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8 best espresso machines for barista quality coffee at home

These smart designs can grind beans, heat water for an Americano or steam milk for a latte

Joanne Gould
Friday 23 July 2021 17:41
<p>We tested for flavour, ease of use and aesthetics</p>

We tested for flavour, ease of use and aesthetics

There’s nothing quite like a coffee from your favourite local café. But what if you could get that shop-bought flavour at home? Investing in some home coffee-making equipment could be the answer to just that. And an espresso machine should be your first port of call.

All coffee starts with a shot of espresso – but with so many options on the market, the choice can be baffling.

Consider first how you would like to make your coffee: do you enjoy the convenience of pods, or do you revel in the opportunity to try out new coffee beans? Do you have a grinder, will you use ready-ground or are you looking for a machine with bean-to-cup capacity?

Think about how much you’re willing to spend, too. Smaller, manual machines range from around £30 to 10 times that, with tech and spec increasing with the price.

You’ll also want to look at how much counter space you’re willing to surrender to your new toy. Super slimline machines can be cute and compact for small households, while larger semi-pro models are available for those devoted to the barista life.

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We’ve tried a whole host of espresso makers to find a range of styles, brewing methods, sizes and price points to help you fulfil your coffee machine dreams. In testing we were looking for ease of use, how the machine looked and ultimately for a great quality cup of coffee.

From mess-free pods to Fifties’s style machines and ultra-modern contraptions you can control with your phone, there’s an espresso machine for you.

The best espresso machines for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Dualit multibrew espresso coffee machine silver DCM2X: £199.99,
  • Best retro-inspired espresso machine – Swan SK22110BN espresso coffee machine: £99.99,
  • Best for multiple cup sizes – Nespresso vertuo next: £133,
  • Best stylish espresso machine – Smeg ECF01 espresso machine: £320,
  • Best for creating latte art – Sage the bambino plus coffee machine SES500BSS: £399.99,
  • Best for espresso pods – Lavazza idolaq: £139,
  • Best for handcrafted coffee – Rok espressoGC: £159,
  • Best bean to cup espresso machine – Melitta purista 300 series: £400,

Dualit multibrew espresso coffee machine silver DCM2X

Best: Overall

  • Dimensions: H 330mm x W 207mm x D 284mm
  • Colours: Silver polished steel
  • Milk foam system: Yes
  • Power: 1300W
  • Tank capacity: 1.5l
  • Coffee type: Pod and ground

Dualit has come up with quite a winner here – a multi-use machine that will take ground coffee, a variety of pods and even tea to bring you your drink of choice in seconds thanks to its ever-ready heating system. We like this machine for a number of reasons: at just shy of £200 it’s at a relatively accessible price point, particularly for its capabilities, its stainless steel design looks great and overall it is a solid, high quality product.

Coffee purists will be happy to be able to use their favourite ground beans, which you simply add to the portafilter size of your choice and dispense a well brewed single or double espresso; capsule lovers can enjoy the convenience of either Nespresso-compatible capsules, mess-free ESE pods or Dualit’s own NX coffee and tea capsules which can both be added to the relevant portafilter and used in the same manner as ground coffee (some capsules need to be pierced before use and there is a tool included for this).

We enjoyed the espresso produced from ground coffee, which was hot and allowed a smooth, rich flow of coffee – the cup warmer is handy too – you can then choose to add hot water using the one-touch button or steamed milk using the steam wand should you wish to make lattes etc. A good all rounder.

Swan SK22110BN espresso coffee machine

Best: For retro aesthetic

  • Dimensions: H 315mm x W 200mm x D 285mm
  • Colours: Black, blue, cream, green, grey, orange, pink, red, purple, yellow
  • Milk foam system: Yes
  • Power: 1100W
  • Tank capacity: 1.2l
  • Coffee type: Ground

If you’re a fan of the 1950’s aesthetic but can’t afford to shell out for a Smeg machine, it may be worth having a look at this Swan retro styled espresso maker which comes in a variety of colourful hues, though we like the black. This affordable coffee machine uses ground coffee to serve single or double espresso using the standard portafilter and pump design, and it does it well – plus it’s ready to use after a very quick rinse.

The machine may be much smaller, lighter and a tad flimsier than many of the pricier options, but if you’re looking for a simple and stylish way to dispense your morning coffee then this is a very sensible choice. It features a cup warmer, milk steamer and dispenses hot water to allow you to turn your espresso into Americano should you wish. It looks sleek and smart and is easy to clean – one word of warning, it says this machine should not be used in hard water areas. Londoners will need to use bottled water if set on this particular model.

Nespresso vertuo next

Best: For multiple cup sizes

  • Dimensions: H 429mm x W314mm x D142mm
  • Colours: Grey
  • Milk foam system: No
  • Power: 1500W
  • Tank capacity: 1.1l
  • Coffee type: Ground and pod

If you’re a Nespresso fan, it’s worth checking its latest model, the vertuo, out. Comprising all the benefits of the standard Nespresso machines – so no mess, no fiddly cleaning and no work on your part – this particular model also offers choice of five cup sizes. Choose from a 40ml espresso up to a 414ml large mug, or “Alto” via its new vertuo pods, which also encompass all the strengths, origins and flavours profiles we’ve come to expect.

We can’t fault how easy it is to get started with this machine – a quick rinse cycle and you’re away. The water heats up within seconds, so all you need to do is pop a pod in the top and press one button to enjoy your espresso – or more. Each pod is programmed so the machine automatically understands the length of the coffee, and produces your drink with a gentle whirring hum.

We enjoyed all the flavoured pods, but diehard coffee geeks may find the straight espresso lacking compared to more manual or bean to cup machines. Having said that, the machine itself is sleek and smart with a variety of colours, and diminutive enough to fit into any kitchen and it’s a real convenience product. It’s wifi and Bluetooth ready too.

If you’re worried about the detrimental environmental effects of using Nespresso, we’re pleased to report it’s started to address these: the machine itself is fully recyclable, with 54 per cent made from recycled plastic, and each pod is fully recyclable using their own recycling bags – it’s recently made a bike from 300 recycled pods!

Smeg ECF01 espresso machine

Best: Stylish espresso machine

  • Dimensions: H 303mm x W 149mm x D 330mm
  • Colours: White, black, pastel blue, red, pink, cream
  • Milk foam system: Yes
  • Power: 1350W
  • Tank capacity: 1l
  • Coffee type: Ground

Smeg kitchen appliance devotees are in luck, as the espresso machine from the iconic brand just happens to be pretty decent – and it’s not too spenny either (for the brand). The Fifties’s style machine comes in seven colourful shades and uses either ground coffee or paper pods to make a barista-quality espresso – just load the portafilter with your coffee of choice, lock it into the machine and let the high pressure (15 bar) pump do its thing for either a single or double espresso.

The result is a good, aromatic espresso complete with a lovely layer of crema. We like how quickly this machine heats up and the fact that there is no tricky assembly – just flush the machine through before use and you’re good to go. There’s also a milk wand or frother that will produce steam for milky drinks if you wish, or hot water for a longer coffee. A user-friendly experience, terrific coffee and a machine that looks the part on the worktop.

Sage the bambino plus coffee machine SES500BSS

Best: For latte art

  • Dimensions: H 310mm x W 200mm, D 320mm
  • Colours: Silver
  • Milk foam system: Yes
  • Power: 1600W
  • Tank capacity: 1.5l
  • Coffee type: Ground

Here we have another ground-coffee espresso machine, made in the barista style we are used to seeing in coffee shops, but at only 20cm wide, significantly smaller than the Smeg espresso machine in this list at the same price point, and the brilliant Barista pro from sage we reviewed in the bean to cup coffee maker round-up. If we compare it to the Smeg, the two machines are very different looks-wise, but ultimately do the same job, both producing excellent espresso with the same pressure and fast heating system – circa three seconds for this one.

The Sage bambino also boasts an automated steam wand which you can froth milk to one of three micro-foam textures – making for perfect personalised drinks, and a bonus for any latte art enthusiasts. It’s a doddle to set up and clean and looks good with its brushed stainless-steel finish. We had a couple of niggles – it has a habit of moving across the worktop as you lock or unlock the portafilter in, so glossy countertops aren’t advised with this machine – and the steam wand surprised us a few times, but ultimately this is a solid choice for any wannabe barista and serious coffee fan.

Lavazza idola

Best: For espresso pods

  • Dimensions: H145mm W 380mm D 280mm
  • Colours: Red, black, beige
  • Milk foam system: Yes
  • Power: 1500W
  • Tank capacity: 1.1l
  • Coffee type: Pod

Are you interested in the convenience of a pod machine but not sold on Nespresso? We also like this Lavazza machine a lot. A simple yet sophisticated glossy red machine that takes Moda Mio pods, the idola is primarily an espresso machine – and that’s what Lavazza do best – but also provides three other coffee sizes (short espresso, long coffee and free dose). As with the Nespresso, making the coffee couldn’t be easier: simply fit your cup holder to the best size for your cup, then add your pod into the top of the machine.

We found the espresso to be excellent, with a strong aroma, lovely consistency and a very rich, luxurious crema. The temperature is ideal as is, producing a hot, welcoming coffee that doesn’t scald the flavour, but you can also choose to use the temperature boost button – very handy if you’re making one to take away. If you never drink milky coffees, this is a fast and effective piece of kit that makes brewing multiple coffees a doddle and delivers good Lavazza coffee flavours every time.

Rok espressoGC

Best: For handcrafted coffee

  • Dimensions: H307mm x W 170mm x D170mm
  • Colours: Silver
  • Milk foam system: No
  • Coffee type: Ground

For anyone that wants a truly handcrafted coffee, check out this incredible hand-pulled espresso machine. The rok espressoGC is a mad professor style contraption that is so impressively simple it makes you wonder why no-one thought of making one before. It comes ready to use, so all you need to do is boil the kettle (it does not heat water) to pour into the top, add espresso-ground coffee to the portafilter – then raise and pull the arms down. The pressure chamber, made from BPA-free glass composites, is a high-performance get-up that delivers perfect extraction and a proper barista-quality espresso.

The pressure is such that it produces a beautiful crema that will easily stand up to any from some of the fancier electric machines. It is built with sustainable materials and it will replace any metal parts within 10 years if they fail you. It’s won a whole host of prestigious design awards, because of course it has. Our only tiny niggle is that the espresso isn’t always hot enough – to combat this they say you can warm the portafilter and cup before using though. Experiment away and find the right coffee, temperature, and length for you as this is the art – or science – of real coffee making.

Melitta purista 300 series

Best: Bean to cup espresso machine

  • Dimensions: H 303mm x W 200mm x D 455mm
  • Colours: Silver, black
  • Milk foam system: No
  • Power: 1450W
  • Tank capacity: 1.2l
  • Coffee type: Ground

We loved the Melitta purista jubilee edition when we tested the best bean to cup coffee machines recently, and this Melitta model is almost identical – just as whisper-quiet, just as slim (20cm) and just as pretty – but without the limited edition black and gold. Instead, this standard Purista model comes in plain black or black and silver: fine with us.

It’s one of the narrowest fully automatic coffee machines in the world, and looks super-slick – a hint at its hi-tech design. Beans can be poured into the inbuilt steel conical grinder which is stored airtight for ultimate freshness and aroma, before being ground, pre-brewed (for extra flavour) with the new pump system then brewed to your preferred strength and amount using adjustable intensity and coffee length.

Choose from straight up espresso or cafe creme and enjoy – with no fuss, no mess, a fully automatic machine like this really shows its worth in just a few touches of a button. It really couldn’t be easier. This machine takes mere minutes to set up, is self-explanatory to use, easy to clean and stores your preferred coffee choices; we think it’s brilliant.

The verdict: Espresso machines

The dualit won our vote as best buy thanks to its innovative product design coupled with its good looks and surprising price tag.

However, we were also surprised how much we enjoyed using both the Nespresso and Lavazza machines – having never been sold on pod coffee makers before – as the coffees these machines produced have improved and the convenience is hard to beat. Ultimately though, you can’t bean a bean-to-cup machine for a truly quality cup of coffee and we like the Breville model a lot for this.

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