Best Espresso Machines in 2018

Making espresso at home is a coffee lover's dream. Fortunately, there are now a number of affordable products on the market that deliver high quality shots. Here is our roundup of the best espresso machines in 2018.

Which Machine Should I Buy?

First, decide which kind of machine you want. Manual espresso machines require a high level of skill: every stage of brewing is a hands-on experience. Semi-automatics are the most common machines, and what you find at your local coffee shop. Depending on the machine, they still require a bit of skill to operate, but the pump is automated. Super-automatic machines do all of the heavy lifting for you: grinding, tamping, and extraction is done at the press of a button.

What Makes a Good Espresso Machine?

A quality cup of espresso depends on a variety of factors, including the fineness of the grind, the pressure of tamping, the temperature at which it brews, and the pressure the machine creates to extract the coffee. Look for a machine that will generate between 15 and 18 bars of pressure.

You'll want to find something that gives you reliable and consistent heating. Many higher-quality machines use a PID controller to regulate heat. These systems often use double boiler heating, which allows you to extract and steam at the same time. However, more basic machines operate with a Thermocoil or Thermoblock system and a simple thermometer. Machines will vary by how much you can or cannot control the temperature: more reliable heating produces better-tasting espresso, but will add to the cost.

Thermocoil

Dual stainless steel boilers and heated group head controlled by digital temperature control (PID) brings water to precisely the right temperature (+/- 2⁰F) to extract maximum flavor potential, shot after shot.

This is a good time to mention safety: using a more durable machine means you are less likely to find yourself sprayed with hot coffee. For added safety elements, look for machines with features like automatic shut-off to prevent overheating while also saving energy. Heating material is also a crucial element for both safety and quality. Aluminum and plastic are cheap but prone to corrosion and leaks. Stainless steel won't corrode but is more likely to attract bacteria. Brass neither corrodes nor invites bacteria, but can be quite pricey. The better quality the material, the longer the machine will last.

All machines will come with some kind of water tank and filter, but the size will vary. Smaller reservoirs mean you will have to regularly refill the water supply between pulling shots, so look for one that has a decently sized tank. Also consider how easy the tank is to manage: removable reservoirs or those filled from the top are easier to manage than those that slide out from the back.

Additional Features

Besides these basics, there are a lot of bells and whistles attached to espresso machines and their utility will depend entirely on your preferences and needs.

If you want to make cappuccinos and lattes, then find a machine that includes a steam wand or steamer of some kind. Some machines also come with built-in grinders for those who do not already have one on hand. Many lower-budget machines will come with accessories like frothing pitchers, espresso cups, cleaning tools, and tampers. Keep in mind that many of these are included as an afterthought and tend to be lower in quality. However, if you are just starting out and don't have any equipment, their addition might add to the value of your purchase.

Finally, check to see if the machine's components are adjustable and replaceable. Good machines will last for a while, but if something breaks then you'll want to replace just that part rather than the whole machine.

The Importance of Personal Preference and Lifestyle

Everyone wants a machine capable of consistently producing good espresso, but what "consistent" means depends entirely on your skill level.

The easier a machine is to use, the less ability you have to take control over the brewing process.

If you're an experienced home barista, you should consider finding a machine that's more hands-on with customizable features. However, if you're a beginner just starting out on your espresso-making journey, advanced machines are often more likely to create frustrating experiences than great-tasting espresso at first. If you want a simple, hassle-free option, a Nespresso machine might be right for you.

For the most part, you will get what you pay for with espresso machines. Cheaper machines are often simpler but you can still find feature-filled espresso machines at an affordable price.

At-home systems are not designed to pull shots all day like commercial-grade machines, but durability is important if you plan on brewing every day. Also, know how much kitchen space you are willing to sacrifice for your espresso and consider whether the aesthetics are important.

Finally, you'll want to make sure your espresso machine partners well with your preferred coffee roast.

Espresso Machine Reviews

Here are some of our picks for the best espresso machines on the market. Keep in mind these are all designed for specific consumers and most differences will come down to customization, ease of use, and price point.

Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Espresso

With a stainless steel dual boiler system and 15 bar pump, this high-end machine will have even baristas drooling over the endless amount of customization. There is an LED display, pressure gauge, magnetic tamper, dedicated hot water outlet, and top-loading 84oz reservoir. Brew temperature, steam temperature, pre-infusion pressure and duration, shot volume, extraction time, and machine alerts are all programmable.

PROS

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    Dual boiler system for simultaneous extraction and steaming
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    Optional Auto-Start and heated group head mean a faster warm-up and consistent quality
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    Easy to clean with locking wheel rolling and descaling assistance
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    Highly customizable
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    Allows switch between manual and programmed settings
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    Over-Pressure Valve avoids bitter shots

CONS

  • Takes up more space than other machines on this list and uses quite a bit of power
  • Too pricey for most consumers
Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine

This highly durable machine uses a chrome plated brass boiler system, giving it impressive steam capacity and recovery time. The chromed brass portafilter and grouphead are commercial grade and produce a high-quality espresso that makes us forgive the cheap plastic tamper and silicon tubes. The 64 oz reservoir is adequate and leaves enough room for six espresso cups to warm on top. (Read more.)

PROS

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    Durable, sturdy, and long-lasting
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    Commercial grade group head and portafilter made with quality material
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    Excellent steaming wand is mobile and versatile
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    Three separate thermostats for boiler, espresso, and steam
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    Three-way solenoid valve produces a solidly dry puck

CONS

  • No option for programmed settings
  • Fairly easy to use with some skill, but will still require patience to master
Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine

The Barista Express is all-inclusive: you get an integrated Burr grinder, steaming wand, integrated tamper, 67 oz removable water reservoir, and both one-cup and two-cup single and dual wall filters. There are so many features included, but the best part is that there is enough customization to appease experts while still including beginner-friendly options. (See full review.)

PROS

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    Consistent and good for a variety of skill levels
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    Purge function makes it possible to quickly switch between steaming and brewing
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    Option for either customized settings or presets
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    Stainless steel steaming pitcher included
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    Sleek design comes in three different colors

CONS

  • Built-in grinder can heat up the bean when the machine is in use
Gaggia Classic Espresso Machine Stainless Steel

With a 17 bar pump, this is a classy machine that gives you a high-quality espresso at an affordable price. This semi-automatic machine has many of the elite features of the more expensive ones, like a commercial grade, chrome-plated brass portafilter, three-way solenoid valve, and large reservoir. And yet it has the option for espresso pods making it novice-friendly. Gaggia keeps the price down with an aluminum boiler and plastic controls scattered around the stainless steel shell. Read our full review here.

PROS

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    High quality for the cost
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    Will deliver consistently good espresso even if you aren't as skilled
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    Packs impressive amount of pressure for extraction and steaming power
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    Small enough to be compact, but large enough to hold five cups in the cup warmer
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    Suitable for espresso pods

CONS

  • Frothing wand is a Panarello, meaning it does not function as a steaming wand and you won't be able to do latte art
  • Cannot extract and steam simultaneously
DeLonghi EC702 Pump Espresso Machine

This machine will give you the quality of espresso made Gaggia Classic or Breville Duo Temp at a much lower price point and with much less effort on your part. What you sacrifice is mostly customizable options, controls, and extra features. The result is that this is a great option if you're looking for an entry-level machine that does the heavy lifting for you but still gives you an excellent espresso.

PROS

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    Does most of the work for you but 15 bar pump still produces an authentic crema
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    Automatically self-primes
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    Stainless steel boiler and separate thermostats for steaming and brewing mean you can switch back and forth or pull one shot after another
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    Spacious enough to accommodate larger mugs or glasses.
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    Suitable for espresso pods or ground coffee

CONS

  • Pressurized portafilter limits the quality of the shot for those wanting more control
  • No auto-off features
  • Reservoir is fairly small at 44oz, though is removable and dishwasher safe
  • Fairly noisy
Breville Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine

This is similar to the Gaggia in that it will produce impressive, quality espresso for its price. Pressure and heat control is automated, but the machine comes with both single and dual wall filters and the extraction is still manual so shot quality will depend on your tamping skills. This is a good stepping-stone for someone between newbie and expert who is ready to have a little more control over the shot.

PROS

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    High quality for the price
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    Simple to use while still maintaining control over shot volume and extraction
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    Three-way valve means you can do back-to-back brewing
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    Small, compact machine with an attractive look
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    Included tamper is magnetic for easy up-storage

CONS

  • Takes a bit of time to heat up, especially for steaming
  • Difficult to see the water level
  • Pressurized dual wall filters sometimes result in coffee grounds spraying everywhere when the portafilter is removed
Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma Stainles Espresso Maker

This is the quintessential entry-level machine because it holds your hand enough to reduce the number of terrible tasting shots produced while still giving you an authentic espresso-making experience.

The small features like the handy window into the water tank level and simple design are what make some people prefer the Café Roma to the Duo Temp. You aren't going to need to put much work in for a tasty shot with classic crema.

PROS

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    Excellent machine for beginners
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    15 bar pump uses the same pressure as a machine four times its cost
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    Compact size with stylish stainless steel design
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    Includes enough equipment to get the beginner started

CONS

  • Frothing wand is stationary
  • Not much room for anything but small espresso cups
  • Doesn't use pods well
Mr. Coffee ECMP50 Espresso Cappuccino Maker

If you absolutely need to stick to a small budget, then this machine is probably your best option. You're still getting the 15 bar pressure pump so the result is ultimately a good cup of espresso. However, you're going to sacrifice a lot of machine quality to meet this price point. If you are willing to spend the extra money or know you will be using your machine every day, I suggest moving up to the DeLonghi EC702 or Breville Café Roma.

PROS

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    Makes a surprisingly quality cup of espresso for an extremely low budget
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    Simple to function making it good for beginners
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    Includes a variety of accessories and both single and double shot filters

CONS

  • Screws inside the filter may rust
  • Slightly inconsistent brewing temperature
  • Not suitable for coffee pods
  • Limited control with the frothing wand
Nespresso Inissia Espresso Machine by Breville

This is the first super-automatic machine on this list and its extra-simple functionality means you are essentially going to push a button every morning for your espresso. It is designed for the ultimate ease of use and yet somehow still uses 19 bar pressure. The only choice you have to make is whether you want an espresso shot or lungo shot.

PROS

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    Powers off automatically after nine minutes for energy efficiency
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    Primes in 25 seconds, complete with primer
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    Holds up to eleven "used" capsules
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    Small and compact
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    Includes 16 "welcome" capsules

CONS

  • Only uses Nespresso capsules
  • No milk frother, so this machine will not make lattes or cappuccinos
DeLonghi ESAM3300 Magnifica Super Automatic Espresso Coffee Machine

This is a great option for espresso drinkers who want absolutely customizable shots of espresso without doing any of the labor to get there. This super-automatic has a built-in burr grinder and stainless steel double boiler heating system. You set your preferences for ground fineness, coffee strength, temperature, and espresso size and then press start. (Read more here.)

PROS

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    Customize your shot to personal taste preference
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    Automatic shut-off for safety
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    Brewer is removable for easy cleanup
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    Indicator light when it's time for decalcification
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    Adjustable spouts to fit different sized glasses and mugs
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    Instant Reheat function means it can brew one after another

CONS

  • Performs well with medium roast, but we thought it's dark roast performance could have been better
  • May leak over time

Conclusion

Though the Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler System is by far the most high-end and adjustable machine listed here, our pick for best overall goes to the Breville BES870XL Barista Express.

The quality of the espresso produced by this machine rivals the fancier products like the Breville Dual Boiler and the Rancilio Silvia.

The Barista Express maintains enough user-friendly features to be attainable for beginners, but unlike the Gaggia or the Breville Duo Temp, it still offers enough customization for experienced users to get exactly the pull they want. All of this comes with a built-in professional-grade grinder making this our top pick for an all-inclusive, affordable option.

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