Features to consider while choosing an espresso machine
We’ll start with features you need to pay close attention to when choosing the best espresso machine for your lifestyle, whether it be a manual espresso machine, a semi-automatic espresso machine, a completely automatic machine such as the Nespresso VertuoPlus Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine, a practically professional grade coffee maker with 19 bars such as the Mr. Coffee One-Touch CoffeeHouse Expresso Maker, or a machine that comes with enough accessories that you could practically open your own coffee house as is the case with our EspressoWorks All-In-One Espresso Machine & Cappuccino Maker.
The theory is that the more pressure bars the espresso maker possesses, the more it will taste like it was made by a barista in a real Italian coffee house. Most espresso machines under $300 have a pressure rating of 15 bars, but our Mr. Coffee One-Touch CoffeeHouse Espresso Maker that is number three on our list has a pressure bar rating of 19 bars. True commercial machines used in coffee houses feature a rotary coffee press, not a vibratory one, but the heavier the pressure, the more likely you are to create an espresso drink that tastes like it was produced in a real coffee house.
If a commercial rotary press is used to make the espresso in coffee houses, then no more than 15 bars of pressure is needed to make a great cup of pressure simply because it is so powerful.
Water reservoir capacity
The water reservoir capacity of an espresso maker matters if you want to serve up several espresso-based drinks at once, or if you simply do not have the inclination to fill up a smaller reservoir on a daily basis. The espresso maker with the largest reservoir capacity on our list is the Cuisinart EM-200, which has a removable 64-oz. water tank allowing you to make espressos for a week straight without having to change the water.
However, true coffee gourmands will tell your that the reservoir size does not matter unless you are having a party and serving several people, as a great cup of espresso should always be made with fresh filtered water every day. If a large capacity isn’t what you’re after, check out our review of the best single serve coffee makers, designed with more individual use in mind.
K-Cup pods vs. Nespresso capsules vs. ground coffee
In general, the more “old school” the coffee maker is, the more likely it is to have variable stainless steel slots that allow you to choose whether or not you want to make single or double shot expressos. For instance, the EspressoWorks All-In-One Espresso Machine & Cappuccino Maker can only make espresso with grounds. Some machines like the Nespresso VertuoPlus Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine, only use pods particular to their brand (Nespresso pods in this case), while other types, such as the Delonghi EC680M can convert back and forth from using grounds to using pods.
Which beverages it can make?
When choosing an espresso machine, you might want to take into account whether or not the unit is versatile enough to make several styles of coffee as is the case with the EspressoWorks All-In-One Espresso Machine & Cappuccino Maker.
If you drink your espresso black, you don’t need an attached or accessory milk frother when you buy an espresso machine. However, four of our top five choices do come with an attached milk frother which allows you to make other espresso-based drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes (and if lattes are your thing, we recommend checking out our review of the best latte machines) and flat whites. The Nespresso VertuoPlus Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine comes with a separate cup-shaped unit called the Aerocinno Milk Frother that retails for about $100 if bought on its own and it allows you to make both cold and hot froth for your caffeinated drinks.
If you have less counter space, then you might want to buy a smaller or more compact espresso machine such as the rectangular Cuisinart EM-200 or the towering tube-shaped Delonghi EC680M that is designed to nicely fit into a kitchen counter nook. Most espresso machines for under $300 are smaller than the pro models you find in cafes, so it’s usually effortless to accommodate even an appliance like the Nespresso Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine, which comes with a separate cup-shaped milk frother and a tall tubular glass water reservoir on the side.
At the very least, any espresso machine bought for under $300 should have a one-year limited warranty, but some, like our Editor’s Choice in our top five espresso machines, has a two-year limited warranty. The Cuisinart EM-200 even offers an impressive three-year limited warranty. Make sure that the warranty covers steamer nozzles and plastic parts, as they are most likely to snap off or break.
Additional features to look for when shopping for an espresso machine include a push button control panel, a timer to allow you to program that first cup of java in the morning and an adjustable cup tray that lets you to fit taller cups and small coffee thermos’s beneath the coffee and frother spout. Some units, such as the EspressoWorks All-In-One Espresso Machine & Cappuccino Maker, also come with their own accessories including a coffee grinder, measuring spoons, frothing cup, and espresso cups. The Nespresso VertuoPlus Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine on our top five list also comes with a sampler of twelve Nespresso coffee capsules, which is a nice bonus to have.
Some safety tips
Here are some vital safety tips for using espresso machines.
- As the stainless steel parts on most espresso machines can heat up within 45 seconds, be careful not to burn yourself by touching metal parts while the unit is in operation.
- Never point the milk steamer towards your hands or face.
- Clean or purge your steam wands daily to prevent bacteria build up from milk.
- Empty the drip tray regularly to make sure that coffee or water does not spill onto the electrical cord.