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Hey espresso lovers, today we reveal our picks for the top 5 best espresso machines of 2020. These are our picks in five different categories ranging from the best entry-level machines up to our favorite plumbable rotary pump dual-boiler boiler machine. We’ll also give picks for best overall value, best heat-exchanger machine, and best brand design. Along with our top machines in each category, we’ll have a couple of honorable mentions along the way for your consideration.
NOTE: These picks and opinions are based on our staff's experience testing, using, and servicing just about every home-use semi-automatic espresso machine available in the U.S. Our technicians service hundreds of machines every year and we work directly with manufacturers on machine design and upgrades, so we are really very familiar with these machines inside and out.
We should also mention that we are not considering extreme entry-level espresso appliances at the low end or saturated group pressure profiling machines at the high-end. With that out of the way let's start with a quick background on semi-autos and then get to the picks.
Semi-automatic machines are the most popular espresso machines at Whole Latte Love—they put the brewing process entirely in your hands and unlike super-automatics, allow you to grind your own beans fresh, tamp and extraction your espresso. For this reason, many entry-level, intermediate and pro-baristas love semi-automatics: being able to build up your skill level and see the results of your progress is undoubtedly a rewarding feeling with semi-autos.
Because there are so many semi-automatic machines available, there is a wide range of machines to choose from in terms of features, functions, design, style, capabilities and more. If you’re just starting out, our most popular entry-level semi-automatic machine is the Gaggia Classic Pro, if you’re a seasoned barista, many people go with the Profitec Pro 700 or Rocket Espresso Appartamento.
But, we’ll get more into details about the best home espresso machines below. For now, it’s important to know that semi-automatic espresso machines are great for anyone who would love the opportunity to bring the cafe home and brew their own espresso and milk-based drinks like a pro-barista.
Some key features that you should look out for in semi-automatic espresso machines include:
E61 group heads promote temperature stability by circulating heated water from a thermosyphon system. This is a great feature to look out for if you really like having things warmed up and ready to brew a hot cup of coffee throughout the day.
Brands like Rancilio feature commercial-parts both in their commercial espresso machines and home and office machines. Machines like their Rancilio Silvia M feature a commercial-style portafilter, giving you high-quality parts and the feeling like you’re behind the bar like the pro-baristas.
Single-boilers are quite popular in semi-automatics. The one boiler is used for both brewing and steaming which usually requires a little bit of patience to allow the machine to heat up to appropriate steaming temperatures after pulling a shot of espresso.
Dual boiler and heat exchanger machines feature two boilers, one for brewing and one for steaming. This allows you to brew and steam at the same time without any wait which is a great feature if your machine is used in a medium to high-volume environment. Heat exchanger and dual boiler machines also keep the brewing and steaming boiler from interacting with each other which keeps temperature pretty stable.
The Gaggia Classic has been around for a long time and for a bunch of good reasons. There’s just no other machine at this price that comes close in capabilities, and now we've seen the Classic take a big step forward as the Classic Pro. It still has all the features like a commercial size and weight portafilter, a 3-way solenoid valve for dry, easy-to-knock-out coffee pucks, and no power limitations. Now, it has a streamlined housing, updated rocker switches with separate temp-ready lights, a refined drip tray with rounded edges, and a more accessible water reservoir.
One key development with the Classic Pro is the introduction of a little color! Inspired by our custom paint jobs for the Classic Pro, Gaggia quickly introduced their own series of painted machines that are known overseas as the Classic Color Vibes. Available in Cherry Red, Classic Blue, Industrial Grey, Polar White, Thunder Black, and of course Stainless Steel, the Gaggia Classic Pro has never looked better.
Now, probably the biggest step forward is the steam wand. The Classic Pro comes with a commercial-style steam wand for true barista-quality micro-foam. People have been wanting a commercial wand on the Classic for years, and now it's finally here. I can tell you, from my own personal testing, the wand is a fantastic upgrade.
The Classic Pro is really the best place to start an espresso journey. It comes out of the box ready to brew using pressurized filter baskets, so you can go without the grinder to start and use pre-ground coffee or ESE pods. Then when you’re ready to up your espresso game, it comes with a standard non-pressurized basket. Add a grinder and suddenly you can brew exceptional shots on par with much more expensive machines.
Compared to cheaper entry-level espresso appliances you will appreciate the Classic as a true machine. It’s built to last. Rugged, easy to service and retains its value. It’s capable of making barista-quality shots while cheaper espresso appliances are limited by smaller coffee doses and pressurized basket brewing which fakes the crema.
There’s simply no other true machine with the capabilities of the Classic at this price.
Honorable mentions in the entry-level machine category are the Bezzera New Hobby and the ECM Casa V. Both are somewhat more expensive, have larger boilers, and are manual milk frothing only. They are worth a look if you’ve had some experience and are looking for a first home machine. As these are non-pressurized brewing only, you will want a decent burr grinder as well.
By no means a new machine, we decided on the BZ13 when it was announced that the BZ07 was going to be discontinued. We knew that we needed an affordable heat exchanger espresso machine, and a PID was a must. The BZ13 delivered not only that, but the opportunity to add an NSF certified espresso machine to our Bezzera lineup. If you’re looking for an espresso machine with rapid heat up time, stable brew temperatures, and powerful steam, it’s hard to beat the awesome value of the BZ13.
Available in two styles, PM for manual control and DE for programmable volumetric control, the BZ13 is available at $1,549 and $1,749 respectively. Unlike many of our heat exchanger espresso machines, the BZ13 abandons the traditional E61 style brew group for one of Bezzera’s own design. Their “BZ” group is heated by a dedicated heating element, which dramatically reduces that amount of time and energy it takes to heat up to temperature. Its unique design uses less brass than a traditional brew group while still retaining heat. As a result, the BZ13 heats up and is ready to brew in roughly 8 minutes.
While brewing, our informal scace tests found that the PID controller keeps the BZ13 accurate within 1 degree of the temperature programmed on the display. Unlike most manufacturers, Bezzera’s PIDs display a temperature offset from the steam boiler. The offset is programmed to predict the brew temperature, meaning the BZ13 is a great machine for when you want accurate brew temperatures but still enjoy milk drinks.
One of the hallmarks of Bezzera’s espresso machines are their powerful steaming capabilities and the BZ13 is no slouch in this category. Set to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, the BZ13 can steam 5oz of milk from refrigerator temp to 140 degrees in roughly 15 seconds.
A final highlight is the machine’s NSF certification, a rare feature among products in the price range and category. Simply put, the certification is proof that the BZ13 has undergone rigorous independent testing to verify its durability, performance and quality. As a result, the BZ13 is suitable for service in light commercial capacity, such as restaurants and ice cream shops.
Available for all Prosumer Bezzera espresso machines, are rosewood accent kits that replace the traditional plastic components including the steam and hot water taps, E61 lever knob (if applicable), and the portafilter handles. The wood accent kits can be select using the “wood accents” section of our bundler, or the machine can be ordered preconfigured in our Wood Accented Machines collection.
Honorable mentions in this category go to Rocket Espresso for their Cronometro R and Cronometro V Mozzafiato and Giotto machines. They are PID machines as well with the same accurate brew temps as the Pro 500 PID. Now depending on the model, they cost a bit more than the Pro 500. That gets you the Rocket branding and, in the Cronometro R versions—rotary pump plumbable machines.
Our winner for best branding design is a tie between the updated R Cinquantto which replaced the R 58 and their compact Appartamento. We're also thrilled by the introduction of the Appartamento's alter ego, the Serie Nera. Rocket upped the ante on the Serie Nera with matte black side panels and the addition of a metal cup rail and eco mode switch for good measure.
The R Cinquantotto is a dual boiler, PID, rotary pump, plumbable machine, and perhaps Rocket’s most recognizable prosumer machine. From the iconic R on the steam knob, to the long, swooping steam and hot water wands, badging on the face and gauges, dynamic cup railings with Rs in the corner, and the new feet which depart from the previous curved and conical design of machines past.
Another design principle with Rocket machines are no visible digital displays. It’s a PID machine but temperatures and other settings are adjusted using a detachable control box. The control box on the R Cinquantotto has been dramatically overhauled with a full color touch screen that makes it far less of an eyesore to leave attached to the machine.
Something else Rocket does that’s a little different; the PID controls on all their machines are set using the actual temperature in the boiler. With most manufactures you set the desired brew temp and there’s an offset which converts the boiler temperature to the temperature at the group. With rocket machines, you use a chart in the manual to get the in-boiler temperature which produces your desired brew temperature.
Rocket is another innovator in espresso machine design. The Appartamento, Just like the R58 has the iconic "R" branding on the steam knob and the Rocket badge on the front. The clean lines and the stainless steel puck-style feet do a lot to distinguish the Appartamento from similar machines, but it's the circular cut-outs in the side-panels that win it a spot for Best Design.
A little bit about the Appartamento; it's a heat-exchange machine with E61 group, it has a large 1.8-liter copper boiler and a strong 1200 watt heating element. It's a good choice if you're looking for a compact yet powerful no-frills machine with some style.
The Appartamento and Serie Nera variant come stock with your choice of copper or white inserts. However, here at Whole Latte Love, you also have the choice of black, gold, rose gold, ruby, sapphire, aquamarine, amazonite, emerald, amethyst, and iridescent inserts as well.
The Profitec Pro 700 has seen lots of upgrades over the years, including best in class steaming power while somehow staying well under the 3-K mark. This year it got one more incredibly important upgrade: Flow Control. There's no doubt about it, it's a game-changer.
But first, if you're not familiar with the Profitec Pro 700, it's one of the best home espresso machines you can get your hands on; dual stainless steel boilers, rotary pump, all stainless steel housing, dual pressure gauges, PID controller right on the front that functions as a shot timer when pulling shots, Low ear spring-loaded valves, copper water lines on the inside, and of course the iconic E61 group. The Pro 700 is all about stable temperatures and tweaking that extraction to get the most out of a specialty or high-altitude coffee. That PID controller helps with both of those and, thanks to an earlier upgrade you've got best in class steaming power running at about two bar in the boiler.
But let's talk flow control. It lets you adjust the flow rate of water through the group. It's a simple change with a really, really big impact. With Flow Control, you can essentially change the flavor of your drink, opening up a range of possibilities with any one coffee. All you need to do is flip the lever to start brewing and adjust the knob that sits on top of the E61 mushroom cap to open the valve. Open it a little bit and you get a soft pre-infusion which you can extend for as long as you like, fully saturating the puck for a deep extraction.
Now, if you have the Pro 700 plumbed in, you can get that true line-pressure pre-infusion, but that added control is nice to have, too. While brewing, you can go ahead and open up the valve more and more, increasing the flow rate as you like and then maybe reduce the flow at the end to avoid over-extraction. There's a lot of room to experiment here and if you're a coffee geek like me, you'll have a great time experimenting.
Dual boiler, plumbable machines with PID and rotary pumps are the top of the line in home espresso. Our pick for best in category is the ECM Synchronika. It's got best in class steaming power just like the Pro seven-hundred. But once again the big news is Flow Control. The extra steaming power really makes a difference in the speed and potential quality of milk frothing.
For Flow Control, we went into that a bit for the Pro 700, but I'll repeat here. It's a feature we've wanted for the Synchronika for a long time and have been working on behind the scenes with ECM/Profitec to make it happen. The flow control device is an aperture that replaces the mushroom cap on top of the E61, with a knob you can turn to open and close the valve. The valve controls flow rate through the group to your coffee puck. With that you can do longer pre-infusions and slowly (or quickly) ramp up flow for different results in the cup. With a single coffee you can extract a spectrum of different flavors. It's huge, and anyone who likes to tinker with all the variables in preparing a coffee or espresso will get a lot of value out of it.
We love the added touches as well, like the angled and balanced portafilters with accents to match the E61 lever and drain, dual gauges mounted high for visibility and the silver finish of the PID display which blends well into the face of the machine.
The Synchronika has some of the finest finishing of external panels and seams. All are smooth and polished to perfection. Even the internal seams are polished with no visible weld marks—something you just don’t find on other machines. Internally the machine is, well, perfection. Simple engineering that’s well laid out, reliable, and easy to work on. High-quality components are laid out to protect sensitive electronics from excessive heat and moisture. If you are looking for the best available dual boiler machine, the Synchronika is it.
So, those are our picks for the best semi-automatic home espresso. These machines offer a variety of styles and features so you can truly customize your home setup to fit your personal tastes. If you're looking to experience true cafe style espresso at home, a semi-automatic espresso machine might be just the thing.