TEST: Best Espresso Machines in Test
In this article, we have gathered 93 of the best Espresso machines you can find on the market right now. The Espresso machines listed here have been assessed on the basis of how well they have performed in 656379 reviews, where they, amongst other things, have been named "best in test".
We have selected the best ones, based on expert reviews, and assessed the price of each Espresso machine. So if you're looking for the right Espresso machine at the right price, then you can read all about the different Espresso machines here and find the exact one that meets your needs.
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- Best for the price
Our test of Espresso machines provides an overview
Information about what this article contains.
- 1The best Espresso Machine on the market in 2022
- 2All functions
- 3Guide to what to consider before buying
- 4Information about safety and complaints
- 5Tips for maintaining a Espresso Machine
- 6Pros and cons
Comparison and overview
Here you get an overview of all products that we have reviewed. Use the icons to compare or review the products.
The Best Espresso Machines
If you are looking for a new espresso machine, look no further; we are here to help! We have collected the top 5 espresso machines available in South Africa. All the espresso machines in the list have been assessed by us based on experts’ reviews, prices, and recommendations. We also will answer any questions you might have when looking for an espresso machine.
Finding the best espresso machine in South Africa
Espresso finds itself at the centre of many popular coffee drinks – like the americano, the long black, mocha, or macchiato, and so many more which are made with an espresso machine. If you find yourself longing for delicious drinks without having to bust out the card every morning, an espresso machine may be a good investment for you.
What to look for in an espresso machine
There are many things you can look for, but we’ll just emphasise a few important points that we will answer if you continue reading below.
- Your budget – consider how much money you can set aside and features you will actually use, so you get the most out of your purchase and you don’t lose thousands on a ‘pretty’ machine.
- Drinks you’ll make – consider what kind of drinks you like and if you even need the espresso machine. If you like your coffee just black, maybe save the money for a different purchase. If you love big milk drinks, you might need a dual boiler in your machine.
- Frequency of use – realistically how often will you use the machine? Are you going to make drinks for the family, or is it just a cup in the morning for you? Depending on the size of water tank and boiler needed, there are many factors that will come into play when choosing the right type of espresso machine.
There are many types, features, and things to consider before buying one, and it can be overwhelming. But don’t fret! We’ll make it easy for you to read over the options so that you can pick the right espresso machine for you. For the most part, espresso machines come in four different types, that come with a variety of functions.
- Steam driven machines
These machines usually boil water and create hot water, steam and pressure. But they are not the best choice for making espressos.
- Lever driven machines
These require physical strength to pull a shot. They come in two types – fully manual and spring loaded:
Fully Manual – the lever has a horizontal resting position, and when raised, an opening in the brewing chamber draws in the hot water to moisten the grounds. This allows the barista to have the ability to control the length of pre-infusion, pressure, and flow rate when they pull the lever.
Spring loaded – the lever points vertically, and when pulled, it causes a spring to compress which brings the piston up. This creates space in the brewing chamber for water to heat. As the lever is released, the piston is pushed by the spring and in turn this pushes the water down to extract the espresso. These machines allow equal control in in pre-infusion, pressure and flow rate.
Whether you choose a spring loaded or manual machine, you will get a comprehensive machine.
- Pump driven machines
The most used in espresso machines. This works by using a pump to drive the heated water into the brew chamber. It’s easy to achieve high pressure and they come in three main categories:
Super-automatic – This machine does it all! It grinds beans, measures, fills and tamps grounds into the portafilter. This will ensure your coffee is the same each time, but it leaves little room for creativity.
This choice is probably best for those of you who don’t have time to take on the task of learning a new skill, or want espressos at home without the work. With a push of a button, you are able to make any kind of coffee you like. They’re often found at the office. The only thing you have to do is to fill up the machine with coffee beans, water and milk. They are often ‘smart machines’ because they tell you when it’s time to clean the machine, when it’s time to fill up on beans, milk or water, or when it’s time to replace the filter.
Semi-automatic – this machine uses an automated system to drive water through the group head. You have control over grinding, tamping, and extraction time.
If you’d like a little more control than the super-automatic, then this is probably the right choice for you. Semi-automatic espresso machines allow you to grind the coffee yourself, giving your home the smell of freshly ground beans, and allowing you to become more immersed in the experience. Many people use semi-automatic machines because it allows for experimentation without the process being too difficult. This means you get to put your own personal touch on your coffee, and you can also steam and froth your own milk. (Although you may have to purchase extra accessories to do this.)
Automatic – this machine is similar to the semi-automatic but they automatically stop the flow of water and that means you don’t have to stop overflow.
This is a nice compromise between the fully and semi-automatic machine. You can still quickly and easily make yourself a cup whenever you desire at the press of a button. Automatic espresso machines come with a built in coffee grinder, so that you don’t have to waste time grinding the beans yourself. They allow you to adjust water and coffee to your personal preference so the strength is up to you. You will need a milk jug, but this machine does usually come with a steam arm.
Things to consider before buying an espresso machine
With Christmas on the horizon, it’s important to consider what is the best choice of espresso machine for you. Buying your favourite coffee from the local café can have its perks, but it can quickly become expensive. With the surge of people working from home, cutting costs, or just wanting to be ‘greener’, buying home espresso machines have become more and more popular in recent years.
You can spend an average of 24,500 rand a year if you buy a cup of coffee from a coffee shop each day. That number continues to get higher when you include picking up any treats or croissants with your latte. So, let’s look at the average cost of machines, beans, and time amongst other things.
- The machine
A coffee machine can cost anywhere from 650 rand to over 65,000 rand, and whilst expensive, they do save you money with their long life expectancy of 7 to 15 years. Also, you don’t have to buy the most expensive one on the market, because the cost does not always mean quality. You also might have to make additional purchases for accessories to the machine, like a milk jug, tamper, thermometer, grinder, and mat.
You should certainly think about the convenience – is it more convenient to go to the shop, or make your drinks right in your kitchen? By going to the shop you don’t have to clean the machine, grind the beans, perfect your skills, or buy beans. It can also be quicker if you walk to work and stop at the café along the way. On the flip side, you don’t have to go out and get dressed when you have a machine at home. If you’re working from home, you can also make a cup in between calls, and if you work evenings you don’t have to worry about the stores being closed; you can have coffee whatever time you’d like.
- Environmental cost
If you’re passionate about sustainability, getting the ‘to-go cups’ might be weighing on your conscience. If you use your espresso machine at home, you’re more than likely to use a reusable mug, saving hundreds of cups from landfills every year. On top of that, you can even compost your grounds.
If you have limited movement, you might want to think twice before getting a manual espresso machine. A fully automatic espresso machine might be easier to use, or a pod coffee machine. Baristas are specially trained workers who have spent time developing the craft, so if you don’t have the time to learn the skill, it might be best to avoid purchasing a machine that can be difficult to learn. Ease of use is an important factor when buying an espresso machine, and if it’s frustrating to use and a bad experience each time you use it, it won’t matter how good the espresso is.
- Having the Freedom to experiment
Having the power to make your own espresso at home means you won’t be bound by the brands or beans your café use. You can experiment with many different blends, and you won’t be relying on someone who might make a bad cup. If you’d like to learn a new skill or save some money then an espresso machine might be the right choice.
The difference between an Espresso machine and a Pod machine
Espresso machines that use pods are automatic, and by inserting a capsule or ‘pod’ of coffee, locking it in and pressing a button, the machine will start to brew and pour an espresso. When using a manual espresso machine, it will have a lot more steps and versatility. You need to manually ground the coffee, set the machine to pour, as well as cutting off the flow of coffee when it’s ready.
For manual espresso machines, you’ll need to learn a few things first before use, things like how finely you like the grind of your coffee beans, the amount you put in the filter, also known as dosing, and tamping or compressing the coffee grounds into the filter. This means in addition to buying an espresso machine you might also want to pick up a coffee grinder. Using a manual espresso machine takes some skill, but is easy to learn and gives you complete control over the brewing process so that you can make the perfect espresso that suits your taste.
Benefits of espresso machine
- Better save – If the convenience isn’t worth the price, or you don’t mind doing the extra labour, investing in a manual espresso machine can save you quite a bit of money. If you calculate the costs of spending, you will pay an average of 1630 rand per kilogram on pods. That is almost 10 times more than what coffee beans can be bought for at the store. That equals out to only 195 rand per kilogram.
- Better flavour – Why is this? Because when using a manual machine, you buy fresh beans and grind them only when you’re ready for a cup; the freshness of coffee beans are very important when you’re wanting to recreate that latte from your favourite coffee place. Pod coffee is pre-ground and can go stale due to oxidation, which in turn can make the flavour and the quality of your coffee poor. Pod coffee can never taste just like espresso prepared by hand or by a manual machine. Manuals have a lot more options and variables when it comes to making espresso, like the coarseness of the grind, the amount of water, the pressure, temperature and so on.
- Better for the environment – This one is obvious: when you are not using ‘one-time-use’ plastic pods every day, you reduce waste! Most single-use pods go into landfill and can take anywhere from 150 to 500 years to break down! Using a manual machine prevents this waste as you can compost all of your grounds.
Cons of an espresso machine
- Expensive upfront – Although pod coffee will cost you more in the long run, a manual espresso machine can be a one-time expensive purchase. This can be a tougher choice if your budget doesn’t allow for the money up front. However, with things like Klarna, it may still be possible to get your dream espresso machine, which allows you to make payments over time.
- Requires practice – It has a learning curve, especially if you get a manual espresso machine. You will have to persevere and try and try again, but it will all be worth it once you have the perfect cup.
Benefits of a pod machine
- They’re convenient – A lot of the time we don’t mind paying a little extra for things if they make our life more convenient. You don’t have to measure coffee, grind beans, tamp them, and there are no worries about the water or temperature. A tasty cup of coffee can be ready in 2 or 3 minutes at the most, and then you’re ready to enjoy.
- They’re consistent – You can always count on your pod espresso machine to taste the same every single time, and it’s not just for espresso. Coffee capsules come in a variety of flavours and brands. You can choose from lattes, americanos, cappuccinos to speciality flavours from specific brands, and you can even use tea capsules as well. No matter which you pick, you’ll have a great cup of coffee every time.
- They are easy to clean – Most single-serve coffee machines work the same way. You just take out the water container and clean the chute; most even feature a self-cleaning function.
- Easy for beginners – There is no learning curve, they are easy to operate, and there are no hard recipes to follow. You just simply pop in the pod and you’re ready to go!
Cons of a pod
- Non-recyclable – Although manufacturers are getting better, some brands are impossible to recycle. Some claim their pods are recyclable, but they require countries to have special recycling systems. This is because the capsules can be made from plastic and aluminium, and in order to be recycled they need to separate plastic, aluminium and organic matter. Some cities have even banned coffee pods, such as in Hamburg in Germany
- More costly – As stated above, pod and capsule costs can come at a higher price than traditional coffee makers, or manual espresso machines. Depending on how you make the coffee, one capsule of coffee can cost as much as one that you get made in a shop. Although most people would agree that you can’t put a price on the time it saves you in the long run.
- Limited – Some pod machines only fit certain brands, so it’s important to make sure you know what type of pod espresso machine you buy. Some systems can vary, and only work with particular sizes, and brands of capsules. To help with this, you should see what kinds of coffee pods you like, so you know what machine to buy, or choose a machine that uses 44mm capsules and then experiment with brands from there.
How long does an espresso machine last?
Espresso machines have an average life expectancy of 5 to up to 15 years. It depends on the brand and type of coffee machine, but you can expect to have your espresso machine anywhere from 7 to 10 years.
Common coffee mistakes
Buying bad beans
The first and easiest step of finding out why you’re having trouble getting your espresso to taste just like the one at your favourite coffee shop is to make sure your beans are fresh. There are tons of varieties of beans with a multitude of flavour profiles, blends or single origin, and roast level, but the most important is making sure of the following:
- Keep an eye on the roast date – Fresh beans are the key to making your coffee taste good, so the roast date of the beans should be no longer that two weeks from when you buy your bag. If the bag doesn’t have a roast date, don’t bother purchasing it.
- Cost matters – More than likely, if you buy a cheap or unbranded bag of coffee beans, you will get a stale cup of coffee. When you’re buying beans make sure to look for sealed, airtight bags, or if you’re bringing home beans in a paper bag, make sure to transfer them to an airtight container as soon as you get home.
Incorrectly storing beans
Once you’ve secured your beans, now you have to make sure the goods stay good! Don’t put beans in the fridge – they are porous, so can take on odours from your other foods. They can also loose flavour when frozen or cooled. Make sure they are stored away in a bag with a valve, or in an airtight container. Then your beans should be good for two weeks, but if you have the money and time, buying fresh beans every few days would be ideal, although this is an unrealistic cost and inconvenience for most people.
Not grinding your beans
It is a sin for ‘espresso snobs’ to use pre-ground coffee; they believe beans should always be ground just before you use them. But they may have a point, because when the bean is crushed or broken it will begin to oxidise, and in turn, this causes the flavour of the coffee to diminish. If you’re using pre-ground beans and your coffee leaves a more to be desired taste, you might want to invest in a grinder.
Using the wrong size grind
The grind of coffee beans can affect the extraction rate, which will affect the flavour and aroma of the coffee. The finer you grind your beans, the slower the extraction will be. When you pull an espresso, try to aim for 20 to 30 seconds, and use scales to weigh out your coffee. About 20g of coffee for 45 grams of espresso is recommended. If your espresso shot ends too quickly, or goes too long (over 30 seconds), adjust the grind before trying again.
Uneven pressure when tamping
It’s also important to make sure that there is an even distribution of weight when you tamp the coffee into the portafilter. When the coffee is uneven and packed tightly in some areas but loosely in others, the water will take the path with the least resistance. In turn, this can cause your coffee to be watery and flavourless. When the grinds are tamped too tightly it can become difficult for the coffee machine to get water through it. To prevent this, try to aim for an even pressure of about 10 or 15 kg of body weight to ensure you’re getting a well packed tamp.
Not using cold milk
Because of the molecular structure of milk, you need to add hot steam to cold milk – full fat if you can. This will ensure you get beautiful foamy bubbles, and a velvety milk that will make latte art so much easier. Over steaming your milk can affect the flavour and nutritional value as well, so keep that in mind if you like a piping hot cup.
Not working quickly enough
It’s important to make sure you set aside the time to make a cup, because once you start you won’t be able to stop! When it’s time to extract the espresso, you might be tempted to leave the portafilter in for a while before starting the water pump. Doing this can burn the coffee grinds and leave you with a bitter tasting espresso, so be sure to only put in the portafilter when you have the time to finish your coffee.
Not cleaning your machine
Cleanliness is important, especially when you’re consuming the liquid that comes out of the coffee machine. It also helps your machine last longer, and need less maintenance. We have a whole walkthrough on how to clean your machine below, so you can see how much care and time you’ll have to spend on the upkeep of your machine.
Espresso machines take some skill and going in blind can cause coffee disasters. You don’t have to get a job at a coffee shop to know how to work the machine, but you can up your game by researching, taking a coffee making class, or watching YouTube videos. Of course, the best recipe is the one that you like the best.
How to make the perfect cup of Espresso
Don’t be discouraged if your first cup isn’t the best. Like most skills, making coffee will only get better with time. Soon every morning will be just moving through the motions, and your friends and family will be begging you to make them a cup too! After looking through common mistakes, I think you’ll be ready to move on to making your first cup.
- Weigh out your coffee beans
Before grinding your beans, weigh them out to make things a little easier. For a traditional espresso use between 7 or 10 grams based on your tastes.
- Grind the beans just before use
Beans need to be freshly ground to get the best flavour and aroma from the cup.
- Tamp the coffee
Pack in your ground coffee with a tamper, make sure you use a good and even pressure to get the most taste out of your machine.
- Brew the espresso
Check the temperature of the water before you begin – a quick flush can determine if this is ready. Your temperature should be around 92 to 96 degrees and should not exceed 25 seconds. The best water pressure should also be a 9 bar.
- A double check
Once you’re done with brewing your espresso, you can check to see if you’ve made it right. It should be a more red-brown colour that soon fades to a light brown when the cream is formed on top. After a couple of minutes, the cream should disappear and that’s your sign that it’s a good cup!
How to clean your espresso machine and maintenance
Cleaning and keeping up the maintenance of your espresso machine is so important. It helps keep your machine running smoothly for as long as possible. It keeps bacteria at bay, and makes it easier to clean the more often you do it. Espresso machines require more cleaning than most of your other appliances, but is still easy enough for most people. Every machine is different, so make sure you read the manufacturer’s manual before taking the cleaning into your own hands.
If you make a daily shot, you should be doing small daily maintenance to help with the upkeep of your machine.
- Make sure to empty the espresso grounds from the basket after every shot and rinse it out.
- Wipe the basket with a dry cloth.
- Attach the portafilter and rinse with fresh water for a few seconds.
- Wipe down the machine.
- Use a brush to clean the basket, portafilter, and group gasket with a cleaning solution.
- Scrub all removable items and rinse with warm water.
- Remove the screen and thoroughly wash.
- Backwash or backflush according to your manual.
- Remove blind basket and wash.
- Sanitize steam arm and wipe it thoroughly.
- Wipe down exterior.
If you live in an area with hard water, it is important to descale your machine every 3-6 months; the harder the water and the more you use it, the more often you will need to descale the machine.
- Decide how you want to descale your machine, whether you want to use commercially sold products, citric acid, vinegar, or lemon juice – they will all descale the machine and come down to your personal preference.
- Fill up your reservoir with your cleaning solution just as if you were making the coffee, then let it sit for 20 min, or however long the directions say. Then run it through your boiler, steam wand, and then out of the machine. This will dissolve the build-up as it goes through, and you can always repeat the process for a reassured deep clean.
- Then begin the rinse. Fill up your reservoir with only water and run it through the boiler, steam wand, and out of the machine once again. This ensures that the cleaning solution will be thoroughly flushed out of the machine. No one wants a vinegary or chemically tasting espresso the next morning!
- Use your senses. Smell the water that comes out after the rinse, look to make sure it’s not cloudy, or off colour. If it has a scent or is cloudy or coloured, repeat the process to make sure it’s thoroughly clean. Once the water looks fine and smells like water, then you are good to start making coffee again!
Coffee making tips for beginners
- When getting ready to make your coffee, you should put the ground coffee into the filter and place it on a flat and even surface. Then tamp the coffee so that it will be parallel to the surface and press with even pressure. This will make sure your tamp is well done, every time!
- When you get your first machine, run about a litre of water through the group head with the handle and basket in place. Also, run hot water through the steam wand. This will remove any bad tasting flavours that are left behind from the manufacturing process.
- When your machine is heated, simply switch on the pump to see how hot the water is coming out without the group handle attached. Depending on the machine the water can sometimes be too hot, causing the beans to burn. Let out a little hot water before making your cup.
- Always use fresh water so that you aren’t getting a stale taste.
- When the machine is heating up, be sure to leave the group handle in the group head so that the entirety of the machine will be a consistent temperature.
- If your machine doesn’t have a built in cup warmer, run hot water on the inside of your cup before making your coffee.
- After frothing your milk, run a small bit of water through the machine to cool it down.
Find answers to the questions that usually arise when buying a Espresso Machine
Can you use regular pre ground coffee in an espresso machine?
It depends on the machine but most come with an option to use pre-ground coffee in either the same or an additional compartment.
How much can an espresso machine cost?
An espresso machine can cost anywhere from 650 rand to over 65,000 rand. But the ones we include on the list are under 15,000 rand. (That’s not counting the money saved from not buying coffees out at your café.)
How often should you descale an espresso machine?
You should descale your espresso machine no more frequently than once a month, and no less than every six months. If you live in an area with hard water, you should descale closer to once a month. Descaling before you go on vacation can help with upkeep as well, because it will prevent mineral build-up whilst the machine sits unused.
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