This page was updated in March 2021.
What is espresso?
Coffee brewed in hot water is just coffee. Add pressure, and you get espresso.
That may sound simple, but designing machines that can keep water at just the right temperature while applying just the right amount of pressure has proven an enduring challenge for appliance-makers.
The most popular solution on the market is the traditional espresso machine, which uses a pump to drive near-boiling water through a layer of ground coffee and a filter into your espresso cup.
With the right machine, plenty of practice and a supply of freshly ground coffee, there’s no reason why you can’t experience excellent espresso coffee in the classic Italian tradition at home.
How to choose the best espresso machine
- While there are many types of coffee machine on the market (pod, stove-top, filter) we’d advise espresso lovers to buy a traditional pump-action machine, which combines mechanisms for maintaining temperature and applying pressure.
- Decent espresso is also often the base for longer coffees, including lattes, mochas, americanos and cappuccinos.
- Some espresso machines – including most of the models reviewed below – have extra features in addition to coffee extraction. Milk steamers are a popular add-on, used to artfully heat and froth milk for use in lattes, cappuccinos and other creamy concoctions.
- If you like your coffee with milk, we recommend you either buy a machine with a steamer, or get a standalone steaming/frothing appliance.
- To make good espresso, you’ll need to use fresh, finely ground coffee. It’s a good idea to grind coffee beans at home for a really fresh flavour.
Read on to discover which espresso machines to buy. For more, visit our review section to find more than 200 practical buyer’s guides offering unbiased advice on what equipment is worth investing in. For more on coffee, we’ve reviewed pod machines, cafetières, coffee grinders and reusable coffee cups. Plus, check out our guide to all coffee machine types in our best coffee machines review.
Best espresso machines at a glance
- Best home espresso machine for aficionados: SMEG ECF01 espresso machine, £319
- Most stylish home espresso machine: De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual espresso maker, £229.99
- Best portable espresso machine for single espresso: Wacaco Minipresso GR espresso maker, £37.90
- Best experiential espresso machine: ROK Espresso GC Explorer’s Edition, £199
- Best automatic espresso machine for beginners: Swan One Touch espresso machine SK22150, £149
- Best affordable espresso machine for small kitchens: VonShef 15-bar espresso machine, £79.99
- Best hand pump espresso maker: Flair Signature espresso maker, £531
- Best mid-range espresso maker: Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker, £399
- Best budget espresso machine: Salter EK3131 Espressimo coffee machine, £59.99
- Best semi-automatic espresso machine for beginners: Swan SK22110 Retro Pump espresso machine, £99.99
Best espresso machines to buy in 2021
SMEG ECF01 espresso machine
Best home espresso machine for aficionados
Smeg has channelled its iconic 1950s design into a slimline espresso machine that’s simple on the surface, but packed with advanced personalisation features underneath. If you have the budget, the ECF01 is a sleek and stylised addition to a kitchen countertop that creates rocket-fuel espresso. Just read the instructions thoroughly. Read our full SMEG ECF01 espresso machine review.
De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual espresso maker
Most stylish espresso maker
De’Longhi’s Dedica espresso machine is uber sleek, with a stainless steel exterior that gives it a modern-classic feel. With a 1.1L capacity, its water tank is smaller than others. But it still packs in 15 bars of pressure, creating deliciously smooth and crema-topped espresso with no hint of bitterness.
It’s also a practical size for fitting on smaller countertops – only 15cm in width and 33cm in depth. For an espresso machine that won’t break the bank but will still look great on your countertop, the De’Longhi Dedica should be at the top of your list. Read our full De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M review.
Wacaco Minipresso GR espresso maker
Best portable espresso maker for single espresso
The Wacaco Minipresso GR is the Russian Doll of coffee makers, featuring five main parts that screw together into one portable, robust package. Its integrated manual pump generates eight bars of pressure (116 PSI) to produce a full-bodied single espresso, complete with a thick crema. The build-quality combined with the hands-on process means it’s not only fun to use, but a genuinely functional bit of kit for making espresso on the go. Read our full Wacaco Minipresso GR espresso maker review.
ROK Espresso GC Explorer’s Edition
Best experiential espresso machine
The ROK manual espresso machine has been around for a while, but the component design within its robust cast-aluminium exterior has evolved. The Explorer’s Edition Pack contains its latest iteration, the ROK GC maker, a model featuring a glass composite upgrade to the brewing chamber along with three portafilters and accessories.
After some practice and with a fully pre-heated machine, we found the naked portafilter produced the best results. For anyone looking for a hands-on espresso experience and enjoys some experimentation, this is a lightweight but robust manual espresso maker that comes with excellent supporting accessories. Read our full ROK Espresso GC review.
Swan One Touch espresso machine SK22150
Best automatic espresso machine for beginners
This model is the new iteration of the fully manual Swan Retro Pump SK22110 espresso machine, and it’s arguably a step-down in terms of personalisation. But in terms of automation and ease-of use, it’s a big hit. The pre-set buttons make it more user friendly and there’s an intuitive steam wand. You’re left with the ‘fun bits’ of filling, tamping and loading the portafilter. Just choose the filter, press the button and it’s 20-bar pressure pump takes care of the rest. Just remember to manoeuvre the milk steam wand into the mug beforehand! Read our full Swan One Touch espresso machine review.
VonShef 15-bar espresso machine
Best affordable espresso machine for small kitchens
If you’re strapped for space, this 15-bar pressure espresso machine by VonShef is an easy-to-use model that gives you freedom to personalise your coffee without the heavy price tag. Three buttons control its simple features: power on, steam and espresso. Once the machine is fully heated and the function selected, you control when and how much water is pulled through the portafilter. The filter itself is double-shot in capacity so can be half filled for a single. The steamer wand is also intuitive to use. Read our full VonShef 15 bar espresso machine review.
Available from VonHaus (£74.99)
Flair Signature espresso maker (bundle)
Best hand pump espresso maker
This espresso maker stands out for one obvious reason – it’s operated by hand rather than electricity, which is a bonus on the environmental front. It also produces a high standard of coffee that rivals any traditional machine. Once you’ve got used to the functionality, making coffee is simple. It’s easy to clean, superbly small and well-engineered. Read our full Flair Signature espresso maker review.
Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker
Best mid-range espresso maker
Simple, intuitive and capable of brewing thick, rich espresso, the Bambino Plus packs a lot of power into a mid-range package. It comes loaded with bonus features, including a very good steaming wand and a clever water tank. Despite its name, it does take up a fair amount of room, so this should be considered before investing. Read our full Sage Bambino Plus review.
Salter EK3131 Espressimo coffee machine
Best budget espresso machine
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly espresso machine for a small kitchen, this diminutive Salter model might be for you. The finished coffee results are basic – it makes a good americano, but falls short of producing professional-standard espresso with thick crema. However, it’s good value for money, easy to use and comes with a milk frother attachment for making longer drinks. Read our full Salter Espressimo coffee machine review.
Swan SK22110 Retro Pump espresso coffee machine
Best espresso machine for beginners
Our favourite espresso machine under £100, this vintage-look Swan machine produces good results for its reasonable price tag. Although we recommend packing the filter with ground coffee if you like a strong brew. It ticks a lot of boxes – easy to use and clean, plus it comes with a milk frother and temperature gauge. The aesthetic might not be to everyone’s taste, but it comes in various colours. Read our full Swan Retro Pump espresso machine review.
How we tested espresso machines
The espresso machines featured in this review were chosen from a long list of more than 15 models. They were tested against a wide range of factors.
Our criteria included:
• Ease of assembly
• Quality of materials
• Ease of use
• End result, including taste and consistency of coffee, quality of the crema, extraction and strength of flavour
• Extra functions such as milk frothing and temperature control
• Water tank – ease of use
• Kitchen footprint
• Ease of cleaning
• Value for money
• Ease of storage
Some of these factors may matter more to you than others. Coffee fanatics will care deeply about the quality of extraction, and advanced features such as temperature control and milk frothing.
Minimalists will be interested in the kitchen footprint and ease of cleaning. If you’re new to making coffee and don’t mind your espresso on the weaker side, value for money and ease of use may be your top priorities.
In the interest of meeting lots of different people’s needs, we’ve featured a varied array of espresso machines, with styles ranging from retro to contemporary, at a good mix of price points.
Before you choose one and place an order, think carefully about the types of coffee you’d like to make and the characteristics you’d like your coffee machine to have.
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This review was last updated in March 2021. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at email@example.com.