Best Coffee Makers and Espresso Machines of 2021 | Better Homes & Gardens – BH&G

Most of us have some sort of morning routine, and my ritual is not complete without a cup of coffee. Whether it's a refreshing cold cup or a steaming hot mug, I need my java in the a.m. Grabbing coffee at a neighborhood shop or national chain is certainly convenient, but my spending was getting a little out of hand. Whether I was stopping by the local shop right across from my apartment or heading to Starbucks a few blocks away, I used to buy coffee at least three times a week. And that small daily cost adds up. What's worse, I prefer black coffee (double espresso, a black coffee, or a cold brew, please), so I wasn't even paying for the seasonal beverages or fancy syrups. After tallying up some receipts and a bit of self-reflection, I realized I needed to start making coffee at home. Luckily, it's more delicious, more affordable, and can actually be pretty fun to play barista. (Plus, I don't have to put on makeup or even take a shower to brew a cup of Joe in my kitchen.)
When I started brewing coffee at home, I wanted to know two things: how do I choose the best coffee maker or espresso machine and how do I brew the best cup of coffee or shot of espresso. Of course, I turned to the experts to find the answers.
"Purchasing a coffee maker is a long-term investment. Analyze your options and decide what's best for you and your budget," says Jamie Hickey, an Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)-certified barista Q-grader (which means he's passed exams and has the credentials to grade and score coffees), and founder of Coffee Semantics. "If you choose a single-serving machine, like a Nespresso or a Keurig, you'll be spending money on the pods and capsules on a regular basis, which may cost anywhere from $5 to $7 each package," he says. "If you get a drip machine, filters, coffee grounds, or beans will be a recurring purchase. If you are going to use whole beans, you will have to buy a machine with a built-in grinder or a stand-alone burr grinder."
Although single-serve machines are the most convenient, choosing an appliance that uses coffee beans or grounds will give you the freshest tasting coffee. Hickey also recommends considering how big the machine is and how easy the appliance is to clean when shopping.
Giorgio Milos, master barista and coffee expert for Illy, prefers brewed coffee using the pour-over method with his affordable, easy-to-clean Chemex. He uses it with a burr coffee grinder, like the Breville Smart Grinder Pro Conical Burr Grinder ($200, Williams Sonoma). "The quality of your grinder is very important," Milos explains. "It's the grinder that prepares the coffee for extraction."
When it comes to espresso, it really boils down to your level of expertise, Milos explains. Regular espresso machines that use beans or ground coffee are much more particular than the single-serve options, which is why he often recommends machines that use capsules. "If you don't know what you're doing, most of the time, you will get a mediocre cup of espresso because it requires skill," he says. Another issue is that beans become stale about a week after you open the bag. So unless you're brewing espresso for the entire neighborhood every day, you're probably going to start brewing less-than-desirable espresso or wasting bags of coffee beans.
As you're browsing espresso machine options, Milos says one (if not the most) important feature is that the device can heat up water to a precise temperature for a consistent amount of time. Although he recommends a single-serve espresso machine for a novice at-home coffee maker, if you're going to buy one that uses beans or grounds, he strongly recommends a quality grinder if the machine doesn't have one built in. "Use a burr grinder instead of a blade grinder," he says. "The blade is not precise enough."
The quality of the espresso maker isn't the only important choice. "Design is also important for me," he says. "Your espresso machine for home is going on the countertop, so you want it to match the color of your kitchen and other electronics."
When preparing coffee, make sure your water gets hot, around 196°F to 205°F, Hickey says. "If you're using a machine without capsules, use 2 tsp. of coffee for every six ounces of water," he says. "This is a guideline that will suit most people, but if you want a stronger or weaker cup, just add or decrease the amount of water you use." You also should use filtered water in your machine, as "98.5% of brewed coffee is water," Hickey says. Of course, if you're using a single-serving appliance, you just need to touch a button to brew.
Another important factor is the quality of beans. Milos enjoys the Illy Classico Whole Bean Coffee ($14, Amazon), which is a blend of nine different beans. (The beans also come pre-ground for espresso and in capsules for your Keurig.) "Like in cooking or in wine, the quality of the product is very important," Milos says. "When you mix together nine different beans, you create an orchestra. You have harmony. The Illy blend is very legendary. It's super high quality in flavor and taste."
If you brew your cup of coffee with beans or grounds and don't like the taste, there are some quick fixes. "A coffee that tastes acidic or sour was probably ground too coarsely; a coffee that tastes bitter was likely ground too finely," Hickey explains. "Pour-overs, the AeroPress, and espresso demand a fine grind, whereas French presses require a coarse grind."
Also, if you're a cold-brew drinker, Milos recommends convenient pre-packaged options, like the Illy Ready To Drink Cold Brew ($35, Illy). "I say that cold brew is the new 'hot' drink," he says.
"Espresso is the best way to make coffee," Milos says. If you're using an espresso machine that takes pods, you just need to insert the capsule and press a button. "It's lesser in quality, but the espresso is consistent." For those trying their hand with a manual machine, Milos says that it can be relatively difficult to pour the perfect shot. For best results, he recommends a good burr grinder to grind your fresh beans into fine grounds, get your water hot enough (196°F and 205°F), and brew for 25 to 30 seconds. "Any longer or shorter; you're not making a good espresso." (Think of the process of cooking pasta al dente.) The operation can be finicky, but don't be afraid of some trial and error. "The perfect shot of espresso requires experience. I've been in the coffee sector nearly 30 years, and I'm still learning something new every day," Milos says.
And if you're not a black coffee drinker, these coffee and espresso machines are also excellent for those who enjoy fun, flavorful beverages. There are plenty of copycat recipes for your favorite drinks online, and you can buy the supplies, like your favorite syrup, to have at home, too. A couple of delicious options are the Torani Pumpkin Pie Sauce ($13, Amazon) and the Torani Caramel Sauce ($20, Amazon.) Shop these machines for a holiday gift for the coffee lover in your life or as a present to yourself. Cheers!
The Nespresso is one of the first machines I’ve tried that can make both espresso and coffee, and I love how easy it is to use. This compact version can brew six different coffees and espressos: espresso, double espresso, gran lungo, mug, alto, and carafe. It has a 37-fluid-ounce water tank and measures 14 x 5.5 x 12.5 inches. The appliance heats up in just 20 seconds and automatically shuts off after two minutes of inactivity. When purchasing capsules, make sure they’re specifically labeled for the Nespresso Verturo.
If you need a quality machine for the office (or maybe you and your family are big coffee drinkers), try this top-rated option recommended by Hickey. It has a 10-cup thermal carafe to keep your coffee hot and a 6-ounce bean container. It also comes with a burr coffee grinder to perfectly grind your beans and feed them directly into the machine. You have the option to program the appliance to automatically brew a pot of coffee at any time of the day. The 9 x 9.5 x 15.5-inch machine has thousands of five-star reviews, with one buyer writing, “This is the best grind and brew on the market.”
Milos and Hickey are both big fans of this machine, and when two coffee connoisseurs recommend a product, you know it has to be excellent. (It’s also one of my favorites because of how stunning it is!) This Breville espresso machine is a perfect choice for those who prefer espresso drinks and want to grind their own beans. It has a heating system that’s ready in two seconds and an option to choose a one- or two-shot espresso by pressing a button. Each machine comes with a frothing jug, one- and two-cup filter baskets, a trimming tool, a tamper, a cleaning tool, a cleaning disc, and cleaning a tablets. It has exact temperature control for delicious espresso every time and the steam wand has microfoam texturing to make your own latte art. The appliance has a 64-ounce water resovoir and is 12.5 x 8 x 12 inches. At Bed Bath & Beyond, the espresso machine comes in four shades, and on the Williams Sonoma website, you can buy it in nine colors.
Yes, the Jura’s best-selling machine has a higher price point, but the quality of coffee is well worth the investment. Plus, it can make the fancy drinks you pay at least $7 for at the coffee shop. This luxe option features a touchscreen navigation and brews 17 specialty beverages with 10 different coffee strength levels and three options for temperature. The machine measures 17 x 11 x 14 inches, and has a coffee bean grinder, a foam frother, and a spout that heats up water, in case you are a tea drinker, too. For easy cleaning (and tasty drinks) the appliance also has a milk cleaning system and a water filter that gets rid of impurities. You can either use coffee beans or pre-ground coffee to make your drinks. For a high-quality option at a lower price from the same brand, check out the Jura Ena 4 Metropolitan Black Espresso Machine for $900 at Crate & Barrel.
You can enjoy fresh espresso and coffee with this retro-inspired machine that’s a top pick for Milos. The gorgeous appliance has a steam wand, a 33.8-ounce water reservoir, and uses capsules to make your drink. It is 11 x 10 x 13 inches and comes in three colors: red, black, and stainless steel.
You don’t have to get fancy to have a delicious cup of coffee. Milos uses this Chemex brewer to make his drinks. To use, grind your beans, preferably with a burr grinder. Then, place a filter ($9, Illy) on the top of the brewer. Scoop your grounds onto the filter, then heat up your water. Pour a small amount of water onto the filter (called blooming), and carefully pour the rest. Get rid of the filter, and enjoy your cup. If you want a brewer that comes with all the bells and whistles for your pour-over coffee, check out the Chemex Ottomatic Coffee Maker 2.0 ($350, Crate & Barrel).
For the most uncomplicated cup of coffee, check out this compact Keurig coffee maker that measures 13 x 5 x 13 inches. The water tank holds 42 fluid ounces of water, and the machine makes single cups of coffee in three sizes: 8, 10, or 12 ounces. One buyer gives the machine a five-star rating and writes, “Perfect size for a solo dweller or for a household that has minimal coffee drinkers. Can fit in small spaces. Works well. Designed well. Provides great-tasting coffee every time!”
Calling all espresso-only drinkers: You don’t have to spend a fortune on a quality machine. This option approved by Hickey brews double or single espressos using coffee grounds and features a steam wand to froth milk and make specialty drinks. It measures 11 x 8 x 13.5, and the reservoir holds 33.8 fluid ounces. One pleased purchaser gives the appliance a five-star rating and writes that it’s an “affordable entry-level espresso maker. I make incredible macchiatos and lattes at home using this machine. It’s easy to use, works well and perfect for the at-home barista. I’ve given up Starbucks!”