The Best Espresso Machines: Expert Picks for Beginners

Published on 11/07/2023 · 13 min readEmbark on a barista-worthy journey right from your kitchen with our Expert guide to the best espresso machines for beginner espresso enthusiasts!
Eric T, Coffee Expert
By Coffee Expert Eric T

Barista using The Breville Barista Touch touchscreen. Photo by Eric T.

If you are looking for your first home espresso machine, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll introduce you to some espresso makers that will bring the café experience into your own home. You can’t go wrong with these expert picks!

As a veteran in the coffee field, I’ve been playing with espresso machines and other coffee toys for over 10 years. From giant commercial espresso machines to petite home coffee makers, I’ve tested a lot of espresso and coffee equipment. There are few things I like more than playing with coffee, and I’ve been lucky enough to share my passion for java here at Curated! Helping fellow coffee lovers find the best equipment for their needs and budget makes me feel almost as good as that first sip of coffee each morning. If you are looking for help with this big decision, you can connect with me or another Expert right here!

What Is a Beginner Espresso Machine?

A beginner espresso machine is just that: An espresso machine that is easy to use for people new to making espresso. It should be affordable and less complex than more professional-style machines. Ideally, your first machine will be user-friendly and still able to make tasty shots of espresso! Espresso is the foundation of our favorite coffee drinks, like lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas. If the espresso flavor doesn’t taste right, the whole drink might taste off!

A beginner machine will not give the user as much control as a manual-style “prosumer” espresso machine. However, a new home barista may feel overwhelmed by the numerous steps that it takes to pull a drinkable shot on an advanced machine. All the talk on forums about dual boilers, levers, and PID controllers might make your head spin! It’s best to start simple.

In this article, we’ll be exploring semi-automatic espresso machines. With these, the user still performs most of the steps, but the machine takes on some of the burden. For example, a semi-automatic machine will dispense the right amount of water for your shot of espresso at the right pressure with the push of a button. Some include more automatic features as well, like automated milk steaming or tamping assistance. Every machine on this list will be capable of making quality espresso and silky steamed milk.

Why a Beginner Espresso Machine?

Breville Barista Touch. Photo by Eric T.

  1. Cost Savings: If you frequent the drive-through, then you know the cost of those lattes adds up! For a lot less you could be making it yourself. Most machines pay for themselves in less than a year!
  2. Convenience: Rather than waiting to get caffeinated until you leave the house, you could have your favorite drink every morning right when you want it.
  3. Skill Development: For coffee enthusiasts, it's a great way to learn about the art and science of espresso-making.
  4. Quality: You choose the beans and the type of milk, so you know it’s fresh and high quality.
  5. Fun: Making espresso can be a rewarding hobby. To this day, I still smile when my latte art comes out right.

Just like every other hobby out there, espresso is an endless pursuit. A coffee lover can easily find themselves lost in a sea of options, ranging from a hundred dollar to a multi-thousand dollar purchase. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good budget options out there. When searching for a machine, you should look for:

  • Quality extraction (Espresso that tastes good!)
  • Ease of use
  • Longevity (No one wants to throw away an investment after just a couple years)
  • Silky milk texture

Grab a double shot of espresso and let’s dig into some of my favorite starter machines!

Best Overall: Breville Bambino Plus

The Breville Bambino Plus checks all the boxes for a new home barista. It is simple, straightforward, and produces quality results. The three second heat-up time means the machine is ready to go when you need it. The 54mm portafilter baskets are forgiving and allow you to pull quality shots without much room for error. The milk steamer gives the user the option to let the machine automatically do the work for you, or to switch to manual mode and practice your barista skills. Since there is no integrated grinder, you can pair it with the grinder of your choice. And if you get really nerdy one day, invest in a high-end grinder to make your shots really sing!

  • Build Quality: There is a lot of plastic in the body of the Bambino Plus, but it still feels sturdy on a countertop. The steam wand is designed well and feels professional. The grouphead is snug and creates a strong seal for proper extraction from the portafilter. The portafilter itself feels a little cheap, but it works well. The brew baskets are well-machined and rival some of the best. You also get a 15-bar Italian espresso pump under the hood of this little guy.
  • Accessories: The Bambino Plus comes with everything you need to make espresso right out of the box. It includes both pressurized (for beginners or for pre-ground espresso) and standard filter baskets in both single and double sizes. It also has a cute tamper (which could use an eventual upgrade), a milk pitcher, and some cleaning accessories.
  • Features: The Bambino Plus has several features that will make your job easier. These include: A PID temperature regulator, push-button programmable volumetric shot control, low-pressure pre-infusion, and a three-second heat-up time. The water reservoir is 64 oz, which is big enough that you won’t need to refill it daily. The Plus also has an auto-steaming milk frother, for those who want some ease of use in their latte routine. A three-way solenoid valve allows an auto-purge function of the steam wand.
  • Performance: With a little practice, The Bambino Plus can pull great shots with beautiful crema. The 54mm portafilter baskets are very forgiving to new espresso makers. The deeper and narrower bed of espresso leaves less room for error and prevents water from channeling. The automatic steamer froths the milk to a creamy texture, and the milk temperature is adjustable. It’s a premium function that really sets this affordable machine apart from others. The auto-purge, too, is a nice touch and keeps the inside of your steam wand from getting icky. Convenience and quality are at the forefront of this model.

The Breville Bambino Plus gets the job done, and then some. This semi-automatic machine doesn’t take up much counter space and looks fabulous. If you want coffee-shop-quality espresso shots, but aren’t looking to fall deep into the world of coffee geekdom, this machine paired with a good grinder will make your morning cappuccino routine a dream. The added automatic steam wand frees your hands up to flip your eggs, and the three-second ThermoJet heating system means making drinks for two takes no time at all!

Best For Future Espresso Nerds: The Ascaso Dream PID

If you frequent cafes, talk about tasting notes, and critique your shots of espresso, the Ascaso Dream is a beautiful hand-built option for you. It is easy enough to operate so that a beginner can learn their basics, but precise enough that it won’t hold back the barista as they advance in their coffee brewing hobby. The standard sized 58mm portafilter gives this machine a professional touch. This Spanish espresso machine has the potential to bring you from a beginner to an expert barista.

  • Build Quality: Handmade in Spain and beautiful to look at, this retro-style machine is fitted with quality components. The body is made of varnished aluminum, so no plastic here (except for the water tank). The steam wand is smooth and solid, and the walnut portafilter handle and steamer knob feel great to the touch. The thermoblock boiler is made of stainless steel, which prevents scale from building up. All in all, you are definitely getting what you pay for here. However, the drip tray is a bit clumsy to remove and empty.
  • Accessories: The included accessories are a 58mm walnut portafilter handle, a hefty stainless steel tamper, a blank basket for cleaning, two standard baskets (in single and double size), two pressurized baskets (in single and double size), and one basket for ESE pods (Easy Espresso Extraction Pods). You’ll need to buy your own steam pitcher.
  • Features: For a simple looking machine, there are a lot of professional features. Thanks to its thermocoil heating unit, there is only a two minute heat-up time. The positioning of the thermocoil also heats the brew head, which is great for espresso quality. This machine allows the user to manually adjust the pressure, has an adjustable PID temperature unit, an over-pressure valve, an analog pressure gauge, a hot water dispenser, and a no-burn steam wand. Shot volumes and preinfusion are also programmable!
  • Performance: Let’s first note that this is a thermoblock machine, so it heats up faster than a machine with a traditional boiler. In about two minutes, you are ready to pull shots and steam milk. The steam power is stronger than the Breville machines on this list, but still weaker than a traditional boiler style machine. With practice, it creates a luxuriously smooth textured milk. When paired with a capable grinder and tamped properly, the espresso can be heavenly.

If you have the money to invest on a handmade machine that is beginner friendly, this is an awesome one to consider. You can learn tons while still leaning on the pressurized baskets and lower steam power. A seasoned barista might want more manual control or power from their espresso maker, but for a beginner this is the sweet spot between easy and advanced.

Photo by Eric T.

The Breville Barista Touch is the machine for those who want to streamline and have just one device on their counter. With a built-in grinder, a touch screen interface, and automatic steaming, The Touch takes on a lot of the workload. The grinder has enough grind size settings to find the sweet spot for anything from dark to light roast, and is easy to adjust.

  • Build Quality: The Barista Touch is sturdy and well built. It has stainless steel plating on front and sides and has a professional heft to it. The automatic steam wand would feel at home in a café. The grouphead is snug and creates a strong seal for proper extraction from the portafilter. The portafilter and brew baskets are both well made. There are no cheap components on this espresso maker. Like all Brevilles, you also get a 15-bar Italian espresso pump.
  • Accessories: The Barista Touch makes it easy for you, and has all you need to make your first cappuccino included! It includes both pressurized (for beginners or for pre-ground espresso) and standard filter baskets in both single and double sizes, a magnetic tamper that can be hid away, a milk pitcher, swiss water filter, and some cleaning accessories.
  • Features: If you spring for the Touch, you get a boatload of features that will make your brewing go smoothly. These include an adjustable PID temperature regulator, push-button programmable volumetric shot control, low-pressure pre-infusion, a hot water dispenser, and a three-second heat-up time. The water reservoir is 67 oz and the drip tray, too, is sizable. The incorporated touch screen makes settings easy to navigate, and is fairly intuitive. The automatic steamer can be adjusted from 104°F to 167°F, and even has texture settings. On top of all that, it has built-in tutorials on the basics of coffee making right on the touch screen.
  • Performance: If you have 30 minutes to watch a few YouTube videos about grind adjustment, then The Barista Touch will help carry you the rest of the way. I’ve pulled some truly delicious shots on this machine, and I appreciate how easy it is to adjust your temperature, set your shot volumes, pick a drink profile from the menu, and have the steam wand work its magic.

There are a lot of options from Breville’s “Barista Line,” and the Touch is the best for beginners. Once you’ve learned your barista basics, you will find this all-in-one machine with an incorporated grinder can rival almost any drive-through coffee shop. However, at about $1000, you will have to invest a good chunk of change. If you decide that you don’t need all the premium functions of The Touch, but want the same quality, the less expensive Barista Pro is the way to go.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Breville Barista Touch Impress: This machine will hold your hand the whole way and allow you to create café-quality beverages. It assists you with tamping and milk frothing, while also giving you feedback. The onboard computer will direct you on how to adjust your grind based on how the shots are running. It’s like having a robot barista helper! The Barista Touch Impress has a heavy price tag, but makes it so easy to succeed. If you don’t want to get hands-on but want the high quality of a true espresso machine, this is the way to go!
  • Gaggia Classic Evo Pro: This machine is a favorite of espresso fanatics everywhere. It can make amazing espresso with practice. It features a professional sized 58mm portafilter, a classic single boiler (more steam power), and great heat retention in the group head. However, it does require a lot more practice and attention to get your espresso and milk foam texture up to standard. The Gaggia Classic Pro is a nice option for those who want an espresso hobby, like to tinker, and love to research the finer points of coffee making.
  • Breville Barista Express Impress: This Breville is a simpler machine with an incorporated grinder, analog display, classic pressure gauge, and manual steam wand. It also features a tamping assistance arm that will prepare your espresso puck for you perfectly each time. Puck preparation is an essential step for proper extraction and for optimal flavor. If you are looking for an all-in-one machine but find the tamping process intimidating, go for this one!

Other Tips and Tricks for Espresso Beginners

A well-built, quality machine is an important part of making café-caliber coffee drinks at home. However, it is just one piece of the puzzle.

  • Using freshly roasted coffee beans will make your beverage taste so much better.
  • Buying coffee beans from a local roaster could also give you a chance to talk about coffee with your local coffee community!
  • If you opt for a machine without a built-in coffee grinder, investing in a coffee grinder capable of a fine and consistent grind for espresso is the next step.
  • A coffee scale is an essential tool to make consistent and tasty espresso. It will help you dial in your grind and make professional quality drinks!
  • Once you get your confidence up, you might consider other fun and helpful espresso accessories.

Finding the Right Espresso Machine For You

Photo by Marlon Cordero R

Everyone’s needs are different, and perhaps you still feel unsure. That is why the Curated Experts exist! Be it prosumer-level machines, super-automatic espresso machines, semi-automatic espresso machines, when you need help picking the right coffee maker to fit your lifestyle, you can connect with me or with another Coffee and Espresso Expert here at Curated for free, personalized advice. I look forward to helping you get delicious espresso and creamy cappuccinos in your own kitchen!

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