I remember trying to choose my first espresso machine. It took days of learning about heating systems, bars of pressure, and steam wands, along with other esoteric terms. If you’re in the same boat, you’ve come to the right space.
This article combines our work across 30+ espresso articles at Craft Coffee Spot to help beginners choose their first espresso machine, with a focus on quality, ease of use, and price. My top three espresso machines for beginners are:
- Breville Bambino — Great heating system and a straightforward design with no frills (at a great price)
- Gaggia Classic Pro — Runner-up; arguably better than the Bambino in terms of performance
- Breville Barista Touch — Best upgrade pick at a reasonable price and easy to use
I’ll go into depth on these and several other best espresso machines. But, before you decide on the best espresso machine for you, here are a few things to learn and watch out for.
Types of Espresso Machines
The first thing you should decide when shopping for an espresso machine is what type of machine you want. Espresso machines are divided into four categories:
- Fully automatic
We’ll focus on semi-automatic espresso makers today because they give the best combination of features for a home espresso newbie. But here’s the breakdown of each type of espresso machine.
Manual espresso machines give you total control over the final espresso product: you control the grinding, brewing, and milk temperatures and brew time. It requires a lot of work on your part. You have to use force to pull on a lever to create enough pressure to pull a good shot. This is the best espresso machine if you’re set on getting a drink exactly how you want it and don’t mind a learning process and mistakes along the way.
Super-automatic machines are the complete opposite of manual ones, meaning you have almost no control over the brewing process. The machine controls every step of the process, from grinding and brewing to steaming, so there’s not a lot of room for you to experiment. This is the espresso machine for you if you want to press a button and have a latte in under a minute.
In the middle, semi-automatic and fully automatic machines both brew espresso with different levels of control. Semi-automatic machines require you to choose how long to brew the espresso; you’ll need to turn the brewing on and off. Meanwhile, fully-automatic machines have preset options that brew the espresso with the push of one button. Honestly, there’s not much distinction here, and we call these both semi-automatics at Craft Coffee Spot.
Both semi-automatic and fully automatic machines can include pre-sets for grinding, automatic temperature shut-off for the milk wand, and other features to take a bit of a chance out of the equation. However, you typically have to do more work than just pressing a button to get your espresso drink. You’ll need to fill the basket with grounds, tamp it, and load the portafilter into the machine.
How To Choose An Espresso Machine (Buying Guide For Beginners)
Before you settle on what machine to buy (and trust me, I have some opinions about specific models), you should know what to look for. There are great semi-automatic and fully automatic espresso machines, good ones, and sub-par ones, and the price tag doesn’t always guarantee quality.
Here are the key features you should put on your checklist:
|Beginner Espresso Machine Checklist||Criteria|
|Built-in grinder||Choose one with a built-in grinder if you don’t have a burr grinder|
|Boiler capacity and heat speed||PID controller is important;|
Dual boiler is an optional premium for fast milk frothing
|Water pressure||Must generate consistent 9 to 15 bars of pressure|
|Ease of use and cleaning||Simple design = easier morning|
Espresso machines go from a couple of hundred dollars to $1,000 plus. A general rule is that you get what you pay for. A super-automatic espresso machine will have a lot of technology inside (the heating system, pressure pumps, steam wand, built-in grinder), so these are among the most expensive espresso machines you can get.
However, even a simple espresso machine can have a high price tag if it’s made with high-end components (think a heat exchanger).
This article focuses on budget options, considering you’re a beginner and don’t need a mortgage to try making espresso at home. You can certainly find better options, but I encourage waiting until you climb the learning curve first.
Pressure is crucial for the success of your espresso. Best espresso machines use a pump that generates pressure. Choose a machine that can generate between nine and 15 bars of pressure for espresso with good texture and nice crema. Everything under nine and over 15 bars will be under or over-extracted, and you won’t have a good espresso flavor.
Note: Some cheaper espresso devices use steam to generate pressure, which is a worse option because it makes the pressure level uneven and unpredictable.
Some machines have a pressure gauge to give real-time feedback on how much pressure the machine is generating.
Pro tip: Choose a machine with a PID controller that regulates the water temperature and pressure, so you have consistent drink results.
Boiler Type/Temperature Consistency (PID)
You can go down a rabbit hole researching the differences between different heating methods and boiler configurations for home espresso machines. We go into detail on espresso machine internals, but generating consistent, high temperatures matters the most.
Consistent water temperature is key for even extraction. That’s why you need an espresso machine with a PID. PID stands for a proportional integral derivative controller. In other words, it controls the heating element, keeps the temperature stable, and lets you change the temperature in single-degree increments.
The PID is connected to the heating element and makes sure the temperature doesn’t fluctuate and keeps the thermostat system accurate. You can learn more about PID in the video below.
As for the boiler, the choice is between single-boiler (including thermoblock and heat exchanger) and dual-boiler machines. Single boiler espresso machines use the same boiler for heating water for the espresso shot and the steam wand. This means some wait time for the boiler to transition between the temperatures. However, the technology has advanced enough that there’s very little wait time between these steps, even on single boiler machines.
Dual-boiler machines let you pull the shot and steam the milk simultaneously. However, these machines are expensive (think $1,500 plus). You’ll find these boilers on higher-end super-automatic machines.
If you’re looking for an espresso machine for beginners, you probably don’t need a dual-boiler. Plus, as I mentioned, most single-boiler machines nowadays are pretty advanced, and you don’t have to wait long between brewing and steaming.
Home espresso machines for beginners can have two milk frothing options: steaming the milk manually or automatically. Automatic frothers are usually in the form of a carafe that you attach to the machine as needed. These are more common with super-automatic machines. The machine automatically dispenses the required amount of frothed milk into your cup. Automatic milk frothers are great if you’ve never used a steam wand before and don’t want to go through the learning process.
A manual milk frother is usually in the form of a steam wand. The wand shoots jets of steam into the milk through holes on the tip. The steam wand gives you more control when you froth milk. You can get different nuances between various milk-based drinks and work on latte art. However, this requires going through a learning process: having an observant eye, using different pitcher angles, training your palm, so it’s sensitive to the milk’s temperature, and more.
Built-In Grinder Or No Grinder
Super-automatic machines are bean to cup machines, which means they come with a built-in grinder. On the other hand, a semi-automatic machine can come with or without a built-in grinder (most semi-automatic espresso machines come without).
A separate grinder will often do a better job than a built-in, but this also means more work and more expense. You’ll have to grind your own coffee and set out more space for your espresso equipment.
Either way, you need a quality burr grinder to make espresso. Pre-ground coffee will lose flavor quickly, and you’ll need to dial-in the grind size for every bag. I advise against blade grinders, which make very inconsistent grinds. I wouldn’t recommend a blade grinder for a rusty old coffee pot, let alone espresso, which is very sensitive.
Burr grinders come in two versions: conical and flat. Conical grinders have a cone-shaped center and serrated outer burr and are heat-resistant. Flat burrs have two circle-shaped burrs with a hole in the middle (like a donut). The beans stay between the burrs, which results in more uniform coffee grounds.
Ease of Use
It’s time, to be honest with yourself: how much knowledge do you already have on the brewing espresso process, and how much are you willing to learn? It’s no use getting a semi-automatic espresso machine if you can’t figure out how to use it or if you spend more time cleaning than using it. If you already know how to froth milk and dial in espresso or want to learn, go for a more hands-on machine.
On the other hand, if you want a machine that takes care of the whole brewing espresso process, get a super-automatic espresso machine. Many of these machines also have automatic cleaning functions. For example, a super-automatic machine self-cleans the steam wand and does a rinsing cycle after each brewed espresso, which means less work for you.
My list of top choices includes semi-automatic and super-automatic options.
Pro tip: Always check the manual or look for tips on how to clean your espresso machine. Also, go for a machine with accessible parts and fewer buttons, levers, and dials.
8 Best Espresso Machines for Beginners
|Check AmazonCheck Breville|
Best upgrade pick
|Check AmazonCheck Breville|
|Check AmazonCheck Williams Sonoma|
|Check AmazonCheck Seattle Coffee Gear|
|Check AmazonCheck Seattle Coffee Gear|
1. Breville Bambino
This is the best option if you’re looking for a quality yet affordable espresso machine with no frills. It’s a great choice if you’re on a budget but want a machine that makes excellent espresso and gives you space to grow into your barista skills.
Breville Bambino is our best home espresso machine for beginners. It’s semi-automatic, so it’ll require some work from you, but nothing an espresso newbie can’t handle.
The Bambino has Breville’s latest thermojet technology which gets the machine ready to brew in three seconds. Plus, there’s almost no wait time between brewing and steaming. The Bambino comes with low-pressure pre-infusion, which primes the ground coffee before brewing, so you have very precise espresso extraction. The PID provides temperature control for consistent shots at optimal water temperature.
Bambino comes with a manual steam wand that can create rich microfoam, which means you can practice your latte art skills. There’s a high learning curve, but the Bambino is nice because it has a one-hole wand. That’s slower (about one minute to froth) yet more forgiving as you have time to aerate and stretch the milk.
The brewing process is easy — choose between single or double espresso shots. You can program each option manually to dial in the shot by holding the button to start brewing and let go to re-program that volume.
Bambino is compact and doesn’t take up much kitchen counter space. The water tank pays the price for the compact size — it’s 47 oz, which is smaller than most other machines. However, it’s still a good size, considering how compact the Bambino is.
The Bambino doesn’t have a built-in grinder, which is understandable considering the affordable price. You’ll have to get a separate grinder, which means you’ll need to allocate more space in your kitchen.
Fast heat-up time
Easy to use
No built-in grinder
2. Gaggia Classic Pro
Gaggia Classic Pro is an excellent choice if you want a machine with premium build quality that can make a delicious espresso quickly. It’s also a great option if you want to learn how to pull espresso, create latte art, and experiment with your drinks.
Gaggia Classic Pro has a stainless steel body, commercial steam wand, and a 58mm portafilter, which you usually see on commercial espresso machines. Where most other machines have a 54mm basket, Gaggia Classic has 58mm, so you can add more freshly ground coffee and have a larger puck, which allows more even extraction across a larger surface.
Gaggia Classic Pro has a single boiler and isn’t the fastest espresso machine. It needs up to five minutes to heat up, but once it’s ready, it steams in only 30 seconds. Plus, you can pull several shots one after the other, which is useful if you’re making drinks for several people.
This machine has three buttons that tell you when the device is ready for use. The water tank is 72 oz, which is the largest on this list, and you can brew several drinks without refilling.
Gaggia’s steam wand can easily achieve high pressure, thanks to the two holes on the tip. The wand creates a good microfoam so you can create latte art. Finally, a cup warmer plate can keep up to five cups warm and always ready to use.
The only thing I didn’t like is that there’s no built-in grinder, so you’ll have an additional expense. Also, the coffee dispenser isn’t adjustable, so you’re limited as to which cups and mugs can fit under the spout.
Cup warming tray
Commercial steam wand
72 oz water tank
Needs five minutes to heat up
Coffee dispenser not adjustable
3. Breville Barista Touch
Breville Barista Touch is the best espresso machine for beginners if you want a more premium machine that’s easy to use and has plenty of drink options. This is also the best choice if you want a device with automatic features that still give you control over the brewing process.
Breville Barista Touch gets its name from the touchscreen display, where you can scroll through pics of programmed drinks. You can press a button and have your coffee ready in no time. But, you can also change the settings and save your preferences for future use. The machine has five pre-programmed drinks, and you can save up to eight drink recipes. You can save your preferences for grind, brew, milk, strength, and drink temperature. Barista Touch gives you the best of both worlds — it’s a great blend of an automatic and semi-automatic machine.
The automatic steam wand is another stand-out feature of the Barista Touch. It’s easy to use — place the milk pitcher on a temperature sensor under the wand and choose between automatic or manual frothing. You can also decide between several temperatures and milk textures. The wand cleans itself via the auto-purge feature when the milk is frothed.
Same as the Bambino, Barista Touch has thermojet technology which has the machine ready to brew in three seconds. There’s also the PID temperature control and pre-infusion for consistent and flavorful shots.
This is also a single boiler machine, so you can’t brew and steam simultaneously, but there’s a minimum wait time between the actions.
Finally, and most importantly, the Barista Touch has an integrated conical burr grinder with an impressive 30 settings. You can control exactly how fine you want the coffee grounds to be.
Can pre-program up to eight drink recipes
Integrated conical burr grinder with 30 settings
Manual and automatic milk frothing
Automatic steam wand and self-cleaning
Expensive for a semi-automatic with a single boiler
4. DeLonghi ECP 3420
DeLonghi ECP 3420 is the best choice for a budget espresso machine. It’s also a good option if you want to brew espresso quickly. It’ll give you a chance to work on your barista skills without taking up too much counter space or having to spend too much money.
DeLonghi ECP 3420 is a budget machine, so it makes sense that it has a plastic body with stainless steel accents. The plastic is ABS, and it’s durable, so you don’t have to worry about the machine’s longevity.
ECP 3420 uses a boiler system and has a fast heating time — it takes less than a minute to heat up from the start. It also has a rapid reheating system that allows you to pull several espresso drinks in succession or switch to steaming in 30 seconds. However, the boiler isn’t very powerful, so you have to use a pressurized basket and coarser grind, which limits the flavor potential.
This machine has a 15-bar pressure pump which is the standard in espresso machines, and a pressurized portafilter. You can adjust the pressure and the extraction level so your espresso has more or less body.
The steam wand is manual. It can heat the milk well, but it tends to run out of steam (literally) and is the weakest feature here.
I also didn’t like that the tamper and the portafilter are plastic, so I couldn’t get a proper puck in the filter. You’ll probably invest in stainless steel parts, plus a grinder. Even though this is an affordable machine, keep in mind you’ll want to make investments as your brewing skills grow.
Rapid brewing system for pulling shots in succession
Removable drip tray
Steam pressure is insufficient for creating microform
5. Capresso Ultima Pro
Capresso is the best option if you want high-end features at a budget price. The heating element is solid, and self-tamping is really nice addition.
The Capresso is one of our favorite budget machine options. The self-tamping portafilter is the feature all beginner baristas will love. Usually, you have to measure the grounds, load the basket, tamp the coffee, and load the portafilter. But, Capresso has a brew head above the portafilter that’s shaped like a parabolic disc. This brew head tamps the ground coffee when you lock in the portafilter. This means there’s no need to get a separate tamper. Plus, tamping is crucial for a good espresso shot, and Capresso’s self-tamping portafilter lowers the chance of mistakes during the brewing process.
Capresso’s heating system is stainless steel lined Thermoblock, which heats the espresso maker in less than 10 seconds. This goes for both steaming and pulling shots, so there’s a short wait time between the actions.
Usually, you have to stop the pouring on a semi-automatic espresso maker. That’s not the case with the Capresso. It’s a self-stopping machine, so you’ll never wonder when to turn it off. You can also re-program the machine to stop at the water volume you want.
The 34 oz removable water tank makes refilling and cleaning easy. The water tank is on the smaller side, but you can make several espressos before refilling.
The manual steam wand allows Capresso to make single and double espresso shots and milk-based drinks. However, the Capresso’s steam wand is ok at best. It creates big bubbles and not foam, so there’s no fine foam for lattes.
Single and double shot options
Fast heat-up time
Automatically stops pouring
No removable drip tray
6. Gaggia Brera
Gaggia Brera is the best choice for espresso beginners who want an affordable super-automatic machine. It’s quiet and compact and uses a ceramic grinder.
Gaggia Brera is the best super-automatic espresso machine for beginners and our favorite from Gaggia. You can press a button and have a quality espresso ready in less than a minute. The interface makes the machine easy to use and gives you customization options. You can choose how many beans you want, program the cup size, and decide between three coffee-strength options. It has two spouts, so you can brew two espressos simultaneously.
Brera has a rapid steam function which gets the machine ready to brew in only 10 seconds.
The ceramic burr grinder has five settings. This is much less compared to Barista Touch, but Brera also has a more affordable price tag. There’s also a bypass doser for pre-ground coffee, which comes in handy when you want a decaf coffee drink.
The steam wand is a manual stainless steel Pannarello, which means you can’t get milk-based drinks with a press of a button. You have to steam the milk yourself, so there’s a learning curve. Brera’s wand can make decent foam, but not the fine microfoam needed for lattes and latte art.
Brera is quiet and compact, so its components (drip tray, bean hopper, and water reservoir) are on the smaller side. The water tank is 40 oz which is decent and lets you pull several shots. However, you’ll have to refill often if you use the steam wand a lot.
Has two coffee spouts
Rapid steam function
Affordable automatic machine
Descaling takes a while
Small water tank
7. Jura E8
Jura E8 is a high-quality super-automatic espresso machine that’s user-friendly. It has more programmability and more bells and whistles for a nuanced espresso.
Jura E8 is a super-automatic espresso machine. It has an LED screen that guides you through the programming functions — you can control the grind size, drink temperature, shot volume, and frothing levels, so you get a drink according to your exact preferences. The LED screen also lets you know when it’s time to descale and empty the used coffee puck container. In case you aren’t a fan of the display, you can use the six buttons next to it.
Jura is renowned for its brewing technologies, starting with the Intelligent Pre-Brew Aroma System or IPBAS. The machine measures the amount of coffee you use and automatically uses the right amount of water so you have optimal flavor and strength. The Pulse Extraction Process (P.E.P.) forces water through the ground coffee in pulses (short bursts), giving you a more flavorful shot.
E8 has an Aroma G3 conical burr grinder with six settings. The machine doses up to 16g of beans in one grind cycle, which is equivalent to commercial machines. You can have a double espresso or two cups of coffee after one grind cycle.
Finally, the milk frother is automatic and has Professional Fine Foam Technology. You can use the dial on the milk nozzle to choose the milk texture.
One drawback is the water tank. The Jura E8 has a large water tank — 64 oz. However, its automatic cleaning system purges water after every shot, so the water tank gets empty pretty fast.
Advanced, patented brewing technology
Automatic milk frothing
More expensive than other espresso machines
8. Philips 3200 LatteGo
Phillips 3200 LatteGo has easy options for milk-based espresso drinks thanks to the carafe milk system. Make lattes and cappuccinos with a push of a button.
If you want a super-automatic espresso machine but don’t have the budget for Jura, Philips 3200 is an excellent option. The front-loading system makes it easy to use — the water tank, drip tray, and coffee puck container are all accessible from the front and easy to maintain.
AquaClean water filter is another feature that makes the Philips 3200 easy to use. If you brew two cups a day, you’ll have to descale the espresso machine after 5,000 cups, which is about seven years.
This machine can make up to five different espresso drinks and hot water. You can choose which drink you want from the touch screen display. There are also some customization options — select your preferred strength and volume.
Phillips 3200 got its name from the LatteGo milk system. This is an automatic milk frothing system. There’s a carafe that you fill with milk and attach to the machine. Choose the froth level you want, press a button, and the machine will froth the milk for you and automatically pour it into your cup. There aren’t any tubes that you have to detach and clean. However, the frother only creates dense foam. There’s no microfoam for latte art.
Philips 3200 has a built-in ceramic flat burr grinder with 12 sizes. The grinder is high-quality and will last for years.
AquaClean filter for descaling after 5,000 cups
LatteGo automatic milk frothing
Only dense milk foam
What’s the Best Espresso Machine for You?
My vote for the best espresso machine goes to Breville Bambino. It’s extremely user-friendly, affordable, compact, and, most importantly, creates quality espresso. Plus, it has a good steam wand, so you can work on latte art. This machine has everything you need to grow your barista skills at an affordable price.
If you’re just starting your espresso journey, check out our guide on how to use an espresso machine.