The Barista Pro isn’t cheap, and it’s probably overkill if you already own a burr grinder, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a sturdier, more authentic latte and cappuccino machine that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars.
If you don’t mind wading through the manual, the Barista Express ($ 700) is another good option.
Tip: Use the double-walled filters — they deliver better crema — and when heating your milk, try to position your steam wand just below the surface. If you have it right, the milk will spin as it’s heating. Slowly lower the jug to add foam.
Best Super-Automatic Machine
The Cafe Affetto is one of the few automated machines that we’ve enjoyed. Usually they come with a high price and some hassle. The Affetto features a built-in steaming wand, produces 20 bars of pump pressure to ensure your espresso is fully extracted, and is a slick little machine. It’s very slim and fits comfortably on a small apartment countertop without having to rearrange everything. Because coffee production is automated, you just need to fill the water tank and put whole beans in the hopper, and you’re good to go. You can brew one or two shots with just the press of a button, and there’s a programmable button to create your favorite drinks (like an Americano with just the right amount of water).
The milk frother does a lot of work on its own. Just pour some of your favorite milk into the frothing pitcher, submerge the wand, and hit the steam button. If you’re new to frothing milk, you don’t even need to move the pitcher to produce a creamy and consistent microfoam. We tested the frother with dairy milk, oat milk, and soy milk. It produced soft and creamy café-grade froth each time.
The Affetto is on the expensive side, and as an automated machine it can be finicky. Just make sure it’s topped up with water and beans, and that you clean out the spent grounds container regularly, and it works like a dream.
Best for Compact Kitchens
If you want to play at being a barista but have a small kitchen, take a look at Breville’s new Bambino Plus. This machine has a remarkable number of features squeezed into a compact countertop footprint of 7.5 by 12.5 inches. It doesn’t have a burr grinder like the Barista Pro — and has a similarly high price — but it comes with the same high-quality accessories, such as a tamp and measuring tool.
I found the learning curve on the Bambino Plus to be very steep. You fill up the water tank, fill the portafilter basket and the milk jug to the indicated fill lines, slide them into their respective spots, and push a button. In my testing, the two-shot setting outputs a little less than the advertised 2 ounces of espresso.
However, as with the Barista Express, this isn’t a latte machine for someone who wants a quick, convenient cuppa. The Bambino Plus requires attentive maintenance, whether you’re washing out the drip tray or purging and wiping down the steam wand.
Breville also makes a slightly pared-down version of the Bambino Plus, called the Bambino. It’s almost as capable as its more expensive sibling but lacks a manual brew button, and it’s a bit lighter. That means you’re essentially stuck with Breville’s one- and two-shot settings. You can time your own espresso shots, but it’s fiddly and requires holding one of the brew buttons. If you’re not careful, that new shot timing can overwrite the original one- or two-shot setting. If you’re only ever going to use the one- or two-shot options and don’t really mind not being able to easily pull your espresso by hand, the Bambino is a great pick and saves you a bit of cash.
Most Convenient, Easiest Cleanup
I (Jeffrey) love this machine. It’s the best Keurig I’ve used (8/10, WIRED Recommends) and has the best frother of any machine I tested for this guide. Despite the fact that the K-Café doesn’t technically make espresso shots (the K-cup system doesn’t put its grounds under any pressure), it still makes a delicious “espresso style” 2-ounce shot that can taste almost as strong, though without the crema that you might desire.
The real magic is the frother. It has three settings — cold, latte, and cappuccino — and froths milk to perfection with the tap of a button. When it’s done, simply pour your milk with the spout on the side. The jug is made of stainless steel, and the plastic spinner comes right off, making cleanup as easy as a quick run under the faucet. It was so simple to use and clean that I sometimes frothed milk with it even when I used other machines to make my espresso. I liked it so much, I didn’t even mind that the spout on the brother was designed for right-handed folks. This lefty was happy to adapt.