This page was updated in August 2020.
Coffee brewed in hot water is just coffee. Add pressure, and you get espresso.
That may sound simple, but designing machines that can keep water at just the right temperature while applying just the right amount of pressure has proven an enduring challenge for appliance-makers.
The most popular solution on the market is the traditional espresso machine, which uses a pump to drive near-boiling water through a layer of ground coffee and a filter into your espresso cup.
With the right machine, plenty of practice and a supply of freshly-ground coffee, there’s no reason why you can’t experience excellent espresso coffee in the classic Italian tradition at home.
While there are many types of coffee machine on the market – pod, stove-top, filter – we’d advise any espresso lover to buy a traditional pump-action machine, which combines mechanisms for maintaining temperature and applying pressure.
Some espresso machines – including most of the ones reviewed in this guide – have extra features in addition to coffee extraction. Milk steamers are a popular add-on, used to artfully heat and froth milk for use in lattes, cappuccinos and other creamy concoctions.
If you like your coffee with milk, we recommend you either buy a machine with a steamer, or get a standalone steaming/frothing appliance to go with a machine that doesn’t have the feature.
To make good espresso, you’ll need to use fresh, finely ground coffee. If you’d like to grind coffee beans at home for especially fresh flavours, we can recommend either the Bodum Bistro electric burr grinder or the Porlex tall manual grinder.
Read on to discover which espresso machines to buy. For more, visit our review section and find over 200 practical buyer’s guides offering unbiased advice on what equipment is worth investing in. For more on coffee, we’ve reviewed pod machines, cafetières, coffee grinders and reusable coffee cups, too, plus check out our guide to all coffee machine types in our best coffee machines review.
The best espresso machines 2021
Flair Signature espresso maker (bundle)
Best hand pump espresso maker
This espresso maker stands out for one obvious reason – it’s operated by hand rather than electric, meaning it has obviously environmental benefits. It also produces a high standard of coffee to rival any traditional machine. Once you’ve got used to the functionality, making coffee is simple. It is easy to clean, superbly small and well-engineered. Read our full Flair Signature espresso maker review.
Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker
Best mid-range espresso maker
Simple, intuitive and capable of brewing thick, rich espresso, the Bambino Plus packs a lot of power into a mid-range package. It comes loaded with bonus features, including a very good steaming wand and a clever water tank. Despite it’s name, it does take up a fair amount of room, so this should be considered before investing. Read our full Sage Bambino Plus review for all specifications.
Salter EK3131 Espressimo coffee machine
Best budget espresso machine
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly espresso machine for a small kitchen, this diminutive Salter model might be for you. The finished coffee results are basic – it makes a good Americano but falls short of producing professional-standard espresso with thick crema like some of the more expensive machines. However, it’s good value for money, intuitive to use and comes with a milk frother attachment for making longer drinks. Read our full Salter Espressimo coffee machine review.
Swan SK22110 Retro Pump espresso coffee machine
Best espresso machine for beginners
Our favourite espresso machine under £100, this vintage-look Swan machine produces good results for its reasonable price tag, although we recommend packing the filter with ground coffee if you like a strong brew. It ticks a lot of boxes – easy to use and clean, plus it comes with a milk frother and temperature gauge. The aesthetic might not be to everyone’s taste, but it comes in various colourways. Read our full Swan Retro Pump espresso machine review.
The espresso machines featured in this review were chosen from a longlist of 10, according to their performance against a wide range of factors.
Our criteria included:
• Ease of assembly
• Quality of materials
• Ease of use
• End result, including taste and consistency of coffee, quality of the crema, extraction and strength of flavour
• Extra functions such as milk frothing and temperature control
• Water tank – ease of use
• Kitchen footprint
• Ease of cleaning
• Value for money
• Ease of storage
Some of these factors may matter more to you than others. The coffee fanatics among you will care deeply about the quality of extraction, and advanced features such as temperature control and milk frothing.
Minimalists will be interested in the kitchen footprint and ease of cleaning. If you’re new to making coffee and don’t mind your espressos on the weaker side, value for money and ease of use may be your top priorities.
In the interest of meeting lots of different people’s needs, we’ve featured a varied array of espresso machines, with styles ranging from retro to contemporary, at a good mix of price points.
Before you choose one and place an order, think carefully about the types of coffee you’d like to make and the characteristics you’d like your coffee machine to have.
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This review was last updated in August 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at email@example.com.