I’ve always been curious about the differences among types of espresso machines. That inspired me to write this guide.
The guide will compare the differences among all the different types of espresso machines. I’ll talk about their costs, who they’re best for, pros and cons, and more.
Here is an overview:
Dive into a comparison of every espresso machine type.
- Manual espresso machines give you the most control.
- Super-automatic machines automate traditional espresso-making.
- Semi-automatic machines are the most common machines in homes & coffee shops.
- Capsule coffee makers require the least cleanup & produce drinks the quickest.
- Stovetop coffee makers work best for groups.
Espresso Machine Comparison
Let’s compare different espresso machine types:
|Machine Type||What it Automates||Best for||Avg. Price *|
|Semi-automatic||Pressure & water flow||Restaurants |
& home use
|Automatic||Grinding, tamping, |
|Balancing cost & automation||$300–$3,000|
|Manual||Nothing||Learning the basics||$100–$800|
|Capsule||Everything||Convenience, cost, |
|Percolator or Stovetop Maker||Nothing||Affordability||$20–$100|
Here’s when you’d need each espresso machine:
- Super-automatic machine: You need to serve many people or want traditional espresso drinks made for you.
- Semi-automatic machine: You want consistency & control over most aspects of espresso making.
- Most common espresso machine used in restaurants & coffee shops.
- Automatic machine: You want to balance affordability, control, & consistency.
- Manual maker: You want control over every brewing parameter.
- Capsule maker: You want espresso that brews quickly & has minimal cleanup.
- Stovetop maker: You want an espresso-like drink that doesn’t cost much.
Since they use pods, capsule makers don’t produce traditional espresso, but they’re the easiest and quickest machines. They heat in a minute or 2, use up to 19 bars of pressure, and produce drinks in under a minute .
Moka pots and percolators produce concentrated coffee that’s “espresso-like.” And it doesn’t have crema. This works for anyone who doesn’t want to spend more than $100 for high(ish)-quality espresso.
The rest of the makers work best for traditional espresso. Whatever one you choose depends on your budget and the amount of control desired when making drinks.
All Types of Espresso Machines Compared
The following sections will cover each espresso maker type more in-depth. I’ll describe each machine, what it automates, its pros and cons, and other relevant information.
Let’s dive in.
1. Manual Espresso Machines
- Best for: Control over all brewing parameters.
- Average price: $100–$800.
- Other Names: Lever espresso maker
A manual espresso machine is an espresso maker that requires the user to control the brewing process manually. This includes grinding the coffee beans, tamping the coffee grounds, and pulling the shot.
These makers don’t automate any part of the espresso-making process. You’ll need a separate kettle to boil water and a grinder to grind your beans. These also don’t accept Ease Serve Espresso (ESE) pods, which are pre-ground pods filled with coffee grounds.
Brands that typically manufacture manual espresso makers include:
- ROK coffee
- Coffee Bros
- La Pavoni
If you have the patience to use these coffee makers, you won’t regret it. They can last more than 10 years due to not having electrical components. Manual makers don’t require descaling due to lacking a water reservoir. And they’re usable anywhere since they don’t need electricity.
These espresso makers also cost the least (generally). Since they don’t include a bunch of features.
Dive deeper to learn whether they’re worth getting.
Manual Espresso Machines Pros & Cons
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of manual makers.
- More control: More control over the brewing process, which can lead to better-tasting espresso.
- Affordable: Typically more affordable than automatic espresso machines.
- Compact: Often more compact than automatic espresso machines.
- A great option for small kitchens.
- Durable: Typically made from durable materials, which can withstand heavy use.
- Time-consuming: Requires more time to brew espresso shots.
- Requires skill: It takes some skill to make good espresso with a manual espresso machine.
- Not as many features: Fewer features than automatic espresso machines.
- Not as consistent: Less consistent than automatic espresso machines, due to the more hands-on brewing process.
Manual espresso makers are an excellent option for those brewing coffee at home who want to save the most money. These devices last longer than other espresso makers due to their lack of electrical components. They also offer absolute control over brewing drinks.
However, they require the most work to brew drinks.
2. Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
- Best for: Consistent drinks tailored to your preference.
- Average price: $200–$2,000.
A semi-automatic espresso machine is a type of espresso machine that requires the user to grind the coffee beans manually, tamp the coffee grounds, and start/stop the extraction process.
Most commercial coffee machines in coffee shops are semi-automatic coffee makers, since they balance control and automation well. As they allow you to tailor drinks to your café’s standards.
Automatic and super-automatic machines don’t offer such a luxury.
Here are brands that manufacture commercial- and home-use semi-automatic espresso machines:
|Commercial Machines||Home Machines|
Commercial and home semi-automatic espresso machine brands.
Rancilio, Rocket Espresso, and Nuova Simoneli also produce high-end home-use espresso machines.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are a good option for people who want to make espresso at home but don’t want to spend much money on a fully automatic machine.
Let’s check out their pros and cons.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines Pros & Cons
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using this machine type.
- High-quality espresso: Produce high-quality espresso, comparable to what you would get from a barista.
- Customizable: Customize the espresso to your liking, by adjusting the grind size, tamping pressure, & extraction time.
- Affordable: More affordable than fully automatic espresso machines.
- Easy to use: Easy to use, once you learn the basics.
- Requires more work: Require more work than fully automatic espresso machines.
- You will need to grind the coffee beans, tamp the coffee grounds, & extract the espresso.
- Not as fast: Not as fast as fully automatic espresso machines.
- It can take several minutes to make a single espresso.
- Messy: Can make messes with steaming milk & brewing drinks, especially when you are learning how to use them.
- Requires more maintenance: Must descale the machine regularly & clean the parts after each use.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are a good option for home baristas who want to make high-quality espresso without spending a lot of money. They are more affordable and easier to use than fully automatic espresso machines, but they require more work and maintenance.
3. Automatic Espresso Machines
- Best for: Balancing cost, automation, & control.
- Average price: $300–$3,000.
- Automation: Pressure, water flow, & shot timing.
An automatic espresso machine automates some steps involved in making espresso. Steps can include grinding the coffee beans, tamping the coffee grounds, brewing the espresso, and frothing the milk.
Not as many businesses will use automatic espresso makers to serve high volumes of customers, but they may use them for guests or break rooms.
Brands that manufacture automatic espresso machines include Breville, JURA, and De’Longhi.
Automatic espresso machines are a good option for people who want to make espresso at home but want to avoid the hassle of doing everything manually.
Check out their advantages and disadvantages.
Automatic Espresso Machines Pros & Cons
Let’s see how automatic machines fare against their counterparts.
- Easy to use: They have automated features that take care of most of the work, press a button & get espresso.
- Consistent results: Produces consistent results.
- They use automated features to control the temperature, pressure, & extraction time of the espresso.
- Makes great espresso: They have all the features you need to produce a delicious cup of espresso, without the hassle.
- Affordable: More affordable than super-automatics.
- Not as customizable: Not as customizable as manual espresso machines.
- Can be expensive: Expensive, especially if you want a high-quality machine.
- Requires maintenance: Require some maintenance, such as descaling & cleaning.
- Not as durable: Not as durable as manual espresso machines.
- This is because they have more moving parts that can break down.
Automatic espresso machines are a great option for coffee lovers who want a machine that is easy to use and produces consistent results. However, they are not as customizable or durable as manual espresso machines.
4. Pod Espresso Machines
- Best for: Espresso & coffee if you’re in a hurry.
- Average price: $100–$700.
- Other Names: Capsule coffee maker
A capsule espresso machine is a type of espresso machine that uses pre-measured and pre-ground coffee capsules.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of how a capsule espresso machine works:
- User inserts a capsule into the machine.
- Machine pierces the capsule & forces hot water through the coffee grounds.
- Espresso dispenses into a cup.
- Used capsule ejects from the machine.
Speaking of pods:
Breville Nespresso has 2 types of machine lines; Vertuo and Original. Original Line machines make espresso; Vertuo produces black coffee and espresso. Both machine lines use 19 bars of pressure to brew proper espresso.
Almost all Keurig machines use less than a bar of pressure to brew drinks. Thus, you’re technically not getting espresso .
Capsule machines are popular for people who want to make espresso at home without grinding their coffee beans. They are also a good option for people who want to make espresso drinks quickly and easily.
Dive into their advantages and disadvantages to learn whether they’re worth getting.
Capsule Espresso Machines Pros & Cons
Here’s to determining whether these machines are worth it:
- Easy to use: Insert a capsule, press a button, & wait.
- Clean up is easy: No grounds to dispose of.
- Consistent results: The amount of coffee & water is pre-measured in each capsule.
- Variety of flavors: There are a variety of capsule flavors available.
- Expensive: Expensive to purchase & to operate.
- Pods cost a pretty penny: Nespresso pods cost $0.80–$2 each & costs can add up over time .
- Limited variety of machines: Limited variety of capsule espresso machines available.
- Can be wasteful: Capsules aren’t recyclable..
Get one if you’re looking for a machine that is easy to use, produces consistent results, and has a variety of flavors available. However, if you are concerned about the cost or environmental impact of capsules, consider a different type of espresso machine.
5. Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
- Best for: Entertaining guests.
- Average price: $800–$5,000.
- Other Names: Fully-automatic espresso machine.
A super-automatic espresso machine is a type of espresso machine that automates most of the steps involved in making espresso, from grinding the beans to frothing the milk.
This makes it an excellent option for people who want to make espresso at home but don’t have a lot of experience with espresso machines.
Add water, coffee beans, and milk to use a super-automatic espresso machine, and the device will do the rest.
The machine will grind the beans, tamp them, brew the espresso, and froth the milk. Then customize your espresso drink to your liking by adjusting the milk froth, coffee strength, and other settings.
Brands that make super-automatic espresso machines includes:
Most businesses won’t use super-automatic machines. However, many Starbucks locations use the Mastrena super-automatic espresso machine made by Thermoplan AG.
Super-automatic commercial machine brands include JURA, Franke, Schaerer, and Rancilio.
Super-automatic espresso machines are more expensive than other types, but they are easy to use and produce consistent results.
See their pros and cons to learn more.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Pros & Cons
Let’s see how fully-automatic machines compare to other espresso machine types.
- Easy to use: Add water, coffee beans, & milk, & the machine will do the rest.
- Consistent results: Produces consistent results every time, regardless of skill level.
- Automatic milk frothing: Have built-in milk frothers; make lattes & cappuccinos with ease.
- Versatile: Makes a variety of pre-programmed espresso drinks, including espresso, lattes, cappuccinos, & more.
- Expensive: More expensive than other types of espresso machines.
- Requires descaling: Requires descaling on a regular basis.
- Not as customizable: Not as customizable as other types of espresso machines.
- Can be bulky: Takes up a lot of counter space.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use machine that produces consistent results, then a super-automatic espresso machine is a good option. If you’re looking for a more customizable machine or if you are on a budget, consider a different type of espresso machine.
6. Moka Pots & Percolators
- Best for: Camping, RVing, & affordability.
- Avg. Price: $20–$100
- Other Names: Stovetop coffee makers
A moka pot and percolator are stovetop coffee makers that make “espresso-style” drinks. They work by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee, but they do not produce espresso like an espresso machine.
A moka pot uses steam pressure to force hot water through the coffee grounds, while a percolator circulates boiling water. This results in a more concentrated coffee than drip coffee, but it is not as concentrated as espresso.
Most of these coffee makers only work on stovetops. Though, sometimes you’ll find electric variations that automate the coffee-making process.
Espresso forces hot water through finely-ground coffee at high pressure (9 bars). This creates a small amount of concentrated coffee with a thick crema layer. Moka pots and percolators do not produce espresso at this pressure. Thus, they technically don’t produce espresso.
Let’s cover brands that make moka pots and percolators:
You’ll never find a commercial moka pot or percolator. Both devices aren’t meant to serve large amounts of people entering shops.
However, they can be a good option for people who want to make espresso-style drinks at home without the expense of an espresso machine.
Let’s check out their pros and cons.
1. Moka Pots Pros & cons
Advantages and disadvantages of these stovetop coffee makers include:
- Affordable: Relatively affordable.
- Easy to use: Easy to use & clean, making them a good option for beginners.
- Versatile: Makes a variety of espresso-style drinks, such as espresso, lattes, & cappuccinos.
- Portable: Small & lightweight, making them easy to transport & store.
- Not as consistent as espresso machines: Does not produce espresso at the same pressure as espresso machines.
- Can be messy: Especially if the coffee grounds are not packed tightly enough.
- Can produce a bitter brew: If the coffee grounds are too fine or if the moka pot is not used properly, the coffee can be bitter.
- Requires frequent descaling: Moka pots can build up scale over time, which can affect the taste of the coffee.
2. Coffee Percolators Pros & Cons
And let’s dive into percolators:
- Affordable: Relatively affordable, making them a good option for budget-minded coffee lovers.
- Can make a lot of coffee: Can make a large amount of coffee at once, making them a good option for parties or gatherings.
- Durable: Durable & can last for many years with proper care.
- Not as flavorful as espresso or moka pot coffee: They use boiling water to extract the coffee, which can result in a less flavorful cup of coffee.
- Can be messy: Can make a mess if grounds aren’t packed tight.
- Can produce a bitter brew: If the coffee grounds are too fine or if the percolator isn’t used properly, the coffee can become bitter.
If you are looking for an affordable and easy-to-use coffee maker that can make a large amount of coffee, then a coffee percolator is a good option. If you want a coffee maker that produces a more flavorful cup of coffee, consider a moka pot.
Now that you understand the differences among the machine types, you’ll need to know whether you’re buying a good machine. Check out the following buyer’s guide to learn more.
How to Choose the Right Espresso Machine
Consider the following factors when shopping for an espresso maker:
|Boiler Type||Single or dual boilers|
|Features||PID, grinder, milk drinks|
|Brewable Drinks & Flavor||Espresso quality|
|Ease of Use & Cleaning||Simple, easy to clean|
|Design, Size, & Materials||Appearance, functionality, durability|
|Bars of Pressure||Espresso quality|
The following sections will dive deeper into each of these points. Once you finish reading, think of what parts of what I cover will contribute to your ideal machine, then build your own checklist.
1. Boiler Type
Boilers are responsible for heating your coffee machines. The type of boiler included with your machine will determine its cost, ease of use, and whether it can brew drinks and steam milk simultaneously.
Let’s compare the 3 most common types of boilers:
|Feature||Dual Boiler||Single Boiler||Heat Exchanger|
|Number of boilers||2||1||1|
|Brew boiler temperature||Independently adjustable||Fixed||Variable|
|Steam boiler temperature||Independently adjustable||Fixed||Variable|
|Ability to brew & steam simultaneously||Yes||No||Yes, but with some temperature fluctuation|
|Ease of use||Moderate||Easy||Easy|
|Best for||Enthusiasts who want the best possible espresso & milk drinks.||Home baristas who don’t need to make milk drinks often.||Home baristas who want a good balance of features & price.|
You’ll also find PID-controlled boilers, heat exchanger (HX) boilers with PID, dual boilers with PID, and thermoblock boilers. The former 3 add a lot more costs to espresso machines, allowing you to brew drinks and steam milk simultaneously.
A Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller is a device that uses feedback to maintain the temperature of the water in the boiler at a precise level.
This is important for espresso making, as the temperature of the water can impact the taste of the espresso.
Back to the boiler types:
Thermoblock boilers don’t, but they’ll heat within 35 seconds. And most of the time, you’ll find this boiler on Nespresso and other Breville machines. Moreover, these boilers don’t add many costs to your espresso machine.
Dual boilers offer the best possible performance for espresso and milk drinks.
They have two independently adjustable boilers, which allows them to brew and steam simultaneously without any temperature fluctuation. This is ideal for making milk drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. However, dual boilers are also the most expensive type of espresso machine and are thus most common in cafes and restaurants.
Single boilers are the least expensive type of espresso machine.
They have a single boiler for brewing and steaming. This means that you cannot brew and steam simultaneously and may notice temperature fluctuations when steaming.
Single boilers can still make great espresso, and they’re a good option for home baristas who don’t need to make milk drinks often.
Heat exchangers are a middle-ground between dual boilers and single boilers.
They have a single boiler used for brewing and steaming, but the steam water preheats the brewing water. This allows heat exchangers to brew and steam simultaneously, with minimal temperature fluctuation.
Heat exchangers are a good option for home baristas who want a good balance of features and price.
2. Quality-of-life Features
Features that many espresso machines include are as follows:
|Feature||Description||Why it makes life easier|
|Automatic milk frothing||The machine automatically froths milk for lattes & cappuccinos.||No need to froth milk manually.|
|PID controller||Maintains the temperature of the water in the boiler at a precise level.||Ensures consistent espresso extraction.|
|Built-in grinder||Grinds coffee beans automatically.||No need to use a separate grinder.|
|Touchscreen controls||Easy to use controls with a clear display.||No need to fumble with buttons or knobs.|
|Pre-infusion||Soaks the coffee grounds before extracting the espresso.||Creates a more flavorful espresso.|
|Multiple cup setting||Can brew multiple cups of espresso at once.||Great for parties or gatherings.|
|Energy saving mode||Turns off the machine after a certain period of inactivity.||Saves energy & money.|
|Descaling reminder||Alerts you when it’s time to descale the machine.||Prevents scale buildup & keeps the machine working properly.|
Stovetop coffee makers won’t include any of the above features.
No manual, semi-automatic, or capsule coffee makers will include built-in grinders. You’ll find those in super-automatic and automatic machines.
You must buy a separate grinder for manual, semi-automatic, and stovetop coffee makers. Some semi-automatic machines will accept Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) pre-ground pods. Preventing you from needing a grinder.
Separate grinders offer more advantages than integrated ones, anyway. They tend to provide more consistent grind quality, which results in better-tasting drinks.
Most capsule machines won’t include pre-infusion, a PID controller, or a milk frother. However, some Nespresso and Keurig models will have a way to froth milk. However, almost all these machines will include an energy-saving mode and quick heat-up times.
3. Drinks It Can Make & Flavor
Most espresso machines can brew the following drinks:
|Americano||Black coffee||Espresso shots|
|Black Eye||Mocha||Irish Coffee|
Only combination machines, Keurigs, stovetop coffee makers, and Nespresso Vertuo line machines will produce black coffee in addition to espresso. Though, stovetop coffee makers technically don’t produce, either.
They make a concentrated drink that’s between black coffee and espresso.
Most traditional espresso makers—except manual ones—include milk frothers or steam wands. These allow you to froth or steam milk to make milk-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.
4. Ease of Use & Cleaning
Ease of use combines ergonomics with easy-to-understand buttons. And the easiness of cleaning ensures you won’t have difficulty cleaning or descaling your espresso machine.
Machines that incorporate removable parts (e.g., water reservoir and drip tray) are generally easier to clean and refill. However, almost all these reservoirs’ tanks don’t include handles to make them easier to grip.
The location of buttons also determines their ease of use. For instance, controls on the fronts and sides of machines are often more challenging to access than ones on the machines’ tops. Unless they’re under wall cabinets.
Many super-automatic, automatic, capsule, and semi-automatic espresso makers will include descaling notifications to let you know when to descale your machine. That means you’ll clean out mineral buildup that would otherwise reduce your machine’s lifespan.
5. Design, Size & materials
If you have the budget, opt for machines with aesthetics that’ll fit your kitchen, coffee cart, or office themes.
Measure the machine to ensure it fits under your wall cabinet or desk. Smaller devices tend to have fewer features and smaller water tanks. Larger machines often have grinders and large water reservoirs to serve more drinks before requiring refills.
You’ll also need to consider the reservoir’s location. If it’s on the machine’s rear—which most are—you’ll likely need to move it when it comes time to refill. Few espresso machines have front-loading or adjustable water reservoirs.
By adjustable water reservoirs, I mean water tanks where you could shift their position to the machine’s sides. Few Nespresso and Keurig models have this feature.
Here’s a list that’ll compare each of the most common materials used:
- Stainless steel: Durable & corrosion-resistant material that is often used for the boiler & other parts of the espresso machine that come into contact with water.
- Brass: Brass is a good conductor of heat, which makes it ideal for the brew head & other parts of the espresso machine that need to heat up quickly.
- It is also more resistant to scale buildup than stainless steel.
- Aluminum: Lightweight & affordable material that is often used for the body of few espresso machines.
- It is not as durable as stainless steel or brass, but it is still a good option for budget-minded espresso enthusiasts.
- Plastic: Lightweight & inexpensive material that is sometimes used for the parts of the espresso machine that do not come into contact with water.
- Plastic is not as durable as stainless steel, brass, or aluminum & can be more prone to cracking or breaking.
Stainless steel will result in the longest-lasting machines, since they withstand wear and tear well. But they’ll cost the most. Meanwhile, plastic costs the least.
6. Bars of Pressure
9 bars of pressure is ideal for producing an espresso drink with balanced flavor. 7–11 bars of pressure is also ideal. Go any higher and you’ll have a more bitter-tasting drink. Lower, and you’ll have a more sour drink.
However, your drinks won’t taste “too” sour until reaching under 7 bars. Or too bitter until reaching over 15 bars.
Let’s see what your coffee’s flavor will come out as when using certain bars of pressure:
- <7 bars: Under-extracted; too sour.
- 7–9 bars: Mild flavor & a little sour.
- 9 bars: Balanced flavor.
- 15 bars: Stronger-tasting drink, but not too bitter.
- >15 bars: Over-extracted drink; too bitter.
Some niche coffee makers will utilize fewer than 9 bars or more than 15 bars. These are for folks who love torturing themselves with super bitter/sour drinks. But there’s an exception.
Nespresso machines. They use 19 bars of pressure, but aren’t blasting water through portafilters. They must spray water through aluminum pods, likely requiring more pressure.
This high number of bars doesn’t produce a bitter-tasting espresso with Nespresso.
Every Nespresso drink I’ve had has tasted balanced and not too bitter.
What Is an Espresso Machine?
An espresso machine is a specialized coffee maker that uses high pressure to force hot water through finely-ground coffee beans. This creates a small amount of concentrated coffee with a thick crema layer.
Espresso is the base for many popular coffee drinks, such as lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos.
Espresso Machine & Coffee Maker Differences
Espresso machines only brew espresso, and drip coffee makers brew black coffee.
Here’s a more thorough comparison of the machine types:
|Feature||Espresso Machine||Drip Coffee Maker|
|Brewing method||Force hot water through finely-ground coffee at high pressure.||Pass hot water over coarsely-ground coffee.|
|Output||1–2 ounces of concentrated coffee.||4–8 ounces of coffee.|
|Flavor||Strong & flavorful||Mild & smooth|
|Texture||Thick & creamy||Thin & watery|
|Foam||Dense crema layer||No foam|
|Milk drinks||Used to make milk drinks like lattes & cappuccinos.||Cannot be used to make milk drinks.|
|Price||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Complexity||More complex to use.||Less complex to use.|
|Maintenance||Requires more maintenance.||Requires less maintenance.|
Some combination machines allow you to brew black coffee and espresso. However, buying specific devices won’t give you the same quality in either category. For instance, a combination machine won’t offer the same quality as a machine solely for espresso.
Nespresso Vertuo line machines allow you to brew black coffee and espresso with the Vertuo pods and offer decent quality. It’s the closest you’ll get to a high-quality combination machine.
Nespresso machines brew at 19 bars of pressure, which ensures they’ll produce espresso with crema.
Keurig also offers espresso pods, but it doesn’t use enough pressure on their machines to produce “real” espresso. Except for the Keurig Rivo, it’ll use up to 15 bars of pressure (9 is ideal).
According to the manufacturer, all other K-Cup machines brew at less than 1 bar.
FAQs for Espresso Machines
Read on to find frequently asked questions about espresso machines.
What Are Some Popular Espresso Machine Brands?
Popular espresso machine brands include Breville, De’Longhi, Gaggia, Rancilio, and rocket espresso. Higher-end espresso machine brands include Lelit, ECM, Nuova Simonelli, Profitec, and Olympia Express.
Manual coffee makers offer the most control over drinks, while super-automatic machines provide the least, but offer the most automation. Capsule coffee makers provide equal amounts of automation and require minimal cleanup. But requires pods for use.
Now that you understand the differences among all the machine types, explore our espresso machine recommendations.