A multitude of characteristics define a good espresso, but according to the Italian Espresso National Institute, these short and richly strong shots should be topped with a silky, ‘hazelnut-coloured’ layer of light crema, and have a full-bodied flavour with intense aroma. Espresso also forms the basis of most classic coffees, including lattes, mochas, americanos and cappuccinos.
The process of producing espresso 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 a challenge for appliance-makers.
Approximately 95 million cups of coffee are consumed every day in the UK according to the British Coffee Association, and there’s a host of home espresso machines designed to replicate those used in commercial coffee houses; great news for budding baristas or anyone looking to save money on buying them while out-and-about.
These machines use pumps to drive near-boiling water through a layer of finely ground coffee and filter into your espresso cup quickly. The whole process, from loading to full extraction, should take under one minute (around 25-seconds of extraction to produce 25ml of espresso) and speed is one of the major advantages of this brewing method over traditional drip methods.
With the best home espresso machine, plenty of practice and a supply of freshly-ground coffee, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve excellent espresso coffee in the classic Italian tradition at home.
These gadgets are investment purchases and there’s also more than one type of home espresso machine for making barista-style coffee, which is why our reviews experts have tested over 90 coffee machines and made over 200 coffees to find the best coffee machines on the market.
Looking for more advice and buyer’s guides for kitting out your kitchen? Our reviews section is a great place to get inspired, packed with tried-and-tested favourite gadgets to help you make delicious recipes everyday.
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While there are many types on the market, we’d advise any espresso lover to buy a traditional pump-action machine, which combines mechanisms for both maintaining water temperature and applying pressure.
The best coffee pod machines require you to buy pods, which can be less cost effective while also posing a greater sustainability issue as they’re difficult to recycle or biodegrade. In contrast, espresso machines just require ground coffee, and there are a couple of types to choose from.
Automatic espresso machines
These will heat the water, brew and extract espresso into your coffee cup. You’ll likely need to do the dosing and tamping of the grinds, then load and unload the portafilter. Certain elements will be adjustable to help you personalise your coffee, like the brew time, quantity and water temperature.
Manual espresso machines
This type of machine doesn’t plug into the mains, so are generally more portable and sustainable espresso makers compared to plug-in automatic types. The water does need to be pre-heated, but they do offer a very hands-on process of making the coffee that’s incredibly gratifying.
If speed and convenience are the biggest decision drivers for you, a bean-to-cup coffee machine may be an interesting alternative. Some espresso machines – including most of the ones reviewed in this guide – have extra features in addition to coffee extraction.
- Milk steamer wands: These are a popular add-on, used to heat and froth milk for 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.
- Single and double cup capabilities: Some espresso machines will be able to make two cups of coffee at the same time.
- ESE pod compatibility: Biodegradable pouches containing ground coffee that can be placed into the portafilter and minimise the mess of wayward grinds.
- Coffee dosing spoon and tamper: Filling your portafilter with coffee and compressing them down into an even layer is an essential part of the espresso-making process, particularly if splitting espresso between two cups.
In the interest of meeting lots of different needs, we’ve featured a variety of espresso machines, with styles ranging from retro to contemporary, for different budgets.
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.
To make good espresso, you’ll also need to use fresh, finely ground coffee. We’ve also tested 20 of the best coffee grinders to bring you our picks of the most efficient, value for money and well-designed models on the market for grinding the best coffee beans available. For example, the Bodum Bistro electric burr grinder or the Porlex tall manual grinder were top picks for releasing flavours.
- Best home espresso machine for aficionados: SMEG ECF01 espresso machine, £320
- Most stylish home espresso machine: De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual espresso maker, £189
- Best portable espresso machine for single espresso: Wacaco Minipresso GR espresso maker, £46.90
- Best experiential espresso machine: ROK Espresso GC Explorer’s Edition, £199.99
- Best semi-automatic espresso machine for beginners: Swan One Touch espresso machine SK22150, £159.99
- Best affordable espresso machine for small kitchens: VonShef 15-bar espresso machine, £79.99
- Best hand pump espresso maker: Flair Signature espresso maker, £230
- Best mid-range espresso maker: Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker, £399.95
- Best budget espresso machine: Salter EK3131 Espressimo coffee machine, £59.99
- Best semi-automatic espresso machine for beginners: Swan SK22110 Retro Pump espresso machine, £99.99
SMEG ECF01 espresso machine
Best home espresso machine for aficionados
- Richly dark espresso with silky crema
- Good selection of customisation options
- No accompanying stainless steel milk jug despite the high price
Star rating: 4.5/5
Smeg has channelled its iconic 1950s designs into this slimline espresso machine that’s simple on the surface, but packed with advanced personalisation features. If you have the budget to invest, the ECF01 upper-mid range machine is a sleek and stylised addition to a kitchen countertop that creates rocket-fuel espresso. Just read the instructions thoroughly before use. Read our full SMEG ECF01 espresso machine review.
De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual espresso maker
Most stylish espresso maker
- Good range of movement with the milk steam wand
- A* energy rating
- Slightly unstable when locking portafilter
- Easy to press a button accidentally
Star rating: 4.5/5
De’Longhi’s Dedica espresso machine is uber sleek, with a stainless steel exterior that gives it a true, modern-classic feel. At 1.1 litre capacity, its water tank is smaller than others but it packs in 15-bars of pressure to create deliciously smooth and crema-topped espresso with no hint of bitterness. It’s also a practical size for fitting on smaller countertops, only 14.0cm in width and 33cm in depth. For an espresso machine that won’t break the bank and looks great on your countertop, the De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual model should be at the top of your list. Read our full De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M review.
Wacaco Minipresso GR espresso maker
- Available from: Wacaco (£46.90)
Best portable espresso maker for single espresso
- Compact and portable
- Integrated coffee scoop and cup
- Water needs to be preheated
Star rating: 4.5/5
The Wacaco Minipresso GR features five main parts that screw together into one portable, robust package. Its integrated manual pump generates eight bars of pressure (116 PSI) to produce a full-bodied single espresso, complete with a thick crema. The build-quality combined with the hands-on process means it’s not only fun to use but a genuinely functional bit of kit for making espresso on the go. Read our full Wacaco Minipresso GR espresso maker review.
Available from Wacaco (£46.90)
ROK Espresso GC Explorer’s Edition
- Available from: ROK (£199.99)
Best experiential espresso machine
- Plastic-free packaging
- 10-year guarantee on parts
- Greedy at stealing heat from boiled water
Star rating: 4/5
The ROK manual espresso machine has been around for a while, but the design within the robust cast-aluminium exterior has evolved. The Explorer’s edition pack contains its latest iteration, the ROK GC maker – a model featuring a glass composite upgrade to the brewing chamber along with three portafilters and accessories. After some practice and with a fully pre-heated machine, we found the naked portafilter produced the best results. For anyone looking for a hands-on espresso experience and enjoys some experimentation, this is a lightweight but robust manual espresso maker that comes with excellent accessories to support that. Read our full ROK Espresso GC review.
Available from ROK (£199.99)
Swan One Touch espresso machine SK22150
Best semi-automatic espresso machine for beginners
- 20 bars of pressure
- ESE pod compatible
- Large-cup latte setting produces too much coffee for the largest mug in your cupboard
Star rating: 4/5
This Swan is the new iteration of the fully manual Swan Retro Pump SK22110 espresso machine. It’s arguably a step-down model for personalisation, but a step up in automation and ease-of use. The preset buttons make it more user friendly. There’s a steam wand that’s intuitive. You’re left with the ‘fun bits’ of filling, tamping and loading the portafilter. Just choose the filter, press the button and it’s 20-bar pressure pump does the work. Just remember to manoeuvre the milk steam wand into the mug beforehand! Read our full Swan One Touch espresso machine review.
VonShef 15-bar espresso machine
- Available from VonHaus (£79.99)
Best affordable espresso machine for small kitchens
- Dishwasher-safe portafilter basket
- Wand for steaming milk
- Slow to warm up
- No accompanying milk steaming jug
Star rating: 3.5/5
If you don’t have much space in your kitchen, this 15-bar pressure espresso machine by VonShef is an easy-to-use model that isn’t too large, and gives you freedom to personalise your coffee without the heavy price tag. Three buttons control its simple features; power on, steam and espresso. Once the machine is fully heated and the function selected, you control when and how much water is pulled through the portafilter. The filter itself is double-shot in capacity so can be half filled for a single. The steamer wand is also intuitive to use. Read our full VonShef 15 bar espresso machine review.
Available from VonHaus (£79.99)
Flair Signature espresso maker (bundle)
- Available from: Maxicoffee (£230)
Best hand pump espresso maker
- Sustainable option for making espresso
- Great build-quality
- Takes practice to master
Star rating: 4.5/5
This espresso maker stands out for one obvious reason – it’s operated by hand rather than electric, meaning it has 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’s easy to clean, superbly small and well-engineered. Read our full Flair Signature espresso maker review.
Available from MaxiCoffee (£230)
Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker
Best mid-range espresso maker
- Easy to use
- Efficient milk frother
- Rickety drip tray
Star rating: 4.5/5
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 its 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
- Easy to use
- Neat footprint
- Not many added features
- Basic finished results
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
- Good value for money
- Dial-controlled milk steamer
- Large footprint
Star rating: 4/5
Our favourite espresso machine under £100, this vintage-looking 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 everyone’s taste, but it does come in different colours. Read our full Swan Retro Pump espresso machine review.
The espresso machines featured in this review were chosen from a carefully curated longlist of over 20 machines and tested against strict test criteria using the same, finely ground coffee. Each machine was scored out of five against the following core criteria:
- Espresso quality:
We looked for espresso with rich flavour, smooth consistency, a hazelnut-coloured silky crema and bold aroma.
- Quality of materials
The are investment appliances and therefore the quality of each component needs to be built for daily use and longevity.
- Ease of use
How helpful is the manual and how intuitive is the machine to use?
- Value for money
Does the machine offer good return of investment?
- Ease of assembly and packaging
The machines were scored on how easy they were to set up, the protective quality of its packaging and quantity of single-use plastic in its box.
The following criteria also played into our decision-making:
- Extra features
For example, a milk wand for steaming milk, accompanying stainless steel milk jug, single and double-cup functions.
- Personalisation options
Adjustable water temperature, coffee brew-time, hard or soft-water settings.
- Water tank
Needs to be easily accessible or removable for refilling.
- Ease of cleaning
Descaling settings, self-cleaning functions, milk steam wand purge, dishwasher-safe portafilter and filter baskets, portafilter rinsing.
- Kitchen footprint
Espresso machines van vary from the slimline to the big and boxy.
Would we buy this for keeping out on our kitchen countertops? If not, they weren’t included.
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.
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