The best espresso machine ensures you can brew coffee-shop worthy hot drinks at home. So whether you prefer a short, intense shot, or want to re-create longer espresso-based drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos, you can assume the role of barista and create your perfect coffee every time.
An espresso machine works by pushing pressurized hot water through ground coffee sitting in a basket. However, it offers free rein over experimenting with how compacted the ground coffee should be (known as tamping) and how much water should be pushed through these grounds to create your perfect shot of espresso.
The combination of loosely compacted coffee and lots of water results in a weaker coffee, while a stronger brew is achieved with less water and ground coffee that's heavily compacted. If you’re new to the world of espresso machines then check out these top tips from a barista on how to make coffee-shop worthy drinks at home.
The best espresso machines comprise several different types of coffee maker on the market that can produce short, intense shots of coffee. For a mess-free way to make espresso, consider one of the best single-serve coffee makers. Also known as pod coffee machines, ground coffee for use here is contained within a capsule that’s punctured by the machine before water is pushed through it, offering a much simpler and cleaner process.
Alternatively, the best bean-to-cup machines do the work of the barista for you, automatically rustling up a range of espresso-based drinks with very little input. For an in-depth look at the different types of machines available, read how coffee makers work. If you’re still unsure about which type of coffee machine you should opt for, our article which type of coffee maker should I buy? can help.
In general, espresso machines that offer manual control will come in at a higher cost compared to other types of coffee maker on the market. You won’t find models for less than $349 / £199 in this roundup, aside from the hand-pump espresso maker. Those on a tighter budget should opt for a single-serve coffee machine, which is far more affordable – prices start from around $80 / £80. Check out our roundup of the best cheap coffee maker deals to ensure you grab a bargain.
We’ve put an array of espresso machines from brands such as Gaggia, DeLonghi, Nespresso and Sage (known as Breville in the US and Australia) through their paces, assessing how well each brews espresso to discover which is the best espresso machine for 2021.
Best espresso machine 2021
If you’re looking for the best espresso machine you can buy right now, and money is no object, then the Gaggia Classic is the ideal choice.
It comes with single and double espresso filters, as well as a crema perfetta filter. Gaggia says it will produce a shot of coffee with a thick crema, without having to experiment with the coffee grind size, making it ideal for those who want to learn how to use an espresso machine, before attempting to play barista. It also offers full manual control over how much water is dispensed, allowing you to create the volume of coffee you want.
On test, we were impressed that the coffee was rich and intense. With all three filters, it had a stable crema that reformed when sugar was sprinkled on top. The built-in steam wand ensures you can make milk-based coffee drinks too. However, this is the most expensive espresso machine.
Read our full review: Gaggia Classic
If you’re tight on space then the Sage Bambino offers similar features to the Gaggia Classic above but with a more compact footprint, and a slightly more affordable price tag too.
On test, we found the Sage Bambino – known as the Breville Bambino in the US and Australia – created coffee with body and a thick crema. We were also impressed that it offers a choice between manual and automatic water dispensing.
Simple to use, the Sage Bambino comes with a built-in steam wand, plus a milk jug in the range of accessories with which it ships, meaning you really take on the role of the barista as soon as the coffee machine is out of the box. However, we did find there was some dripping after the espresso had been poured – and, unlike other Sage/Breville-branded coffee makers, this one lacks the razor tool that can smooth off the coffee in the filter.
Read our full review: Sage Bambino
If you’re looking for an effortless way to make espresso at home, the Nespresso Vertuo Next ticks all the boxes. This is a single-serve coffee machine, and as such makes far less mess than a traditional espresso machine, as the ground coffee is contained with an aluminum capsule.
The espresso machine reads a barcode on the side of the capsule that offers information on how much water should be used and how long the brewing process should take. This makes it one of the simplest coffee machines to use. However, this also means you have no control over the brewing process.
It has the ability to create five different-sized drinks – and, during testing, the Nespresso Vertuo Next produced smooth coffee, topped with a thick crema that reformed even after we stirred in some sugar.
However, note that the pods can work out more expensive than buying ground coffee. In addition, there’s no steam wand here for texturizing milk, so you’ll need to purchase a separate milk frother from the brand if you’re sold on the rest of the Vertuo Next’s features.
Read our full review: Nespresso Vertuo Next
If you want a true espresso machine that lets you experiment with tamping the coffee and dispensing the water, but you’re on a budget, then the De’Longhi Dedica Style is one of the more affordable espresso machines in this category.
Simple to use, it takes ESE pods as well as ground coffee, which means it can be used to make decaf coffee, too. On test it created an intense espresso with a stable crema. It can brew two espressos at the same time, but placing two cups under the spout on such a compact machine did prove tricky.
We were disappointed by the fact the machine can’t make espresso straight after steaming milk. As such, if you're planning to make several coffees with milk, then you'll need to brew all of the espressos before starting on the milk-based drinks. We also experienced some dripping after espresso was poured.
Read our full review: De'Longhi Dedica Style EC685
If you’re after an espresso machine that has style and substance, the Smeg ECF01 Espresso Maker is perfect. The retro-style design is available in an array of colors, so you’re sure to find one to suit your home decor. The Smeg produces a rich, intense shot of espresso with a thick, stable crema.
We like that this coffee machine allows you to control how much water is dispensed, and will even remember your preferred volume and automatically dispense at that level the next time a coffee is brewed. However, with no guidance available on brewing espresso, the ECF01 isn’t suitable for complete novices.
In addition, with just a 1.1-quart / 1-liter water tank, this is one of the smallest capacity espresso machines we’ve tested, so if you’re looking to make several coffees at the same time, it may not be the model for you. We also found its compact size meant it was tricky to fit two espresso cups under the spout at the same time.
Read our full review: Smeg ECF01 Espresso Maker
If you’re looking for a way to make good-quality espresso on the go then the Picopresso is ideal. This espresso machine uses hand-pump power – rather than batteries or mains power – so it can accompany you anywhere, as long as you have access to boiling water and ground coffee.
It’s aimed at coffee aficionados, leaving the tamping and water volume up to you, which means it isn’t suitable for beginners. However, on test, we were very quickly able to create coffee with body and a stable cema using this compact device, which cleverly slots together so there’s no chance of losing any accessories in your bag.
However, with just a 0.1-quart / 0.08-liter water tank, it can brew only small quantities of coffee in one go, plus there’s no way to texturize milk. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of weekends away, the Picopresso does at least mean you won’t need to go hunting for a coffee shop to get a barista-worthy hot drink.
Read our full review: Wacaco Picopresso
How we test espresso machines
We take testing espresso machines seriously and put each machine through its paces to see if it’s able to live up to its promises. We assess the quality of espresso produced by each machine, analyzing the flavor of the final drink; we look for a rich, intense shot of coffee that doesn’t taste bitter or burnt, along with a thick, stable crema that reforms after sugar has been sprinkled on it.
The temperature of the espresso is also measured, checking for consistency from one cup to another, and we assess the noise level of the machine, too. If it has a built-in steam wand, we evaluate its ability to texturize both dairy and plant-based milk, looking for tiny bubbles that create a rich, smooth texture. Again, we assess whether its noise level is acceptable.
We also evaluate how easy an espresso machine is to set up and use, whether it offers enough manual control for those who want to take on the role of barista, plus how much space it will take up on your kitchen counter. We consider if the water tank is removable for easy refills, and how the machine looks as a whole.
What to consider when buying a an espresso machine
When it comes to choosing an espresso machine, there are a number of things to consider.
First, decide if you want an espresso machine that offers manual control over dispensing water, or if you want a machine that takes on that work for you; the latter is probably better for those new to playing barista.
Next consider if you want a machine that can be used with ground coffee, single-serve pods, or a mixture of the two. Coffee pods are less messier than using ground coffee, and can be handy if you occasionally want to make decaf coffee using the machine – but they don’t produce the thick rich crema you get with freshly ground coffee.
If you regularly make espresso for a couple of people at the same time, look for a coffee machine that has a double spot on the tray and can fill two separate cups at the same time. Meanwhile, if you like longer coffee drinks with milk, such as cappuccinos and lattes, choose an espresso machine that has a built-in steam wand, or factor in the cost of a standalone milk frother.
Finally, take note of the size of the espresso maker to see if you have sufficient room for it on your kitchen countertop – or, if you plan to store it away in a cupboard, consider its weight to see that you’ll be able to easily lift it.
How do I make an espresso?
Once you have the best espresso machine for you, it’s also important to know how to make an espresso. Espresso is made by passing water at high pressure through compacted ground coffee.
However, a set ‘recipe’, which usually refers to a ratio and brewing duration, is usually given by the roaster (the brands that roast and blend coffee beans). The most common recipe is 1:2 in 25 to 35 seconds, which effectively means turning each gram of ground coffee into 2g of liquid espresso in that time period.
How compacted the ground coffee is will affect how quickly or slowly the espresso takes to brew. If the coffee is too tightly compacted, it will take longer to brew and it will be too strong; loosely compacted coffee means it will be dispensed too quickly, and will subsequently be weak. Prefer cappuccino, latte, or a flat white? Find out how to make your favorite coffee in our article.