Best Espresso Machines: Rancilio Silvia, Breville, and More

It’s possible you will never have to go to a coffee shop again.
The best espresso machines include this model from Breville.
Photo by Chelsea Kyle

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Let’s get this out of the way: The best espresso machines live at your favorite local coffee shop. They’re prohibitively large and expensive (unless you have an extra $12,000 sitting around)—and learning to craft the best espresso drinks is an art many baristas spend years perfecting.

Even considering this, a home espresso machine might be worth owning if americanos, cortados, and lattes are your absolute ideal everyday brew. And after all, an espresso machine isn’t just an appliance; it’s a luxurious dream come true: drinking cappuccinos on the regular on your couch without ducking out to a café; the envy and the gratitude that will come in equal parts when you offer dinner guests an after-dinner espresso shot. All that can be yours.

If you’re ready to pull the trigger on buying an espresso machine, be prepared to shell out a little cash. Home espresso machines can be wildly expensive. Rightfully so. Pulling a perfect shot requires precision: The machine must maintain both exacting temperatures and stable pressure to successfully brew espresso. Achieving this is difficult and requires complex machinery.

We wanted to find the best espresso machines available to home brewers for less than $2,000—a price point high enough that you’ll get a really high-quality machine but still a far cry from the top end of professional-grade espresso makers. We hoped to find a machine that could pull a shot that—if not quite to the level of a prized Italian café or a high-dollar Brooklyn coffee shop’s—would have nuanced flavor, the right amount of brightness and acidity, and very little bitterness. 

We rigorously tested 14 leading countertop models and found the best espresso makers for budding home baristas, including one overall best option, one formidable competitor in the under-$1,000 category, and actually, one more than serviceable pint-size choice for under $100 (it one comes with a couple of caveats). Ahead we’ll dive into each of these winners and explain exactly what makes them stand out from the crowd. (To see all the contenders and find out how we tested, scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Table of contents:

The best overall
A high-style runner up
The best under $1,000
The best automatic espresso machine
Best espresso maker under $100
How we determined the best espresso machines and the full list of models we compared
Factors we evaluated 
Is buying an espresso machine worth it?
A few quick tips to consider when brewing espresso at home

The best semiautomatic espresso machine: Rancilio Silvia Pro

Rancilio Silvia is a trusted name in espresso, and its higher end machines are among the brands used in top coffee shops. While not true of every pro espresso machine maker, Rancilio does a pretty nice job translating that expertise to home espresso makers. The Rancilio Silvia’s countertop presence screams no-nonsense professionalism. It won’t wow anyone with a flashy design, but it is compact, streamlined, and extremely powerful for its size and price point. 

First and foremost, this machine earns our top spot thanks to its dual boiler. This means the coffee maker and the steam wand are each hooked up to their own heat source; you won't have to wait for the machine to come to the right temperature for steaming your milk after pulling your shot. (The steam boiler is held at a higher temperature than the espresso boiler.) In general the machine heats up relatively quickly after you turn it on: In our testing it took about 15 minutes to be warm enough to pull our first shot. The machine also has a programmable "wake up" setting, where you can program it to turn on at a certain time in the morning so you know it’ll be warm and ready to make your first cup of coffee. 

This Rancilio has two Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controllers, one in the coffee boiler and one and the steam boiler, which means it provides excellent temperature control. Via a digital screen on the front, you can view the machine’s current temperature. And using + and - buttons on either side of the screen, you can adjust that temperature to get your ideal shot of espresso (as a rule, espresso should be brewed at a temperature between 190°–200° F). The machine held its temperature consistently throughout our testing. 

That same digital interface that shows you the temperature also contains a shot timer, meaning you can keep track of how long you pulled your espresso (Blue Bottle Coffee’s director of coffee culture pegged the typical time for a good shot between 28 and 32 seconds). When making espresso, keeping track of your shot time and temperature, then tasting and adjusting those factors, will allow you to home in on your perfect brew settings. The steam wand is easy to use and gave us creamy, foamy lattes without many large bubbles. But we preferred the steam wand on the Rocket Appartamento Espresso maker (more on that below). 

This machine also lacks a pressure gauge, so you can’t tell what pressure you’re at pulling a shot. However, after tons of online research citing trusted coffee experts we feel comfortable that it does run, generally, at nine bars of pressure—the ideal number that coffee shop machines hit. There are also video tutorials online where people have rigged pressure gauges to attach to the machine so you can keep track. 

One other accessory you will need along with this machine is a high-quality grinder; you can have the best espresso machine, but without a great grinder to get the right grind size, you won’t really be able to make a great shot of espresso. We do not recommend ever purchasing pre-ground coffee. Read our review of the best coffee grinders, which includes a pick for espresso.

The portafilter that comes with the machine is high-quality and comfortable to hold; and the tamper is adequately heavy and properly sized to pack grounds down to the very edges of the portafilter. The water reservoir is large, so you don’t have to refill it after every cappuccino. And the drip tray is large enough to make several rounds of espresso drinks without needing to dump water out. But some aspects of the machine’s buildout felt a little flimsy: The group head is made of plastic that did not exactly feel indestructible, and the machine’s plastic buttons make it easy to operate but contribute to a less luxurious feel. It doesn’t include extras, like a milk steaming pitcher. Still, this machine made the best espresso of the bunch. 

In the end, after using the machine’s easy-to-control digital interface to track time and temperature, our onsite espresso expert for the test, certified Counter Culture barista Nikita Solberg, felt they could pull a shot and steam milk to create a coffee drink that was “better than a lot of coffee shops” they've been to. This is a high-quality espresso machine perfect for someone already familiar with espresso or wants to dive in and learn all the nuances involved in pulling the perfect shot.

A high-style runner-up: Rocket Espresso Apartmento

This machine costs the same as the Racilio Silvia and isn’t as good for a few key reasons: First, it only has a single boiler, so you have to wait (not that long, but still) between pulling shots and steaming milk. Second, while the machine includes a pressure gauge, it appears to only go up to three bars of pressure. (Again, a typical coffee shop espresso machine would be operating around nine bars, and even the less expensive Breville has capacity for that.) It includes a high-quality portafilter, but we didn't like its tamper; it didn’t reach all the way to the sides of the portafilter, so it left some straggly bits of grounds around the sides. It doesn’t include a timer or the temperature, so to dial in all of the components of your espresso, you have to rely on external devices.

Still, this machine is extremely sleek-looking, and after a bit of tampering, we were able to pull a shot we were pretty happy with. It had our favorite steamer of all of the machines we tested, producing velvety-smooth foam that will give your coffee shop flat white or macchiato a serious run for its money. And the high-style design cannot be beat. This thing will look killer on any countertop: It's shiny, and you pull a shot via a sleek metal lever rather than pressing a plastic button. You operate the steamer wand by turning a cool dial. The experience of using the machine feels a lot better than the Rancilio Silvia—though that doesn’t outweigh the better coffee that machine makes.

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine

The best semiautomatic espresso machine under $1,000: Breville Barista Express

From the construction to ease of use, it’s clear that the Breville Barista Express was thoughtfully made, and there was no competition in the under-$1,000 price bracket when it came to the final quality of the espresso shot.

The highlight of the Breville Barista Express is a pressure gauge that lets you accurately assess the quality of the coffee as you make it, just like on many professional machines. This is extremely valuable because it helps you figure out what other variables need to be tweaked to make a perfect cup. For example, if the pressure is too low while you’re pulling a shot, you can tamp with more pressure or use a finer grind the next time. None of the other machines we tested in this price range had a feature like this, meaning that if you pull a shot that doesn’t taste great, you have no way of knowing if it’s the machine or you.

As long as you’re pulling shots within the right range of pressure, the Breville espresso maker produces full-flavored, densely textured shots that were close to what you might get in a café. The concentration compared to other machines in its price category was unrivaled, and the crema was dark and varied—or tiger-striped, as coffee connoisseurs would call it. Other machines produced shots with a uniformly white or tan crema that could be dense but was rarely flavorful.

The steam wand of the Breville produced a velvety, well-incorporated milk foam. The consistency with which it incorporated air made for a beautifully textured latte—and our coffee expert was even able to make some latte art with it (something that was impossible with the air bubbles from other models this price, including the Gaggia and all of the less-expensive machines).

Finally, the design and extra tools are impeccable. The machine includes a drip tray to catch spilled coffee and milk and has a sensor that lets you know when the tray is too full. It also has a compartment underneath for storing extra filter baskets (which are included). It includes a hefty stainless-steel milk steaming jug.

It also includes a plastic and metal tamper that, while more useful than the cheap plastic ones many other machines include, could do with a small upgrade like this spring-loaded one from Luxhaus

We’re recommending the version of the Breville espresso machine that comes with a built-in grinder. You place the beans in a compartment at the top, then use the portafilter to press a lever on the machine, which dispenses the grounds right into your portafilter compartment. It’s easy to use, compact, and has a wheel on the side that lets you change the grind. Since the grind of your espresso is one of the most important parts, we think it’s worth having this grinder attached right to the machine. Especially since the Barista Express costs only about $100 more than the Infuser—Breville’s model without the grinder. (But if you’re looking for a smaller, more compact model, the Infuser performs as well as the Barista Express.)

Ultimately, the machine uses a single boiler and is a little less powerful than the Rancilio Silvia. But it is easy to set up out of the box and is a pleasure to use once you get the hang of it. If you’re looking for a less expensive starter machine perfect for beginners, the Breville is absolutely a valuable purchase.

Breville the Barista Express Espresso Machine

The best automatic espresso machine: Espressione Concierge

The Espressione Concierge is fast and easy to use. It has a handy removable water tank, light-up buttons, and built-in burr grinder. Most importantly, against other fully automatic machines it had the clear advantage when it came to taste.

None of the automatic machines we tested could produce a shot that came close texturally or flavor-wise to a semiautomatic, but the coffee from the Jura machine was downright watery. Even when selecting the Jura’s stronger brew option, compared side by side, the Espressione Concierge pulled better tasting shots that were closer to the full flavor and body of a real espresso.

The Jura Ena Micro 1 is a slightly more attractive machine with its seamless black finish, but it also measures about an inch wider and longer than the Espressione, if space is a concern. Additionally, the Espressione comes with a milk frother while the Jura does not, which can be a deal-breaker for some shoppers.

The Espressione produces a seemingly effortless single, double, or lungo coffee within a few minutes of powering up, exactly what you want in an automatic machine.

Best espresso maker under $100

OK, hear us out here: When you dip this low in price on an espresso maker you’re not going to get the same shot you would out of the Rancilio or even the Breville, but if you’re willing to use a little elbow grease you will get good espresso and give up zero counter space. Our reviews editor Noah Kaufman recently tested the Nanopresso, a 6"x2" manual espresso machine typically marketed as a coffee maker for camping, hiking, or combatting bad hotel coffee, not unlike an Aeropress. But Kaufman found that the Nanopresso is much better at making espresso than an Aeropress—and in fact, gives espresso makers even three times its cost a run for their money. 

The tiny tool works by creating pressure through a piston pump: If you’re at home with a scale and a grinder, just fill the machine with 8 grams of freshly ground coffee, press it down with the back of the plastic scoop, and add 80 milliliters of water heated between 190°–200° F. Then you squeeze a button on the front of the machine repeatedly. Position your coffee cup below and a stream of espresso comes out of a small hole at the bottom of the little pill-shaped espresso maker. In his testing, Kaufman was able to pull a shot with a decent layer of smooth, velvety crema on top. Tasted side by side with a shot from our winning Breville machine, it held its own, even if it had a bit less brightness or acidity than the machine-pulled shot. And Kaufman found that the machine was very forgiving: Even if you didn’t perfectly measure your coffee or precisely heat your water, the Nanopresso's design ensures that you’re able to pull a shot that is, again, actually much better than the espresso machines that cost in the $100–$200 range that we tested for this review. If you’re making coffee with a moka pot right now, you should definitely consider upgrading to the Nanopresso.

Wacaco Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker

How we determined the best espresso machines and the full list of models we compared

We tested several machines by making shots of espresso and lattes on each. The majority of the models we tested were semiautomatic, meaning users still have to grind the coffee and pack it in the portafilter (the little filter cup with a steam wand that you place in the front of the machine). Semiautomatic espresso machines heat the water for you and then pump it through the coffee grounds at varying levels of pressure, depending on the coffee machine.

The other semiautomatic espresso machines we tested were:

We also tested three fully automatic varieties of espresso maker. For these you insert the beans into a grinder, then press a button for the machine to grind and make your shot.

The automatic espresso machines we tested were:

A note on the type of machine: Since semiautomatic espresso makers require you to dose the coffee yourself, grind and pack it, they give you more control. You can tinker and master the art of making espresso. They also have a higher ceiling in terms of the quality of espresso you can maker. Fully automatic machines are a good option for someone who wants good (maybe not great) espresso at home but wants to put in less effort (and skip the learning part). 

Factors We Evaluated As We Tested Espresso Machines

1. How well does the machine control temperature and pressure?

For semiautomatic machines, water pressure and temperature must be stable and consistent and the pressure shouldn’t be too high. Typically, coffee and espresso are brewed at a pressure of about 9 or 10 bars, and an ideal water temperature is around 195°F. Generally, the more expensive the machine, the better the equipment inside that regulates these two factors. High-quality machines tend to have a mechanism called a PID (proportional integral derivative) controller. The PID’s function is to maintain constant water temperature with extreme accuracy, down to the degree. A central problem plaguing inexpensive espresso machines is that they lack a PID, meaning the temperature of the brewing water can fluctuate and yield inconsistent results. Inexpensive machines often advertise that they have 15 or 20 bars of pressure as a selling point, but higher pressure is not the priority, and too much pressure can actually lead to over-extraction and bitterness in your espresso shot. Therefore, we looked for a machine with good temperature and pressure control.

2. How well did the steam wand incorporate air?

Most of the espresso machines we tested, other than the Rancilio Silvia, only included a single boiler for heating. This means that there’s only one mechanism for heating both the water for brewing and the steamer wand. Because of this it’ll take the steamer wand a while to heat up after pulling the espresso shot since the steamer wand operates at a much higher temperature than the brewing temperature of around 195°. 

Still, our main concern was how well the wand incorporated air and steam into the mix for velvety, frothy texture. Inferior steamer wands made giant air bubbles that quickly popped and only pumped air into the milk, without incorporating foam consistently throughout. So we looked for a steamer wand that made consistent, well-incorporated foam.

3. How easy was the espresso machine to set up and use?

Espresso machines can be intimidating. We wanted something that did not require reading a novel-size manual, watching a lot of YouTube videos, or reading tons of articles about espresso pulling. Yes, making espresso does require some learning for the home brewer. That’s part of the fun, but the machine shouldn’t be discouraging and impossible to use out of the box.

4. How does the espresso taste?

Was the espresso balanced? Was it too bitter? Above all we wanted a shot that was nuanced in flavor, with some sweetness and brightness, instead of an ashiness or bitterness.

5. Are there any extra features or accessories?

Espresso machines require lots of accessories generally speaking. We looked at what the machine came with. Did it have a steamer wand or do you supply your own milk frother? Did it come with a jug for steaming milk? What about a tamper for compressing the espresso into the portafilter? We also looked at the quality of these accompanying tools.

Is buying an espresso machine worth it?

If you drink a lot of espresso and are passionate enough to own a machine at home, it’s worth shelling out the money for the fully equipped Rancilio Silvia. Get the Breville Barista Express if you’re a beginner who's interested in learning how to make amazing cappuccinos, lattes, and cortados for yourself. An espresso machine is a luxury and making this kind of coffee is an art, so you should opt for the right gear. But if you just want easy, inexpensive access to good coffee with nice crema, you can always go with the Nanopresso

A Few Quick Tips on How to Brew Espresso at Home

Once you’ve settled on which espresso machine to invest in, here are some practical tips and things to know about how to use your new appliance. Of course, you’ll read your machine’s instructions, but beyond that, these tips will help you brew espresso that’s consistently delicious.

1. Always preheat your machine.

To make sure you get the best brew, preheat your machine, cup, and portafilter. This can take up to 25 minutes, but it’s extremely important. When everything is preheated and ready to go, no flavor is lost throughout the brewing process.

2. Use soft or filtered water.

Espresso is made of 98 percent water. To ensure the best brew, you need good water. Not only will hard water lead to a poorer tasting espresso, it will also damage your machine and create limescale buildup inside over time. The solution is simple: Use filtered water. You also want to make sure you buy good coffee beans, of course, and grind them to the right fineness.

3. Steaming milk is a fine science.

Before steaming your milk, turn on your steamer briefly to get rid of any potential leftover condensation. Next, dip the tip of the wand just underneath the surface of the milk and begin frothing. The ideal temperature for frothing milk is 139°–149° (if you want to be precise you can get a thermometer designed for steaming milk). At that temperature all the fat within the milk has turned to liquid and will not adversely affect your foam. Below that temperature range, your foam will fall apart. Above that temperature range, you risk burning the foam.