Coffee is a wonderful creation - second only to pear drops in the list of greatest foods ever. There are a multitude of different ways of brewing coffee - each of them offering different tastes, strengths and amounts. From the small instant ‘pod’ systems (LINK), to gigantic commercial machines that grind the beans fresh and froth milk at the touch of a button, coffee remains the perfect wake-up call for people around the globe!
One of the most revered of coffee drinks is the simple espresso (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espresso) - where a small amount of water is forced through the coffee grounds at great pressure, producing a small, but highly concentrated ‘shot’ of caffeinated goodness. To make a proper espresso, you need a dedicated espresso coffee machine - today we’ll be looking at some of the best you can buy.
A lot of coffee machines can make an espresso - pod coffee makers and large bean-to-cup machines all have the capability, though the results vary. We’ve stayed more traditional with our selections: the 5 machines chosen here are designed just for espresso, and require some knowledge to use properly.
Let’s start with a coffee maker that is close to my heart - I’ve used a DeLonghi Dedica for 3 years now, and it serves me very well indeed. Indeed, I’m sipping a latte made using my Dedica as I write this!
It’s a surprisingly slim machine - thin and tall, it takes up very little space on your work surface and looks smart at the same time. It’s also very easy to use - it only has 3 buttons (single espresso, double espresso, and steam) - and cleaning/emptying is a breeze.
I really enjoy the espressos the Dedica prepares - however other reviews (https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/product-reviews/electricals/a27341288/delonghi-dedica-style-ec685-review/) feel it lacks pressure for a truly powerful cup, so it will depend on your personal taste. The main problem I have with the machine is that it can be temperamental with steam pressure - sometimes it will lose pressure, and you have to wait a while when switching between making an espresso and using the steam function. It’s a minor annoyance at best though - generally this is an excellent machine for those wanting to up their coffee-making game. Recommended!
If you would prefer something a bit cheaper to start your journey into espresso-making, try the ‘Retro Pump’ - Swan’s ‘50s-style coffee machine. There’s a lot to love about this coffee maker - for starters it has a very pleasing design, with several different pastel colours that make it stand out from the other stainless steel and black coffee makers around. It can produce up to 15 bars of pressure, and three is a rather nice pressure gauge on the front to make it easier to read. It also has a helpful pressure dial for the steam pump, allowing you to change the power of the steam, making it easier to froth milk.
Indeed the whole machine is designed to be easy-to-use, making it perfect for beginners (https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/review/best-espresso-machines). That said, the espresso can be a little bit weak - it’s not as powerful and potent as the shots prepared by the other machines in our list. However that somewhat comes down to personal preference - not everybody wants rocket fuel, and the espressos it creates are perfect for the base of lattes and cappucinnos.
The biggest plus of the Retro Pump is the price - this is a cheap and cheerful coffee machine that won’t ask you to sacrifice quality for savings. It may be lacking the shiny extras of more expensive models, but you’ll still have a great cup first thing in the morning!
Moving onwards and upwards - the ‘Bambino Plus’ from Sage has gathered numerous accolades (https://www.expertreviews.co.uk/coffee-machines/1403158/best-coffee-machine) as an excellent manual espresso maker. It is more expensive than the DeLonghi or Swan models, but has numerous advantages - it’s compact form means it won’t hog space in the kitchen, and the espresso is top-notch: powerful, strong and with a good crema.
The standout feature of the Bambino Plus is the ‘automatic milk foamer’. This means that unlike the other models reviewed here, there is no need to learn how to foam milk properly - you just put the milk jug under the steam pipe and hit go. It definitely makes things easier, though it does mean there is less chance to customise your drink exactly how you’d like it - and no way to start learning latte art to impress everyone on Instagram!
There isn’t much to complain about with the Bambino Plus - it’s top of many ‘best coffee maker’ lists for a reason! It’s true price is relatively expensive - especially given the extras you gain from upgrading to the Barista Express - but it’s still a fantastic machine with a lot to recommend it!
Now we’re getting serious! If you have the money, and want to recreate the barista coffee experience at home, then Sage’s ‘Barista Express’ is the place to go. An upgrade of the ‘Bambino Plus’, the Barista Express offers everything you need (https://www.cnet.com/news/best-espresso-machine-for-2020-cuisinart-breville-nespresso-more/) to make great espressos in a single machine!
It has the same excellent brewing-capabilities as the Bambino Plus, but adds a built-in burr grinder, allowing you to use fresh-ground coffee for your espresso. This ups the flavour enormously - and saves on you having to grind them manually, or buy less-than-fresh packaged coffee.
Additionally the Barista Express has several helpful extras included - a milk jug with temperature readout (to stop you burning the milk when frothing), and a cradle under the grinder (so there’s less chance of spilling coffee grounds everywhere). Unfortunately it loses the automatic milk frother found in the Bambino Plus - instead the Barista Express uses the same steam pipe found on the DeLonghi Dedica. It’s not a great loss, but it does mean a little bit more work to make a coffee in the morning. It’s also bigger and wider than most of the other machines - a necessary evil, given the grinder and extras that have been included.
The biggest hurdle for the whole thing is the price - this isn’t a cheap machine, but when you consider you are getting a grinder and a professional coffee maker in one, it becomes a bit more reasonable. Still, £500+ for a coffee machine may be a dealbreaker for a lot of people. If you have the money - and you want to really make the best coffees you can - this is a great option. In the long run you’ll save a lot of money not buying £4 lattes from Costas!
Finally, let’s shoot the moon: if you want to make wonderful coffee while making a design statement, La Pavoni have you covered. This Italian company specialise in beautifully-designed (https://www.lapavoni.com/en/domestic-line/lever-machines/) lever espresso machines.
These things are the polar opposite of the cheap, one-button coffee makers - they are fiddly, expensive, temperamental, slow, and utterly wonderful. They require investment to work properly - you have to bring the boiler up to pressure, set the correct levels, and use the giant lever to manually push the water through the grinds. And while the coffee it makes is some of the best around, it can frequently go wrong (I’ve ruined numerous coffees with my Dad’s Europiccola) and dump you with a mug of bad-tasting brown water.
So why is the Europiccola on this list? Because they are some of the most satisfying coffee makers to use. As many old Italians will tell you, good espresso making is an art. A bit like a Japanese tea ceremony, it takes time to do properly, and the creation is as fun as the drinking. Once you’ve got the knack of using a manual lever espresso machine, it becomes a skill to be proud of - and you get some great coffee as well!
Of course, these things are really expensive, and definitely not for everybody - most people are better to go with a semi-automatic or fully automatic machine, such as the 4 outlined above, and save yourself a lot of fuss!
Still though, they just look so damn nice - it’s a beautiful machine to have as a centrepiece of your kitchen, and a statement that you take your coffee seriously!