If you’re serious about brewing your own coffee, it might be time to invest in one of the best high-end coffee makers.
For most of us, coffee is an art form, a relished ritual and a daily necessity rolled into one. There are plenty of methods for making (or buying) that daily cup of joe, but serious java lovers swear by personal high-end espresso machines. Why? In short, they let you craft barista-level drinks right at home. You can make your favorite drink exactly how you like it, and you get to be closer to the creation process. Plus, even though high-end coffee makers are relatively pricey, you might end up saving money by skipping all those coffee shop cappuccinos.
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Before buying a fancy new coffee maker, its good to shop around. The best high-end coffee machines are surgically precise, with fine-tuned features for every coffee fan, espresso lover and aspiring barista.
Coffee Maker Buying Guide
There’s a lot to learn about high-end coffee makers. But, if you’re a certified caffeine lover like us, it’s worth learning. Here are a few terms and specifications to know before picking up a high-end coffee maker.
Automation: Espresso machines come with a range of automation levels. For most users, the more automation the better, but some espresso nuts like to be in full, manual control instead of handing things over to the machine.
Manual Machines: These require everything to be done by hand. You grind the beans, load the portafilter, tamp the grinds and pull the espresso using a lever. It’s very hard to master but very rewarding for hardcore coffee lovers who want to experiment with different amounts of pressure.
Semi-automatic Machines: You’ll have to grind the beans, load the portafilter and tamp the grinds yourself. Once the portafilter is attached, you press a button and the machine applies the right amount of pressure (about nine bars) until you push the button again to stop the flow.
Automatic Machines: These machines are almost exactly the same as semi-automatics. The only difference is that automatic machines feature an internal timer for the espresso pull. Just push the button once and the machine will stop pouring after around 25-30 seconds.
Fully Automatic Machines: These models take care of everything. The grinding, portafilter loading, tamping and shot pulling are all automatic and usually programmable for personal preferences.
Pod Machines: These units ditch the traditional setup for a single-serve, automated capsule (i.e. a Nespresso machine). They’re usually frowned upon by coffee snobs, but we’ve found that certain high-end pod machines might be worthwhile for a fast, easy caffeine boost.
Steam Wand: A quality steam wand means barista-quality cappuccinos, lattes and other steamed milk-infused drinks. The best espresso machines inject consistent air and steam into the milk for velvety frothiness. Some super high-end machines also use a second boiler to heat up the steam wand independently from the brewing water. This is very convenient as the steam want operates at a higher temperature than the brewer, so, with a double boiler, you don’t have to wait between pulling a shot and steaming.
Grinder: Because it all starts with grinding your favorite beans, having a capable grinder is a big plus when shopping espresso machines. Most high-end machines come with a built-in burr grinder that can produce different grind sizes.
Temperature & Pressure Control: Espresso is all about precision. The best espresso machines are therefore precise — not overly powerful. Look for machines with a PID (proportional-integral-derivative) mechanism for keeping water temperature consistent. Also, be aware that the ideal shot pulling pressure is around nine bars and you really don’t need much more.
Design: As with anything in your home, high-end coffee machines should look good. For this reason, we’ve stuck to sleek coffee makers that should elevate your kitchen’s vibe (instead of creating an eyesore).
The Best High-End Coffee Makers
1. Breville Barista Express
The Breville Barista Express has become a go-to for entry-level home baristas. As a semi-automatic machine, the Barista Express is customizable and powerful enough for pros yet highly approachable for beginners.
At the top of the Breville machine you’ll find a conical burr grinder that delivers a customizable amount of grinds to the portafilter. Once the portafilter is loaded, tap it on the tamper next to the dispenser, lock it in and start pulling the espresso (either one or two shots at once). Water pressure is controlled and even throughout the pull, and a PID unit keeps water at the optimal temperature. Everything is controlled via an analog interface where you can also view the water pressure.
After you’ve pulled the espresso, a powerful steam wand is ready for making cappuccinos or lattes (yes, you can also use it to make latte art). If you’re into Americanos or tea, there’s also a dedicated hot water dispenser as well.
2. Nuova Simonelli Oscar II Espresso Machine
This Nuona Simonelli Oscar II is ideal for more serious coffee drinkers who appreciate a semi-automatic machine. It’s designed as a hybrid machine that works great for home or commercial use thanks to the optional water line attachment capabilities. The real draw with the Oscar II is build quality. The exterior is stainless steel and rugged ABS plastic which combine for one hard-to-scratch machine. Another noteworthy feature includes a long ergonomic steam lever for near-perfect jugs of milk.
3. De’Longhi Dinamica Automatic Coffee & Espresso Machine
This automatic Dinamica coffee and espresso machine from De’Longhi is great for getting the perfect cup of joe every day. It’s fully automated, so you just push a button and wait for cafe-worthy coffee drinks. Although everything happens automatically, you have full control over the drinks’ strength, frothiness, size and temperature thanks to customizable components like an integrated steel burr grinder with 13 settings. All of this is controlled via the De’Longhi’s elegant touch interface.
The real showstopper with the Dinamica (as opposed to similar automatic coffee makers) is an iced coffee function. Using De’Longhi’s “True Brew” technology, the machine can brew at a lower temperature before delivering a cold, delicious batch of joe over ice. Plus, with a heat-up time of just 40 seconds, the Dinamica is surprisingly fast as well.
4. Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
If your go-to coffee drink includes frothed or steamed milk, consider upgrading to the Breville Dual Boiler machine. It uses separate heating boilers for the brewing water and the steam wand, allowing faster cappuccinos or lattes. Add an advanced PID mechanism for pulling espresso at the perfect temperature and you’ve got one of the most precise coffee machines available.
As with all of Breville’s espresso machines, you get barista-style control in an interface that’s approachable enough for beginners (not to mention a sleek look). You can automatically pull one or two shots, or you can switch over to manual mode to customize espresso size. Each shot is managed by a valve that limits pressure to avoid bitter flavors, resulting in smooth, balanced espressos — even if you’re making them back-to-back. After pulling a shot, you can inject hot water with a dedicated tap or use the frother and included steel milk jug for milk-infused drinks.
5. Breville Nespresso Creatista Plus
We didn’t think single-serve coffee machines could match the real thing, but this Breville Creatista Plus might prove us wrong. It boasts a Nespresso pod system that offers super fast espresso pulling (three seconds to heat up) without any grinding or tamping. The machine features settings for eight kinds of espresso drinks including three kinds of black coffee and five milk-based drinks, so whether you like a lungo or a flat white, it has you covered. All of these options are selected and customized via a digital, top-mounted display.
The milk frother and included jug are what really set the Creatista Plus apart from other Nespresso machines. The professional steam pipe is fully adjustable with 11 temperature settings and eight levels of frothiness. This means you can enjoy fast milk-infused coffee drinks at home — and get them dialed in to your taste.
6. La Pavoni PSC-16 Lever Espresso Coffee Machine
For serious (we mean very serious) espresso lovers, this La Pavoni espresso machine is fantastic. It’s a manual machine that allows the operator to dictate pull pressure using a large lever. The large gauge on the side monitors pressure so you can see how much you’re applying. If done well, you’ll feel as close as possible to your caffeine creation, although fair warning: it takes a bit of practice to get down.
The PSC-16 can make 16 two-ounce espressos thanks to an ample 38-ounce boiler. Inside is a temperature gauge to ensure an espresso pull between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Build-quality is impeccable, using corrosion-resistant solid brass boilers with triple chrome and nickel plating. These materials elevate La Pavoni’s ability, but they also create arguably the best-looking espresso machine around.
7. Jura E8 Automatic Coffee Machine
The Jura E8 is essentially a robot barista for your home or office. The E8 is fully automated to concoct a menu of 16 drinks using the espresso puller and automatic milk frother.
But behind the Jura’s automated drinks is a swath of upgraded components. Starting at the top is a six-level Aroma G3 grinder that preserves aromas and flavor better than most grinders. Next is a specialized “Pulse Extraction Process” which optimizes extraction time for espressos and ristrettos. The milk frother is also special, producing fine-textured foam for silky smooth lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos. The Jura even has better water than most machines thanks to a built-in filter.
The result of all these fancy components is pretty simple: a killer cup of joe with the touch of a button. The digital interface makes this easy, and you can even control the Jura E8 using an app on your smartphone.
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