There are many ways to make a coffee but, for the aficionado for whom only the best will do, nothing, absolutely nothing compares to a good strong espresso, whether it’s as a plain shot, a latte, a cappuccino or a macchiato.
Let us firstly say, our best espresso maker at the moment is the Gaggia Naviglio. You can read more about it below, but it's excellently priced, is a fine espresso maker and has plenty of customisation.
They may be a little more difficult to use than pod coffee makers, and a touch more expensive, but the results are much more satisfying. Are you ready to step into the world of freshly ground, artisan coffee?
Trouble is, there’s a bewildering surfeit of espresso machines out there and that presents a daunting challenge for anyone wishing to narrow the shopping list down to just a handful of machines. Do you go for a fully automated bean-to-cup unit, a manually operated hand-pump machine or a cheap portable one for those one-off periods when the only other option is a thoroughly stewed pot of hideous filtered coffee?
Well, you can stop fussing right away because we’ve done the homework for you. Read on for the lowdown.
How to buy the best espresso maker for you
Are you a wannabe barista who enjoys the art of espresso pulling and is quite happy to digest the complex science behind the art? What you need is a manually operated machine like the La Pavoni Europiccola, Elektra A1 Mini Verticale or possibly even the semi-automatic Sage Barista Express.
But if you just want a very good espresso, cappuccino or latte and can’t be arsed with messy coffee grinds and manually operated machinery then a one-touch bean-to-cup model like the Krups EA8150, Gaggia Naviglio or Jura A1 is the way to go. Bean-to-cup machines are more popular than ever and it’s easy to see why. The nearest equivalent is perhaps the coffee capsule extractor. However, capsules are much more expensive to buy and the pre-ground granules inside the capsules may have been sitting there for weeks if not months. Used capsules are also becoming a growing burden on the planet’s eco system.
Bean to cup machines may be a lot larger than coffee capsule models but they do the job remarkably well. As the moniker implies, they grind the beans, deposit the grounds in the filter, extract the coffee and then dump the used grounds in a tray ready to be thrown away. What could be easier?
Have a wander through this carefully curated list of espresso models and see which model tickles your fancy.
The 10 best espresso makers and bean-to-cup machines to buy today
1. Gaggia Naviglio
A top-flight entry-level machine
Gaggia’s been producing espresso machines since 1938 so it probably knows a thing or two about the subject. The Naviglio is its entry-level bean-to-cup model, and a damn fine espresso maker it is too. For a start, it’s got nice big squidgy buttons with clearly defined icons – single shot, double shot, cappuccino steam, hot water – that are easy to follow without reference to the manual. It comes with a raft of custom options, too, including the ability to select the amount of coffee to be ground, the texture of the grinds (from course to fine) and the length of extraction.
Given that this writer enjoys a very rich, aromatic elixir, I set it to the highest level on all settings and out poured a thick, golden stream of gloriously creamy espresso with a kick like a mule that’s just had its arse smacked with a thorn bush. The fact it did it all automatically – including dumping the used grounds into a container – just made it all the more satisfying. Figure in the low price and Gaggia’s renowned after sales service and, well, what’s not to like?
2. Minipresso GR
Espresso to go
If you’re a travelling espresso junkie who can’t function without a decent caffeine hit, try this little portable lifesaver. The cylindrical Minipresso measures just 18cm x 5cm and comes with everything you need to make a genuinely creamy espresso.
Just add hot water and a scoop of fine-ground blend and slowly hand pump the piston for an unexpectedly rich, aromatic espresso as good as the majority of machines on this page. And that’s no exaggeration. It’s made from seemingly unbreakable plastic, too, so it should stand up to a lot of knocks.
If hotel coffee rarely meets your high expectations or you’re stuck out in the wilds, pop one of these in the shoulder bag and you’ll never be without a proper caffeine fix again. Best budget buy bar none.
3. Krups EA8150
Best for ease of use
Krups espresso machines usually sport a longer than average operating lifespan so do consider the brand if reliability is an important factor. This mid-priced bean-to-cup machine has a much smaller footprint than the Gaggia and most other similarly-styled models in this roundup so bear that in mind if worktop space is an issue.
This machine is excellent on all fronts. It’s just so easy to use and the interface is a dream to navigate. Everything is self evident, from the simple mode selection button to the plus/minus signs when making various adjustments, like how many milliliters of espresso you require per cup and whether or not you live in a soft or hard water area.
Above all, it produced consistently excellent espressos time after time and some pretty impressive cappuccinos, too. A top three position is assured.
4. Jura A1
A beautifully crafted machine
The Swiss don’t just do banks, fancy watches and trains that run on time. This minimalist bean-to-cup unit was recently spied at a John Lewis demonstration, and who are we to pass up the opportunity for a quick shot of mid-shopping joe?
The first thing you’re drawn to is the A1’s aesthetically elegant design; it really is a beautifully crafted machine with no visible controls on the front panel (instead, everything’s controlled from the top via a touch-sensitive key pad).
The proof is in the tasting and this machine delivered in spades, producing a wonderfully aromatic espresso with a thick caramel-like crema almost as deep as the head of a Guinness draft bitter. If Apple produced espresso machines…
5. Sage Barista Express
Heston does it again
Sage is well respected for its wide range of appliances – many of them endorsed by food sorcerer Heston Blumenthal – and this highly regarded bean-to-cup effort is a case in point.
Actually, the Barista Express isn’t entirely automatic since you will be responsible for tamping down the freshly ground coffee once it’s deposited into the unit’s conventional espresso filter arm. This does allow scope for a bit more mess but the end result speaks volumes because this machine really does produce an exquisite espresso and a smooth creamy crema. It makes excellent cappuccinos, too.
However, it should also be pointed out that there are other aspects to this machine that might well scare some prospective users away. Unless you plan to dig deep into the manual and study the art of pressure adjustment, flow rate and precise coffee measurement, you might wish to give it a miss. But for the wannabe barista, the Sage punches way above its weight. And weighty it is, too.
6. Elektra A1 Mini Verticale
Stunning retro looks
This utterly beguiling Italian model is as much a style statement as it is an espresso machine. Don’t be misled by its seemingly small stature because the Elektra A1 measures over half a metre in height and 33cm in diameter, making it one very large kitchen apparatus. Essentially a stripped back domestic version of the commercially popular Belle Epoque model, the A1 is made from beautifully polished copper and brass and, despite it’s imposing presence, is actually easier to use than you might think.
Users, however, have pointed out two shortcomings in its design: a) the water is stored under that shiny dome in a cheap one-litre plastic reservoir that seems out of place on a machine at this price; and b) the poorly designed drip plate is difficult to remove when full. Also, given the huge weight of the Elektra, it’s no easy task moving it aside to clear any excess water underneath. On the plus side it warms up and pressurises quickly and makes a consistently excellent café-style espresso with bags of crema. If Baron Munchausen were an espresso fiend, this is the model he’d choose.
7. Handpresso Auto
Portable in-car lifesaver
You’re in the car, stuck in a monumental jam on the M6. Everything’s ground (pardon the pun) to a standstill and, to top it off, you’re still 10 miles away from a motorway services. But you have a plan. You’ve still got half a bottle of Evian to hand, and a Handpresso Auto and a packet of Lavazza in the glove compartment.
Fill the chamber with water, scoop in some pre-ground espresso blend (or an ESE pod for less mess), plug it into the cigarette lighter, close your ears while it emits its irritating miniature pneumatic drill-type sound and, voila, you now have a damn fine hot cup of instant espresso replete with obligatory crema. Cool car kit.
8. Miele CM 6110
Teutonic build quality
Got a bit of dosh to splash about? How about this Teutonic marvel, then? It’s not cheap, mind, but then we are talking Miele here. This bean-to-cup model hides everything inside, including the coffee bean grinder. Its interface is extremely intuitive and even guides the user through each step. The touch-sensitive buttons, though, are a bit annoying to use.
If cappuccinos are your bag, then this is the machine you need since everything – from frothing the milk, grinding the beans and extracting the coffee – is done totally automatically. All you need to do is open the side of the machine, retrieve the small rubber hose and insert its nozzle into a jug of milk. Most impressive.
9. La Pavoni Europiccola
Authentic Italian design
If you believe espresso making is an art form far beyond the notion of slapping a pre-made capsule into a hole, then this debonair cast brass and chromium-plated machine is for you. Unlike most domestic computer-controlled espresso makers that use pre-programmed presets to determine the right levels of extraction time and pressure, this one is a back-to-basics manual job that involves a bit of elbow grease.
The concept is simple enough: a lift of the lever raises a piston that allows water under pressure to infuse the coffee in the filter holder. When you pull back down on the lever, the piston forces the water through the coffee and into the cup. The knack here – and it’s very trial and error – is to vary the speed at which the water passes through the coffee.
The slower you pull, the stronger the brew. This imposing workhorse is capable of producing up to eight consecutive top-flight espressos at a time and will even whip up a semi-automatic cappuccino. By which time your biceps will resemble a tree trunk.
10. DeLonghi Dinamica ECAM 350.35.W
A decent enough workhorse
DeLonghi is a lead player in the realm of bean-to-cup machines (15 and counting) and this model is positioned somewhere between their mid and high-end price points. As with all bean-to-cuppers it’s a big old beast, so bear that in mind if you don’t have much worktop space.
The Dinamica features a touch-control, recipe-based interface panel that is fiddly to use and not without issues. For instance, once you’ve selected the personalized ‘My Function’ mode, there’s no back button to take you out again.
So you have to switch the whole caboodle off and start again. However, that’s not the only foible we found. Much more pressing was the fact that, try as we might (including adjusting the grind and extraction time) we just couldn’t get it to make as strong a brew as the similar Gaggia and Krups.
It wasn’t bad by any means; just not as strong as some might prefer. Its ‘LatteCrema’ cappuccino system, though, performed admirably, as did its overall automation. The Dinamica is still worth a gander but maybe pop it further down your list. As, indeed, we have.