For the avid coffee enthusiast, the ritual of preparing the perfect cup of coffee can be greatly helped or hindered by the type of machine you choose to use. In order to achieve the greatest level of control over the finished product, most espresso connoisseurs would argue that a traditional ground coffee machine is the best way to go.
While traditional machines do carry a bit of a learning curve, most coffee lovers will readily agree that the reward is well worth the effort and practice.
After all, going through the routine of preparing the machine, tamping, dosing, brewing, and of course engaging in the subsequent cleanup can leave you with a feeling of accomplishment, especially when you nail the perfect cup of espresso as a result.
So what should you look for in the ideal espresso machine? Well, one thing is for sure – there is no shortage of manual coffee makers on the market, but some are so complicated and convoluted that they can frustrate even the most well-seasoned barista.
For this reason, we have taken pains to conduct thorough research and narrow down the five most capable espresso machines on the market. Our aim with this guide is to save you both time and money, so that you can avoid choosing a sub-par espresso machine and begin enjoying your home brewing experience.
Best espresso coffee machine reviews 2018
|Delonghi Scultura ECZ351||
4.7 / 5 stars
|Sage Duo Temperature Pro||
4.7 / 5 stars
|Delonghi Dedica EC680||
4.6 / 5 stars
So, without further ado, here are our top five picks:
This manual espresso machine offers a 2-in-1 filter holder along with a 1.4 litre transparent removable reservoir, which really adds to the convenience that has been cleverly built into the machine’s design.
With this machine, you can choose to brew from ground coffee or Easy Serving Espresso (ESE) pods, and its well-designed steamer wand enables you to whip up your choice of delicious lattes, cappuccinos or macchiatos with equal facility.
The ECZ351.BG puts you in complete control of the coffee making experience, and with the prestigious DeLonghi name backing up its performance, it’s hard to go wrong with this machine. Read our full review.
- Quick heat-up time
- Eye-grabbing design
- Easy to clean
The machine’s built-in PID controller is the “brains” behind its ultra-precise extraction process, as it constantly adjusts the temperature settings as needed to ensure optimal brewing temperature during every phase of extraction.
The Sage also features a 360-degree adjustable frothing wand that produces a rich, creamy froth for your favourite milk-infused concoctions, and its 15-bar pump provides more than enough pressure to consistently produce remarkably flavourful cups of espresso.
Read our full review.
- Temperature stabilisation via PID controller
- Fast heat-up time
- Steam wand with 360-degree rotation
The EC680.R features all of the elements you would see in any professional-grade machine, including a very capable 15-bar pump that can produce rich, full-bodied espressos.
Like the Scultura, the Dedica can accommodate both ground coffee and ESE pods, and its compact design will take up very little real estate on your worktop.
With a side-mounted control for the steamer wand and option buttons that are positioned on the top of the machine instead of a front panel, the Dedica makes a refreshing and highly functional departure from the design norms of many of its competitors.
But aesthetics aren’t the only thing this machine has going for it – the Dedica also makes a fantastic cup of espresso as well! Read our full review.
- 15-bar pump
- Option to use pre-ground coffee or ESE pods
- Compact design
With a professional-level 15-bar pump and a generous 1.4-litre removable water tank, the Gaggia Carezza offers plenty of convenience and reliability to produce an enjoyable espresso making experience.
One of the main highlights of this machine is its Panarello steamer attachment, which does a fantastic job of producing a rich, creamy froth to make those cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos really sing.
With an attractive vintage design and rock-solid reliability, the Gaggia Carezza is the consummate coffee maker for the discerning home barista. Read our full review.
- Gorgeous vintage design
- Excellent milk frother
- Consistent performance
For example, the Silvia’s boiler and portafilter are made of marine-grade brass, which is a highly effective alloy in terms of its ability to resist corrosion and mineral buildup.
Its sturdy iron frame and gorgeous stainless steel finish lend a decidedly professional air to the machine, but it’s not just about the looks–the Silvia is no slouch in terms of producing high-quality espressos either!
With a generously-sized removable 2.48-litre water tank, 15 bars of pump pressure and rock-solid engineering all around, the Rancilio Silvia produces boutique barista quality espressos that are nothing short of marvellous. Read our full review.
- Well-built and beautifully designed
- Outstanding engineering
- Superior performance and functionality
Good alternatives we have also reviewed:
Buying guide and key considerations
So what are some of the most important things for you to keep in mind when choosing your ideal manual espresso maker? Here are some of the key considerations that you should definitely not overlook:
1. Ease of use
For any espresso maker to be qualified as a good machine, it must pass the “ease of use” test. After all, you’re going to be using this machine on a very regular basis, and if it’s a pain in the neck to get the thing to function correctly, you’ve essentially wasted your hard-earned money.
As with any new piece of equipment, there will be somewhat of a learning curve, but your primary goal is to be able to crank out delicious cups of espresso without having to jump through too many hoops to do it.
For this reason, make sure that the machine you choose is intuitively designed and user-friendly enough to make the espresso making process an enjoyable one.
No one wants to fiddle with a machine that keeps breaking down every other week. Your espresso maker should be able to consistently perform as designed, and you shouldn’t have to wonder if the machine is going to work properly whenever you use it.
In addition, the machine should be fairly easy to clean and maintain, as this is an important aspect of being able to rely upon your machine’s ability to perform.
3. Great tasting coffee
Hey, isn’t this what we’re really all after? At the end of the day, the machine you’re considering should have a reputation for producing outstanding espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, etc. The coffee makers listed above definitely fall into this category, so be sure to keep them on the top of your list when weighing out your options.
1. How much should I expect to spend to get a decent manual espresso machine?
While the price ranges can vary greatly (especially for machines that take ground coffee), you can generally expect to spend anywhere between £100 to more than £500 for a manual espresso machine.
2. What makes an espresso machine “manual” or “semi-automatic”?
A manual or semi-automatic espresso machine gives you much more hands-on control over the brewing process. Instead of just pushing a button, walking away for a minute or two and coming back to a cup of hot coffee, using a manual espresso machine will require your input during every phase of the espresso making process, including tamping and dosing the coffee, adjusting water and steam flows, etc.
3. Should I choose pre-ground coffee or should I grind my own beans?
If you’re after convenience, go for the pre-ground coffee, but for optimal flavour it’s highly recommended that you purchase a grinder and grind your own beans.
So there you have it–a guide you can use to select the best espresso coffee machine for your needs. Now go forth and get to brewing!
4. How do you use an espresso coffee maker?
To make espressos with your machine, start by filling the reservoir with water. Next, turn on and preheat your coffee maker. Different machines work in different ways, so make sure you read the instructions. Measure and grind out the beans depending on how many cups of coffee you want to make. If you’ve got an advanced machine, chances are it will have its own built in grinder.
Insert the shot basket, fill up the filter with coffee and start tamping the grounds. Tamping ensures the grounds are compressed so your espresso can be stronger. Lock in the filter and pull the first test shot. If you have a pressure gauge available, take note of the pressure so you can adjust it for the next few shots. Unless you want to add some milk, take your cup and enjoy what will now be an addictive habit.
5. What type of coffee is ideal for espresso machines?
While you can make espressos with any type of coffee bean, espressos are typically a stronger style of coffee. Therefore, they need the right type and roast of coffee bean to achieve desired results.
Although some people use regular coffee beans, it’s usually the darker roasts that deliver the best tasting espressos. Darker roasts give off that signature flavour of chocolate, tobacco and burnt sugar. Likewise, make sure the grind is either fine or super fine to allow for an even deeper extraction.
6. How do you make iced coffee with an espresso machine?
Making iced coffee is both an art and science. While you want your sugar to dissolve in the espresso, the last thing you want is for the ice to instantly melt. Here’s how to make an iced espresso using a coffee machine the right way.
Start by making your espresso using the method we’ve shared above. However, you’ll want to add sugar to the cup before pulling your shot. This will allow the sugar to dissolve in warm coffee. Next, temper the shot with cold milk. After that, pour the blend over a glass of ice, stir, and enjoy.
7. How do you make an Americano with an espresso machine?
Created in Italy for American soldiers, an Americano is simply an espresso with hot water. It may sound complicated at first, but you’d be surprised how easy the entire process is. Start by grinding and measuring out about 20 grams of beans for a double shot.
Pack the grounds and tamp them before inserting the portafilter back in the machine. Start making the double shot of espresso. Stop the process after about 30 seconds. Now, you can begin adding hot water to the espresso to make an Americano.