Making café-quality espresso drinks on a home machine used to take a lot of practice, but the best new models have made it so much easier. Better yet, you can get a machine that’s capable of making excellent drinks for well under $1,000.
After more than 120 hours of research and testing, we think the Breville Bambino Plus is the best option for new and moderately skilled enthusiasts alike. It’s powerful and easy to use, and it’s capable of yielding consistent, rich shots and steaming perfectly textured milk. The Bambino Plus also has a sleek, compact design, so it fits nicely in most kitchens.
The Breville Bambino Plus is simple, speedy, and fun to use. It lets you make truly good espresso drinks at home. The user manual is easy to understand, and with a little practice, you can pull rich and consistent shots, and even capture some of the nuanced flavors of premium roasts. Most impressive, perhaps, is the Bambino Plus’s ability to generate silky milk froth rivaling that made by your favorite barista—whether you use its super-quick auto-froth setting or steam the milk manually. The Bambino Plus is also compact, so it should fit easily in any kitchen.
The Gaggia Classic Pro is the updated version of the Gaggia Classic, which has been a popular entry-level machine for decades thanks to its simple, approachable design and capacity to produce worthy espresso shots. While the Classic Pro has a somewhat improved steam wand compared with the Classic’s, it’s still imprecise compared with that of the Breville Bambino Plus. It also struggles to muster milk froth with a velvety texture (though it’s capable of doing so once you’ve practiced a bit). The Pro isn’t quite as easy for beginners to master as our top pick, but it was able to produce shots with greater nuance and acidity—and often more intense crema (video). If you have a taste for straight espresso, that advantage could outweigh the Gaggia’s drawbacks.
The Breville Barista Touch offers lots of guidance in the form of a touchscreen control center with step-by-step tutorials and multiple programs, so it’s great for beginners. But it also includes advanced controls and allows for manual operation, for more-experienced users and people who want to get creative. It has a quality built-in grinder, as well as an adjustable auto-froth setting for milk that lets you control the amount of foam created. The Touch is a great choice if you want a machine that allows you to dive right in and start making decent drinks without having to pull up a host of how-to videos online. Even a guest could probably walk up and make themselves a drink on this machine without too much trouble. But those with more experience aren’t likely to get bored; you can opt for more or less control over each step in your drink-making process. The Barista Touch is just as consistent as the smaller Breville Bambino Plus, and it’s also a little more powerful, pulling balanced shots and frothing milk with ease.
The Ascaso Dream PID is an elegant, very compact machine that can produce professional-level espresso drinks on a consistent basis. If you’re somewhat knowledgeable about espresso and want an accessible machine that can hold up through lots of practice, the Dream PID offers the right mix of easy programmability and hands-on experience. We found the espresso it made to be remarkably full flavored and complex—better than that from any other machine we tested—with little variation in quality across multiple test rounds unless we deliberately changed our settings. The steam wand is also capable of frothing milk to the texture you desire (as long as you put in the work to learn how to use it, since there’s no automatic setting), resulting in creamy but still robust-tasting lattes. This is the first machine we’ve recommended that costs more than $1,000, but we think it’s justified: The Ascaso was quite enjoyable to use, and usually produced far superior espresso compared with the competition.