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The Top Espresso Machines for the Burgeoning Home-Barista

Making espresso at home is both challenging and rewarding. Here are some truly brilliant models to get you started on your barista journey.

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Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

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Over the years, I have tested a bunch of espresso makers.

A few of them are truly remarkable; however, many have been frustrating and annoying 🙅

Even some of the most popular models on the market are, in my opinion, too inconsistent and too complicated for regular home users.

In this post, I’ll discuss what I like and don’t like when it comes to espresso makers. I’ll also point you to some excellent options suitable for various budgets and needs.

Be warned: Espresso is the most complicated form of coffee, and if you’re not looking for a new hobby, you might as well stick with a more beginner-friendly method.

breville bambino plus

The ultimate espresso maker for beginners

BREVILLE BAMBINO PLUS alone

The Breville Bambino is the ideal option for beginners.

It’s consistent, easy to use, and offers some professional features.

amazon seattle coffee gear

How dedicated are you?

Becoming a home barista means jumping down a rabbit hole. Not everybody is ready for that.

I don’t want to turn this espresso machine review into a magazine personality test, but here’s at least a couple of questions you should ask yourself:

  • How much time and effort are you willing to put in?
  •  Are you more interested in lattes & cappuccinos than real espresso?

If you see it as an annoying chore to buy freshly roasted espresso beans and learn about extraction, then that should inform your decision. 

Maybe you don’t need a “legit” espresso machine after all?

Maybe the right choice for you is a cheap model with a pressurized portafilter? Or even a capsule-based device?

If you’re going to drown the shot in foamy milk, the quality of the extraction is less important.  

In that case a cheap Delonghi or Nespresso machine might be just the right choice for you.

How to pick a home espresso maker?

Okay, if you actually want to learn the barista craft, then let’s look at the next options. 

The typical entry-level models that can actually make quality espresso are single-boiler machines. The Gaggia Classic Pro and Rancilio Silvia are the two most famous ones. 

But before going ahead, and investing in one of them, you should consider your budget.

⚠️ Important

Whatever your budget is, it must include a grinder as well.

A common quote among coffee geeks is “that the grinder is more important than the coffee maker itself,” and this is actually true. Especially, when it comes to espresso! 

Let me explain why real quick:

  1. If your grinder can’t grind fine enough, you’ll not be able to brew at the correct pressure. That means that the hot water will go through your puck way too fast.
  2. If the grinder isn’t capable of making granular adjustments and switch between different grind sizes, you will never be able to dial in your shot correctly.
    (If you have too big increments, you could be stuck between either too fast or slow a flow rate)
  3. The quality and texture of the coffee grounds is also worth having in mind, but the most crucial points are #1 and #2

The Baratza Sette 30, is an excellent entry-level grinder, and if you can afford the Eureka Mignon Specialita, that’s a truly magnificent model.

Single Boiler & Dual boiler vs Manual 

Many burgeoning home baristas are shocked to realize that the grinder is almost as expensive as the espresso maker. 

It’s becoming increasingly common for first-time buyers to invest in a quality espresso grinder and a manual espresso machine (like the Flair) to save some money. 

Miicoffee Apex

True espresso capabilities on a budget

Miicoffee Apex is a disruptive force in the espresso maker landscape with its PID temperature control, 58 mm portafilter, and boiler + thermo coil configuration.

Amazon Miicoffee

These types of espresso makers have several advantages if you want to learn the barista craft, and they are typically a lot cheaper compared to similar electric espresso machines.  

However, if you also want to make milk-based drinks, you should go for a dual or single-boiler machine instead.  

The main issue here is that dual boiler machines are big and expensive. Single boiler machines are more affordable, but the workflow can be annoying.  Personally, I use the Breville Dual Boiler at home, and I can’t tell you how much easier it makes life. Two dedicated boilers (each at the correct temperature) plus many advanced modes are just game-changers.


My Favorite espresso machines of 2024

Miicoffee Apex

The Coffee Chronicler reviewing Miicoffee Apex in his studio

The MiiCoffee Apex is a bit of a breakthrough in the budget espresso machine market.

It’s really making a name for itself apart in a field that has experienced minimal innovation in recent years. With its affordable price tag, it challenges what you can expect from a machine at this price range.

The MiiCoffee Apex offers advanced features including adjustable PID temperature control, adjustable preinfusion, a standard 58 mm portafilter, a dedicated stainless steel brewing boiler, and a thermoblock for steaming. This makes it much more appealing (both on paper and in real life) compared to entry-level favorites such as the Gaggia Classic and the Rancilio Silvia.

The design of the Apex prioritizes functionality, featuring a straightforward display that eases temperature adjustments and operation. It heats up in around 7-10 minutes.

Although its aesthetics are satisfactory, some may desire more unique design elements.

Included with the machine are surprisingly hefty accessories, like a tamper, and a premium portafilter.

The main downside is that the machine operates with a 15-bar pump pressure, which strays from the conventional 9-bar standard. However, in my testing you could still get great shots at that slightly higher pressure.

Thanks to the thermoblock, steaming performance is steady, and the machine sustains steam power without lengthy waits or any temperature surfing.

Despite its shortcomings, the MiiCoffee Apex distinguishes itself in the budget-friendly espresso machine sector.

It eliminates the need for temperature surfing and introduces features rare in its price bracket, such as a PID and a dedicated brew boiler.

Whether upgrading or buying your first espresso machine, the MiiCoffee Apex emerges as a top contender in its category.

Check out my full review for more info.

amazon miicoffee

Breville Bambino Plus

breville bambino plus on table

The Bambino Plus from Breville (Sage in Europe) is my top pick for the burgeoning, yet budget-constrained, barista. I have had some epic shots from this espresso maker.

It’s a small machine that can look a little bit innocent and vanilla at first glance. But don’t be fooled. A lot of thought has gone into the functionality and features of the Bambino Plus. 

Compared to its more old-school Italian rivals (which haven’t changed substantially for decades) it’s A LOT easier to use and more reliable straight out of the box. 

It has a built-in PID thermometer, preinfusion, and brews at the correct 9 bars, instead of 15, which is way too much. 

The PID ensures that the temperature is correct when pulling shots or steaming. Don’t underestimate how nice this feature is in daily life. It means that there is no need for temperature surfing, which is mandatory on all Italian single-boilers. 

Preinfusion, is also worth highlighting. This, is a feature that is normally only available on much more expensive machines. 

It has a preset for both a single shot and a double. This can be programmed for your convenience; for instance, if you prefer to use the presets for a lungo and a double that’s also possible.

The Breville Bambino Plus also has a surprisingly powerful steam wand. There’s an auto-steaming feature, but I haven’t really used it much. 

The main downside to the Bambino is that it only comes with a pressurized basket, so you have to invest in a “real” espresso basket, if you want to get the optimal out of the machine. However, a single-wall basket is cheap, so it’s not a big expense that should deter you. 

Sidenote: When the device is sold as Sage,  it includes a single wall basket as well. 

Overall, this machine is an excellent value for the money. With a few hours of practice, you’ll be able to make good espresso and lattes. 

Read my full Breville Bambino review here.

amazon breville seattle coffee gear

Delonghi Stilosa

delonghi stilosa on table in the coffee chronicler studio

I appreciate Delonghi; it’s classic and often the first experience many have with espresso. One of my first machines ever was an entry-level model now out of production.

I recently bought the new Stilosa, just to see how it measures up to my current (and more fancy espresso tastes) and I’m actually impressed!

It heats quickly, producing flavorful espresso with authentic crema. The steam wand is functional, though not top-tier.

In Europe and Asia, the Stilosa is especially attractive.

It comes with a single-hole steam wand, which I prefer. In the US, it’s a panarello style. In the EU and Asia, you also get a genuine, non-pressurized espresso basket as standard.


Go Deeper: The Top Budget Espresso Makers Under or Around $100

For US folks, buying a 51 mm portafilter and a premium basket (for example, an IMS) is pretty easy and a great idea. This way you’ll get close to café quality. I’ve brewed fantastic shots with this device.

The Delonghi Stilosa might seem basic, but it’s more than meets the eye. Its design isn’t flashy, but it evokes a certain 90s nostalgia.

Be cautious: without a solenoid valve, it retains pressure. Wait before removing the portafilter; otherwise, you’ll experience the so-called “portafilter sneeze, ” which can be messy.

However, the lack of pressure release can benefit those exploring preinfusion and declining pressure profiles.

Achieving latte art with the pannarello steam wand might be tricky, but it’s removable.

Overall, the Delonghi Stilosa is a solid beginner machine, perfect for those new to espresso or those seeking authentic, non-pressurized brews.

amazon seattle coffee gear

See my review of the Delonghi Stiloa


Gaggia Classic Pro

White gaggia classic on white background

The Gaggia Classic Pro is one of the most popular entry-level espresso machines.

It’s sturdy, compact, and Italian, and also comes with a real commercial sized portafilter. In many ways, it’s similar to its long-term rival, the Rancilio Silvia. 

The Gaggia Classic is more affordable than Miss Silvia, and if you ask me, it’s a better-looking option after its recent redesign. 

⚠️ Heads up: Currently, I’d stay away from the new 2024 update, the so-called “EVO Pro,” as it reportedly has some issues with the coating in the boiler leaching out.

The Gaggia Classic underwent a major overhaul a few years ago and has since been improved in many ways while retaining an attractive price. The new colorways, a better steam wand, and an improved solenoid valve are welcome additions. 

This device is known for making great espresso shots, but it also requires a bit of ‘modding’ to get great results. 

Many users end up adjusting the OPV to get to 9 bars by opening up the machine and installing a special spring. Some also install a PID thermometer to get better temperature stability. 

In espresso machine reviews it’s usually praised for having the sturdiest build quality among the budget options, and I have to agree. This model can easily last for a decade or two – if you take good care of it. 

Personally, I think the time is starting to run out for the Gaggia Classic Pro. Not having a built-in PID for an espresso maker at this price point, is disappointing in 2024. This lack of thermal predictability makes it a difficult machine to learn on.

However, if you’re willing to modify the Gaggia and invest in some additional espresso accessories, the old-school Italian still has a lot going for it. 

Check out my full Gaggia Classic review here.

amazon gaggia

Rancilio Silvia

Rancilio Silvia is often called Ms. Silvia among the many loyal long term users. That is because she’s a little bit like a strong-willed Italian lady. Treat her with respect, and she’ll reward you with kindness as well as thick and textured double shots.

However, if you’re more lackadaisical in your approach to the art of making cappuccino and espresso your results are going to be sub-par.

That being said, Rancilio Silvia is the gold standard when it comes to home espresso makers, and it has been this way for more than two decades now.

This machine is a stainless steel trooper, it has an industrial-sized 58 mm portafilter, and a vintage Italian look. If you want to get serious about making classic Italian espresso or cappuccinos at home, this is a great option.

The main downside is that it doesn’t have a built-in PID thermometer like some of its competitors.

It’s more expensive than the similar Gaggia Classic, but for the extra cash you do get a bigger machine with more room to work on the drip tray, more steam pressure and a bigger boiler. In many ways they are similar machines, but Silvia should be your choice if you’re mainly planning to make milk-based drinks.

Check out my full Rancilio Silvia Review here

Amazon seattle coffee gear

Flair 58 manual espresso maker

flair 58 upside down view

The Flair 58 stands out as a truly unique espresso maker. With its manual lever-style mechanism, it pays homage to traditional coffee brewing methods, capturing the hearts of old-school enthusiasts. Yet, it’s essential not to be misled by its vintage allure. The Flair 58 incorporates an electronically heated brew head, a modern innovation that ensures your brew remains at the perfect temperature, setting it apart from other manual lever machines.

Since its debut in 2021, the Flair 58 has undergone significant enhancements. The team behind Flair has dedicated time to refining every aspect of this machine, achieving a lever machine that distinguishes itself in the contemporary coffee landscape. This evolution is a reflection of Flair’s commitment to enhancing their product range, demonstrating their thorough understanding of the craft.

Among its standout features is the genuine 58mm portafilter, a notable upgrade from earlier models that baristas will find particularly valuable. This portafilter size is the industry standard, allowing for compatibility with an extensive array of accessories and baskets.

In essence, the Flair 58 marries the nostalgic charm of manual lever brewing with the practicality of modern advancements.

flair shop


Go Deeper: Read my full Flair 58 Review


Breville Dual Boiler

The Breville Dual Boiler is a beast. It has all the functions that you need – and then some extra. 

This is the machine I brew my own shots on most mornings. 

The Dual Boiler is the current flagship from Breville. It’s meant for people who want barista-level espresso drinks. You can adjust and control almost every little detail with this machine.

You have an adjustable PID thermometer, so you can nail the exact right temperature for any bean you throw at it. 

You also have programmable preinfusion time and level. This means that you can also alter the flow rate with almost no effort.

As the name indicates this machine also has two boilers, which is just going to make your life a hundred times more easy, when it comes to making a milk-based cup of coffee. You have enormous amounts of steam power.

Of course, a single boiler will kinda work, but it’s just a massive headache to wait for the boiler to reach steaming temperature after you’ve pulled your shot. This is especially the case if you’re making more cappuccinos back-to-back. In that case, you’ll also have to purge water to get the temperature back down to brew temperature.

You won’t have issues like that with the Dual Boiler (or BDB – as fans like to call it).

The main downside with Breville is that you don’t get quite the same heritage looks as you do with the Italian E61 machines – however, the espresso will taste better and be more consistent.

If you want one of the top home espresso machines for the money, this is it. 

Read the full Dual Boiler review here.

breville amazon

Go Deeper: The Top Espresso Machine under $1000


Functions to look for:

PID

A technology that increases temperature stability. It stands for Proportional, Integral, Derivative. This is how La Marzocco explains the system.

“Before PID controllers, espresso boiler temperature was controlled by thermostats or pressurestats—small, simple mechanical devices that turn the boiler on when it dips below a certain temperature, and back off once it reaches the desired temperature. These systems worked, but they weren’t very accurate. The boiler had to cool down below a set temperature before turning on, and continued heating up slightly past the shutoff point at the top end, making temperature stability quite volatile and difficult to precisely control.” (1)

Pressure Gauge 

Espresso should be brewed around 6-9 bars of pressure. When you have an indicator, it’s a lot easier to make sure that your shot is extracted at the right pressure. You will have an extra signal to tell you if your grinding size or tamping is not correct.

Commercial Grade Portafilter

The portafilter is where your ground coffee goes. The standard size for commercial machines is 58 mm. For home espresso machines it’s not that crucial precisely what the size is. On cheaper devices, you’ll often see smaller, pressurized portafilters. These help to create pressure (and thus, crema) in the portafilter. However, pressurized portafilters should be avoided if you’re serious about learning the barista craft.

Steaming wand or Milk Frother 

If you’re dreaming about making milke coffee concoction with beautiful micro foam and latte art with unicorns you better make sure that you’re getting an espresso machine with a powerful steaming wand. Many of the cheaper models have a so-called ‘Panarello’ wand, which is actually pretty good for making cappuccinos. However, when it comes to latte art, you need a steaming wand capable of creating a vortex in the pitcher. That means that you should be looking for a model with a powerful manual steam wand.

Again, some machines such as the Nespresso come with a standalone milk frother. These can create nice foamy milk, but forget about latte art.

Water Reservoir or Plumbed in

You should pick a machine with a water tank that’s easy to access and refill. A removable water tank is a nice touch, but this is usually not available on bigger machines.

If the espresso machine is not just for personal use; let’s say it will be used at the office, it might be a good idea to pick a model that can be plumbed in. That way you don’t have to deal with constantly refilling the water reservoir or be cleaning the drip tray.

Single or Double Boiler?

Single boiler or double boiler is another one worth considering. Most cheap home machines will have the former, while the latter will be available on the pro-sumer models. The huge benefit to a double boiler is that you can seamlessly from brewing espresso to steaming. With one boiler you have to wait for the unit to heat before you can steam milk for your macchiato. If you’re going to be making a lot of milk drinks for larger groups of people a single boiler is not idea. However, if it’s just you and your significant other, you’d probably be okay with waiting a little bit. 

Built-in Grinder

Full automatic espresso machines all come with a grinder built in. On the surface this seems rather practical. Afterall, if you can store two units inside one, why not do it? However, often the grinder will not be of the highest quality. Both espresso machines and burr grinders have a tendency to break down. If you combine two units in one, you increase the likelihood that you’ll have to say goodbye to both grinder and coffee maker. For that reason, I’d almost always encourage people who ask me to for a quality standalone espresso grinder that can last them for years.

go deeper: espresso history

Water is the basis of life… but espresso is the basis of many of the most popular coffee drinks. There would be no such thing as a latte or a flat white if it weren’t for the espresso machine. 

Espresso originated in Italy more than hundred years ago. In 1901 Luigi Bezzera filed a patent for a raw device that can be seen as the precursor to today’s sophisticated machines. (2)

Along with the rapid modernization, the coffee shop became a favorite place to socialize. The Italian immigrants in the USA helped to spread the concentrated beverage to a new world. 

There is some disagreement about the word espresso itself. Some historians claim that it refers to the act of ‘pressing’ out of the beverage. Others claim that the name refers to the ‘express’ nature of the preparation itself (which leads to a common naming mistake; expresso)

Flat white in an espresso bar

The evolution of the espresso machine

Espresso machines have undergone a lot of changes over the years. The first machines, in general, relied on a manual lever to deliver the necessary 9 bars of pressure.

However, nowadays there’s a movement away from high amounts of pressure, and around 6-7 bars seems to be the preferred setting. (3)

Next step in the evolution was the semi-automatic machine. For most of us, this is the kind of device that comes to mind when we think of espresso machines. 

As with all consumer goods, there’s still some innovation going on, but to some extent, many of these machines haven’t changed that much the last 25 years. Sure, stuff like PID temperature control is becoming more widespread, but the basics are still the same. 

The latest additions to the scene have been super-automatics and capsule machines. Many hardcore coffee snobs may scoff at these kinds of devices, but there’s no doubt that the consumers love the convenience of just pressing a single button. 

No matter how you brew your espresso, however, the fundamentals of coffee still apply. You need freshly roasted quality beans to get stellar results.  

Espresso step-by-step guide

  1. Turn it on: Give it at least 10 minutes to heat up if it has a boiler. If it’s big and heavy (and old) give it even longer. The new and more modern machines, from brands such as Breville, ususally don’t need much time to get to temperature.
  2. Use a digital scale: Espresso is about consistency. Use a scale for weighing the portafilter instead of eyeballing. 
  3. Grind: Experiment with different settings until you find the perfect shot time for your particular machine and bean. 
  4. Dosing: Add the grounds to your portafilter. Either grind directly into the portafilter or into a separate grounds container. If you have an espresso accessory such as blind shaker as it can help break up any clumbs in the grounds, which will lead to a more even extraction.
  5. Tamp like a champ: Tamping is often made out to be a science but it doens’t have to be that complicated. Just make sure you do it the same way every time. You don’t have to use that much force. Just make sure that the puck is compressed a bit, so there’s no potential for channeling. Spin the tamper a few times to polish the top of the puck. 
  6. Pull the shot: Brush off any grounds on the outside of the portafilter with your hand. Attach to the group head, and start brewing. Pay attention to flow rate and time. 25-35 seconds is usually a good brew time depending on machine and size of the dose. 

References

  1. https://home.lamarzoccousa.com/history-of-the-pid/ (2015)
  2. Jimmy Stamp; https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-long-history-of-the-espresso-machine-126012814/ (2012)
  3. Cameron et al: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590238519304102 (2020)
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Asser Christensen

Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site.
I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra.
My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.