DeLonghi EC155 Review

From $82 Best

This machine features a swiveling frother and can use pods or grounds to make a pretty good cup of espresso with a rich crema. It takes a long time to make multiple cups, but for the money, it's a winner.

For the money, the DeLonghi EC155 (starting at $82, Amazon) is an excellent value. DeLonghi EC155 reviews say it may not last forever, but you'll be pleased with the results for the duration. In DeLonghi EC155 reviews at Amazon, the brew is described as delicious and the crema appropriately foamy. This is an entry-level model that reviews at Macy's say requires some patience to master, although Coffee Geek likes the clear step-by-step directions. Users appreciate being able to make a double or single shot in a matter of minutes -- and that includes clean up -- or simply getting hot water for tea if the mood strikes. Some reviews insist that using freshly ground espresso beans delivers the most robust brew, but other consumers express a preference for the simplicity of single-serve, sealed E.S.E. pods. Several note that the frothing wand ensures a cappuccino or latte will taste just right.

Praise for this machine is not universal. Some DeLonghi EC155 reviews gripe about the lightweight plastic tamper and the small portafilter that can't accommodate a professional tamper. We also read some grumbling about low clearance under the brew head and frother (you'll need shot glasses and a maximum 12-ounce frothing pitcher), the relatively long wait between shots, and occasional problems with leakage and loss of pressure.

The Delonghi EC155 features 15 bars of pressure, a stainless steel boiler, and a 35-ounce water tank. With its plastic housing, this machine weighs less than 10 pounds (some DeLonghi EC155 reviews report that if you jerk too hard on the portafilter, the machine will skip across the counter). It handles both loose grounds and pods, and is controlled with knobs for steam, power, water and coffee dispensing. There are indicator lights and a removable drip tray. This model is backed by a one-year warranty.

Elite espresso drinkers may find the DeLonghi EC155 a bit on the light side. But literally scores of consumers consider it a consummate deal, one that satisfies their taste for a hearty coffee brew at a fraction of the coffee bar cost.

Nespresso Citiz C110 Review

From $230 Best

This single-shot espresso machine has a slim, elegant design and comes in a multitude of colors. It takes pods only, making it a snap to use, and the 19-bar pump delivers the most pressure of any on our list. This machine is for espresso junkies only -- a milk frother must be purchased separately.

The Nespresso Citiz C110 (starting at $230, Amazon) makes the espresso experience as easy as possible with its proprietary, single-serve coffee capsules. Nespresso Citiz C110 reviews rave about the no-muss, no-fuss technology. Postings on sites such as Crate & Barrel say the capsule-only design produces a perfect cup with each push of a volume-control button indicating a larger or smaller brew. Consumers' reviews say the taste is excellent and start-to-finish takes less than 2 minutes. Some Nespresso Citiz C110 reviews at Amazon assert you can't do better with an at-home machine largely because the capsules ensure consistency. Clean up is also a snap, say reviews -- the empty aluminum casings drop into a special container and the removable parts just need a quick rinse (or a dip in the dishwasher).

And yet, some users gripe about the monopoly hold of Nespresso on the raw ingredients (the coffee capsules, that is) and about a brew that's not super hot. Also note that the Nespresso Citiz C110 is a one-trick pony -- no lattes or cappuccinos because there's no wand for frothing and steaming milk.

This model boasts 19 bars of pressure and a pump that stops and starts automatically depending on the choice between espresso (1.5 ounces) or lungo (3 ounces). For the best results, though, a Nespresso Citiz C110 review at Brookstone suggests using only the espresso size and adding water or milk if you want a larger drink. A common problem on cheap espresso machines is the low brew head, which has clearance for only a shot glass; the Nespresso Citiz, however, features a cup holding tray that moves up and down to accommodate different sized cups. The stainless steel tank holds 34 ounces of water and the retro design is available in red, black, silver, or white. There are 16 capsule varieties, including three decaffeinated and three organic.

The simplicity, build quality, and performance of this espresso maker are hard to beat. The proprietary capsules are pricey, but there's no learning curve and no surprise results. If you can tolerate the ongoing cost of the capsules and value the uniform brew, this is the machine for you.

Capresso EC100 Review

From $135 Good

This machine has a 46-ounce tank and enough power to heat up water in time to make multiple shots in quick succession. Users say its performance tends to slip a little over time.

Good beans and a fine grind are critical to brewing a rich espresso with this model, according to Capresso EC100 reviews. In posts on Amazon consumers say that espresso and cappuccino pass the taste test once you secure the proper ingredients (good beans, right-size grind), pre-warm the system, and master the tamping procedure. Reviews stress the importance of reading the instructions, noting that the effort pays off in a delicious and hot brew. The frothing wand produces good foam and hot milk, reviews add, and picky consumers have been won over by the lattes.

On the down side, some say the brew is inconsistent and performance diminishes over time. A Capresso EC100 review by Coffee Gear faults the brew system for leaving some water in the puck (the leftover grounds once the water has passed through), which can make for messy clean up. And while some users assert there's enough power to make one shot after another, others contend that the resulting espresso isn't sufficiently hot; Capresso responded to this particular comment by noting that the best espresso isn't made with boiling water and this machine brews to 160 degrees.

The Capresso EC100 (starting at $135, Amazon) boasts a 46-ounce water tank and features up to 15 bars of pressure. It can handle either loose grounds or E.S.E. pods and you can make one or two shots at a time. The milk frother swivels into position for steam or froth. The heating system is lined in stainless steel and there's a warming tray for cups. This model weighs 10 pounds and comes with a one-year warranty.

This is a decent espresso machine for a comparatively low price. Some consumers are guarded in their assessments, but overall, the Capresso EC100 makes the grade.

Saeco Aroma 00347 Review

From $219 Good

A good espresso machine for the price, it heats up quickly and delivers a tasty brew with a nice crema. The steam wand is situated in such a way that makes it difficult to remove a frothing pitcher.

Beginning baristas are fans of this model, according to Saeco Aroma 00347 reviews. Users consider it one level above a starter espresso maker but still easy enough to master. Reviews at Seattle Coffee Gear stress the importance of reading the directions to get the hang of it, not to mention the best results. Consumers generally say this model is relatively forgiving about the size of the grind and produces a quality drink, although a couple gripe about the consistency of the crema and the frothed milk (too much bubble in both). Users who posted reviews on Amazon aren't quite as thrilled, with detractors describing the brew as weak and not hot enough when you make several shots in succession. A few gripe about disappearing steam, a frothing wand that's hard to adjust, and time-consuming clean up (components are hard to take apart and reassemble). Other posts on this site, however, like the solidity of this model and say the brew tastes like what they remember from trips to Europe.

The Saeco Aroma 00347 (starting at $219, Amazon) boasts an enormous 85-ounce stainless steel water tank and 15 bars of pressure. It takes either E.S.E. pods or loose grounds, and you can upgrade to a non-pressurized portafilter once your barista skills improve. This model can make hot water for other drinks and it keeps cups warm while the espresso is brewing. The Saeco Aroma 00347 features an all-metal housing and removable plastic drip tray and is covered by a one-year warranty.

Despite some grumbling, consensus opinion says the Saeco Aroma 00347 makes a reputable espresso drink and affords the chance to show off your talents by switching out to a non-pressurized portafilter at a later date.

Where to buy

Cuisinart EM-200 Review

From $179 Think Twice

This machine is programmable, so you can make one of two shot sizes with the press of a button. Users say it makes a pretty good brew, but there are complaints about an awkwardly placed steam wand, temperature levels, and leakage.

The Cuisinart EM-200 has good points and bad points, but Cuisinart EM-200 reviews indicate that the weaknesses outweigh the strengths. Consumers who posted reviews on Best Buy, for example, say espresso and related drinks taste as they should, hit the right temperatures, and showcase the proper consistency. The machine also wins points for ease of use: push a button to order up a single or double shot or choose manual control to dictate your pour preference.

And yet, users gripe about a variety of operational problems. Cuisinart EM-200 reviews at Whole Latte Love say pump pressure is often inadequate and others report that the pressure lessened over time. On Amazon one user writes that the pump never worked quite right despite frequent priming and attempts to brew a cup became an exercise in frustration. Other reviews variously complain that the machine takes a long while to build up sufficient pressure before it starts brewing, needs to rest between espresso making and milk frothing, and is fussy about the size of the grinds and the type of beans. Additionally, critical reviews report that the electronics go haywire, durability is limited, and the wand tends to leak and is awkwardly placed.

Like most inexpensive espresso makers, the Cuisinart EM-200 (starting at $179, Amazon) features a 15-bar pump and takes E.S.E. pods or loose grounds. It's distinguished from many by the pre-programmed push-button operation and a design that provides enough space under the brew head for a full-size mug (up to 7 inches). There's a 69-ounce water tank and atop the brushed-chrome housing sits a warming tray. This model comes with a tamping tool and stainless steel frothing cup and a generous thee-year warranty.

Although some consumers are pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Cuisinart EM-200, others are exasperated and disappointed. The mixed reception suggests that you think twice before loading it in your cart.

Buying Guide

Choosing an Espresso Machine

We all know how quickly the cost of a daily shot of espresso at your favorite coffee bar adds up. But if espresso is the brew that gets you going, it's a luxury you don't need to sacrifice to save money. With the right ingredients -- i.e., filtered water and superior coffee freshly ground to the right consistency -- the best cheap espresso machines can supply your fix at home. We found several semi-automatic espresso machines that produce more than decent espresso and cost less than $250. 

Types of Espresso Makers.

Espresso is made by forcing hot, pressurized water through tightly packed, very finely ground coffee. The result is a highly concentrated, small cup with a layer of marbleized, caramel-colored foam on top called "crema" (a mark of a well-made espresso). There are several types of espresso machines that go about this in different ways.

  • Stovetop pots of the type found in every Italian household.
  • Steam espresso makers that typically don't generate enough pressure to brew true espresso.
  • Manual machines, which are costly and challenging to use.
  • Very high-end automatic machines that grind, tamp, and brew (and sometimes clean themselves).
  • Semi-automatic espresso makers, by far the most popular choice for the average consumer.

Our picks are all semi-automatic espresso machines, which require you to activate the pump and turn it off. That means you control the amount of water and the brewing time. They have a single boiler, so they can't steam milk and brew espresso at the same time. Some models feature dual sieves for making double shots or a programmable function that regulates the delivery of one or two shots.

Nespresso Machines.

Nespresso machines are single-serve espresso machines that call for proprietary coffee-filled capsules. They earn accolades from espresso drinkers who crave consistent results each time they pull a shot. Reviews laud the uniformity and dependability of the brew. Although users of these machines are obliged to buy the single-serve coffee capsules from Nespresso, they don't seem fazed by the limited choice of beans and roasts; several approvingly note the range of options. A Nespresso Aeroccino milk frother is sold separately (starting at about $75) or as part of a bundle. Reviews suggest the microwave as an alternative if a latte or cappuccino is your thing.

Espresso Beans.

While single-serve pods with ground beans sealed inside are the in thing, espresso tradition calls for freshly ground, high quality beans. With many cheap espresso machines, you can go either way. If you plan to brew your fix from ground beans, it's worth investing in a good burr grinder. Experts at Coffee Geek recommend taking half the money you've budgeted for an espresso machine and using it for a grinder instead. (Less costly blade grinders generate more heat and static, which can damage the flavor, and some don't crush beans evenly.) Alternatively, find the best source for a weekly supply of freshly ground beans, or turn to beans in a can that have been specifically ground for use in an espresso machine. Brands such as Cafe Bustelo, Illy, and Lavazzo offer high-quality ground beans for what amounts to pennies a shot.

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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

Espresso Machine Reviews: What We Considered

For scores of consumers who have purchased a cheap espresso machine, there's no going back to the costly coffee bar routine. Consumers who have made the switch to one of our top picks are well pleased with the results: They get a satisfying espresso drink in a matter of minutes and save pennies to put toward other small indulgences. There are a few grumbles about shots that aren't hot enough or strong enough, but for the most part, they crow about the overall value of these entry-level machines in espresso maker reviews.

Pump Pressure.

Pump pressure, measured in bars, affects the rate at which water is pushed through the grinds, which in turn is a key factor in determining how strong or watery the espresso is. There is some disagreement about the number of bars needed to brew the best espresso. One expert at Coffee Geek argues that anything above nine bars of pressure is superfluous. Other experts say they would rather the machine automatically regulate down to nine bars of pressure than struggle to reach that level, and note that a higher number of bars means a shorter wait between shots. Regardless, the best cheap espresso machines feature at least 15 bars of maximum brewing pressure, although brewing typically occurs at a lower level.

Ease of Use.

No matter which espresso machine winds up on your kitchen counter, it’s bound to be a complicated device. Fans of espresso drinks may justify their addiction to high-priced coffee shop fare because of anxiety over acquiring the skills needed to make a comparable brew. But reviewers say the results and savings from a semi-automatic espresso machine -- even on the budget end of the market -- are worth it.

A rich, luscious drink requires that both you, the at-home barista, and the machine do your parts. The human role involves dosing, distributing, and tamping the grinds, not to mention using only top-quality coffee. The espresso maker is responsible for maintaining temperature and pressure while you pull the shots.

Of course, all this is much easier with a pod espresso machine. Sealed, single-serve, paper-filter discs packed with carefully measured espresso grounds eliminate guesswork from the process. Loose grounds are messier, and the end result is somewhat less consistent. Die-hards, however, insist that loose grounds produce a superior cup, and they’re certainly cheaper; a single-serve pod can cost anywhere from 40 cents to $1.50. Most semi-automatic espresso machines these days are compatible with non-proprietary Easy Serving Espresso pods as well as loose coffee grounds. Novices who hope to hone their coffee-making talents over time may appreciate the versatility of a machine that brews both ground and E.S.E. pod espresso.

Portafilter.

The portafilter is the long-handled attachment that holds espresso grounds or E.S.E. pods. Pressurized water flows through this gizmo and produces the espresso and crema. A commercial portafilter gives the most control over the brewing process. It also has the steepest learning curve and is far more susceptible to user error. The pressurized portafilters on cheap espresso machines require less expertise but have their own drawbacks. Pressurized portafilters tend to be lightweight and less durable, and they aren't as good at maintaining heat. They also produce a messy, soggy “puck” -- a hunk of grounds left over after the pressurized water flows through. Users find that aggressive tamping or over-grinding can clog the portafilter and cause the grounds to explode out of it. On some semi-automatic espresso machines, it’s possible to change out the pressurized portafilter for a non-pressurized one. Still, that’s an extra expense.

Frothing.

Most semi-automatic espresso machines come with steamer wands for steaming and frothing milk for cappuccino and the like. These wands sometimes draw complaints for their low clearance, which makes it difficult to fit a cup or pitcher underneath. Some cappuccino lovers solve this problem by sitting the machine on top of a chopping board. Experts recommend avoiding models with froth aiders, which continuously heat the foam and damage the sweetness of the milk. Experts also suggest choosing a machine with knobs that control the amount of steam.

Cup Warming Tray.

Many semi-automatic espresso machines offer some type of cup warming tray to take the chill off a ceramic cup and maintain the heat of the beverage. Cup warming trays are either passive (heat from the boiler warms the cups) or active (there’s a separate heating mechanism). Most machines in the budget price range feature passive warming trays, which may not be all that useful. By the time the machine is ready to brew, the warmer has only just started to heat. Some users opt to run a cycle with only water to warm up the cups and then proceed with the espresso.

Durability and Maintenance.

One of the advantages of high-end espresso machines over budget models is durability. They’re generally crafted from more stainless-steel and brass components, sit heavier on the countertop, and can pull shots in sequence without struggling to reheat between brewing. Cheaper espresso makers aren't likely to last as long as these workhorses, but some are surprisingly sturdy for the price.

Coffee aficionados recommend choosing a primarily metal and/or stainless steel espresso maker. Not only is this construction aesthetically pleasing, it’s also practical. Metal parts tend to hold up longer, and stainless-steel construction adds to the weight (heavier machines shift less on the countertop when you're inserting or removing the portafilter and frothing/steaming the milk).

A quick cleanup after each use is a must with a budget espresso maker and helps maintain its functionality. Milk left to crust on the wand can clog steam pores; ditto for grinds left to harden in the portafilter. Descaling is required periodically, particularly if you have hard water. Most parts are not dishwasher-safe; be sure to follow manufacturer instructions. Of course, one way to minimize cleanup stress is by using sealed pods. Although you must dispose of the pods, the portafilter just needs a quick rinse.