Love your morning espresso? These are our favourite manual espresso, bean-to-cup, capsule and Nespresso machines
For those of us that wake up in the morning craving that perfect first sip of coffee, only the best espresso machines will suffice. Espresso forms the foundation of some of the nation’s favourite brews, whether it be a cappuccino, americano, latte or flat white, but the range of choice when it comes to machines can be overwhelming.
Capsule machines from brands such as Nespresso are the quickest and easiest way to get your daily caffeine fix, while a manual espresso machine gives you more control over your brewing and can yield a vastly better-tasting coffee. Then there are the bean-to-cup machines that turn a coffee bean into an espresso at the touch of a button.
We’ll explain the different types of espresso machines in more detail below, before rounding up some of the best capsule, manual espresso and bean-to-cup machines you can buy.
READ NEXT: The very best coffee machines we’ve tested
Best espresso machines: At a glance
Best under £200:
- Best manual espresso machine: De’Longhi Dedica Style | Buy now
- Best Nespresso machine: Nespresso Essenza Mini | Buy now
- Best Lavazza capsule machine: Lavazza Idola | Buy now
Best under £500:
- Best manual espresso machine: Gaggia Classic | Buy now
- Best automatic bean-to-cup machine: De’Longhi Magnifica S Smart | Buy now
Best under £1,500:
How to buy the right espresso machine for you
What types of espresso machines are there?
Manual espresso machines: Manual espresso machines are the closest you’ll get to the machines used in coffee shops. You don’t need to be a barista to be able to work one (nor do you need to spend the four- or five-figure sums required for a commercial machine), but they can take some practice to get the hang of.
For the best results with a manual espresso machine, you need to precisely balance quite a wide range of factors. You have to think about grind size and dosage (how much coffee you use) at the very least, and getting the very best results will require you to consider tamping pressure (how hard you press the coffee down into the portafilter), extraction ratios (the proportion of coffee used to coffee brewed), brew temperatures and much more besides.
If you want to make lattes or cappuccinos, you’ll also need to learn how to use a steam wand. You’ll also need to clean your machine at the end of all this, so manual machines are not the best choice for the rushed or the impatient. However, it’s a very rewarding process once you’ve got the knack of it, and manual espresso machines provide by far the best coffee.
Bean-to-cup machines: If you simply can’t be fussed with putting effort into a manual machine, a bean-to-cup espresso machine is a great, comparatively hassle-free alternative. As the name suggests, these do most of the work for you.
Load the machine up with water and coffee beans and you can usually get a good espresso at the push of a button – and without having to fiddle with lots of settings. In their most advanced guises, they come complete with flashy touchscreen displays, mobile app compatibility and milk carafes that automatically steam and deliver milk for silky one-touch cappuccinos.
The downside is the cost, with the cheapest bean-to-cup machines costing just a little under £400. And while there’s a lot to be said for the convenience, even modestly priced manual machines will trounce the most expensive bean-to-cup machines when it comes to flavour.
Capsule and Nespresso machines: The arrival of capsule machines made it possible for anyone to get quick and easy espresso at home. With a wide choice of Nespresso pods on the market, as well as a growing number of third-party capsules from a range of roasteries, producing a consistent espresso has never been easier. Simply pop in the capsule, press a button and you’re good to go. And with machines starting as cheap as £50, it’s an affordable option, too.
The downside is that the cost of the pods can add up pretty quickly, so (unless you invest in a reusable capsule) you may end up sinking quite a bit of money into your new-found Nespresso habit. Plus, simple though they are, capsule machines won’t be able to produce espresso that tastes as good or is as strong as espresso from a manual machine. If it’s good enough for your tastes, though, it’s by far the easiest option here.
Handheld/portable/alternative espresso makers: Although so far we’ve only included the above-mentioned types of machines in this roundup, there are a number of other ways you can make espresso at home, such as stovetop brewing with a moka pot.
Portable devices such as the Wacaco Nanopresso have garnered quite a following, and various other new wave espresso makers have also arrived on the scene, including Flair’s manual lever-operated espresso maker. We’ll be testing some of these in the future – if they’re great, they’ll make their way onto our shortlist.
The best espresso machines to buy
The best manual espresso machines to buy
1. De’Longhi Dedica Style: The best manual espresso machine under £200
Price: £169 | Buy now from Amazon
The Dedica is a simple, entry-level manual espresso machine that falls comfortably below £200. It’s reasonably slim, so it won’t take up too much space in your kitchen, and it’s simple to use – the pressurised portafilter baskets allow you to pull an espresso even if your grind size or dosage isn’t very precise, so you can get away with using coarsely ground supermarket coffee if you want to.
The simple steam wand attachment is intended to make life easier for beginners, too – you simply flick between frothy cappuccino and plain hot milk modes – but it simply isn’t capable of producing the silky microfoam possible with pricier machines equipped with traditional steam wands.
This is a good value machine, though: the build quality and styling are pleasing and it serves up acceptable espresso for under £200. In truth, though, if you’re after the best results from pricier single origin coffees, you need to be prepared to pay at least twice as much.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 330 x 149 x 303mm; Water capacity: 1.1 litres; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Manual (steamer wand); Coffee type: Ground
2. Sage Bambino: Best manual espresso machine under £350
Price: £330 | Buy now from Sage
As a mid-point between the Dedica Style and the Gaggia Classic, the Sage Bambino is a fantastic compact espresso machine for beginners.
Small but rather mighty, the Bambino reaches brewing temperature in just three seconds, and you don’t have to wait around for steam, either. That said, the steam wand, which is controlled by a single button, can make a bit of a mess and will spit hot water for the first few seconds after switching it on. This does mean it can be quite fiddly to use: you’ll need to turn it on and off to expel this hot water before steaming your milk, which is a slightly arduous process that we feel could have been avoided with a knob to control steam flow.
The Bambino is very capable of pulling a good espresso, and it comes with both pressurised and unpressurised baskets depending on the coffee you’re using. It’s no rival to the Gaggia Classic, and we’d recommend investing that extra £100 if you really want to make great coffee and hone your espresso skills. But if your budget is simply too tight, this is a nice little machine.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 26 x 16 x 32cm; Water capacity: 1.4 litres; Cup warmer: No; Milk frother: Manual (steamer wand); Coffee type: Ground
3. Gaggia Classic: The best manual espresso machine under £500
Price: £430 | Buy now from Selfridges
Provided you’re willing to stretch your budget to around the £400 mark, the Gaggia Classic is a far superior espresso machine to the Dedica. It’s not as foolproof or as slickly designed as many consumer machines, but it makes a darn fine espresso – with a bit of practice.
We’re huge fans of the metal build, classic looks and clunk-click buttons, but the barebones design does feel a little agricultural after you’ve spent time with user-friendly rivals. In truth, though, it really is very simple to use: grind some good coffee just so, and it’s capable of delivering stonking espresso at the flick of a switch. The steam wand is pretty good, too, even if it can be a bit finicky.
Originally debuting in the early 1990s, the Gaggia Classic has stood the test of time. If any machine is going to set you on the slippery slope towards full-blown manual espresso obsession, this is it.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 380 x 230 x 240mm; Water capacity: 2.1 litres; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Manual (steamer wand); Coffee type: Ground
4. Sage the Dual Boiler: The best luxury manual espresso machine
Price: £1,250 | Buy now from Sage
Some aficionados may scoff at the Sage brand, but this is a truly high-end machine capable of delivering supremely good coffee. With a little effort, the Dual Boiler will give the very finest coffee shops and baristas a real run for their money.
As the name suggests, twin boilers allow you to pour espresso while simultaneously steaming milk, which saves a great deal of time if you want to make several drinks at once.
The results speak for themselves. This is a machine that has everything you need to produce genuinely top-class espresso, although bear in mind that you absolutely need to invest in a quality burr grinder if you’re to unleash the Dual Boiler’s true potential.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 405 x 378 x 377mm; Water capacity: 2.5 litres; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Manual (steamer wand); Coffee type: Beans
The best capsule machines to buy
5. Nespresso Essenza Mini: The best Nespresso machine
Price: £85 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re after a quick, cheap, mess-free espresso solution, then a capsule machine hits the spot. Simply pop the capsule in, press a button and you’re good to go. Minimal cleaning is required and, at the lift of a lever, the used capsule will be dispensed into the machine’s bin.
For under £100, the Nespresso Essenza is a top option: this lightweight and slimline machine can produce two types of coffee, espresso and lungo (see our roundup of the best Nespresso pods for more information), which it does consistently – with no fiddling required on your part.
Key specs – Dimensions (WDH): 11 x 32.5 x 20.5cm; Weight: 2.3kg; Heat up time: 25 secs; Coffee sizes: Espresso, lungo; Maximum cup size: 110mm; Water capacity: 0.6 litres; Used capsule capacity: 6 capsules
6. Lavazza Idola: The best Lavazza capsule coffee machine
Price: £109 | Buy now from AO
In our testing, we’ve often found ourselves preferring Lavazza’s pods to the Nespresso alternative – if you’re not dead set on a Nespresso machine, Lavazza’s Idola should be top of your shopping list.
This is the brand’s most expensive “coffee-only” machine. That said, it comes with a number of great features, including four coffee size options (espresso, long espresso, lungo and ‘free dose’), an elegant touch-sensitive button pad and a temperature boost option to produce an extra hot cup of coffee.
The range of options in Lavazza’s pod range is disappointingly limited, but the sheer depth of flavour makes amends in our opinion. If you can stretch your budget a little, this is a superb capsule machine option.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 28 x 14.5 x 38cm; Weight: 4kg; Heat up time: 35 secs; Coffee sizes: Espresso, long espresso, long coffee, free dose beverage; Water capacity: 1.1 litres; Used capsule capacity: 10 capsules
The best bean-to-cup espresso machines
7. De’Longhi Magnifica S Smart: The best bean-to-cup machine under £500
Price: £339 | Buy now from Amazon
Despite what the name suggests, you don’t get any fancy Wi-Fi compatibility with De’Longhi’s Magnifica S Smart (and at this price, you shouldn’t expect to), but what you do get is a sturdy bean-to-cup machine that’s easy to use and produces good coffee at the touch of a button. You’ll have to steam the milk yourself, but the steam wand is designed with beginners in mind, so getting a frothy cappuccino is a breeze.
We found that it was necessary to adjust grind size and tweak some settings in order to pull a good espresso, but this is easily done. Indeed, while tweaking settings can be fiddly on some bean-to-cup machines, the Magnifica S Smart lets you adjust coffee strength with a simple dial – crank it to 11 for a stronger coffee, or turn it down for a more easy-going cup.
If you want a quality bean-to-cup machine under £500, the Magnifica S Smart is the best we’ve tested.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 220 x 430 x 340mm; Water capacity: 1.8 litres; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Yes (manual); Adjustable grind: Yes; Adjustable strength: Yes
8. De’Longhi PrimaDonna Soul: The best luxury bean-to-cup machine
Price: £1,418 | Buy now from Amazon
It’s expensive, but the De’Longhi PrimaDonna Soul is as good as bean-to-cup machines get. This versatile bean-to-cup machine is loaded with features – including a detachable milk carafe for one-touch cappuccinos, flat whites and more – and the sleek LCD touchscreen puts 21 different drinks at your fingertips, from espressos and long blacks to cortados, cappuccinos and even tea.
The ace up the PrimaDonna’s sleeve, however, is the Bean Adapt feature: input a few details about the type of coffee beans you’re using and the machine will do the rest of the work in selecting the appropriate temperature, grind and dosage to get the best flavour. This worked well in our testing, too, providing noticeably tastier results than the default settings.
Over £1,000 is a lot to spend on a coffee machine, but the PrimaDonna Soul’s top-quality results and supreme ease of use go a long way towards justifying the expense.
Key specs – Dimensions (HWD): 390 x 262 x 485mm; Water capacity: 2.2 litres; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Yes (automatic); Adjustable grind: Yes; Adjustable strength: Yes