller but equally impressive Sage Bambino. But if you like to be more hands-on with your coffee and enjoy the ritual of putting everything together this is tons of fun and makes really enjoyable espressos.
Read our full review: Sage The Barista Express
If you’re after an espresso machine with style and substance, the Smeg ECF01 Espresso Maker is perfect. The retro-style design is available in various colors, so you’re sure to find one to suit your home decor. The Smeg produces a rich, intense shot of espresso with a thick, stable crema.
We like that this coffee machine allows you to control how much water is dispensed and will even remember your preferred volume, automatically distributing at that level the next time coffee is brewed. However, the ECF01 isn’t suitable for complete novices with no guidance on brewing espresso.
In addition, with just a 1.1-quart / 1-liter water tank, this is one of the smallest capacity espresso machines we’ve tested, so if you’re looking to make several coffees at the same time, it may not be the model for you. We also found its compact size meant it was tricky to fit two espresso cups under the spout simultaneously.
Read our full review: Smeg ECF01 Espresso Maker (opens in new tab)
If you’re tight on space, then the Sage Bambino offers similar features to the Gaggia Classic above but with a more compact footprint and a slightly more affordable price tag.
On test, we found the Sage Bambino – known as the Breville Bambino in the US and Australia – created coffee with body and a thick crema. We were also impressed that it offers a choice between manual and automatic water dispensing.
Simple to use, the Sage Bambino comes with a built-in steam wand, plus a milk jug in the range of accessories with which it ships, meaning you really take on the barista role as soon as the coffee machine is out of the box. However, we found some dripping after we had poured the espresso – and, unlike other Sage/Breville-branded coffee makers, this one lacks the razor tool that can smooth off the coffee in the filter.
Read our full review: Sage Bambino (opens in new tab)
Love the idea of intense espresso with a thick, rich crema, but don't want to invest in a separate bean grinder? The De'Longhi La Specialista Arte EC9155MB is the ideal buy as it comes with an integrated grinder that can hold 0.55lb / 250g of beans at a time. In addition, it lets you customize the grind's coarseness from eight levels to ensure you brew the perfect coffee for you every time.
On test, we were impressed that the coffee was rich and intense, with a stable crema that reformed when we sprinkled sugar on top. There's also a built-in steam wand, which enables you to make milk-based coffee drinks.
However, we were disappointed there was some dripping once espresso had been brewed, and unlike De'Longhi's more affordable Dedica Style machine (above), you can't use it with pods. It's also tricky to clean as only some components are dishwasher-safe.
Read our full review: De'Longhi La Specialista Arte EC9155MB (opens in new tab)
If you're looking for an effortless way to make espresso at home, the Nespresso Vertuo Next ticks all the boxes. This is a single-serve coffee machine and, as such, makes far less mess than a traditional espresso machine, as the ground coffee is contained within an aluminum capsule.
It can create five different-sized drinks – and, during testing, the Nespresso Vertuo Next produced smooth coffee, topped with a thick crema that reformed even after we stirred in some sugar.
If you're interested in a machine from the brand, take a look at our Nespresso machine sales (opens in new tab) page.
The espresso machine reads a barcode on the side of the capsule that offers information on how much water should be used and how long the brewing process should take. This makes it one of the most straightforward coffee machines to use. However, this also means you have no control over the brewing process.
We were disappointed that there's no steam wand for texturizing milk, so you'll need to purchase a separate milk frother from the brand if you're sold on the other Vertuo Next features. It's also worth noting that the pods can work out more expensive than buying ground coffee.
Read our full review: Nespresso Vertuo Next (opens in new tab)
If you're looking for a way to make good-quality espresso on the go, then the Picopresso is ideal. This espresso machine uses hand-pump power – rather than batteries or mains power – so it can accompany you anywhere, as long as you have access to boiling water and ground coffee.
It's aimed at coffee aficionados, leaving the tamping and water volume up to you, which means it isn't suitable for complete beginners unless you're happy to experiment. However, on test, we were very quickly able to create coffee with body and a stable crema using this compact device, which cleverly slots together. Hence, there's no chance of losing any accessories in your bag.
However, with just a 0.1-quart / 0.08-liter water tank, it can brew only small quantities of coffee in one go, plus there's no way to texturize milk. Nevertheless, if you're a fan of weekends away, the Picopresso does at least mean you won't need to go hunting for a coffee shop to get a barista-worthy hot drink.
Read our full review: Wacaco Picopresso (opens in new tab)
How we test espresso machines
We take testing espresso machines seriously and put each device through its paces to see if it can live up to its promises. We assess the quality of espresso produced by each machine, analyzing the flavor of the final drink; we look for a rich, intense shot of coffee that doesn’t taste bitter or burnt, along with a thick, stable crema that reforms after the sugar has been sprinkled on it.
The temperature of the espresso is also measured, checking for consistency from one cup to another, and we assess the noise level of the machine. If it has a built-in steam wand, we evaluate its ability to texturize both dairy and plant-based milk, looking for tiny bubbles that create a rich, smooth texture. Again, we assess whether its noise level is acceptable.
We also evaluate how easy an espresso machine is to set up and use, whether it offers enough manual control for those who want to take on the barista role, plus how much space it will take up on your kitchen counter. Finally, we consider if the water tank is removable for easy refills and how the machine looks.
How to choose the best espresso machine for you
What to consider when buying a an espresso machine
When choosing an espresso machine, there are many things to consider.
First, decide if you want an espresso machine that offers manual control over dispensing water or a device that takes on that work for you; the latter is probably better for those new to playing barista.
Next, consider if you want a machine that you can use with ground coffee, single-serve pods, or a mixture of the two. Coffee pods are less messy than using ground coffee. They can be handy if you occasionally want to make decaf coffee using the machine – but they don’t produce the thick, rich crema you get with freshly ground coffee.
If you regularly make espresso for a couple of people simultaneously, look for a coffee machine with a double spot on the tray that can fill two separate cups simultaneously. Meanwhile, if you like longer coffee drinks with milk, such as cappuccinos and lattes, choose an espresso machine with a built-in steam wand or factor in the cost of a standalone milk frother.
Finally, take note of the size of the espresso maker to see if you have sufficient room for it on your kitchen countertop – or, if you plan to store it away in a cupboard, consider its weight to see that you’ll be able to lift it easily.
How do I make an espresso?
Once you have the best espresso machine, it’s essential to know how to make an espresso. Espresso is made by passing water at high pressure through compacted ground coffee.
However, a set ‘recipe’, which usually refers to a ratio and brewing duration, is generally given by the roaster (the brands that roast and blend coffee beans). The most common recipe is 1:2 in 25 to 35 seconds, effectively turning each gram of ground coffee into 2g of liquid espresso in that period.
How compacted the ground coffee is will affect how quickly or slowly the espresso brews. If the coffee is too tightly packed, it will take longer to brew and be too strong; loosely compacted coffee means it will be dispensed too quickly and subsequently weak. Prefer cappuccino, latte, or a flat white? Find out how to make your favorite coffee in our article.
How is an espresso machine different from a coffee machine?
An espresso machine differs from other coffee machines because it uses pressurized hot water passed through a disc of compacted coffee grounds called a puck. It's possible to adjust the volume of water passed through the grounds and how tightly packed the coffee is to change the strength of the hot drink brewed.
Single-serve coffee machines, or pod coffee machines as they're sometimes known, still use pressurized hot water, but the coffee is contained in a capsule or pod. The coffee machine punctures the capsule several times to allow the water to flow through the coffee ground to brew the drink. However, while some single-serve coffee machines let you adjust how much water is used to create different volumes of coffee, it's impossible to tweak how compacted the grounds are.
Finally, drip coffee makers pass hot water through compacted coffee grounds. As a result, it's not at the same pressure as when using an espresso machine, and there's no set volume of water used. Instead, the brewing takes place until the water tank runs dry or the coffee maker is switched off. This creates a more traditional filter coffee rather than espresso.