The 3 best espresso tampers we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • An espresso tamper packs grounds into your espresso machine’s portafilter to ensure a balanced shot.
  • We tested nine tampers to find the best one you can buy considering price, effectiveness, and more.
  • The Decent Tamper is best for most people thanks to its easy-to-grip handle, calibration, and shape.

An espresso tamper is a tool used to pack, or “tamp,” grounds into the basket of an espresso machine, and it’s essential to prepping a well-balanced shot.

When it comes to choosing the perfect tamper, the most important criterion is that it fits snugly in your espresso machine’s portafilter (measured in millimeters). If you get the wrong size, it either won’t fit at all, or you’re going to end up with an uneven tamp, which means you’ll get, at best, a mediocre shot of espresso.

“The thing the tamp really does,” as former Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) World Barista Judge and home-barista.com founder Dan Kehn explained, “is help with the pre-infusion or pre-wetting.” The real goal is to evenly distribute the grounds so that the puck of coffee soaks evenly. This prevents what’s called channeling, or the uneven flow of water through your grounds, which can undermine the balance of your shot by over-extracting on either side of the channel and under-extracting elsewhere.

A tamper’s weight is also crucial to its effectiveness. The flimsy plastic thing that may have been included with your machine? It’s not going to balance as well as a nicely weighted – ideally one-to-two-pound – hunk of stainless steel. Aside from fit and weight, picking a tamper comes down to feel (how does it fit in your palm?) and aesthetics.

Below, we’ve found the best tampers for most people, considering budget (you can spend hundreds if you want to, but we don’t believe it’s necessary), ease of use (and adjustability where applicable), and shape, all informed by dozens of hours of testing. You can read more about our testing methodology here.

Here are the best espresso tampers in 2021

Our testing methodology

Tamper methodology

Preparation

Before we began testing tampers, we stocked up on several pounds of Ugandan dark roast from Atlas Coffee Company, measuring our grounds using a Kruve Sifter to make sure we were within the realm of espresso (250-500 micrometers, or somewhere between white flour and table salt in size). Throughout testing, we used Gaggia’s Classic Pro espresso machine, which is our top pick for most people and most budgets.

Pulling shots

For each tamper, we pulled four shots: two with a leveler, or a distribution tool to even out the grounds, and two without. 

This was the most telling testing phase. Once you’ve gotten a handle on espresso making, how your shot pours tells you almost all you need to know. Whether you’re using a spouted or a bottomless (or “naked”) portafilter, you want a slow, constant drizzle with enough foam, or crema, to give it a golden hue. This signifies an even extraction.

If the flow is too slow, it’s an indication that the grounds are compacted. Conversely, if espresso is cascading and/or spurting out of the bottom of your portafilter, your grounds are probably not tamped enough, or too coarse to start.

Tasting

Tasting is always going to be highly subjective at best. We noted where shots seemed under- or over-extracted, and when we pulled a shot that wasn’t up to par, we checked to make sure that the issue was related to the tamper we were using, and not the result of improperly-sized grounds or a portafilter in need of cleaning. 

Analyzing the puck

Apart from tasting and watching a shot pour, looking at the puck afterward is the next best way to dissect the quality of an espresso shot It’s a bit like making a tea-leaf prophecy in reverse. If it’s rock-hard, there’s a good chance that the grounds were too fine. If it’s soft, your grounds might be too coarse or you might have tamped too finely. If it’s cracked, or partially dry, the tamp was almost certainly uneven. 

During testing, we oftentimes looked at the puck to essentially confirm what we already knew from previous steps. Between watching the shot pour, tasting the shot, and analyzing the puck, we were able to form a clear picture of what happened, and specifically what went wrong and what went right.

The best tamper overall

Decent Espresso Tamper

Between its spring-loaded calibration and the wide rim, the 13.5-ounce Decent Tamper makes packing and pulling a shot of espresso as foolproof as it gets.

Pros: Almost entirely foolproof, large, comfortable grip

Cons: You’ll need to keep it clean and dry

Whether you’re just getting started or having trouble consistently getting an even tamp, a calibrated tamper can help — especially one designed like Decent’s, with a rim that prevents slanted or “sideways” tamping.

Tamping properly is paramount to achieving a good shot of espresso, and just like hanging a picture frame perfectly straight, you’re almost never going to tamp in a flawlessly level manner. While a slightly off-kilter picture frame might be unnoticeable to the naked eye, a lopsided tamp will almost certainly produce a poor shot of espresso, with over-extraction of the less tightly-packed side being the culprit.

Apart from the mechanical aspects of this tamper, it’s adequately weighted at 13.5 ounces (the pros we’ve spoken with recommend something close to one pound) and has a rounded handle for a comfortable palm grip. While it does have a number of moving parts, everything is robust enough to handle a fall from the counter. The only thing you’ll want to be careful of is getting the mechanism(s) wet. If the thing does end up submerged in water, you’ll want to take it apart and make sure to thoroughly dry it in order to prevent rust.

This is a pricier option, all things considered, but it’s the best because it is as foolproof as tamping gadgets get.

The best 2-in-1 leveler and tamper

Best 2 in 1 tamper

A tamper and a leveler in one, Matow’s Dual Head Coffee Leveler is nicely weighted (17.3 ounces) and adjustable on both sides to accommodate a spectrum of portafilter basket depths.

Pros: Easy to use, easy to adjust, compact (for a two-in-one device)

Cons: Only comes in three sizes, we wish it had visible measurements so you could change between depth calibrations without having to guess

As we mentioned earlier, a tamper’s weight is crucial to its effectiveness, and at 17.3 ounces the Matow was the heaviest option we tested. That’s thanks in part to its two-in-one tamper and leveler design. A leveler, or distributor, is the tool you use to level out espresso grounds before tamping in order to get a more consistent extraction. Most levelers, including Matow’s, feature a set of fins accentuated by deep grooves for flat and even redistribution. Some people prefer to use a leveler sans tamper, or vice versa, to achieve the perfect pour. If you’re unsure of your preference, you can read a bit more about the pros and cons of levelers versus tampers here

In testing the device, we had to spend a little bit of time calibrating its adjustable depths to the stock portafilter baskets from the Gaggia Classic Pro espresso machine we were using. As long as you don’t change baskets too often, this isn’t much of a nuisance, but it’s a downside to consider. We’re hoping Matow will engrave a simple scale into future versions of the Dual Head Coffee Leveler. 

Once we got everything dialed, extraction was flawless, and the grippy surface on the outer ring made tamping especially comfortable. Knowing that you can use either or both sides of this single tool to achieve your ideal shot of espresso is everything, and the price can’t be beat. The major downside is that Matow is a relatively no-name brand in the espresso world and there’s no sign of a warranty or even a brand website beyond this Facebook page. Granted, Amazon usually has your back, and we’ve used and tweaked it enough to know it’s not going to fall apart easily.

The best budget tamper

Best budget tamper

The Luxhaus Tamper offers significant weight and a well-balanced handle at less than half the price of most of its competitors.

Pros: Good balance between the handle and base, lifetime satisfaction guarantee, comes in most portafilter sizes

Cons: The brand doesn’t offer interchangeable bases or handles

The Luxhaus is about as bare-bones as espresso tampers get without skimping on quality metal or meticulous construction, as evidenced by its perfectly balanced handle and base. The handle’s conical shape accommodates a range of hand sizes and grips, and at just shy of 14 ounces, this tamper is hefty enough to get the job done with or without a leveler. For comparison, our top pick is just two ounces heavier than this model. 

The Luxhaus was comfortable and effortless to use, and the 58mm model we tried fit snugly inside the 58mm portafilter basket of our Gaggia Classic Pro espresso machine (the top pick in our espresso machine guide).

Simply put, there are no design shortcuts that make it inferior to many of the $100+ models we tried. Dip below the Luxhaus’s price point, however, and you’ll start to find unbalanced handles that don’t offer enough stability and cheap plastic components that bring a tamper’s weight down and make it more unwieldy. 

If you want a streamlined, non-mechanical tamper that’s dependable and properly weighted for under $30, Luxhaus is the way to go.

This model also comes with a lifetime warranty and a felt bag for storage. 

What else we tested and recommend

What else we tested tampers

Asso Ergo, $89.50-106.57:With its series of interchangeable bases, Asso’s Ergo Tamper is the most versatile tool for tamping and leveling we’ve found yet, and we love it. Hefty, interchangeable convex and lined (patterned) bases make this the tamper for experimenting, but it’s not for everyone, and certainly not at this price point. We wish the brand offered a leveler attachment for tamper handles, though, and keep in mind that extra bases are sold separately. 

Espro Calibrated Tamper, $99: Espro’s Calibrated Tamper is hefty at 16.2 ounces, spring-loaded to 30 pounds of pressure so you know exactly when you’ve tamped correctly, and has the most comfortable handle out of all the tampers we tried. 

LuxHaus Calibrated Tamper, $39: If you want a calibrated tamper on a budget, Luxhaus offers a highly competitive option. We preferred the handle, weight, and squared-off the design of the Espro Calibrated Tamper above, but Luxhaus works every bit as well; we just recommend using a leveler with this one because it fit a little loosely (in our 58mm portafilter baskets) and left room for more uneven tamping than usual.

Rattleware Tamper, $39.99: This is another great option with a larger handle than our top pick, and it’s especially convenient for those with large hands. The only reason we didn’t recommend it this go around (it was a favorite of ours in past guides) is that it’s not widely available at present, and there aren’t enough available sizes for it to work for most people. If you find this tamper in the right size, we wholeheartedly recommend purchasing it.

How to use a tamper

How to use a tamper

A good grinder and fresh grounds are the initial keys to success. After dialing your burr grinder and getting your grounds the right size and consistency, measure out whatever your portafilter basket’s recommended capacity is (7-9 grams is about standard for a single-shot basket; somewhere between 14 and 20 grams will usually fill a double basket). Note that if your grounds touch the screen of the group head (the part of the espresso machine where the water comes out) when you lock in your portafilter, your basket is overfilled. 

Next is where a leveler (another tool for evenly distributing espresso grounds) makes tamping immeasurably easier. If your leveler isn’t calibrated, adjust it so that it reaches the top of your grounds when they’re sitting in your portafilter basket. Again, this depth will vary from basket to basket, which is why an adjustable leveler is best. Give the leveler a few good spins and check to make sure the grounds are neatly leveled. If there’s a wave in the grounds from the fins or ridges of your leveler, it’s probably set too deep. Conversely, if the leveler doesn’t fully reach the grounds, you’ll want to extend it some.

Note: If you don’t have a leveler like the Matow one we recommend above, it’s worth adding one to your kit. You can still make espresso without a leveler, of course, but the process won’t be as foolproof. 

Next, you simply place your tamper in the basket atop the grounds and push down until it clicks (assuming it’s calibrated). To tidy things up, some baristas recommend “polishing” the puck by briefly spinning your tamper with about five pounds of pressure. Once you’re done tamping, look at the grounds in the basket to make sure they’re level. If your puck is slanted, water is going to find the path of least resistance and channel its way through rather than evenly extract.

Now brush or dust off the edge of the basket and the portafilter, because you want to avoid getting coffee grounds in the group head of your espresso machine, attach it to the group head, and pull your shot. Provided your grind size is right and your grounds are consistent, you should get a slow but steady trickle into your demitasse. There’s no exact standard, but a single shot should be ready in roughly 20 to 30 seconds, and a double somewhere between 35 and 45 seconds.

If you want to see how your infusion and extraction are working, try removing your puck right after the machine completes the pre-infusion (or pre-wetting). If you see dry spots, that’s where water didn’t penetrate. If you see cracks, that’s where water channeled. Wipe your basket and portafilter clean.

Espresso levelers (or distributors) vs. tampers

Why you want a leveler

A tamper is a flat (or in some cases convex or lined) piece of metal used to press coffee grounds into a compact puck within your portafilter basket. A leveler is a tool that sweeps across the surface of loosely piled grounds in order to distribute them evenly throughout the portafilter basket. You can use a leveler without a tamper — and a lot of contemporary baristas do — but a tamper provides an extra bit of insurance against channeling.

While 30 pounds is often cited as the amount of pressure needed to properly tamp, former Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) World Barista Judge and home-barista.com founder Dan Kehn along with the folks at both Javapress and Whole Latte Love maintain that 10 pounds will do the trick. Kehn regaled us with a tale of a fellow espresso aficionado who found that whether they tamped with 6 pounds, 60 pounds, or 660 pounds of pressure, variation in compaction was negligible. There were still small air pockets, and the grounds didn’t compress much further with each increase in pressure. Leveling your coffee grounds inherently tamps them, but you shouldn’t use force with a leveler the way you would with a tamper. 

Basically, tamping an espresso shot without a leveler is a bit like hanging a picture frame without a level: it might look straight, but there’s hardly a chance that it actually is. Once the grounds are perfectly leveled, they’ll remain even within the portafilter. Tamping them afterward just reduces the margin of error.

Glossary of espresso terms

Burr grinder: A mill designed to crush coffee beans between two abrasive surfaces set a particular distance apart (determined by the user)

Calibrated tamper: A tamper with a spring to gauge and determine the amount of pressure a barista puts on grounds to pack the portafilter basket

Choke: What a less powerful espresso machine does when it is unable to force water through grounds (usually due to grounds being too fine for the machine)

Convex tamper: A tamper with an outwardly curved surface or face, meant to assist in even extraction

Double: A double espresso; two shots, or somewhere between about 14 and 20 grams from a double portafilter basket

Grind size: The average or standard particle size of ground coffee beans

Grounds: Coffee beans that have been reduced (by way of a blade or burr) to a particular size for brewing

Leveler: A tool for evenly distributing a dose of grounds within a portafilter basket

Lined tamper: A tamper whose face is lined with rings to create an even pattern of ridges and valleys in the top of a puck

Over-extract: To pull too many of the soluble flavors from coffee (ends up extra viscous and bitter)

Portafilter: A holder for baskets and espresso grounds that attaches to the group or group head of an espresso machine

Portafilter basket: A stainless steel basket that holds espresso grounds and fits into the portafilter

Puck: A tamped, or compressed, pile of grounds in (or from) a portafilter

Single shot: One small portafilter basket-worth of coffee (about seven to nine grams)

Tamp: To pack and concentrate

Under-extract: To pull too few of the soluble flavors from coffee (ends up watery and bland)

See more great coffee buying guides

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The best espresso machines


The best French Presses


The best stovetop espresso makers


The best coffee grinders

Read the original article on Business Insider

This is the best espresso machine you can buy for under $500 – I’ve used mine for 3 years without a hitch

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

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  • You don’t have to spend four figures to produce quality espresso in your own kitchen.
  • Gaggia’s new Classic Pro is our overall pick for the best espresso machine.
  • It’s an excellent choice if you want to learn how to use and dial an espresso machine, without any training wheels.
  • See more: The best espresso machines

The $449 Classic Pro Espresso Machine from Gaggia is an update of the brand’s original consumer-priced espresso machine without many changes, but that’s only because they weren’t necessary.

We’ve been using this machine for almost three years with minimal maintenance and without a hitch. If you’re really looking to learn how to make quality espresso at home, pair this with a good burr grinder and you are on your way to mastering how to dial in a shot and get the most out of your fresh grounds.

This is the machine for those who really care about the craft of making espresso.

Gaggia is a classic name in home espresso, and there’s a reason why the Italian brand has stood the test of time: these machines make great coffee.

The latest Classic Pro has the same brew head and portafilter as the previous version – which Gaggia also places in commercial espresso makers – along with the three-way solenoid valve that purges any residual steam or water after you stop the machine. That keeps pressure and temperature consistent and helps keep your coffee from getting burnt by any stored steam or water in the chamber. Modifications are slight but appreciated: a frame that allows you to see how much water is left in the reservoir, a small silicone grip on the purge valve and the frother, and a simple on/off switch and light setup.

Along with an updated boiler that’s better secured inside the machine so that it stays steady and a little quieter, this all adds up to one hardy espresso maker that offers you a good bit of control over how your shot turns out. You won’t be able to regulate temperature or pressure in the way you can with a $5,000 machine like the La Marzocco Linea Mini, but this is your transition from an automatic to a manual transmission; it’s time for some real, unfettered fun.

Below, I’ll walk you through every aspect of the Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine.

The design of the Gaggia Classic Pro

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Simple, understated, and (mostly) steel, this is how any home espresso machine should look on your counter.

This machine looks like it belongs on your grandfather’s kitchen countertop, and he may well have a Gaggia; the brand has been making professional-quality espresso machines for the home since they introduced the Gaggia Baby in 1977.

Wrapped in brushed stainless steel, the Classic Pro has a timeless look. It’s not much larger than a pod machine and costs only a tad more. But it doesn’t come with a built-in burr grinder, which, when bought separately, can be pricey and equally cumbersome. In fact, if you plan on buying any espresso machine of this size, take the amount of counter space you’ve set aside and double it to accommodate a grinder.

The one thing I don’t like about the design is that the wrapped stainless steel frame has some sharp, exposed edges, and if you’re ever bleary-eyed and having trouble fitting your portafilter into the brew head early (or late) in the day, you might slip and lose a small chunk of your knuckle. Still, you’ll learn to dodge them as I have.

The specs

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There’s not too much to this machine, but that’s part of why we like it. Fewer parts mean fewer pieces to break and or lose.

This machine is almost foolproof. There are only three two-way switches and a dial to turn the frother on and off. 

The Classic Pro has a respectable 1450 watts of power and 15 bars of pressure (equivalent to the Breville Barista Pro, our favorite two-in-one espresso machine in our full guide), and a three-way solenoid valve that prevents pressure from building up in the group head, making things a lot cleaner. Without the latter, taking the portafilter out too soon can result in a scalding spray of soppy espresso grounds. You can tell that the solenoid is working when, after finishing pulling a shot (that is, turning off the middle switch), you see a little water running from the purge valve to the left of the group head.

The steam wand is not particularly special, but that’s a good thing. Switch off the group head valve, switch on the steam valve, wait for the light to turn on, blow out any excess water in the chamber (preferably over the drain reservoir in the machine), and you’re ready to go. Turning the valve one way engages it and increases the pressure, and going in reverse eases and shuts it off. We’ve found that the more complicated a frother, the less likely we are to use it, and while there are all sorts of fancy ones out there, good pressure from a powerful machine is all you really need.

There’s also a warming plate on top (more or less standard), a full-sized 58mm portafilter with pressurized and non-pressurized baskets (the latter for pre-ground espresso or pods), and a stainless steel drip tray with an easy-to-remove reservoir for collecting overflow and spillage.

Essentially you’ve got everything you need and nothing you don’t.

The set-up and brewing processes

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A bit of dialing goes a long way, but with a little patience, you’ll eventually arrive at a rich, frothy goodness no pod machine could ever replicate.

The Gaggia Classic Pro comes more or less set up for you. Make sure to clean out the water reservoir with soap before inserting it into place in the base of the machine.

Before you begin prepping your shot, turn the power switch on. This gets the machine ready, but if you put the portafilter in during this stage, it’ll warm that up, too. Espresso can turn sour when it’s made cold, and if the scalding water from the boiler hits a cold portafilter, it can do funky things to your brew.

Next, you want to insert the portafilter basket that corresponds with the type of coffee you’ll use (pre-ground and/or ESE pod, or freshly ground). Just make sure you use the little plastic riser piece if you’re going to use one of the pressurized baskets.

Once your portafilter is ready to go, grind your coffee (if you’re grinding your own) and load up the basket. Remember, grind size and tamping are two key components. A good rule of thumb is to get your grounds somewhere between the texture of flour and table salt, but what works with one roast may not work with the next, so be prepared for some experimentation. Give it a good bit of tamping pressure, but, more importantly, distribute your grounds evenly throughout the basket.

Between about 25 and 35 seconds of brew time should do the trick, but while 35 seconds might nearly incinerate one type of coffee, it could be just right for another. Play around with dialing in your machine. This should be part of the fun, after all.

Lock your portafilter into the brew head and, if the light beneath the brew switch is on, that means the machine is primed and ready. Flip it, and delight in the caramel-colored tonic that runs in two perfectly even streams into your demitasse. If the stream is but a slow drip, your grind size (for that particular bean, remember) is either too fine, or you’ve tamped it with too much force. (Pro tip: use a small measuring cup or a demitasse with measurements on it to learn how much of an extraction you like.) You want a steady, even-colored trickle.

And, again, remember to have some fun and play around. Talk to any good barista and you’ll be appalled at how much coffee they dump out just to get their machines and beans right in the morning. Two-time UK Cup Tasting Champion (also 8th in the World Cup Tasting Championship in 2013) barista master Jason Gonzalez once told me that he often spends up to half an hour dialing shots every morning at his Burlington, VT espresso shop Onyx Tonics.

The frothing process

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Yes, and there’s an extremely high-powered frother that’s remarkably easy to clean.

My favorite thing about the Gaggia Classic Pro, especially compared with similar machines, is that the steaming wand is manually adjustable (using the knob, right of center in the image above). This feature is especially handy for frothing various sorts of milk, which all have their own consistencies and boiling points.

Plus, it’s quiet. On some machines, like the Breville Barista Express, the steam is either on or off, and “on” produces a high-pitched screech. 

 

Potential cons

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There’s a lot to be said for having a high-powered frother at the ready, both for your morning cup, and dazzling guests after dinner.

For one, you don’t want to have the brew and steam switches on at the same time, which is just part of the responsibility of owning a professional-grade espresso machine. You’ll get used to it, and the budding barista within you will be all the better for it.

The only limitation of the steam wand, which is still my favorite out of any frother-equipped machine I’ve tested, is that it’s not gimballed, like on the Breville Barista Express. You’re confined to working with specific angles, and purging it of excess water requires either awkwardly placing a glass underneath or twisting it around so that it spills into the drip reservoir. All in all, not a big deal.

The only true issue I have with the Gaggia Classic Pro, and the original line before it, is that the stainless steel housing has unfinished corners, leaving hazardously jagged edges. I’ve been using the new Pro for a few months now, and twice I’ve missed locking in the portafilter and jammed my thumb right into one of those corners, taking a nice little bite of my knuckle. Be a little more careful than I am (not difficult) and you’ll be fine. 

Lastly, the latest version of this machine comes with an undersized plastic tamp, which feels a little cheap on the brand’s behalf given they have previously included a nice stainless steel one. Do yourself a favor and spring for a proper 58mm tamper that fits this portafilter and makes tamping even, and easier.

The bottom line

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Look, it takes a while to get this right. Maybe start with cheap coffee so you don’t tear through a whole bag of precious coffee when you’re still learning. But most importantly: Have fun.

The Gaggia Classic Pro is a temperamental machine in comparison with something like the Breville Barista Express, but if you want to learn how to use a real espresso machine, and you either already have a good burr grinder or don’t want an all-in-one maker, this is a compact but powerful machine that will serve you well.

Pros: Powerful, commercial-grade, compact, not terribly expensive

Cons: Misuse can cost you (i.e., it’s not foolproof) but the new Pro model is slightly more user-friendly than the original, sharp edges on corners can cut your hands, no longer comes with 58mm stainless steel tamper

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 4 best espresso machines we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

The requisite for cafe drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, espresso is a concentrated form of coffee that’s made using pressure to force near-boiling water through tightly-packed coffee grounds. And, if you want to brew cafe-quality drinks in your kitchen while building your skills, a home espresso maker is a necessity.

To achieve a perfect pour, you’ll need a good machine that can produce and maintain roughly 8 to 10 bars of pressure, and hold up after being turned on and off hundreds (and ideally thousands) of times.

For our guide, we looked at semi-automatic machines as well as manual and fully-automated pod-based devices that are made for home use. In order to find the best for most people, we consulted a handful of experts and baristas, conducted extensive testing, and held multiple blind taste tests. We also tested budget semi-automatic machines and professional units, but we passed on these because they didn’t meet our criteria. (Read more about our methodology.)

It’s important to note that making quality espresso can be expensive and time-consuming. In addition to the machine, you’ll need a good burr grinder, which can cost at least $250 for one that is suitable for espresso. You’ll also need to factor in top-grade beans, accessories, and lots of trial and error if you’re a newbie. Expect to pay at least $400 for a capable automated machine, not including the grinder; a manual device is cheaper, but it will still add up.

When it comes to picking the gear that’s right for you, “you get what you pay for, but you should also take your own level of experience into consideration,” said Jordan Rosenacker, the executive creative director of Atlas Coffee Club. “If you’re just learning the ropes, get an affordable machine that won’t break your heart when – and yes, when – it breaks down.”

The best espresso machines you can buy in 2021

The best espresso machine overall

Best espresso machine 2021 gaggia classic pro

The Gaggia Classic Pro is compact, powerful enough to turn out rich, full-bodied shots, and is as simple as espresso machines get without compromising quality. While it takes some practice to nail the perfect pour, it’s well worth the short learning curve.

Pros: Affordable, compact, simple design, produces full-bodied shots

Cons: No dedicated hot water spout, could have fewer plastic parts, learning curve, portafilter basket sticks in machine if you don’t remove while hot

The Gaggia Classic Pro — an updated version of the original Gaggia Classic, which has been around for almost three decades — is slightly less forgiving than our recommendation for the best machine with a built-in grinder, but it’s also markedly more capable of producing a flavorful, nuanced shot.

If you’re just starting out, this is about as basic as espresso machines get without compromising quality. There are three buttons with corresponding lights (letting you know when the machine is primed) and a steam valve. The fact that there’s no adjusting can seem a bit limiting at first, but fewer variables are a good thing for the budding barista.

It’s a single-boiler model, which means it’s going to take a while to switch between pulling shots and priming the steam wand (although this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re only making a few drinks at once). And while Gaggia claims that this machine puts out 15 bars of pressure, you really only need nine to achieve true espresso. 

It also includes a small dosing spoon and a plastic tamping device, which — I have to admit — feels a little cheap considering that the Classic Pro used to come with a nicely-weighted stainless steel tamper. That being said, you don’t need to put much muscle behind tamping in the first place, and those plastic parts do get the job done. 

Testing notes

While the Gaggia Classic Pro was a little less forgiving than the Breville Barista (both Express and Pro), I found that when I took my time, I was able to get a much more sophisticated shot. On my first few tries, I produced some bitter over-extractions — which at least prove that the machine is up to the task when it comes to pressure — but when I nailed it, which was around the 30-second mark for a one-ounce pour, I was rewarded with some of the best espresso I’ve ever made. Here, I should mention that I’ve also tested machines in the $2,000 range.

That’s not to say that this model isn’t without its shortcomings. The plastic tamping device I mentioned earlier falls a couple of millimeters short of fitting the portafilter baskets (although tampers are easy to upgrade). I also wish there was a dedicated water spout, but you can get water out of the steam wand and the brewing head, provided you purge them of milk and coffee grounds first.

One last gripe: The portafilter baskets tend to stick to the group head if you don’t remove your portafilter right away. This is a bit annoying, but it does show what a great seal you get between the group head and basket, and it’s nothing you can’t manage: If you do end up forgetting to remove it, just turn the machine on when you’re ready for another shot, let it warm up, and it should come off easily enough.

You get a two-year limited warranty with this machine, but it doesn’t cover user error. It’s important to descale — or remove limescale deposits from — the Classic Pro regularly, which goes for all espresso machines and can be done at home with a simple vinegar solution. 

If you want to put time and effort into learning how to make espresso like a professional, don’t have a lot of counter space, or on a relatively tight budget, invest in a Gaggia Classic Pro and a good burr grinder and you’ll have a long way to go before you outgrow your setup. 

Read our full review of the Gaggia Classic Pro, including detailed specs

The best espresso machine with a built-in grinder

Best espresso machine 2021 breville barista pro 4x3

Equipped with Breville’s Smart Grinder Pro and everything you need to make espresso save for the beans, the Breville Barista Pro is among the easiest and fastest ways you can get a close-to-café-quality pour at home.

Pros: No need to buy a grinder, user-friendly, quick prep time

Cons: Doesn’t include the pressure gauge found on other models, built-in grinder could have more settings, probably not repairable out of two-year limited product warranty

A faster, quieter, and more digitally advanced version of its predecessor the Barista Express, the Barista Pro is equipped with the brand’s excellent Smart Grinder Pro, which would run you $200 on its own. A high-quality burr grinder is essential when it comes to making espresso, and this conical, stainless steel version comes with 30 fine grind adjustments, not to mention the dozen-plus internal grinder adjustments you can make if the fine ones don’t do the trick. (Note: This is something you’ll only have to do if you drastically change the beans you’re using.)

In addition to a burr grinder, the single-boiler Barista Pro has all the basics: 15 bars of pressure (again, you really only need nine), a 67-ounce water tank (enough for a week’s worth of espresso), a convenient water spout, a half-pound sealed bean hopper, a steaming wand, a frothing pitcher, and a satisfyingly heavy magnetic steel tamper that fits into a slot beside the grinder. For more detailed stats, you can check out my full review at the link below. 

While the Barista Pro should last up to 10 years on your countertop, outside of the two-year limited product warranty, repairing it is probably out of the question, and you’ll simply have to buy a new one. Breville does have several other options, and while upgrades are on the pricey side, they’re worth it if you have the budget. 

The LCD interface includes a timer and single- and double-shot volumetric control for both the grinder and the brewing head, while the ThermoJet heating system quickly brings the Barista Pro to the optimal extraction temperature and allows for smooth shot pouring. Still, if you want to save a few bucks and prefer the experience of using a pressure gauge — which is, in my opinion, a valuable learning tool — the Barista Express is a little more affordable, if slower.

Testing notes

In my blind taste tests, one of the tasters who tend to prefer coffee over espresso favored this machine over the top two contenders, which were the Flair Espresso manual device and the Gaggia Classic Pro. While the Breville Barista Pro was consistently rated “good,” it rarely won out against the others due to the shots’ relative lack of complexity. Still, everyone enjoyed the espresso it produced, and by putting slightly finer grounds through it compared to other machines, we were able to achieve results nearly on par with the Gaggia’s. 

Some minor pitfalls: Having the hopper over the boiler is a potential problem, since coffee needs to be stored in a cool dry space, and while we appreciate the built-in grinder for convenience, there could be more grind settings to accommodate different beans. Again, a pressure gauge is a very helpful learning instrument, and we wish it was included. Still, the timer is handy, and you’ll be able to dial this machine and your grounds to produce an espresso that’s to your liking.

In the end, while you might not get a shot of espresso’s full potential from the Barista Pro, you’ll come pretty darn close, with a very small margin for error. 

Read our full review of the Breville Barista Pro

The best manual device

Best espresso machine 2021 flair espresso maker

If you want to make the best espresso you possibly can at home (or on the road) without breaking the bank, a manual device like the Flair Espresso maker is an excellent option. 

Pros: Budget-friendly, portable, comes with a case, five-year limited warranty

Cons: Takes longer to prep a shot, not great for making more than one or two espressos at a time

Manual espresso makers like the Flair Espresso are not only affordable, they offer more control than most budget machines that don’t allow you to adjust temperature or pressure. 

Just know this before buying: using the Flair is slightly more time-consuming than making espresso with a machine by about two minutes. And, you’ll still need a grinder. Again, though, if time is a real constraint, you may want to look to pod machines, or perhaps the Breville Barista Pro, which offers a relatively quicker shot.

When I mentioned the Flair to Dan Kehn, former SCAA Barista World Championship judge and founder of Home-Barista.com, he agreed that it’s an excellent bet for anyone new to the espresso world who wants to learn how to pull a full-bodied shot. Why? Again, it’s about control. You pour water directly from a kettle and adjust the pressure manually until you get a steady golden flow of thick, crema-rich java. Machines in the same price bracket as the Flair often start out with excessive pressure and end a little on the light side. 

What makes this device relatively foolproof is the fact that the cylinder has a maximum water capacity of 60ml, so controlling extraction time for somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds (for espresso and more concentrated ristretto, respectively) is actually much easier, and you can get the hang of maintaining the right pressure pretty quickly. 

This maker weighs just under five pounds and it’s portable, which means you can use it anywhere so long as you have a way to boil water. And, unlike most of the machines we tested, the Flair comes with an impressively long five-year limited warranty.

Testing Notes

Sure enough, Kehn was right. During a series of five rounds of blind taste tests, the Flair won four times — three unanimously. There’s something about being able to control the pressure with your own hands that allows you to deliver a steady flow. Everyone involved in the blind taste test agreed that the intensity of flavor, viscosity or texture, and strength was favorable to almost every other shot we pulled from the other machines, save for the Gaggia Classic Pro a couple of times.

The only caveat here is that when we adjusted the grinder to finer settings to find the threshold of each device, the Flair was the first to choke and we could not physically pull a shot without breaking the device — a sticker on the lever warns not to exceed 70 pounds of pressure. (Even if we had, the resulting espresso would have been unpalatably bitter judging from the drops we were able to manage.)

The Flair requires a little more effort and time to operate than your average espresso machine, but it is the easiest and most budget-friendly way to get the best possible shot you can, especially if you’re new to the espresso game. The fact that it doesn’t take up much counter space is another bonus. If you want to step up and spend a little more, Kehn recommends the Cafelat Robot, which he says is the “same animal,” but heftier and made with all metal components.

The best pod machine

Best espresso machine 2021 Breville-Nespresso Pixie

If you want to keep your investment low and save time, there’s no better way to go than the Breville-Nespresso Pixie.

Pros: Easy, convenient, affordable, small footprint

Cons: Pods can get expensive, on the lower end of espresso, pod grounds are not fresh

Turn the Nespresso Pixie on, pop in a pod, press a button, and within under a minute you will have an espresso-like drink, foamy crema and all. 

The Pixie has just two settings: one for espresso and one for a lungo, which is just a long, or more diluted pour of an espresso. Take it easy on this machine and don’t demand more than a few shots at a time, and it will last you. 

Nespresso claims that this machine offers 19 bars of pressure, but our TDS readings fell consistently around the 5% to 7% mark, which is just shy of espresso. In other words, you can’t expect “true” espresso from this machine, but you can count on a strong, frothy drink. That is, in fact, quite a feat. And with the added convenience and price point for the machine, we were willing to make an exception.

Further to that point, the machine is primed (heated up) within 25 seconds, and all told, your shot is ready in under a minute. To save energy, the machine turns itself off automatically after nine minutes. 

These machines come with a one-year limited warranty through Breville, but I have personally (and simultaneously) owned two for more than five years and haven’t had a single problem to date.

Testing Notes 

Against the other machines and the lone device in our testing, the Pixie didn’t really stand much of a chance where intensity and texture or viscosity were concerned. Even if you buy the freshest pods you can, they’re no competition for freshly roasted and ground beans from a good local roaster.

Still, the crema was certainly present. And everyone in the testing group agreed this machine does the trick in a pinch, which is how most coffee is made at home anyway. 

When you use the Pixie, you’re mostly limited to what comes in pods, which is where the device falls short of espresso machines with group heads and portafilters. There are refillable capsules (see our guide to coffee and espresso pods), and you can get much better results by using fresh beans and grinding them yourself, but that eliminates the point of a pod machine. That said, if this is the route you want to go, it’s manageable, if somewhat frustrating to fill and tamp tiny little capsules with a teaspoon of grounds. 

Take this machine for what it is, considering its compact size, convenience, and price. Using pods can be expensive but there’s no way you’re going to get espresso (or espresso-like drinks) into a demitasse any faster than this, which is almost certainly the way to go for the convenience crowd.

Check out our guide on the best coffee pod machines.

What we also recommended

Best espresso machine 2021 Breville Espresso Machine 1

Breville Barista Express ($699.95): It was almost a tossup between the Express and the Pro, and while we lament the loss of the pressure gauge on the Pro in favor of an LCD interface, it’s a faster, smoother machine. That being said, if you want to save a couple of hundred dollars (price varies on this machine a lot), the Barista Express is a great alternative. Note: We’re also in the process of testing the Breville Bambino, which is a great consideration if you already have a good grinder.

De’Longhi La Specialista ($799.95): A very close contender with the Breville Barista Express, the De’Longhi La Specialista is designed almost identically but comes with a built-in tamper that removes a lot of potential for user error, which we do like, but a lot of people prefer to use a tamper and/or leveler. Still, it’s about the same price and comes with a three-year warranty instead of the one-year warranty Breville offers. This is another machine to be seriously considered.

Gaggia Brera ($617.15): We found this automatic machine to be fairly good, but its shots didn’t compare to the Gaggia Classic Pro’s due to the built-in grinder that allows for minimal adjustments. Still, if you want an all-in-one automatic machine that can do it all in the way of espresso drinks, it’s markedly more affordable than much of its competition, and passable, if large and clunky.

La Pavoni Europiccola ($925): Lever machines with built-in boilers are among the best on the market for two reasons: they’re affordable (relative to commercial machines) and they’re built like tanks, so they’ll outlast just about everything. The problem is, it is a bonafide challenge to learn how to pull a good shot of espresso out of one of these things, and it takes time. If you’re willing to go through the motions, we recommend it, but you have a long journey ahead.

What else we considered

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Over the past several years, we have tried about a dozen of the most popular espresso machines and another handful of Nespresso and Illy pod machines. Since there are currently more options in the way of third-party pods and refillable capsules for Nespresso machines (currently, there are no refillable Illy capsules), you should go with Nespresso. The model we recommend above is among the most affordable, and there’s little point in splurging when you decide to buy a pod machine. If you want frothed drinks, consider investing in a frother separately, which is easier to use and clean.

Aeropress ($29.99): Aeropress is a great coffee-making tool that many a coffee snob keeps on their kitchen counter, where it is their sole coffee-brewing device. What you get out of an Aeropress is something like a finely pressed French press coffee with a generous layer of foam, but not quite espresso. For many, this simple little plastic device will suffice. Plus, its portability makes it handy for outdoor use.

Breville Bambino Plus ($499.95): This machine worked almost as well as the Breville Barista Express or Pro, but it didn’t seem to bear as much power and is more designed for those stepping up from a capsule machine. Considering the price and difficulty of repairing a Breville machine that’s out of warranty, we think the Gaggia Classic Pro is a better bet. Still, we’re testing the new Bambino (not to be confused with the Bambino Plus we’re discussing here) and we’ll discuss our findings in the next update.

Cuisinart EM-200 ($205): This machine almost made espresso, but we couldn’t produce the thick elixir we got out of machines in the $450 and up range. If you’re going to top out around $200, it’s best to go with a manual device or a pod machine. That said, some might find it passable in a cappuccino or latte.

De’Longhi Stilosa ($99.95): This machine replaced the De’Longhi 155 15-Bar, which made decent, foamy coffee. However, like the Cuisinart, the Stilosa delivered something a little more watery than espresso, and more akin to French press or AeroPress coffee. Like the Cuisinart EM-200, it might be passable in cappuccinos or lattes, but a pod machine or a manual device will get you better espresso for the same price.

Rancilio Silva Pro PID ($1,690): This is a professional machine for the home, but much like a professional race car, it operates best in the hands of a pro, and might be something you’re better off working up to, not starting out with. It also didn’t seem to let lighter roasts shine, on which we consulted our expert, Dan Kehn, who agreed. Still, it’s a powerful machine that will allow you to ultimately make superlative shots, but with lots of practice and bad espresso poured down the drain.

Saeco ($1,099): We’ve tried a couple of machines from Saeco, and while they did what they were supposed to, the price, especially compared with the Gaggia Brera, didn’t seem warranted. For something along the lines of a programmable machine that’s borderline automatic, Decent Espresso is a favorite and recommended by Dan Kehn of Home-Barista.com.

Smeg ($489.95): This is a cute little machine and certainly has counter appeal, but it pumps out more watery shots than we’d like, and for the price, it’s just not competitive.

Testing methodology

Best espresso machine 2021 testing methodology

To test a machine’s performance, we put each through the following. In addition, we factored in pricing to determine a machine’s overall value.

Noting TDS measurements

We wanted to make sure we were getting true espresso, which is generally agreed to be somewhere between 7% and 12% total dissolved solids (TDS). To measure this, we used a device called the Atago Pocket Barista, which gave us concrete proof that some machines are better able to churn out a thicker, richer, more viscous potion without over-extracting than others. 

Holding taste tests 

We held several side-by-side blind taste tests and used the freshest roasts we could get our hands on from Atlas Coffee Club, Stone Street Coffee Company, and Counter Culture Coffee. These taste tests involved dialing a grinder to prepare grounds for 30-second extraction times, then having five participants taste shots from four machines that became our final contenders.

Pulling shot after shot to check for consistency

Dozens of hours were spent grinding and pulling shots from more than 10 pounds of fresh coffee beans. We paid close attention to the consistency of brewing to see if we could pull the same four shots in a row. With almost every machine, we got very close, but the “machine” that seemed to work the best was the Flair Espresso Maker, a manual lever device. Chalk it up to the fact that we were better able to control the flow of pressure ourselves.

Considering prices

We found that the sweet spot for a reliable entry-level home espresso machine is around $400-$500. But remember, you’ll still need a good burr grinder. 

Anything less, and you’re probably investing in a machine that might be able to produce the standard nine bars of pressure, but won’t necessarily maintain it throughout the brewing process. We did test several machines in the $100-$300 range but found that they fell short in producing thick, full-bodied, and crema-rich espresso. Likewise, you can step up into the four figures, but according to Kehn, “At some point, there are diminishing returns.”

FAQs

Best espresso machine 2021

Do I need an espresso machine?

The best way to approach home espresso is to consider it an investment in a new hobby. On top of the financial commitment, it’s going to take time and patience. Be prepared to dedicate a good section of your kitchen counter to your kit, accept that you’re going to make plenty of mistakes along the way, and know that it is part science and part art. Above all else, dedication is everything.

If you’re just getting started, expect to spend a lot of time pouring bad shots down the drain, fussing with settings as you learn to dial in your machine, and cleaning up coffee grounds. It costs about $700 to $800 just to get up and running with a machine and a burr grinder. If you’re willing to go the manual route, you can get a portable device and a burr grinder for under $500, but that’s still costly.

Making espresso is one of the most time-consuming and messy ways to produce a cup (let alone demitasse) of coffee. If, in the end, you need something quick and easy on your way out the door in the morning, you may want to consider the Nespresso system. On the flip side, know that are few things as rewarding in the world of home coffee as achieving an immaculate shot of velvety espresso all on your own.


What do I need to make espresso?

Fresh coffee beans: Paramount to making espresso are coffee oils, so you need freshly roasted coffee beans. If you’re buying months-old coffee and putting it through an espresso machine, you’re not going to get a lot of the coveted foam or any of the nuanced flavors associated with espresso. Simply put, get the best, freshest coffee beans you can find. If you like traditional coffee with chocolatey-nutty flavors, go with a medium-dark roast. If you like brighter, more nuanced flavors with floral, citrus, and fruit profiles, go with a light roast.

A burr grinder: Okay, here’s where many of us make our most crucial mistake. Any old grinder simply will not do.

The coffee grinder you choose is possibly more important than the device itself. For espresso, you’ll want a burr grinder, which is made up of two serrated pieces of ceramic or steel that uniformly grind in a way that blade grinders, which indiscriminately chop like blenders, do not. Uniform grounds are always superior, but they’re paramount when it comes to espresso. Our guide to coffee grinders is in the process of being updated, but we like the Baratza Sette 30 or Baratza Sette 270 for now.

No matter the beans you use, you want to wind up with grounds that are somewhere between white flour and table salt. If it’s so fine that it’s almost comparable to dust, the machine is likely going to choke and pour next to nothing. If your grounds are too coarse, you’ll get something more like watery coffee, which will have no crema.

An espresso machine: Here’s the thing: If you’re not willing to put in the time to learn how to pull a shot like the professionals, you don’t want a machine like the ones professionals use. Consider something more pared-down, like our top recommendation, the Gaggia Classic Pro (don’t let the “Pro” intimidate you here, though), or something completely automatic.


What are the different types of espresso?

Normale, or standard espresso: A standard espresso is the most traditional form of the drink, and it’s usually defined by size at about one to 1.5 ounces (30ml-45ml).

Ristretto: A ristretto is about three-quarters of an ounce (20ml-25ml) and an even more concentrated version of espresso where flavor profile is concerned. The caffeine amount is the same, or less because you’re pulling a shot from the same amount of grounds.

Lungo: A lungo is a slightly diluted espresso, somewhere between three and four ounces (90ml-120ml), which is between a normale and an Americano.

Americano, or long black: An Americano is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water to fill out a cup.


Why are espresso machines so expensive?

An espresso machine contains a powerful motor that pumps near-boiling water through a chamber and out the group head (the part of the machine that receives the portafilter). Everything needs to be expertly sealed so that it can contain piping-hot water under immense pressure, or the machine won’t work at all.

Good espresso machines are assembled by hand and are designed to be repaired. Just like your car’s engine, the motor of an espresso machine needs a little care, and unfortunately, the very thing most of us do with at-home espresso machines is among the worst things one can do with a motor: repeatedly turn it on and off. This wears down on the motor and will require some level of repair after a few hundred shots.

They’re also built using expensive components usually made of steel. Espresso machines need to be able to generate and maintain about nine bars of pressure at roughly 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and higher-end machines will allow you to control the temperature. On top of that, every component has to be able to withstand vastly changing temperatures, pressures, and levels of humidity since there’s also steam involved.


Can you make regular coffee with an espresso machine?

This depends on your idea of coffee. The closest thing you can get to drip coffee is going to be an Americano, or a long black, which is an enjoyable way of stretching out that precious little ounce that is a shot. Simply pull a shot of espresso and then add whatever amount of hot water to fill out your cup.

If you’re really looking to drink drip coffee most of the time, you may want to save your money and buy a regular coffee machine. Consider a stovetop moka pot to have on hand for an espresso-like drink.

Glossary

Espresso: A concentrated form of coffee made by forcing near-boiling water through finely-ground coffee using roughly seven to nine bars of pressure. A 1-ounce shot of espresso has 60 to 65mg of caffeine and a standard 8-ounce cup of coffee has anywhere from 95mg to 120mg.

Burr grinder: A set of two abrasive surfaces capable of uniformly crushing coffee beans to a much finer form than a blade grinder.

Group head, brew group, or brew head: The fixture on the front of an espresso machine that brings water from the machine and into the portafilter

Portafilter: The holder for the basket and coffee grounds that attaches to the group head.

Portafilter basket: The basket that fits into the portafilter and into which beans are ground and tamped.

Portafilter basket (non-pressurized): Lined with a grid of tiny pinholes, these baskets allow the tamped grounds to generate their own pressure resistance to the group head, resulting in rich, foamy espresso.

Portafilter basket (pressurized): Specially designed for pre-ground coffee and ESE pods that don’t pack as tightly as fresh grounds, these have fewer holes and help build pressure resistance.

Shot: A pour of espresso.

Tamper: The device used to tamp down grounds into the portafilter basket.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS): This is the percentage of solids dissolved into a solution. In the case of espresso, 7%-12% TDS is generally considered the threshold.

Who we consulted

To determine non-negotiable espresso machine features and narrow down my list of recommendations, I asked these coffee professionals to lend their expert advice: 

Read more in-depth coffee gear guides

Hario Skerton

The best coffee makers whether you want drip coffee or espresso


The best French presses


The best stovetop espresso makers


The best coffee grinder


The best espresso tamper

Read the original article on Business Insider

This is the best espresso machine you can buy for under $500 – I’ve been using mine for 3 years without a hitch

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  • You don’t have to spend a thousand dollars to produce quality espresso in your own kitchen.
  • Gaggia’s new Classic Pro is our overall pick for the best espresso machine.
  • It’s an excellent choice if you want to learn how to use and dial an espresso machine, without any training wheels.
  • See more: The best espresso machines

 

The $449 Classic Pro Espresso Machine from Gaggia is an update of the brand’s original consumer-priced espresso machine without many changes, but that’s only because they weren’t necessary.

We’ve been using this machine for almost three years with minimal maintenance and without a hitch. If you’re really looking to learn how to make quality espresso at home, without any training wheels, pair this with a good burr grinder and you are on your way to learning how to dial in a shot and get the most out of your fresh grounds.

This is the machine for those who really care about the craft of making espresso.

To use the parlance of our times, it’s old school, and again, it’s hardly much of an update on the old machine, which is why we like it so much. Gaggia is a classic name in home espresso, and there’s a reason why the Italian brand has stood the test of time: These machines make great coffee.

Gaggia kept the exact same brew head and portafilter it’s always used – which it also places in commercial espresso makers – along with the three-way solenoid valve that purges any residual steam or water after you stop the machine. That keeps pressure and temperature consistent and helps keep your coffee from getting burnt by any stored steam or water in the chamber on the next shot. Other modifications are slight but appreciated: a frame that allows you to see how much water is left in the reservoir, a small silicone grip on the purge valve and the frother, and a simple on/off switch and light setup.

Along with an updated boiler that’s better fixed inside the machine so that it stays steady and a little quieter, this all adds up to one hardy machine that offers you a good bit of manual control over how your shot turns out. You won’t be able to control temperature or pressure in the way you can with a $5,000 machine like the La Marzocco Linea Mini, but this is your transition from an automatic to a manual transmission; the training wheels are off, and it’s time for some real, unfettered fun.

Below, I’ll walk you through every aspect of the Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine.

The design of the Gaggia Classic Pro

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Simple, understated, and (mostly) steel, this is how any home espresso machine should look on your counter.

This machine looks like it belongs on your grandfather’s kitchen countertop, and he may well have a Gaggia; the brand has been making professional-quality espresso machines for the home since they introduced the Gaggia Baby in 1977.

Wrapped in brushed stainless steel, the Classic Pro has a timeless look. It’s a fairly tiny little thing, not much (if at all) bigger than many pod machines. Also, keep in mind that it costs only a tad more than most pod machines, and in some cases less. But it doesn’t come with a built-in burr grinder, which, when bought separately, can be pricey and equally cumbersome. In fact, if you plan on buying any espresso machine of this size, take the amount of counter space you’ve set aside and double it to accommodate a grinder.

The one thing I don’t like about the design is that the wrapped stainless steel frame has some sharp, exposed edges, and if you’re ever bleary-eyed and having trouble fitting your portafilter into the brew head early (or late) in the day, you might slip and lose a small chunk of your knuckle. Still, you’ll learn to dodge them as I have, and overall, the thing looks great.

The specs

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There’s not too much to this machine, but that’s part of why we like it. Fewer parts mean fewer pieces to break and or lose.

This machine is almost foolproof. There are only three two-way switches and a dial to turn the frother on and off. The largely plastic-free machine is compact and wrapped with brushed stainless steel housing. I, for one, don’t have a lot of counter space in my kitchen, and while you still have to have a burr grinder (or buy pre-ground coffee, which we don’t recommend because you’d be beginning to defeat the purpose of this nice machine), I’ve found it a lot easier to have this small machine and a grinder off to the side or on the window sill so that I don’t have a big swathe of space taken up by a large appliance.

Features that make this a respectable machine are the 1450 watts of power and 15 bars of pressure (basically equivalent to the Breville Barista Pro, our favorite two-in-one espresso machine in our full guide), a three-way solenoid valve that prevents pressure from building up in the group head, which makes things a lot cleaner. Without one, taking the portafilter out too soon can result in a scalding spray of soppy espresso grounds, or stored water in the group head, which could also mean coffee grounds getting up in there, necessitating a cleaning. (Here’s a good guide to cleaning Gaggia’s Classic (and Pro), and one by Gaggia on how to descale your machine.)

The steam wand is not particularly special one way or another, but hang on: That’s a good thing. Switch off the group head valve, switch on the steam valve, wait for the light to turn on, blow out any excess water in the chamber (preferably over the drain reservoir in the machine), and you’re ready to go. Turning the valve one way engages it and increases the pressure, and going in reverse eases and shuts it off. We’ve found that the more complicated a frother, the less likely we are to use it, and while there are all sorts of fancy ones out there, good pressure from a powerful machine is all you really need. The less that can go wrong the better. Again, just make sure to switch off the group head valve (middle switch) before priming the frother (right switch).

You can also tell that the solenoid is working when, after finishing pulling a shot (that is, turning off the middle switch), you see a little water running from the purge valve to the left of the group head.

There’s also a warming plate on top (more or less standard), a full-sized 58mm portafilter with pressurized and non-pressurized baskets (the latter for pre-ground espresso or pods), and a stainless steel drip tray with an easy-to-remove reservoir for collecting overflow and spillage.

Essentially you’ve got everything you need and nothing you don’t, which is exactly what you want with an espresso machine that’s already consuming counter space — something of which we could all use a little more.

The set-up and brewing processes

gaggia4
A bit of dialing goes a long way, but with a little patience, you’ll eventually arrive at a rich, frothy goodness no pod machine could ever replicate.

The Gaggia Classic Pro comes more or less set up for you. Make sure to clean out the water reservoir with soap before inserting it into place in the base of the machine (you can either remove it to fill or pour from the top, which is much more convenient than you might think).

Before you get going on prepping your shot, make sure to turn the power switch on. This gets the machine ready, but if you put the portafilter in during this stage, it’ll warm that up, too. Espresso can turn sour when it’s made cold, and if the scalding water from the boiler hits a cold portafilter, it can do funky things to your brew.

Next, you want to insert the portafilter basket that corresponds with the type of coffee you’ll use (pre-ground and/or ESE pod, or freshly ground). Just make sure you use the little plastic riser piece if you’re going to use one of the pressurized baskets.

Once your portafilter is ready to go, grind your coffee (if you’re grinding your own) and load up the basket. Remember, grind size and tamping are two key components. A good rule of thumb is to get your grounds somewhere between the texture of flour and table salt, but what works with one roast (or even batch) may not work with the next, so be prepared for some experimentation. 

Same goes for brew time, but that’s some next-level stuff that even most (relative) snobs like myself don’t dare approach. Give it a good bit of tamping pressure, but it’s more important that you get your grounds evenly distributed throughout the basket.

Between about 25 and 35 seconds of brew time should do the trick, but while 35 seconds might nearly incinerate one type of coffee, it could be just right for another. Play around with dialing in your machine and your coffee. This should be part of the fun, after all.

Lock your portafilter into the brew head and, if the light beneath the brew switch is on, that means the machine is primed and ready. Flip it, and delight in the caramel-colored tonic that lackadaisically runs in two perfectly even streams into your demitasse. If the stream is but a slow drip, your grind size (for that particular bean, remember) is either too fine, or you’ve tamped it with too much force. (Pro tip: use a small measuring cup or a demitasse with measurements on it to learn how much of an extraction you like.) You want a steady, even-colored trickle.

And, again, remember to have some fun and play around. Talk to any good barista and you’ll be appalled at how much coffee they dump out just to get their machines and beans going right in the morning. Two-time UK Cup Tasting Champion (also 8th in the World Cup Tasting Championship in 2013) barista master Jason Gonzalez once told me that he often spends up to half an hour dialing shots every morning at his Burlington, VT espresso shop Onyx Tonics.

The frothing process

gaggia3
Yes, and there’s an extremely high-powered frother that’s remarkably easy to clean.

My favorite thing about the Gaggia Classic Pro, especially compared with similar machines, is that the steaming wand is manually adjustable (using the knob, right of center in the image above).

On some machines, like the Breville Barista Express, the steam is either on or off, and “on” produces a high-pitched screech that’s reminiscent of a squealing swine. While testing in the office, you can only imagine the glares I received from the room next door, where an executive meeting was taking place.

This feature, I might add, is especially handy for frothing various sorts of milk, which all have their own consistencies and boiling points.

Potential cons

gaggia6
There’s a lot to be said for having a high-powered frother at the ready, both for your morning cup, and dazzling guests after dinner.

This, in effect, is a real, bona fide espresso machine. You have to remember to turn it off, and you don’t want to have the brew and steam switches on at the same time, which is just part of the responsibility of owning a professional-grade espresso machine. You’ll get used to it, and the budding barista within you will be all the better for it.

The only limitation of the steam wand, which is still my favorite out of any frother-equipped machines I’ve tested, is that it’s not gimballed, like on the Breville Barista Express. You’re confined to working with specific angles, and purging it of excess water requires either awkwardly placing a glass underneath or twisting it around so that it spills into the drip reservoir. In all, not a big deal.

The only true issue I have with the Gaggia Classic Pro, and the original line before it, is that the stainless steel housing has unfinished corners, leaving hazardously jagged edges. I’ve been testing one for a few weeks now, and twice (being hapless, mind you) I’ve missed locking in the portafilter and jammed my thumb right into one of those corners, taking a nice little bite of my knuckle. Be a little more careful than I am (not difficult) and you’ll be fine. However, it’s still worth minding.

Lastly, the latest iteration of the Gaggia Classic Pro comes with an undersized plastic tamp, which feels a little cheap on the brand’s behalf given they have previously included a nice stainless steel one. Do yourself a favor and spring for a proper 58mm tamper that fits this portafilter and makes tamping even, and easier.

The bottom line

gaggia5
Look, it takes a while to get this right. Maybe start with cheap coffee so you don’t tear through a whole bag of precious coffee when you’re still learning. But most importantly: Have fun.

The Gaggia Classic Pro is a temperamental machine in comparison with something like the Breville Barista Express, but if you want to learn how to use a real espresso machine, and you either already have a good burr grinder or don’t want an all-in-one maker for any other reason, this is a compact but powerful machine that will serve you well and last with the best of them.

Pros: Powerful, commercial-grade, compact, not terribly expensive

Cons: Misuse can cost you (i.e., it’s not foolproof) but the new Pro model is slightly more user-friendly than the original, sharp edges on corners can cut your hands, no longer comes with 58mm stainless steel tamper

 

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The best stovetop espresso makers and moka pots

  • Stovetop espresso makers are easy to use, make excellent strong espresso-like coffee, and last for decades.
  • The Bialetti Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Maker has been around since 1933 and is still the best stovetop espresso maker to make strong, delicious coffee right at home.

True coffee lovers know there’s more than one way to make a cuppa and they’ve tried them all: French press, drip coffee, cold brew, fancy espresso machines, and so on. One of the most humble and effective machines for making a strong cup of coffee is the stovetop espresso maker also known as the moka pot.

The Moka pot, or macchinetta del caffè, which literally translates to “small coffee machine,” is a stovetop machine that moves boiling water, pressurized by steam, through ground coffee to make a delicious brew.

In 1933, an Italian inventor named Luigi De Ponti patented the design for Alfonso Bialetti, and the company is still making stovetop espresso makers with the same basic design. Bialetti’s classic Moka pot is so reliable, that it remains the best stovetop espresso maker you can buy. 

We tested and researched several stovetop espresso makers over the years to see what else comes close; the following list includes the best ones you can buy. And if you want to learn more about how stovetop espresso machines work, jump ahead to our explainer

Here are the best stovetop espresso makers and Moka pots of 2021

The best espresso maker overall

Bialetti stovetop espresso maker

The Italian Bialetti Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Maker is top-of-the-line for making Italian-inspired espresso because of its eight-sided base that quickly diffuses heat. 

Pros: Affordable, quick diffusion of heat because of the eight-sided base, comes in a wide variety of sizes, makes great coffee, easy to clean, made in Italy, two-year warranty

Cons: Handle melts off quickly if you leave it unattended (which, of course, one should never do), but you can buy a replacement.

Bialetti made the first stovetop espresso maker back in 1933, and it’s still the very best after all these years. Unlike the cheap imitations you’ll find in kitchen stores, the Bialetti is made right in Italy with craftsmanship and care. Although it’s made of aluminum and not stainless steel, it’s a sturdy, durable little machine that will last you a lifetime. I’ve had mine for seven years, and it works like new after daily use.

The aluminum pot has an eight-sided base that diffuses heat equally, resulting in evenly brewed coffee with a deliciously rich flavor. To make coffee, you simply fill the base up to the water line, spoon medium ground coffee into the funnel, and twist the top closed securely over the grounds and water. 

Be sure to put the gas burner on low so the flame doesn’t go outside of the pot’s base and burn the handle. You can also use it on an electric stove, just be careful to place the handle well away from the heating element. Bialetti offers a two-year manufacturing warranty, too, if any defects become noticeable.

You can get the Bialetti Moka Express in a variety of sizes from 3 cups to 12 cups. The 6-cup machine is best for most people, but if you like to entertain or you have a big family, the 12-cup machine will be just right. I actually own both the 6-cup and 12-cup machines, so that I always make the perfect amount of coffee for every situation.

The best for gas stoves

grosche

Featuring a heavy-duty, heat-resistant handle, the GROSCHE’s Milano Stovetop Espresso Maker won’t melt on gas stoves.

Pros: Heat-resistant handle, socially responsible company

Cons: None to speak of

While Bialetti is a tried-and-true favorite, GROSCHE is a close contender because of its heat-resistant handle for safety. Nobody wants their coffee pot’s handle burning and,  after a third Bialetti handle melted on me this year (it’s admittedly more a reflection on me and my ilk than Bialetti, which I still hold dearly), I decided to try the GROSCHE pot as an alternative. 

The handle is farther from the unit and your stove burner, so it doesn’t sit directly over the heat. It’s also made of a soft, rubber-coated, heat-resistant plastic. So, in case you do make the ill-advised decision to step away from the burner, you won’t be out an espresso pot and $20 to replace it.

The pot comes in 3-, 6-, and 9-cup models, is made out of aluminum, and through the Safe Water Project, GROSCHE pledges to provide 50+ days of safe drinking water for people in need for every product they sell. Owen Burke, Home & Kitchen Reporter

The best stainless steel splurge

Cuisinox Roma Espreso

The Cuisinox Roma 6-cup Stainless Steel Stovetop Espresso Maker lasts a lifetime and brews delicious, strong coffee.

Pros: Stainless steel design, comes in multiple sizes, easy to clean, affordable compared to high-end machines, it works on gas or electric stoves, and it has a 25-year warranty

Cons: None to speak of

If Bialetti’s Moka Express is too old-fashioned and quaint, you’ll love the slick modern look of the Cuisinox Roma Stainless Steel Stovetop Espresso Maker. It’s a high-end, sophisticated Moka pot made from stainless steel instead of aluminum. You will pay a premium for it — it’s nearly five times more than the Bialetti — but it has a 25-year warranty and top-notch reviews.

The stainless steel design means it’s not only more slick, shiny, and curvy than the traditional 8-sided aluminum Bialetti Moka pot, but it’s more durable too. Since it doesn’t have corners, the insides are easier to clean. However, just like with the other Moka pots in this guide, you really don’t need to scrub it like crazy.

The process of making coffee in the Roma is the same, too. Simply fill the base up to the water line, spoon Moka ground coffee into the funnel, and twist the top closed securely over the grounds and water. Then, put a gas burner on low so the flame doesn’t go outside of the pot’s base and burn the handle. You can also use it on an electric stove, just be careful to place the handle well away from the heating element.

Using less heat ensures your coffee doesn’t burn, either. A few minutes later, you’ll hear the pot begin to gurgle as the steam-pressurized boiling water passes through the grounds and up through the spout of the Moka pot to become strong, rich coffee.

You can purchase the Cuisinox Roma in 4-cup, 6-cup, and 10-cup sizes to suit your needs. The 6-cup model will be best for most users, but bigger families will want the 10-cup machine.

The best stainless steel on a budget

Bialetti Kitty

The Bialetti Kitty Espresso Coffee Maker is the solution to achieving rich and flavorful espresso without breaking the bank. 

Pros: Stainless steel design, comes in multiple sizes, easy to clean, affordable compared to high-end machines, works on gas or electric stoves, 25-year warranty

Cons: None to speak of

If you want a stainless steel stovetop espresso maker but you’re not looking to spend $100+, Bialetti’s Kitty Espresso Coffee Maker is the answer.

This stovetop espresso maker is made from 18/10 stainless steel, making it durable and attractive. The Kitty looks especially elegant and classy next to our top pick, the more angular Moka Express. It also has a nice wide handle that’s easy to grip when you need to serve the espresso.

It’s functional on gas, electric, and ceramic stovetops, and also available in several sizes. We recommend one that brews 6 cups of espresso or about 12 fluid ounces of coffee.

As with any stovetop espresso machine, you need to follow the instructions precisely to get a good brew. Never overfill the water chamber and always make sure that you use only coffee grounds in the built-in filter. The Kitty does come with a two-year warranty in case you run into problems.

The best electric pot

Delonghi Alicia espresso

The DeLonghi EMK6 Alicia Electric Moka Espresso Coffee Maker enables you to have the taste of stovetop coffee, even if you don’t have a stove.

Pros: Stove not required, the electric heater is easy to use, makes good coffee, keeps your coffee warm longer

Cons: It may not last as long as a Bialetti

If you want to have a Moka pot in an apartment, dorm room, or office without a stove, you’ll need an electric one like the DeLonghi Alicia Electric Moka Espresso Maker. It’s a modern take on Bialetti’s age-old design that combines the tried and true Moka pot technique with an electric heating element.

You can take the pot off the heating base to take your espresso to the table if you prefer. The base has an on/off switch that lights up when the pot is heating up. You’ll follow the same process of putting water in the base and coffee grounds in the filter before you screw on the top part and pop the pot on the electric heating base.

The Moka pot part looks exactly like a traditional Bialetti, the boiler is made out of aluminum, and the entire pot is BPA-free, but the top is clear plastic.

Also, unlike the Bialetti, it won’t boil over when you’re not looking. It’s a nice safety feature for busy adults and families with children. 

You can make 3 to 6 cups of espresso with it and watch the clear container at the top fill with coffee as it brews. It has an automatic shut-off function that prevents burned coffee and dangerous overflows. The DeLonghi Alicia will even keep your espresso warm for 30 minutes after it’s brewed in case you can’t drink it fast enough, or you like to have two cups before you head out the door.

The best for espresso shots

bialetti shot

Bialetti’s Mini Express Espresso Maker produces wonderful crema-capped espresso shots more consistently than any other stovetop espresso pot on the market.

Pros: Brews fast, rich shots

Cons: Requires some finesse

Bialetti’s Mini Express Espresso Maker isn’t for everyone, but it’s unmatched if you’re seeking a café-quality espresso shot rich with crema at an affordable price. I’ve had a wonderful experience with it, though it requires a little finesse. 

You want to make sure that your grounds are fine enough for these devices to build up a little pressure. Too often people complain that they don’t get a result anywhere near espresso when they’re actually using the wrong beans or failing to finely grind them.s always with espresso, use a light roast to achieve a thicker, creamier shot. I find that the Mini Express produces a shot far quicker than any other stovetop device I’ve used. 

We also can’t get over the unique design: red solo cups meeting old-school Italian espresso is the most dynamic duo.

The Mini Express can, on occasion, produce uneven shots, but try to get your grounds as even as possible in the basin and it should work out well more often than not. Owen Burke, Home & Kitchen Reporter

Note: This item is currently out of stock, as is the case with all of Bialetti’s Mini Express Espresso Makers. We will continue to update this guide to reflect inventory changes.

The best-designed espresso maker

Alessi Pulcina

The 6-Cup Alessi Pulcina Stovetop Espresso Maker artfully crafts excellent coffee, and looks like a piece of modern art, too.

Pros: Lovely design, wide variety of colors and sizes, makes great coffee

Cons: Doesn’t work on induction stoves, wildly different pricing based on colors

Alessi’s Pulcina is the high-brow Moka pot for artsy types. Alessi’s espresso makers are actual works of art that appear in MoMA and other design museums around the world. 

It’s not a surprise that Alessi’s espresso makers are actual works of art that appear in MoMA and other design museums around the world — and its brewed coffee is also deserving of an exhibit.

According to Alessi, the Pulcina has a special boiler design that stops filtering the coffee at the “right moment and thus eliminates the ‘eruption phase’ – the final filtering stage that can generate a burnt aftertaste – thus enhancing its full-bodied and rounded aroma” of your coffee. The pot also has a ‘V’ shaped spout, which is supposed to be “reminiscent of a baby chick’s beak.”

The name Pulcina (baby chick) comes from the beak-like spout and curvy chick-like shape inside of the machine. It also refers to the fact that De Lucchi designed it in the chicken coop where his studio is set up.

Esoteric design talk aside, Alessi is a trusted brand for stovetop espresso makers, and the Pulcina is a great option. It works just like other stovetop espresso makers, where you put water in the base and coffee grounds in the filter. However, the Pulcina doesn’t work on induction stovetops, so you’ll need a gas stove if you buy this product. 

The Pulcina comes in two sizes: 3-cup and 6-cup models with your choice of a red or black handle. The 6-cup option will be best for most people.

Everything you need to know about stovetop espresso machines

Bialetti stovetop espresso

Moka pot vs. fancy espresso machine

Although Moka pots don’t technically make espresso — because they use lower pressures of 1 to 2 bar and real espresso machines use 9 bar of pressure — the coffee you get is very rich and strong. Some machines will even produce a bit of crema just like high-end espresso machines. If you’re using this to make cappuccinos or lattes at home, you’ll be more than satisfied, but if you want shots of thick, creamy espresso, you need a real espresso machine.

How many cups do you need?

Most Moka pots come in a few different sizes: 1-cup, 3-cup, 6-cup, 9/10-cup, and 12-cup. Keep in mind that the cups in question are small espresso shots — not full cups of coffee as most Americans think of them. The 6-cup size is best for couples or people who want to drink two normal cups of coffee with milk on top. The 9/10/12-cup machines are good for families or when you have guests over. I personally own both a 6-cup and a 12-cup Bialetti Moka Express.

Will it work with a gas or electric stove?

Some stovetop espresso makers only work on gas stoves, while others can handle either gas or electric stovetops. We’ve noted which of our picks work with both kinds of stoves.

Aluminum vs. Stainless steel

Stovetop espresso makers come in either aluminum or stainless steel varieties. Stainless steel models are more fancy, durable, and typically easier to clean. Aluminum machines are typically just as good, provided you buy one from real Italian companies like Bialetti and Alessi. If you buy a cheap aluminum one for $5 at a kitchen store, you may not get the same quality coffee out of it. That’s why we recommend you stick to our top pick, the Bialetti Moka Express.

Care and maintenance

It’s easy to keep your stovetop espresso maker in good working order. All you have to do is rinse it out after each use and make sure all the ground is removed from the filter. No soap or scrubbing is needed. The best Moka pots are the ones that have been loved well and the ones that have aged.

Moka pots can last years — decades, even — so long as you don’t burn the handle or otherwise harm it. The only thing you’ll need to replace periodically is the rubber gasket and filter that prevent the grounds from infiltrating your coffee.

Check out our other coffee gear guides

Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine
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