Last Updated: 7/5/10
The Best Espresso Machines
Breville BES 870 XL
Best Bang For Your Buck
Breville BES 920XL
The Economical Option
Breville BES 870XL
Breville BES 920 XL
Espresso is renowned for its complexity of flavour and is enjoyed world wide on its own or as the base of coffee based drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos. In its boldness and versatility, making espresso has become nothing short of an art. This art that relies on good coffee beans, chemistry, and technique. Yet for all its complexity, we live in a world where anyone can make espresso in their own kitchen. An espresso machine a great addition to any home appliance arsenal.
Whether you’re an experienced espresso brewer who wants to put their technique to good use, or a total beginner who just wants the ability to brew espresso drinks, there’s an espresso machine out there for you. Many brands have recognized the demand for commercial espresso machines without the exorbitant price tag. The result is an impressive array of espresso machine options that cater to users of any experience level. That being said, even the most basic household espresso machines are quite sophisticated compared to their basic drip coffee counterparts. Requiring more complex pressure and temperature systems, they tend to be on the upper end of things price wise. This makes an espresso machine well worth researching to make absolutely sure you’re getting the most out of your dollar, and more importantly, getting what you want out of your machine. To make things easier, we’ve broken down a list of our top recommendations for espresso machines in 2020.
Criteria We Used to Pick Our Favorites:
Flavour is always the most important part any coffee machine. The process of pulling a good shot of espresso can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be thanks to the variety of espresso machines out there. Whether you’re new to the craft or a seasoned espresso lover, at the end of the day it’s all about enjoying the flavour of your coffee. Flavour is great indicator of the quality of a machine because it directly reflects many aspects of an espresso machine. Good shots require the right grind, pressure and water temperature. That’s why we base our choices on machines that don’t waste your time brewing hopelessly flavourless coffee.
Even the most basic espresso machines will require a bit of know-how, even if that’s simply a matter of choosing the right brew strength. User experience is important in any espresso machine because they are inherently more complex than drip or french press style machines. The more involved you want to be with your coffee, the more functions you want to see; the more functions, the more complex the process, so we look for machines that make this process smooth and straightforward. Features like pressure gauges, PIDs, steamers and built in grinders will all make a world of difference to the quality of an espresso shot. How easy or ergonomic these parts and features are to use are a sign of thoroughly designed, well thought-out machine.
Most consumers are not looking to invest in a full-throttle commercial espresso machine, so value is a major factor in how we pick our favourites. A great espresso machine will always cost a bit more, but we select machines that give you the most out of your dollar. We seek out espresso machines that reflect a variety of coffee drinker needs so that both amateurs and experts will have their needs represented. Just as it’s not worth investing in an espresso machine whose functions you’ll never use, it’s also bad to end up with one that can’t do what you want. Balancing your needs with the cost and quality of the espresso machine is ultimately up to you!
While we always strive to represent the best budget options on our lists, we don’t see build quality as a disposable factor. In the world of espresso machines, dirt cheap is usually a bad sign and a waste of money. Even the most basic espresso machines involve a lot of measurements and moving parts. We prefer espresso machines made with quality and durability in mind. “Prosumer”-class machines are almost all made the same way - by hand, in small Italian factories. What that means is longevity should never be a concern. In this category, the brand of the machine and the materials used can tell you a lot about the quality.
Breville BES 870XL Barista Express
Why We Love It
It’s an exceptional machine for its price.
Who Should Buy This
Those who want commercial grade features at an entry level price.
The Breville 870XL is a single boiler espresso machine that is surprisingly sophisticated given its price tag. It is designed to give users lots of control over their espresso. Starting with the temperature and pressure features, which include a PID and a stainless steel -lined aluminum thermo coil, and pressure gauge.
Most entry level machines do not have a PID, which is a device that efficiently regulates boiler temperature and keeps it uniform. Basically, PIDs are ideal for perfecting the flavour consistency of your shot. Breville is great for their thorough designs that keep user experience in mind. The portafilter comes with 2 pressurized and 2 non pressurized baskets (1 each single and double shot sizes). It comes with a conventional steam arm, bean hopper and water dispenser.
It also has a pre-infusion feature designed to extract more flavour, but it also means the shot takes longer to draw. The downsides of this machines are that it works best if you give it time to preheat, and it does require a bit of know-how. Overall it’s a surprisingly comprehensive and well built espresso machine with an equally surprising price tag.
Breville BES 920XL
The Best Overall
Why We Love It
Close to commercial grade, quality materials and lots of control but easy to use.
Who Should Buy This
Those who want the best / closest to commercial grade regardless of experience level.
The Breville BES920XL is easily one of the best espresso machines on the market, offering commercial grade quality in a machine you can use at home. There is a lot that sets the Breville apart from its competitors, starting with its OPV and PID systems. The OPV controls the pressure systems, ensuring well pulled shots and preventing soupy pucks. A PID is the sign of good quality machine.
It regulates and stabilizes boiler temperature, which gives you greater consistency and more control over your coffee flavour. The Breville is a dual boiler machine so you can brew and steam at the same time. The great thing about this machine is that it gives users the ability to make high quality coffee regardless of their experience level. Experienced users will find that it has all the right bells and whistles, but it’s also forgiving if you want to be less involved.
The stainless steel portafilter comes with both pressurized and non pressurized baskets, so you can still pull a good shot even without the perfect tamping technique. The steamer is less powerful than most models, but this gives you more time to work the milk. The only reason the Breville doesn’t sit in our number one spot is the price, which certainly reflects its quality.
Best Budget Option
Why We Love It
It’s a time-tested, user friendly machine that brews great coffee even without expertise.
Who Should Buy This
Those who want espresso machine style coffee without the need for technique.
The De’Longi EC155 is notable if only for how long it has thrived on the market. This espresso machine has been around for a while, simply because it’s a solid machine for its price point. The De’Longi is a perfect introductory espresso machine. It gives you the user experience of espresso without the prerequisite for certain skills and finesse required with higher end machines.
It has a pressurized portafilter basket which makes it more forgiving to uneven tamps. It also has a Pannarello steam wand which means less control and no microfoam, but it’s much easier to use. The De’Longi also has a hot water dispenser and a stainless steel warming top and boiler. The flaw in this machine is the built-in push up tamper.
Push up tampers are generally a bit awkward and make it difficult to make an even tamp, but at least the machine is forgiving in this respect once the shot is pulled. It also doesn’t have POV, so you will get soupy pucks with the De’Longi. Overall this is an entry level machine that may leave experienced baristas wanting, but is ideal for first timers and comes at a great price.
Jura Enca Micro 1 Automatic Espresso Machine
Easiest to Use
Why We Love It
Simple, straightforward and easy to use.
Who Should Buy This
Those who want great espresso coffee without the steamer and the effort.
The Jura Enca Micro 1 is all about the coffee. It doesn’t come with a steamer, so if you’re looking for lattes and cappuccinos you’ll have to buy one separately with this model. But while it might not be the most versatile machine on the list, what it does it does well. It has a great design and is easy to use. It functions as an automatic coffee machine, with an adjustable spout and push button settings. It comes with a built in conical burr grinder, water filtration and a bypass doser.
The bypass doser allows you to add pre-ground coffee different from the beans in the full sized grinder; decaf for example. Other automated features include autoclean and a zero energy switch. The Jura Enca is everything the Breville is not. It’s uninvolved espresso style coffee in sleek, stylish machine. The Jura Enca stands out for its balance of simplicity and quality brew. If you’re looking for the espresso experience from a brewing perspective, this isn’t the machine for you. But if you want good espresso without the effort, it’s a great choice.
Gaggia Brera Super Automatic
Why We Love It
It’s a great starter espresso machine with a user friendly interface and stylish design.
Who Should Buy This
Those who want a quality starter espresso machine.
The Gaggia Brera Super Automatic is another great entry level espresso machine. Like the De’Longi EC155, it’s not the ideal machine for the more experienced espresso brewers looking for an involved process. It has a Pannarello wand, which a great solution to a machine that doesn’t have a lot of steaming power. The Pannarello removes the need for technique and is a solution to machines that don’t have a lot of steaming power.
It has a rapid steam setting to reduce the delay between brewing and steaming. It also comes with a ceramic burr grinder, height adjustable spouts and a pre-ground coffee setting in case you use a seperate grinder or purchase pre ground beans. The Gaggia Brera is a little less hands on and has a fairly small water tank. But overall, it’s an excellent super automatic that grinds, doses, tamps and extracts. It’s a well thought out entry level machine.
Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
Why We Love It
Great price for a high end machine.
Who Should Buy This
Those who look for high quality and high quantity with a multifunctional single boiler.
Rancilio is a commercial grade brand in the world of espresso, so you can be sure they know what they’re doing. The Rancilio Silvia is a high end semi automatic espresso machine. It’s made with high quality materials and includes important features like a 3 way solenoid valve and articulating steam wand.
The three way solenoid valve acts as a pressure release system that prevents splatter and post-brew drip when removing the portafilter, and gives you a solid, clean puck rather a soupy one. The boiler is chrome plated brass and is a lot larger than most models at 12 oz capacity. It’s a single boiler, so you’ll have to steam and brew separately. The Rancilio has 3 thermostats for steam, espresso and the boiler making it easy to manage temperatures. It’s even compatible for a pod/capsule adaptor kit, in case you want the occasional quick-and-easy.
The few drawbacks are that it lacks a PID, and the tamp is plastic. No PID means the temperature can fluctuate a bit, and while you can install a PID, it’ll run quite pricey. The plastic tamp is a bit surprising given the overall quality of this machine, but luckily a poor tamp is cheap and easy to replace.
Which Home Espresso Machine is Right for Me?
For those who want the most out of their dollar: Breville BES870XL Barista Express
The Breville 870XL is perfect for anyone who likes to get the most bang for their buck. This is a high quality espresso machine with commercial grade features, including a PID. With its impressive temperature and pressure control systems, the Breville draws flavourful, full bodied shots that you can tailor as much or a little as you like. While it does require a bit of know-how, the Barista Express is an impressive unit that gives you the full barista experience (and quality) at a good price.
For those who want the best of the best: Breville BES920XL
Breville’s user-focused designs and quality products make it an easy list-topper, and the BES920XL is held back only due to its price point. But as far as quality goes, it’s hard to beat the BES920XL. Everything from its build materials down to its impressive pressure and temperature features make it one of the top performing home espresso machines. Equip with both a PID and a PID, OPV and dual boilers, this machine is about as close to commercial grade as it gets without spending a fortune. Down to the easy-pull power cord, this espresso machine is made for a user-friendly experience. Above all, it pulls truly impressive espresso and froths nice, creamy milk. It is definitely a more involved machine, but with a bit of skill and technique, it makes for a really wonderful espresso machine.
For those on a budget: De’Longi EC155
Not everyone can afford the luxuries of a top quality espresso machine, but thankfully there are answers for those baristas on a budget. The De’Longi EC155 is a classic model that has stood the test of time. It’s a no frills machine with its Pannarello wand and pressurized portafilter, but both of these features are actually assets for the less experienced espresso brewers. It makes the De’Longi forgiving and easy to use, with a surprisingly dynamic espresso flavour result. The De’Longi is time-tested, affordable machine.
For those who want it easy: Jura Enca Micro 1 Automatic Espresso Machine
Some coffee lovers are looking for effortless espresso, and the Jura Enca Micro 1 is a great machine in this respect. This fully automatic espresso machine boasts push button settings, and adjustable spout, built in burr grinder and a bypass doser for pre ground beans. While it functions internally as a quality espresso machine, it’s as easy to use as any on-the-run pod style coffee maker. The Jura Enca is stylish, compact, and requires no specific skills to operate. It doesn’t include a frother, but it’s automatic, simplistic design still manages to brew great tasting espresso.
For those who want a starter espresso machine: Gaggia Brera Super Automatic
We’ve all gotta start somewhere when it comes to espresso. If you’re just getting into the game, the Gaggia Brera Super Automatic is a great jumping off point. It’s a quality espresso machine that allows for more control and involvement, but remains forgiving so that you can still pull great espresso throughout the learning curve. It has a Pannarello wand, adjustable spouts, and a rapid steam feature that minimizes the wait time between espresso and froth. The Gaggia Brera is a modest but functionally impressive espresso machine.
For those who want a bit of everything: Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
The Rancilio Silvia deserves an honorable mention on this list because as far as single boiler espresso machines go, this one is hard to beat. The 12 oz boiler capacity is great for less frequent refilling, and its three thermostats give even beginner users better control over their espresso. Made from high grade materials, the Rancilio Silvia is built for an elevated espresso experience without the huge price tag. It sacrifices a PID and a good tamp, but between the three way solenoid valve and high end steam wand, it’s manages to pull excellent espresso. Unless you’re an experienced connoisseur, you probably won’t miss the PID. Rancilio strikes the perfect balance between quality, involvement, and affordability.
5 Things to Look For When Choosing an Espresso Machine
Does it suit your needs?
Before you commit to an espresso machine, you’ll need to know what you want out of it. How much effort do you want to put in? How much control do you want over things like pressure and temperature? How much space do you have for an espresso machine? There are tons of different models out there with varying sizes, features, and of course quality. Depending on your current skill set when it comes to making espresso, or your willingness to learn, can lead you to a very different machine. If you prefer a machine that does most of the work, you want to look for an automatic. If you want to be more involved but don’t have a lot of technique, look for a machine that has features like pressurized portafilter baskets and Pannarello steam wands. If you’re looking for the best tasting espresso and something more hands on, think about technical features like PIDs, OPVs, and three way solenoid valves. The important part is landing on a machine that gives you what you want.
Does it have useful features?
It can be tempting to go for the cheapest model when you’re shopping around, but doing so means there will be inevitable sacrifices. If you’re drinking a lot of espresso, you’ll quickly realize how useful certain features like steam wands, pressure gauges, or temperature controls can be. Not only can these kinds of features improve the flavour and diversity of your coffee beverages, they can also save you time and even help you build up your espresso-making skills. There’s nothing wrong with making sacrifices to save money, just make sure you know what you’re missing out on if you do.
Does is brew good tasting coffee?
This is arguably the most important factor of all. No one wants to spend money on an espresso machine if it brews the same quality coffee as your ancient drip coffee maker. Espresso is intended to be bolder and more flavourful, which can’t be achieved without quality materials and intelligent design. Everything from the pressure to the water temperature can have a drastic impact on the resulting flavour of your espresso. Not everyone needs a high end machine with PID temperature control, but be wary of machines that have no temperature or pressure regulations/gauges. If nothing else, spresso is all about pressure and temperature.
Is it good value?
Whether or not an espresso machine is good value is largely up to you. Espresso machines are sophisticated, so you should be willing to invest more than you would on a drip coffee maker. A good espresso machine will cost you more upfront, but if you go for quality, you can get excellent value out of it. If you’re brewing at home, chances are you really don’t need to break the bank for a commercial grade machine. There are tons of household options at a fraction of the price that pull excellent espresso.
Can you get what you want within your budget?
Sometimes it can be tricky to get what you want out of a budget espresso machine, especially if you have the skills and technique required to operate higher end machinery. At the end of the day, more sophisticated machines will go for a much higher cost. For example, you won’t get commercial grade microfoam without surpassing 4 digits. But chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the quality of foam you can get out of entry level machines. With a bit of market research, you can get a stronger idea of the kind of budget you’ll need to get what you want out of an espresso machine.
How are Home Espresso Machines Different From Commercial Ones?
There is a huge cost gap between home and commercial espresso machines. Commercial espresso machines like the ones you see at your favourite coffee shop are incredible sophisticated. They include systems and materials designed at every level to regulate and control things like pressure, temperature, and timing. They require a lot more moving parts and engineering in order to get the perfect drink, down to the microfoam. Generally speaking, a lot of these systems are unnecessary for the average coffee drinker. They are systems that allow for a lot of control and alteration in subtle flavours and textures in the coffee, but probably won’t make a difference to you. Home espresso machines use the same basic design and technology, but are much simpler and therefore more affordable.
Easier to Use
To properly operate a commercial espresso machine requires a lot of skill and technique - more than you might realize. It can take a long time to get the right sized grind, proper pressure when you tamp, and the right angles as you froth your milk. Home espresso machines are designed to be more forgiving, some more than others. They are designed so that anyone can pull tasty espresso. Even the higher end home espresso machines are made so that you can still drink great espresso as you perfect your technique.
Because of how complex espresso machines can be, commercial machines are generally massive. They have huge boilers, often built in top of the line grinders, and large internal systems to manage all this hardware. Most commercial espresso machines would look outrageous in an average kitchen. Home espresso machines are much more compact, and easy to store on your countertop without taking up too much real estate.
In order to make espresso machines more compact and easier to use, they are inevitably less sophisticated. Home espresso machines can be surprisingly impressive, with many models even including PID systems. However, they will always be more limited than a commercial espresso machine. Aspects like true microfoam simply can’t be achieved without very specific temperature and pressure systems that can be large and complex. The good news is these sacrifices are pretty minimal as far as the average consumer is concerned. It also means home espresso machines are much cheaper - and easier - to fix or adjust.