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Best Manual Espresso Machines

Using a manual espresso machine requires love and dedication, but I promise you, once you get the hang of manually brewing your own espresso at home, you’ll wonder how you ever went without it. You’ll find yourself talking about your morning espresso ritual at dinner parties, and you’ll slowly realize you are now officially one of those coffee snobs who you used to love making fun of. You’ll lay in bed at night wondering why you went so long without your own espresso machine, and you’ll feel like a sucker for paying top-dollar for sub-par espresso at an expensive cafe for so many years. I’m telling you, a good espresso machine at home will really change your life, and this list of our top picks will make finding the right one nice and easy.

Our Top Picks For Best Manual Espresso Machine

Top Pick – Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine

This semi-automatic beauty is easy to use and comes with a lot of extras so you don’t have to waste time and money shopping for accessories to compliment your new espresso machine.

The Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine makes insanely good espresso and doesn’t have a super steep learning curve, unlike many other similar machines on the market. If you take the time to read the very detailed user manual, you’ll be making all of your cafe favorites like a pro in no time.

What we particularly like about this espresso machine is the fact that it comes with a lot of goodies, like a conical burr grinder, a ½ pound sealed bean hopper, a 54mm tamper, a steaming wand (perfect for frothing milk) AND a frothing pitcher! Most machines don’t come with all of these extras, so right off the hop, there’s a great added value.

You can make super rich espresso in the Breville BES870XL thanks to the 1600W Thermocoil heating system. Because it’s semi-automatic, the machine will automatically adjust the water temperature in order to make sure you’re able to extract maximum flavor from your beans.

The generous water tank (67 fl.oz or 2L) has a convenient handle so you can remove, clean and refill it easily. As a bonus, a replaceable water filter is included with your purchase.

The built-in burr grinder allows you to adjust the grind size and amount easily with a handy dial housed on the front of the machine. Choose either a single or double-wall filter and the grinder will know exactly how much coffee to dispense.

You can conveniently choose if you would like a one or two cup portion with preset functions, or, manually input any amount for a custom pour.

You can use the 360-degree swivel steam wand to quickly froth milk in the handy pitcher that comes with your purchase.

There is a removable drip tray to ensure clean up is nice and easy, and the machine will even notify you when it’s time for a cleaning. For ease, a cleaning kit comes with the machine when you purchase it. Make sure to follow Breville’s precise maintenance instructions while cleaning to keep your machine in tip-top shape.

Enjoy a one-year warranty that also comes with your purchase.

Pros

  • Comes with TONS of extras
  • Notifies you when it’s time to clean and a cleaning kit is included
  • One year warranty

Cons

  • It runs a little bit slower than some of the other options on the market

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Best Bang For Your Buck – Sowtech Espresso Maker Cappuccino Machine with Steam Milk Frother and Carafe

With 4000+ positive reviews, people can’t get enough of this compact, easy to use and extremely well priced manual Espresso/Cappiciono machine.

Even if you’ve never used a manual espresso machine before don’t worry, you will get the hang of the Sowtech Espresso Maker/Cappuccino Machine before you have the time to say Italy. As an added bonus, because it’s priced so low, this thing will pay for itself after just a few skipped trips to the cafe.

The single switch knob has a handy indicator light that makes it very easy to use. You can use this one knob to control everything from turning the machine on/off, frothing milk, and making the espresso. Use the accurate temperature control to set your desired temperature for a custom and consistent espresso experience.

Unlike many espresso machines, this little powerhouse is very compact and takes up hardly any counter space. It’s also quite light, and there is a removable and washable drip catcher to ensure your countertops stay nice and clean.

Use this machine to foam and froth milk and practice your latte art like the pros.

The Sowtech Espresso Maker/Cappuccino Machine has a powerful 3.5 bars of pressure and can make 1-4 cups of espresso in just two minutes. There is an easy-pour glass cup that the espresso is brewed with clear markings so you can always know precisely how much you have brewed.

Along with the machine, included with your purchase are a filter and funnel, a spoon and the carafe.

Pros

  • Makes a great cup of espresso for an even better price
  • Easy to use
  • Compact

Cons

  • Doesn’t produce as much creme or froth on top as some other machine

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The Best Multi-Use Espresso Machine – Cuisinart EM-100 1.66 Quart Stainless Steel Espresso Maker

This heavy hitter brews with 15 bars of pressure and can be used to make espresso manually, or with convenient pods.

The Cuisinart EM-100 1.66 Quart Stainless Steel Espresso Maker makes rich cafe-quality espresso from the comfort of your own home, and the design is reminiscent of the professional espresso machines you see in cafes.

If you’re into milky drinks, the commercial-grade stainless steel nozzle and frothing cup will allow you to make delicious lattes and cappuccinos like a pro.

Use the convenient warming plate on the top of the machine to keep your espresso cups nice and toasty, just like they do in Italy.

There is a large 53-ounce water reservoir with a lid that is easy to remove and clean, and a removable drip tray for easy cleanup.

In addition to the frothing pitcher, this machine also comes with other extras like cleaning pins, and a measuring scoop/tamping tool that you can use to scoop coffee on one side and tamp coffee grounds using the other.

You can use the one cup filter basket for a single espresso, the two cup filter basket for a double espresso, or the pod filter basket for espresso pods which gives you lots of versatility.

Pros

  • Can be used as a manual machine or with espresso pods
  • Simple to use
  • Easy to clean
  • Attractive design

Cons

  • Some customers have noted that it is a little bit loud

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What’s The Deal With Espresso?

Espresso isn’t just really strong coffee that you drink out of a tiny little cup. There are VERY strict criteria that need to be met in order to call your coffee true espresso. In order to make espresso, either a manual or an automatic machine will force a little bit of precisely heated water through finely-ground coffee, creating a rich, dark and delicious concentrated coffee concoction called espresso. This black gold is much thicker than coffee and it has a frothy creme on the top that is truly a thing of beauty. Espresso has quite a bit more caffeine than coffee, hence the tiny cups. Espresso is used as a base to make just about any coffee drink you could possibly dream up, including Americanos, lattes and cappuccinos, just to name a few.

Things To Keep In Mind When Making Espresso

The quality of your espresso is impacted by many factors, aside from the machine you’re using to make it.

Water: When making espresso, you need to pay special attention to the pace at which your water is flowing through the filter. You can adjust the flow of your water by increasing or decreasing the pressure on a manual machine, or by altering the grind of the coffee you’re using. If your water flow is too slow you will over-extract your beans and you’ll end up with really bitter espresso that has barely any creme. At the same time, if your water flow is too fast, you’ll under extract the beans and end up with a diluted cup that has hardly any flavour (and even less creme on the top). When you get a new espresso machine it’s important to tinker with it a little bit until you can get the pace of your water flow just right.

Beans: It doesn’t matter how good your machine is, or how precise your water flow; if the beans you’re using aren’t any good, your espresso won’t be good either. If you invest your time and money on purchasing a great machine and learning how to use it, it makes no sense to skimp out on your beans. Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on the coffee beans you use, it just means that you need to ensure your beans are quality, and fresh. The best way to ensure freshness is to purchase coffee beans whole and grind them yourself at home (about every two weeks or so). If you buy pre-ground coffee it will lose it’s flavor much faster than whole beans will because as soon as you crack open a coffee bean, it immediately starts to degrade. Make sure to store your beans, or pre-ground coffee (if you can’t break the habit) in airtight containers and keep them in a cool dry area. Make sure you’re buying new coffee at least every month to ensure freshness.

Grind: The beans used to make good espresso have been precisely ground. You can purchase pre-ground coffee that is specifically for an espresso machine, and it’s recommended that you do this if you’re not planning on grinding the beans yourself. If beans are ground too finely they will not allow water to pass through them fast enough and they’ll end up over-extracted, making your drink bitter. If the beans are ground too coarsely, the espresso will end up under-extracted and weak. Under or over-extracted beans mean a crappy cup of espresso with barely any creme, so it’s important to pay attention to the grind you’re buying, or grinding yourself at home. Finding the right grind for your personal preference sometimes requires a little bit of experimentation, but once you figure it out, you’ll be glad you took the time because a precise grind results in an awesome cup of espresso.

Tamping: Think of tamping as pressing. When you use a manual machine it’s critical that you tamp down the grounds in the filter basket until they’re level. By using moderate pressure to tamp the grounds, it will help ensure that the water moves through them at the correct pace. If you don’t tamp the grounds, the water will move too quickly and your beans grounds will end up under-extracted. If you tamp the grounds too much, you’ll end up with over-extracted espresso. It’s a delicate dance. You will need to play around with tamping until you’re familiar with your new machine.

What Kinds Of Espresso Machines Are There?

Some espresso machines use steam (like stovetop espresso makers) but the vast majority are pump-driven. Here are some examples of pump-driven machines.

Manual Lever Pump: This machine requires you to manually pump the espresso out by hand without relying on electricity to assist you.

Electronic Pump: A personal favorite, this type of pump-driven machine allows you to set your desired temperature and then the machine does the pumping for you.

Semi-Automatic Pump: With this machine, you’ll need to grind the beans and gently tamp them into the filter before you turn the machine on. Once the machine is on you pump the button until the hot water turns black, at that point, you turn the machine off.

Automatic Pump: With this option, you’re required to grind the beans yourself and tamp them into the filter, just like a semi-automatic, but the machine will automatically turn itself on to brew and turn itself off without you lifting a finger.

Super Automatic Pump: This machine does ALL the work for you (who doesn’t love that). It will grind the beans, tamp the grinds into the filter, boil the water and shut itself off. These babies ain’t cheap, but if you’ve got the dough, they’re worth every penny.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of prestige that comes with a gorgeous, complicated and extremely expensive espresso machine that’s been imported from Italy to impress all of your friends. But, is this kind of machine necessary in order to have a good cup of espresso at home? Absolutely not. We hope that this list of our favorite easy(er) to use manual espresso machines will get you brewing amazing espresso from the comfort of your own home in no time.

Photo credit: ACELYA AKSUNKUR/Shutterstock

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