Sometimes regression is the best form of innovation — like wearing a mechanical watch, driving a manual-shift car or pulling a shot from a semi-automatic espresso machine. These five models will give you a more rewarding morning ritual than you’ll ever get from a pod. Not to mention better coffee, too.
DeLonghi Dedica Deluxe
The Dedica Deluxe is no wider than a typical pod machine, so it won’t hog counter space. The milk frothing wand is easy to use and yields perfectly satisfactory foam. Pull out the drip tray and there’s a secondary tray for larger coffee cups, which is helpful for lattes. The machine can live in standby mode until and requires very little start-up time. A pre-infuser douses the grounds before extraction for a more even brew. While not a statement piece, the Dedica Deluxe gets the job done. And done well.
Gaggia Classic Pro
The Gaggia Classic is the tool watch of espresso machines — it has everything you need and nothing you don’t. The machine’s squared-off stainless steel body occupies a rarely visited era of euro-90s nostalgia, and the angular black rocker buttons would be at home on the dashboard of a 1990 Ferrari F40. A weighty 58mm commercial portafilter and group head are both made of chromed solid brass. For the price, there’s no machine with as much street cred. It requires a tending hand like the pro machines but delivers shots with dense crema at a solid value.
Breville Bambino Plus
Perhaps the prettiest Breville espresso machine, the Bambino Plus is a compact countertop adornment loaded with convenient features. Like the DeLonghi, the single and double shots are pre-timed and only take one push of a button. The machine pre-infuses the grinds, and the automatic milk frother has a heat sensor, so you can leave the frother on the drip tray to go put your toast in the oven and it will shut off when it’s ready, then automatically purge the steam wand for easy cleaning. It comes with a steel frother and a quality tamper — the only machine on this list to include both. It can accommodate mugs, with even more clearance than the DeLonghi’s lower-deck latte tray.
The Spanish-made Ascaso Dream is a thing of beauty — the polished aluminum version looks like it could hatch an Airstream trailer. The portafilter is solid and the machine comes with a double-sided solid aluminum tamper. We love the retro temperature gauge and the heavy click of the metal toggle switches. Like many machines north of $500, the Dream takes a little getting used to; once you bring it up to steam temperature, don’t expect it to quickly backtrack to brewing temp. It sure is nice to admire while you wait for it to simmer down, though.
ECM Casa V
A buck shy of a grand, this model by German company ECM (Espresso Coffee Machine) is by hand in Italy. The Casa V shrugs off over-packed grinds that would stop lesser machines in their tracks, while the steam wand is commercial grade and makes a searing froth in a matter of seconds. It takes a few more minutes to heat up than the others, but once it does, it exudes a power beyond all others on the list. Buyers beware: the machine is large, so it will take some decent counter space for it to look to-scale in a kitchen.
Don’t Forget the Grinder
Whatever you’ve budgeted for an espresso machine, throw half of it toward a good grinder. Think of it as a lens for your camera — you will not get the most out of one without spending some money on the other. Here are three we like, at prices we love.
The stainless-steel-clad DeLonghi Dedica grinder is better looking than most in its price range; its espresso setting works well with pressurized and non-pressurized baskets; and it can grind directly into a DeLonghi portafilter. That said, it can’t grind as finely as the others on the list, so proceed with caution.
Baratza Sette 270
The Sette 270 is also micro-adjustable like the Eureka Mignon. The modern angled design of the Sette series is downright Bauhausian. Baratza is also a company that makes nothing else but grinders, which provides a certain comfort.
Small but mighty with a classic Italian look. There are no numbers on the grind dial, so the machine is micro-adjustable. Yes, it’s pricey, but with its timeless chrome cladding and a powder-fine grinds, this could be your forever grinder.
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