If you’re not a morning person, some form of caffeine with breakfast is a must. For many, a simple cup of tea is enough to shake the cobwebs off. The rest of us need something a bit stronger, like a fresh cup of coffee, or– better yet– a shot of espresso.
In the olden days, people used to worry about the health risks associated with caffeine. Today we know that caffeine is not only not dangerous– it’s actually quite good for you.
Given all the many merits of caffeine, why not start brewing your own espressos?
If you’ve never had a home-brewed espresso before, you’re missing out. Once you get the hang of the brewing process, your espressos will come out fresh and they’ll taste delicious.
Another thing to consider is that all those trips to the coffee shop really do add up. Investing in your own personal machine will save you money in the long run. Plus, it simply feels good to be able to brew your own espresso in the comfort of your own kitchen.
When espresso machines first came out, only the most expensive ones were worth the buy. Today’s generation of espresso machines, on the other hand, are generally much less expensive than their grandfathers. Plus, modern espresso machines have all kinds of new features.
If you are in the market for an espresso machine but you don’t know where to begin, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out everything you need to know about all the best espresso machines on the market today.
What’s the Difference Between an Espresso Machine and a Coffee Maker?
The basic difference between a coffee machine and an espresso maker is pressure. If all you want to do is brew normal coffee, an automatic drip coffee maker will do just fine. To create an espresso, however, you need hot, pressurized water.
Espresso grinds are finer than normal coffee grinds. The extra bit of processing involved helps squeeze out more taste (and, of course, more caffeine.)
Shorter brewing time
If you want to cook up a pot of coffee, you’ll have to wait awhile for it to brew. An espresso machine, on the other hand, can instantly spit out a fresh shot of espresso.
It makes stronger coffee
Espresso is much stronger than normal coffee. The average cup of coffee contains 40 milligrams of caffeine. A single shot of espresso, however, contains 212 milligrams.
Once you start getting used to the taste of high-end espresso, you’ll start feeling tempted to turn your nose up at the sight of run-of-the-mill coffee. Espresso enthusiasts call the oil that gathers on the top of a well made espresso “creama.”
Though the price of a well-made espresso machine has come down since its inception, most espresso machines are still generally a bit more expensive than coffee makers.
Why Modern Espresso Machines Are Awesome
In the old days, espresso machines were super expensive. Only the top-of-the-line machines actually worked. Less expensive machines didn’t heat the water properly or had other issues.
Also, in the old days you had to do everything manually. Figuring out an espresso machine took patience and a whole lot of experimentation because every espresso system was different.
Today, the situation has changed because of technology. Prices have dropped. Additionally, boiler systems have become more efficient and smarter. Also, it doesn’t take much effort to brew a perfect espresso anymore because the computer inside of most modern espresso machines will do all the calculating for you.
3 Important Things to Think About When Buying an Espresso Machine
1. The grinder
The grinder is by far the most important aspect when it comes to making a delicious espresso with a high-end machine. It only takes 30 minutes for fresh coffee to start going stale. Wait any longer than that, and you’ll start losing flavor. Even the best hand-cranked grinders simply aren’t very effective at producing espresso coffee. For best results, get an electronic grinder.
2. The quality of the coffee disks
Maybe all you need is a basic a automatic espresso maker. That’s okay. You can still get decent espresso out of an automatic espresso machine that uses only pre-processed espresso grinds. But if the quality of the coffee found in the manufacturer’s disks isn’t to your liking, you’re stuck. Try before you buy.
There’s no reason why a high-end espresso machine shouldn’t last you for 10 years, or even longer. When small parts break, they can be replaced. Generally, the most popular brand names are easier to repair. That’s why if you’re just starting out, it makes sense to go for a popular brand name. Do keep in mind, however, there are quite a few boutique espresso machine manufacturers out there that are definitely worth a second look.
4 Essential Espresso Machine Accessories
1. The tamper
Basically, the tamper is a thing that presses down the grinds when you load up the machine. All true espresso fanatics own one.
2. Cups and saucers
If you’re going to invest in an espresso machine, you should get some nice cups and saucers to go with it. It’s not just about coming off as fancy and sophisticated– the quality of the cup can affect the taste. The ideal espresso cup shape is a bowl, not a square. Thicker cups leach away heat, so thinner cups are generally better.
3. The knockbox
After you use up your espresso grounds, you don’t simply dump them in the trash– you dispose of them in a knockbox. Reg Barber makes customized knockboxes out of African rosewood, but you don’t need to go that far. If you are on a budget, just buy one from Ikea.
4. The steaming pitcher
Your steaming pitcher doesn’t have to be fancy. However, if you want to pour your espresso properly you do need a steaming pitcher that has a narrow, pointed spout.
Manual, semi or fully automatic?
Manual machines take some skill to use. However, once you master a manual machine you can exert a tremendous amount of control over the way your espresso comes out.
Semi automatics take away some of that control, but the tradeoff is that they are much more user friendly compared to manuals– that’s why semi automatics are the most popular type of espresso machine on the market.
With fully automatic espresso machines, all you need to do to make espresso is press a button. Some espresso fanatics frown upon automatic machines, but who cares? If you’re just looking for a caffeine fix, ease of use is the priority.
How We Conducted Our Research
The espresso machine market is a crowded one, and there are a ton of espresso machines to consider. So then, how did we manage to come up with the list of awesome espresso machines listed below?
We started with Amazon. Amazon’s famous review system rewards dedicated shoppers for reviewing the products that they buy. There are a lot of questionable reviews out there, so we only looked at the most respected Amazon reviewers. All-star Amazon shoppers have tons of followers on Vine and other social media networks. If they lie to their fans, they’ll get unfollowed.
Next, we surveyed the blogosphere. Popular bloggers with legions of fans get free swag from manufacturers who want to promote their products. A negative review from a single influential blogger can cause a manufacturer to revamp an entire product line.
Finally, we searched YouTube to see if we could find video footage of each of these espresso machines in action. Just like bloggers, many popular YouTubers review products for their fans. If a machine performed especially well on camera, we awarded it a few extra points.
Amazon UK’s 6 Best Espresso Machines
At the end of our lengthy research process, we were down to only 6 espresso machines. The espresso makers on this list are all equally good machines, but they’re also all totally different animals. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. The Tassimo Vivy TAS1252GB – Bosch
This fully-automatic espresso machine from well-known kitchen appliance maker Bosch is a good deal for anyone looking for a basic espresso machine. All you do is insert the coffee and push a button, and out comes your espresso. Because the Tassimo is small for an espresso machine, it won’t take up much space in your kitchen.
- It’s small. This device won’t take up much space or boil more water than you need.
- The computer makes all the decisions. You don’t have to know a thing about coffee to use this machine. The integrated Intellibrew system does all the thinking for you.
- It’s easy to clean. It’s small size and automatic cleaning features make this one a good choice for espresso lovers looking for a very low maintenance espresso maker.
- It’s super inexpensive. This espresso machine is about the same price as a high-end coffee maker. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
- It’s slow. Unlike the more powerful machines on the market, this espresso maker forces you to wait a few extra seconds for your coffee to come out.
- You have to use a T Disk. This machine only brews pre-processed coffee. You can’t use your own grinds.
2. CitiZ&Milk – Nespresso
Nespresso is a line of espresso products from industry giant Nestlé. Like Bosch’s Tassimo Vivy, the CitiZ&Milk is a no-frills automatic espresso maker that’s a good choice for coffee fans looking for a basic espresso solution. It’s a little bit more expensive than the Bosch, but it also has a few extra useful features.
- The milk frother. This machine’s milk frother is a strong point. The CitiZ&Milk lets you prepare many different types of hot milk froth.
- It’s quick. The CitiZ&Milk will spit out a espresso in just 25 seconds.
- It’s easy to clean. The water tank comes off, so all you have to do is snap it off and rinse it out every once in a while when you want to clean the machine.
- You can’t use your own grinds. Just as with the Bosch Tassimo Vivy, you have to use a coffee disk with this machine. However, when you buy the machine you do get a welcome set containing 16 free disks.
3. Dolce Gusto Oblo – Nescafé
Nescafé is also owned by Nestlé. This machine is also a fairly basic yet very effective espresso maker. Unlike the other products mentioned above, though, the Dolce Gusto Oblo features a very unique, stylish design. At the same time, it also doesn’t take up much space. It can make over 30 different types of hot and cold drinks and it ships with a 2 year guarantee.
- A stylish design. We liked the sleek, modern shape of this espresso maker.
- It can make cold drinks. Unlike similar automatic espresso machines, this one can make cold drinks.
- You can’t use it with tall glasses. The interesting design of this machine has a downside. If your cup is taller than the hole in the center, you can’t use it with this device.
4. The Dedica EC680 – De’Longhi
Now this is a real espresso machine. This device from De’Longhi accepts both coffee disks and fresh ground coffee, making it a great choice for casual espresso drinkers and fanatics alike. Made out of high quality stainless steel, the Dedica is built to last.
- Versatility. The best espresso comes from freshly ground coffee. If you have enough time to grind your own beans, you can enjoy fresh espresso with this machine. On the other hand, if you’re in a rush and you just want to get your fix… just pop in a coffee disk and press the button.
- More control. The Dedica is a semi-automatic espresso maker. The integrated flow stop function allows you to pre-set and store different sizes.
- Small size. This is a professional espresso machine, yet it barely takes up any kitchen counter space.
- Good looks and value. Though the price of this machine is rather cheap for what it is, the stainless steel exterior and sexy design makes it look like a top-of-the-line espresso maker.
- The warming tray isn’t very effective. This machine features a warming tray, but it takes forever for it to warm up. The warming tray is a nice feature to have, though, and future editions of this machine will probably correct this slight problem.
5. 15 Bar Espresso Coffee Machine – Jack Stonehouse
The 15 Bar Espresso Coffee Machine from Jack Stonehouse looks like a serious piece of coffee making equipment. It is. Using the steam arm, you can mix air, steam and milk to create a rich froth on the top of your drink. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to churn out professional espressos for yourself, your friends and your family.
- Professional look and feel. Though the Jack Stonehouse is a bit big (19 x 24 x 29cm), it will make your kitchen look professional if you have the space for it. This is what people imagine when they think about what an espresso maker looks like.
- It comes with nice accessories. With this Jack Stonehouse machine, you get a nice looking tamper that goes well with the machine and a filter holder.
- Incompatible with coffee disks. If you own this machine, you’ll have to grind your own coffee every single time. Purists won’t mind, but if you don’t have the time to go through the ritual every day you may be better off with something a little more casual.
6. The Magnifica ESAM4000.B – De’Longhi
The Magnifica ESAM4000.B is the only espresso maker on our list that contains a built-in grinder. Espresso purists say that you should never trust a built-in grinder, but the Magnifica is the exception to the rule. It’s bean-to-cup functionality works quite well and the resulting coffee is comparable to espresso that was ground up with a medium-to-high quality grinder.
- Excellent built-in grinder. The internal grinder works well and delivers on the “bean-to-cup” promise.
- Self-cleaning functionality. This machine rinses itself out after every use. For thorough cleanings, it snaps apart easily.
- Ease of use. Though you can do all kinds of things with this machine, operation is fairly straightforward. Just press the correct button, and the Magnifica will do whatever you want it to do.
- Slightly pricey. Several decades ago, an espresso machine that performs at this level would have really cost you. The price of this machine isn’t quite as high as the price of yesterday’s espresso machines, but it’s still the most expensive item on this list. However, the fact that the internal grinder works so well means that you may not need to buy a separate one if you go with this espresso maker.