If you're looking to cut down on visits to your local coffee shop, the best home espresso machines can help you get your caffeine fix right in the comfort of your own kitchen. But an espresso machine is an investment — especially if you want one with all the bells and whistles — so it's important to consider the types of features that fit your needs.
To find the best home espresso machine, the Just Cooking Institute's Kitchen Appliances and Technology Lab tested a mix of super-automatic, automatic, semi-automatic, and capsule machines, which we selected based on popular brands, best-selling machines, and unique attributes. Some had milk frothers and some didn't. We evaluated each on ease of use, time to brew, consistency, taste, and how loud they were. Our favorites were the super-automatic and automatic machines that were easy to set up, simple to use, and didn’t require a user manual (although we didn’t mind referring to the easy-to-read ones). We also gave preference to the machines that heated up quickly and didn’t require a lot of waiting around. The best machines produced a hot, smooth cup of espresso that had depth and wasn't too bitter or acidic, with crema that was smooth without any noticeable big or small air bubbles. Overall, we think these are the best espresso machines to buy in 2020:
Best Overall Espresso Machine: Breville-Nespresso USA VertuoPlus
Best Value Espresso Machine: Capresso Ultima Pro
Best Compact Espresso Machine: Breville Bambino Plus
Best Compact Capsule Espresso Machine: Breville-Nespresso USA Essenza Mini
Best Automatic Espresso Machine: De'Longhi La Specialista
Best Customizable Espresso Machine: Breville Barista Pro
Best Espresso Machine With Milk Frother: Nespresso Lattissima One with Milk Frother by De'Longhi
Easiest Espresso Machine to Use: Krups Super Automatic Espresso and Cappuccino Machine
Best Espresso Machine for Beginners: Keurig K-Cafe Coffee Maker
Best All-in-One Espresso Machine: Mr. Coffee Occasions Coffee Maker
How does an espresso machine work?
First, it's important to understand the difference between regular coffee and espresso. Here in America, we’re used to drip coffee makers that serve up a hot mug of joe by running heated water (about 200°F) through medium-ground coffee beans. According to the Specialty Coffee Association, the perfect cup takes about six to eight minutes to brew, which allows the maximum amount of flavor to be extracted from the beans.
Espresso is made similarly but uses a lot less water, finer grounds, and a minimum of nine bars of pressure, according to the Italian Espresso National Institute, which shortens the brewing time to less than 30 seconds. The result is thicker, creamier, and stronger-tasting than drip coffee. While a single shot of espresso typically measures in at .88 of an ounce, espresso has more caffeine per fluid ounce than drip coffee (between 375 mg and 520 mg per 7.6-ounce cup of espresso, compared to between 95 mg and 165 mg per 7.6-ounce cup of coffee, according to Nespresso).
There are several ways to make espresso. While it's possible to make espresso without a machine (we happen to love Bialetti's stovetop espresso maker), espresso made via the stovetop method actually doesn't qualify as true espresso according to the Italian Espresso National Institute because it doesn't use enough pressure. When it comes to espresso machines, some are manual, while others are semi-automatic, automatic, super-automatic, or fully automatic pod machines.
How to find the right espresso machine for you
Manual machines require finely ground beans that are scooped into a portafilter and tamped down. Then the filter is attached to the brew head and a lever is used to manually pull water through the grounds. It is the most customizable method and arguably the most difficult to master.
Semi-automatic machines are similar to manual machines in terms of preparation but they operate with a button or dial that automates the water flow instead of a lever. The size of the espresso or coffee-drink may be controlled.
Automatic machines also use a button instead of a lever to brew espresso. The size of the espresso or coffee-drink is automated and often programmable. This method offers more consistency than a manual or semi-automatic machine.
Super-automatic machines are a step above automatic machines. In addition to automated and programmable coffee sizes, they can also grind beans, measure them out, and often tamp them.
Capsule machines use capsules or pods filled with pre-measured coffee to make espresso or other coffee drinks. They offer the most consistency.
Read more about our favorite models below, and scroll to the bottom of this story for our Kitchen Lab's top tips for using your espresso machine.
First, we love how easy the Nespresso VertuoPlus is to use. The lid opens and closes with one touch of the lever, and you can start brewing with the touch of a single button. You also won't accidentally use the wrong pod: The capsule machine uses a special system to detect the barcode on the capsule and then brews it exactly how it’s supposed to brew. Choose from five drink types, including espresso, double espresso, gran lungo, mug, and alto (perfect for your travel mugs). In our tests, every cup of coffee came out hot and rounded with a luxurious crema. We also like that the position of the water tank can be moved around to accommodate any size counter space. Another noteworthy perk is that Nespresso recycles used pods if you send them back to the company. Finally, you can't beat the price.
When it comes to traditional espresso machines, this one is a great value — it's very easy to use and makes a smooth cup of espresso with a perfect crema, comparable to one of the most expensive automatic machines we tested. It features buttons for double espresso, hot water, and steam (used to steam and froth milk with the attached steam wand). It can also be programmed to brew an espresso larger or smaller than the 1.5 oz default (the larger the espresso, the more mild the flavor and vice versa).
This machine's most unique feature is hidden below the lid — a holder for the included coffee-measuring spoon and extra coffee filter. While the water tank is small compared to other espresso machines, we consider this a pro because it encourages you to change the water more often, which means fresher tasting espresso.
The Breville Bambino Plus is a perfect automatic machine for those who crave the traditional espresso making experience. It comes with two dual wall filter baskets for pre-ground coffee beans, a trimming tool, tamper, and a milk jug to be used with the attached steam wand. Choose between a single espresso or a double espresso, plus steamy, frothy, or very frothy milk. In our tests, this machine made espresso that was strong with a crema that wasn't overbearing.
Not much beats this capsule espresso machine's small size and power: With 19 bars of pressure, it makes a good, full-bodied espresso with a creamy crema. Choose from espresso or lungo, with the option to use or remove the drip base for a bigger cup. The water container seems small at first glance, but we didn't mind refilling it for the freshest tasting cups.
If you’re looking for a Keurig upgrade, a special gift, or the option to mindlessly froth milk, look no further than the Keurig K-Cafe. Four coffee size options (6 oz., 8 oz., 10 oz., and 12 oz.), plus a “strong” option make it easy to enjoy your favorite K-cup exactly how you like it. Add in an Espresso Roast K-cup capsule and a “shot” size option and you’re well on your way to making a fine cup of espresso, too.
While the Espresso Roast K-cup doesn’t quite deliver on crema, a built-in coffee frother allows you to froth milk quickly and easily for cappuccinos (less milk) and lattes (more milk); plus, there’s also a “cold” option if you’d like to enjoy your frothy milk drink over ice. In our tests, this capsule machine was very consistent when it came to preheat time, brew time, coffee temperature, and volume.
This automatic espresso machine delivers a cup of espresso that's as fancy as it looks; plus, it’s easy to use and adjust based on your preference. Choose from six grind sizes (fine for dark espresso, coarse for coffee), then select single espresso, double espresso, Americano, or coffee. It also dispenses hot water for tea.
La Specialista has a built-in tamping mechanism, which helps pack your grounds perfectly, and a pressure gauge you can monitor to ensure you're making the perfect cup. It also has an adjustable steam wand that can be used for flat (best for lattes) or foamy (best for cappuccinos) milk. We loved the full-body espresso it produced, with a thin, silky crema. A knock box for used grounds can be bought separately, which we found very useful when making espresso after espresso.
If you’re very particular about your coffee, this is the automatic espresso machine for you. The Barista Pro allows you to choose from 30 different grind sizes and five temperatures. The steam wand is basic, so you can froth your milk exactly how you like it. It also comes with four filter baskets, two for pre-ground coffee and two for whole coffee beans. We recommend playing around with the settings, starting with the default settings, to create your perfect espresso.
This super automatic espresso machine is very easy to set up and use. Simply press the "on" button before being guided through a step-by-step set-up on the screen. During our test, we were able to set the time, date, and water hardness level with no effort. The buttons were very clear and responsive, and the screen guided us through every remaining stage from preheating, to brewing, and cleaning. We never had to guess what stage the machine was up to, because it clearly spelled it out on the screen.
Choose between five sizes (espresso, long coffee, ristretto, doppio or americano), three milk options (cappuccino, macchiato, or frothy milk), an extra shot, a dark brew, and three water temperature options for different tea (green, black, and herbal). The milk container connects easily to the coffee outlet, which smoothly adjusts to a wide variety of heights to accommodate different cup sizes and help prevent splattering.
One of the most unique features: You can set a “wake” time for specific times and days — so you can skip the 1½ minute preheat time and enjoy a hot cup when you were ready.
The Lattisima line takes the guesswork out of frothing milk. While still delivering big flavor using Nespresso’s trusted brewing method and capsules, it also automatically froths milk for your espresso-based drink. With the Lattissima One, you can choose from a cappuccino or a latte macchiato by adding milk to the container and pressing the milk frothing button. The Gran Lattissima operates similarly, but allows you to choose from nine different drink options with the single touch of a button. Choose from three different espresso sizes (ristretto, espresso, or lungo) and six different milk options (cappuccino, flat white, latte macchiato, caffe latte, hot foam, or hot milk).
Take note: In our tests, we liked not having to figure out how much milk we should use for certain drinks or how much foam to make, but we found that the milk-based drinks weren’t always consistent. Plus, while the milk container was easy to use, it was a little hard to clean especially if you forgot to refrigerate the extra portion right away.
The Mr. Coffee All-in-One Coffee Maker does it all. It can make espresso, K-cup based drinks, or a full pot of coffee in a thermal carafe. It also has a steam wand to froth milk. The control panel is very easy to use, and the attachments became easier to attach and detach after the first couple of times. In our tests, the automatic espresso function produced a nice crema, the K-cups tasted like well-brewed K-cups, and the coffee was hot and full-bodied. The thermal carafe kept coffee hot for hours! When we checked on it the next day, it was still over 100°F!
•Don't forget to prime. All espresso makers need to be primed before using for the first time or if they haven't been used in more than a month. Priming most often requires running three cycles of clean water through the machine (with no coffee) to remove any dust or particles that may have accumulated.
•Use filtered water for the freshest tasting coffee drinks. Some automatic and super automatic machines come with a water hardness strip that allows you to test the hardness of your water. Very hard water should not be used because it could lead to excessive scale build up.
•Use dark roast coffee beans for maximum flavor and grind them just before brewing. The finer the coffee grounds, the stronger the flavor. Some espresso machines require making a cup of plain water before brewing to heat the machine.
•Skim milk is recommended for frothing because it's the lightest and increases in size the best. Use 2% milk or whole milk if a creamier froth is desired. Alternative milks, like oat milk or almond milk, may be used for frothing although they will not get as foamy as regular milk.
•When frothing milk using a steam wand, fill the cup or included pitcher with milk so at least 1/3 of it is submerged. While keeping it submerged, tip the handle upwards on a slight angle to heat the milk until the outside of the cup feels warm. Then, slowly lower the cup so the tip can skim the top and form bubbles. Less milk with more froth is used for cappuccinos and more milk with less froth is used for lattes. Always wipe the steam wand with a damp cloth after steaming milk to prevent buildup.