12 best espresso machines for barista quality coffee at home

·15 min read
We tested aesthetics, how much space they take up, and the noise they produce when making our drink just so you can have the perfect cuppa (iStock/The Independent)
We tested aesthetics, how much space they take up, and the noise they produce when making our drink just so you can have the perfect cuppa (iStock/The Independent)

Stereotypes would have people believe that Britons drink tea, tea and only tea, but we love coffee almost as much. As a nation, we actually consume about 95 million cups of java a day.

Although some coffee is knocked back in the home, we have a penchant for visiting our local cafes. And while that cup of joe might give you a little lift, it may also leave your wallet somewhat lighter because research shows Britons spend as much as £4bn in coffee shops a year.

If you’re among those splashing out perhaps too much on takeaway brews, a barista-style machine at home could be just what you need. Thankfully, there are dozens available to suit your coffee drinking habits.

When choosing a machine, there are several things to consider. Most importantly is what type of coffee drinker you are. Are you a straightforward espresso devotee or a latte, flat white or cappuccino fan? You should also consider how many people in your home will be fighting over a fresh cup each morning and how much you are willing to spend for that perfect espresso.

Whatever your answers to those questions, there will be an espresso machine for you. We are sure of it because we found them all and tried them out to make your choice that little bit easier.

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How we tested

We tried a broad range of machines, including everything from top-end automatic bean to cup models, right through to hand-powered manual devices and pod machines. With the barista-style machines, we made everything from espressos to flat whites, and we tested the pod machines by making straight-up coffees and other drinks, such as hot chocolate, so everyone, including our little ones, was catered for.

We noted how easy each was to set up, checked how straightforward they were to use for making different drinks and how simple they were to keep clean and fresh. We also looked at aesthetics, how much space they take up, and the noise they produce when making our drinks. Above all, we taste-tested what each machine created to find those that make the most delicious coffee.

The best espresso machines for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Gaggia classic: £430, Selfridges.com

  • Best bean to cup machine – Breville barista max coffee machine: £299, Currys.co.uk

  • Best for colour – Swan Nordic pump espresso coffee machine: £119.99, Shop.swan-brand.co.uk

  • Best retro-style machine – Smeg 1950s retro style espresso machine: £319, Ao.com

  • Best automatic machine – Melitta avanza: £369, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for espresso pods – Grind one Nespresso pod machine: £275, Grind.co.uk

  • Best budget buy – Salter caffe barista pro espresso maker: £79.99, Salterhousewares.co.uk

  • Best luxury buy – Cuisinart veloce: £600, Cuisinart.co.uk

  • Best for all the family – Bosch tassimo my way 2: £69.99, Bosch-home.co.uk

  • Best hand-powered machine – ROK EspressoGC explorer edition: £199, Rok.coffee

  • Best for coffee options – Dualit 3 in 1 coffee machine: £199.99, Dualit.com

  • Best compact machine – Dualit espresso coffee machine: £129, Dualit.com

Gaggia classic

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

  • Dimensions: H 380mm x W 240mm x D 230mm

  • Colours: Brushed stainless steel, cherry red, classic blue, industrial grey, polar white, thunder black and limited-edition acrobat

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 2.1l

  • Coffee type: Ground and ESE pods

Coffee aficionados will instantly recognise Gaggia as one of the best brands out there, and its classic machine has been a prosumer favourite for three decades. When we tested it, we could tell why.

The Italian designed and made machine looks super sleek and stylish, and it comes in several colours to fit any kitchen. It is exceptionally well made and robust enough to see you through years of daily use. We were impressed with how quickly it was to set up too and were making our first espresso in mere minutes – after filling the generous water tank and adding ground coffee to one of the three basket filters and compressing with the tamper included, that is.

Operation is straightforward and intuitive, with only three light-up buttons on the front and the steam wand control dial on the side, so we weren’t overwhelmed with too many complicated options. For those who enjoy coffee with milk, the professional steam wand with two outlets instead of the standard one makes outstandingly silky foamed milk for when you feel like getting fancy and creating some latte art.

Ultimately, the coffee you’ll enjoy is exquisite, and we loved trying out our machine with the free bag of Gaggia ground coffee that comes in the box. With this on our worktop, we feel every inch the pro barista.

Buy now £430.00, Selfridges.com

Breville barista max coffee machine

Best: Bean to cup machine

Rating: 9.5/10

  • Dimensions: H 407mm x W 347mm x D 322mm

  • Colours: Stainless steel

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 2.8l

  • Coffee type: Beans and ground

Nothing quite beats the scent and flavour of freshly ground coffee beans, and this machine gives you that at home for just shy of £300. The stainless-steel construction looks professional and stylish, and it’s a sturdy model that will handle repeated use.

Great attention to detail during design shows in little touches – like the fact that the tamper fits perfectly into its own home on the top of the machine when not in use. Or that there’s a light that illuminates the portafilter as the coffee beans are ground into the basket so you can see when it is full.

It also comes with its own 450ml stainless steel milk jug, which is rare, and the water tank is large enough to keep you going for lengthy periods between refills. The barista max is easy to set up and operate and is not nearly as noisy as expected, even when grinding whole beans. It also makes a superb cup of coffee, whether an espresso or latte.

Buy now £299.00, Currys.co.uk

Swan Nordic pump espresso coffee machine

Best: For colour

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Dimensions: H 310mm x W 194mm x D 284mm

  • Colours: Blue, grey, white and green, all with wood effect parts

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 1.2l

  • Coffee type: ESE pods and ground

Those with country or Scandi kitchens will love this charming Nordic-style espresso machine. We like the wood effect details and the contrasting hues, and think the temperature gauge on the front of the control panel is a great touch. It doesn’t take up too much room and it’s simple to use – we had it up and running from the box in moments.

Swan’s machine offers flexibility too for those who prefer ESE pods to sometimes-messier pre-ground coffee, and it makes a delicious brew for one or two cups at a time. The price is also brilliant and it looks more expensive than its true cost of just over £100.

Buy now £119.99, Shop.swan-brand.co.uk

Smeg 1950s retro style espresso machine

Best: Retro-style machine

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: H 330mm x W 149mm x D 329mm

  • Colours: Cream, black, pastel green and pastel blue

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 1l

  • Coffee type: ESE pods and ground

An unmistakably Smeg product, there is no better espresso machine for retro and vintage enthusiasts. Its striking design is surprisingly slimline, and it is built to last with stainless steel parts that will withstand heavy use. We love the simple to use buttons and that, on the top, you have ample room to store and warm several espresso cups. The steam lever on the side is also novel.

Speaking of the steam wand, it makes heavenly silky milk for lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites, which might require tall cups – but that’s not a problem either because the drip tray is removable to accommodate them. This machine is on the pricier side, but it’s a real showstopper.

Buy now £319.00, Ao.com

Melitta avanza

Best: Automatic machine

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: H 303mm x W 200mm x D 455mm

  • Colours: Black and grey

  • Milk steam wand: Milk foam system

  • Tank capacity: 1.5l

  • Coffee type: Beans

The Avanza is a seriously stylish machine that does all the work for you at the press of a button, and it is much slimmer than we’d expected with such a powerful piece of kit. Operation is simple, there are plenty of buttons on the light-up control panel for selecting intensity, double cup mode and even service (for cleaning, maintenance and adjusting things like the brewing temperature and water hardness settings). There’s also dials for cup volume and producing steamed milk.

The bean container has a generous 250g capacity, and the grinder is quiet enough to use on those mornings when you’re up before the rest of the family. Instead of a conventional milk steam wand, this machine uses a cappuccinatore that takes in milk from a vessel through a tube and dispenses it as a luxuriously dense foam for a superior at-home cappuccino.

Most importantly, we think this machine makes ridiculously tasty coffee from freshly ground beans thanks to its aroma-extraction system. This function moistens the ground coffee with water before the brewing process to make the most of the flavours – the power of this becomes evident during use as the smell of fresh coffee fills the air. It also creates the best crema of all the machines we tested. There’s an app too for accessing tutorials on how to keep your avanza in perfect working order and loads of information on coffee – ideal for java nerds.

Buy now £369.00, Amazon.co.uk

Grind one Nespresso pod machine

Best: For espresso pods

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: H 259mm x W 186mm x D 336mm

  • Colours: Polished stainless steel

  • Milk steam wand: No

  • Tank capacity: 1.2l

  • Coffee type: Pods

On the looks front, this one comes out on top – the stainless-steel design with minimalist pale pink Grind logo is straight out of Stockholm. We adore the industrial style on/off switch, buttons and seriously cool lever handle. The machine is also up there in terms of ease of use. The benefit of coffee pods is that you simply slot them into the opening at the top of the unit, press a button and away you go.

You can only make one cup at a time, which might not be ideal for busy households or gatherings, but there are options for 40ml espresso or 100ml coffee. The waste bin is easy to empty, and the drip tray is adjustable too. Plus, if you buy this machine, you’ll never need to replace it because Grind will deal with any problems, repairing breakages in London – for free in the first two years.

Buy now £275.00, Grind.co.uk

Salter caffe barista pro espresso maker

Best: Budget buy

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Dimensions: H 310mm x W 260mm x D 350mm

  • Colours: Stainless steel and black

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 1.2l

  • Coffee type: Ground

This espresso machine is an absolute steal without compromising on performance or the deliciousness of the coffee it makes. We had it out of the box and up and running in about two minutes. It is straightforward and no fuss, with buttons for powering it on and selecting the steam or espresso functions and a dial for controlling the steam wand. We especially love that this machine means that no one should be without at-home barista-style espressos, no matter their budget. Sign up for email notifications when it’s back in stock.

Buy now £79.99, Salterhousewares.co.uk

Cuisinart veloce

Best: Luxury buy

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: H 320mm x W 190mm x D 400mm

  • Colours: Black and stainless steel

  • Milk steam wand: Milk system included

  • Tank capacity: 1.25l

  • Coffee type: Beans and ground

The Veloce is the most expensive model in our roundup, but it’s also the Ferrari of at-home espresso machines. Its high-gloss black body is sleek and stylish, and it is a hi-tech marvel that gives you an abundance of options. Instead of a steam wand, it features a milk system with an ice pack for freshness that creates the most intensely frothy milk for cappuccinos and flat whites.

Operation is intelligent and intuitive. The LCD touch-screen display allows you to choose the drink you want to make and then adjust the strength, size, temperature and even the ratio of coffee to frothed or steamed milk. It had us speechless and made divine coffee from the fresh beans it grinds for you, and we like that you also have the option of using pre-ground coffee.

Cuisinart really has thought of everything with this hugely impressive machine – the waste container is easy to empty, and it comes with a descaler, milk cleaning solution, cleaning tablets and PH strips to keep your flashy machine in tip-top condition. If you’ve got the space, and the cash, this one is a stellar choice.

Buy now £600.00, Cuisinart.co.uk

Bosch Tassimo my way 2

Best: For all the family

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: H 280mm x W 230mm x D 330mm

  • Colours: Black

  • Milk steam wand: No

  • Tank capacity: 1.3l

  • Coffee type: Pods

What do you do when you want cafe-quality coffee at home but want something that everyone will be able to use? You buy a handy multitasking machine like this Tassimo. There’s so much to like about this little machine; it’s compact, incredibly simple to use and allows you to adjust the temperature, volume and intensity to your preference.

There are also 70 drinks to choose from, including cappuccinos, standard espressos and even caramel and gingerbread lattes. You can even choose between Oreo, Cadbury and Baileys hot chocolates or a tea. We’ve loved making Costa lattes at home and the kids are now obsessed with creamy, silky Cadbury hot chocolate.

True, the pods aren’t always cheap, but they are more affordable than takeaway coffees and make a perfect drink every time. Plus, the machine itself will set you back less than £80 – a great quality bargain.

Buy now £69.99, Bosch-home.co.uk

ROK EspressoGC explorer edition

Best: Hand-powered machine

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: H 320mm x W 240mm x D 130mm

  • Colours: Silver and black (made from cast aluminium, steel and glass-composite)

  • Milk steam wand: Manual milk frother

  • Coffee type: Ground

Few things are as pleasurable as making handcrafted coffee at home. With this exceptionally well made and robust device, you can get that satisfaction every morning. We felt like master artisans when testing out this intriguing and visually awesome machine – with it on your worktop, you’ll feel the same and it is sure to attract oohs and ahhs from visitors.

Not only does it look good, it is also easy to use. Simply boil the kettle, pack your ground coffee into one of the three portafilters included (we love the crema-plus one) and pour freshly boiled water into the opening at the top. Then, all that’s left to do is use the arms of the machine, sort of like a corkscrew, and you’ll end up with some of the best tasting espresso we tried while putting together this roundup. For those who take milk in their coffee, you can also use the manual frother included, which makes milk dense enough for some serious latte art.

There’s something so wonderfully mindful about using ROK’s machine and it made a big impact on us.

Buy now £199.00, Rok.coffee

Dualit 3 in 1 coffee machine

Best: For coffee options

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Dimensions: H 330mm x W 207mm x D 284mm

  • Colours: Polished stainless steel

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 1.5l

  • Coffee type: Dualit coffee capsules, Nespresso capsules, ESE pods and ground

Dualit is known for its high-quality appliances and this enormously versatile machine is no different. It is quick and easy to set up and allows for many options in terms of the type of coffee used, so it will suit most households. We used it with coffee grounds and found it makes aromatic espresso with an impressive crema and barista-quality cappuccinos thanks to the excellent milk frothing wand. This is a reasonable machine from a top-quality brand that we think is robust enough for years of heavy use.

Buy now £199.99, Dualit.com

Dualit espresso coffee machine

Best: Compact machine

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: H 280mm x W 150mm x D 240mm

  • Colours: Black

  • Milk steam wand: Yes

  • Tank capacity: 1.4l

  • Coffee type: Ground and ESE pods

Coffee lovers with limited worktop space will rejoice at this compact yet brilliant performance espresso machine. It has everything needed, including a frothing wand, to make the perfect cup. No space is wasted, and it even features a double-ended measuring spoon and tamper. Operation is simple and instead of buttons, this machine has a dial on the front that lets you choose between the espresso-making function and the steam wand, which is controlled with a knob on the side.

The size certainly doesn’t impact its capacity and it can still make two single espressos simultaneously like other larger models. We also really like that it comes with a water softener bag in the box for the freshest tasting coffee and limescale build-up prevention.

Buy now £129.00, Dualit.com

The verdict: Espresso machines

The Gaggia classic is easily the creme de la (ahem) crema of espresso machines. It might be for at-home use, but you can’t help feeling like a professional when you’re making coffee this ever-so Italian wonder. The ease of use, styling and aromatic drinks it creates easily make it our best buy.

The Cuisinart veloce deserves a mention for its mind-boggling tech. While we’d highly recommend Salter caffe barista pro for those not willing to shell out hundreds but still want a seriously good espresso machine at home.

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