The 7 Best Automatic Espresso Machines For Brewing Cafe-Quality Coffee at Home
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans are now working from home, which is more than ever before. If you’re one of them, you’re probably happy about the ways in which your new cushy office setup has improved your lifestyle and routine—except for the fact that you no longer walk or drive past your favorite coffee shop on your commute. This seemingly minor inconvenience is only exacerbated by the startling inflation prices that have caused coffee prices to soar as much as 38 percent within the last year alone. Yikes.
Both convenience and rising costs have incentivized many folks to do what has long been the unthinkable: make coffee at home using an espresso machine. Casual coffee drinkers and connoisseur alike are investing in automatic espresso machines to satiate their caffeine cravings (and, hopefully, save money in the long run.)
Whatever your reasoning for bringing this fancy gadget into your home, we're here to help. Below is everything you need to know before you buy an automatic espresso machine, plus the best ones to buy.
Manual vs. automatic espresso machines
First things first—the espresso. This piece of equipment is different from a regular coffee maker as it produces espresso, which is thicker in consistency than regular coffee and boosted with a higher concentration of caffeine, explains Martha Vazquez of La Monarca Bakery in Los Angeles.
“Whole coffee beans go into a grinder, and after grinding they are mixed with pressurized, near-boiling water to create an espresso shot which [then] drips into a cup to create the perfect shot of espresso to be drunk on its own or added into a latte or other beverage,” she says.
When shopping for an espresso machine, you’re likely to come across two main types: automatic and manual. Manual espresso machines are also called "piston machines" because they are driven by a piston and require some manual labor on the user’s part—namely pumping a lever to create the espresso.
They're simple to use and—since they're controlled manually—are beloved for reportedly better-tasting, customized coffee (if you're at that level!) But, let’s be honest, for those looking for something delicious in a pinch, it’s a bit of a labor-intensive process.
For this reason, automatic espresso machines have reigned supreme in recent decades. With these machines, there’s no pumping on your part. You simply press a button and voilà—you’ve got yourself a delicious-tasting espresso. Most of these machines do the full monte: they grind the beans for you, pull the shot, and have other programmable options that help you create the perfect brew.
The 6 best automatic espresso machines
If you can fork up the cash, this automatic espresso machine is sure to not disappoint—and to last you years upon years. It offers 17 beverage options, including espresso, Americano, macchiato as well as 10 different grinding strength levels. It utilizes P.E.P.®, aka “pulse extraction process,” which involves forcing hot water through the ground coffee in short spurts or intervals to ensure full-flavor development. It has intelligent preheating capabilities to make sure that your cup is the perfect temperature every time. Other features include a professional, fine-foam frother, a separate spout for tea, and a high-res touchscreen that’s super easy to navigate.
Pros: State-of-the-art, custom brewing options, fine details.
Cons: Cost, potential milk splatter due to the placement of the spout.
This is a great espresso maker to have on your kitchen counter if you’re looking for top-notch coffee and espresso without the jaw-dropping price tag that can come with many on the market. With this espresso maker, you get quality espresso from whole coffee beans in a matter of seconds. It has digital temperature control (PID) technology that makes sure the temperature of each beverage is optimal every time and has a steam wand that lets you hand texture micro-foam milk to make your own artistic latte. “For those dedicated coffee drinkers, this machine offers more advanced brews that the average consumer wouldn’t necessarily appreciate,” adds Vazquez.
Pros: Professional recommended, custom brew options, steam wand and foamer.
Cons: Cost, potential limited grinding capabilities/customizations.
For an even more affordable option that won’t take up as much space on your kitchen countertop, consider the Gaggia Brera Super-Automatic Espresso Machine. It has a Pannarello wand that froths cappuccinos and lattes to perfection, a user-friendly LED display with push-button controls, rapid steam technology for heating drinks up in a flash, and an easy-to-use (and clean) drip tray and water tank at the very front of the machine. It also comes with a 1-year warranty, which users greatly appreciate.
Pros: Small-space friendly, custom brew options, steam wand and foamer, easy to clean.
Cons: Small water tank, small bean capacity.
If you’re looking for the most bang for you buck, this Gevi option has you covered. While not the fanciest option on this list, it’s a good bet for the first-time buyer who wants reliable coffee without the frills. There are three options for espresso: One shot, double shots, or manual-control if you want to control the coffee yourself. There are two thermostats (one for espresso, one for milk) to control the temperature, a fast heating system, cup warmer, and a manual steam wand for fancy drinks. For the price, it’s definitely one of the best on the market.
Pros: Price, easy to use, easy to clean, small-space friendly.
Cons: Not as customizable as other machines, small water tanka and bean capacity, limited options.
This espresso machine is great for people who love to make lattes at home. Its milk system is pretty impressive—the machine even comes with a milk carafe that mixes the milk perfectly for you at high speed and then automatically pours it atop your espresso. You don’t have to lift a finger! It’s fully customizable, allowing you to choose the shot volume, temperature, strength, and grind size and setting. Another major plus about this appliance is that it’s easy to clean. With no tubing, you simply have to detach the carafe and clean it with soap and water.
Pros: Easy to use, custom brew options, easy to clean.
Cons: Cost, small water tank and bean capacity.
DeLonghi has a reputation for impeccable products and high standards, so it’s no surprise that their automatic espresso machines have rave reviews. This one is best loved for its ability to brew iced coffee via its True Brew functionality. Using a longer grinding and pre-infusion time, along with a higher concentration of coffee, you get an ice coffee that tastes just as good as your favorite shop. It can also brew 17 other types of coffee beverages all within about 40-60 seconds. One downside compared to others on this list is that it doesn’t have an automatic milk frother—you’ll have to use the manual Panarello wand.
Pros: State-of-the-art features, custom brew options, iced coffee option.
Cons: Cost, no milk frother.
For barista-style results from the comfort of your home, try the Breville Oracle, a pricey, yet high-quality machine that offers speed and ease of use. You can brew just about anything—espressos, Americanos, lattes, cappuccinos, you name it—using its automated technology to grind and tamp beans for you and then brew at the optimal temperature, richness and flavor.
It has a built-in burr grinder that uses an auger device to maintain consistency and prevent messes. It has dual stainless-steel boilers that pump simultaneously and create the perfect level of boldness at the right temperature. A separate air pump lets you customize your milk frothing—you can choose latte or cappuccino and the machine determines how much froth is needed.
Pros: State-of-the-art features, custom brew options, frothing options.
Cons: Cost, learning curve.
What to look for in an automatic espresso machine
Automatic espresso machines come with all the bells and whistles these days, so it’s a good idea to know what to look for when you’re shopping for one. Here are some of the best features, according to the pros.
Many of the newer machines have pretty impressive features like grind pressure profiling, flow-rate programming, and temperature control, notes Luis Espel, a barista at Willa's Provisions in Tampa. “None of that means a thing if the interface is clunky and hard to use,” he says. “Always make sure you're picking a machine that’s easy to adjust the settings on, otherwise, it’s very likely that baristas won’t want to fiddle with those settings anyways.”
When searching for the right coffee espresso machine, Vazquez recommends making sure that it has enough space and an air-tight container to keep the whole beans from making contact with the air. “Air tightness is very important when it comes to keeping the coffee bean from losing its flavor and nutrients, drying out the beans in the process,” she says.
Vazquez also recommends taking note of water accessibility when choosing an espresso machine. “Some home models require it to be hooked up to the water line, while others have a refillable water tank,” she says. “Those attached to the main waterline tend to automatically provide the correct amount of water for the type of brew, while the refillable tanks tend to require the user to add as much as needed.”
This mostly applies to those looking to buy an espresso machine for commercial use, as it’s a good idea to know that your machine can keep up with your customer demand. “The last thing you want is for an overwhelmed machine to crap-out during a rush,” says Katherine Bruce, owner of The Buttery Bar in Brooklyn.
Plenty of espresso machines on the market today have issues with inconsistencies, malfunctions, and lack of access to replacement parts, notes Espel. For this reason, he recommends doing your research (i.e. reading reviews) and going with a trusted brand. “It can be exciting to have a machine no one else has, and it could end up being a great machine at the end of the day, but you don’t want to be missing out on amazing coffee without a technician around to fix or replace the issue,” he says.
Chef Michael Johnson warns against trying to purchase the cheapest espresso machine you can find. “An espresso machine should be an investment,” he says. “Shop around and stay within your budget, but many cheaper espresso machines don't tend to last very long and end up leaking and sitting in the back of your kitchen unused or needing to be replaced.”
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