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How to Choose the Best Espresso Machine for Beginners

by Marc Buckman Updated: March 10, 2020 12 min read

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Lattes, cappuccinos, espresso, coffee and more can all be made fresh from bean to cup espresso machines. In this post, you’ll learn more about the basic espresso machine types and how to choose the one that’s best for your needs.

The Complete Guide to Espresso Machines

The Complete Guide to Espresso Machines

Before investing in your first espresso machine, read our complete guide to make sure you're choosing the right machine for your lifestyle needs.
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Imagine the luxury of making your own café-quality coffee and espresso beverages in your home or office. Whether you want the convenience of a latte at the push of a button or you're looking for a more barista-like experience, there’s a machine for you. We’ll cover the two basic machine types and things you should know when picking a machine, like terminology and basic capabilities. We’ll have some specific recommendations which are our “can’t go wrong” picks, machines that have excellent customer reviews, proven track records, and represent good values. .

After reading this, you’ll have what you need to pick a machine that’s right for you.At Whole Latte Love, we’ve been doing this for 20 years. We’re a team of experts with a passion for everything coffee. We work closely with manufacturers on product design, and you’ll get the best price with our price-match and free shipping on orders over $50. Maybe more important than all that, we’ve got your back before, during, and after you make a purchase. If you want some one-on-one advice, you can talk to our staff of friendly coffee experts by phone, chat, or email. With that said, we don’t want to keep you waiting, so let’s jump right in.

Types of Home and Office Espresso Machines

Bezzera Matrix on kitchen counter

The two basic types of machines are super-automatic and semi-automatic. With super-automatics, as the name suggests, the machine does most of the work for you. It’s an on-demand barista on your countertop. In most cases, no skill is needed to operate a super-automatic machine, you won’t find an easier espresso machine to operate and brew your daily cappuccino than a super-automatic.

With semi-automatics you need some basic skills in order to get good results. You can think of the difference like this: with a super-auto, the machine is the barista, and with a semi-auto you are the barista. Both types of machines come in a wide range of capabilities and, of course, cost. A semi-automatic machine in the hands of a skilled user can make better espresso and milk froth than what you’re going to get in the majority of cafes. On the other hand, super-automatics produce café-quality results and do it fast with no user skill required.

One other basic difference: super-autos have a built-in grinder for your coffee beans. With semi-autos you’ll want a separate burr grinder capable of grinding for espresso. Now, you do have the option of using pre-ground coffee in both machine types, and Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) pods on some semi-autos. However, pre-ground coffee and ESE pods don’t produce the same quality as freshly ground beans. If you’re going with a semi-auto and you want the capability of making excellent espresso, be sure to include a quality burr grinder as part of your purchase plan.

Exploring Super-Automatics

Gaggia Accademia on Black Kitchen Countertop

So let’s start with the quick, easy, and convenient no-skill required super-autos. They all use a built-in grinder to grind beans fresh for every cup. You don’t need to purchase a separate grinder if you’re using a super-auto, it does all of the work for you. Inside these machines is a part called a brew group which performs the barista functions of extracting the coffee. Top of the line super-autos are often called “One-Touch” machines for their ability to produce milk-based espresso beverages like a latte, cappuccino, flat white, and more with the press of a button, start-to-finish without user intervention. One-touch machines are convenient and the easiest ways to make the best espresso beverages from the comfort of your own home.

All super-autos use a similar process for making coffee. Where they differ is how they deal with milk, level of programmability, their displays, and things like capacities, cup clearance, and finish materials. Lower cost models use auto-frothing steam wands for texturing milk. It’s a manual process but doesn’t require much skill. Another option for milk froth is the cappuccinatore, which uses a pick-up tube to deliver frothed milk into your cup.

For higher-end models, there are attachable milk carafes and spout-integrated frothing devices fed from thermal containers or refrigerated milk supplies. This is a feature that you'll find on the “One-Touch” machines. Also, look for the ability to adjust the density of the milk froth. On some machines, you have control of the froth as a dial allows you to change from a fine froth for a latte to an airier froth for a cappuccino. And there are even machines like the Gaggia Accademia which can program different froth densities for each drink.

Gaggia Accademia Espresso Machine

Gaggia Accademia Espresso Machine

218 Reviews
The Gaggia Accademia is a super-automatic machine that brews and steams espresso and milk-based drinks at the press of a button. It offers control over the coffee flow and milk frothiness, plus a manual steam wand to ensure every drink is exactly the way you like it.

How a machine works with milk is a major consideration. Do you want to auto-froth in a pitcher yourself? Would you prefer to pull a carafe from the fridge and push a button for a latte, or maybe you need the always-available capacity of a counter top refrigerated milk supply? Do you want the ability to adjust the froth quality? There’s even a couple of machines with both a milk carafe for easy one-touch drinks and a manual steam wand for weekend baristas who want to do some latte art.

The Complete Guide to Milk Based Coffee Drinks

The Complete Guide to Milk Based Coffee Drinks

Are you a newbie as a home barista? Read our complete guide to milk beverages for everything you need to know to create delicious lattes, cappuccinos and more.
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On the coffee side, things to look for are the number of grind settings, the ability to adjust coffee strength and temperature, and additional coffee controls you’ll find on some machines like pre-infusion, flow control, and pulse brewing. In general, as you go up in price on super-automatics you get more control and programmability as well as more refined displays and more robust construction. You’ll also want to consider how big a machine is. What’s the cup clearance under the spouts? Can it fit tall glasses or a travel mug for coffee to go? Look at how beans and water are added to the machine. Can you access those areas if you have overhanging cabinetry? What kind of capacities does a machine have for water, beans, and used coffee? If you’re serving large groups, higher capacities mean less filling and emptying. 

These are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing a super-automatic and can be overwhelming for any beginner home barista, to help you narrow down your options, we recently released our Top 5 Super-Automatics of 2019 list, we go over the best super-automatic machine if you’re on a budget, if you want fully automatic experience and even our favorite high-end super-automatic machine that delivers all of the features you could want in a home espresso machine, read more below.

Our Top Picks For 2020
Best Automatic Espresso Machines

Best Automatic Espresso Machines

Our top 5 best automatic espresso machines of 2020 are finally here along with all of the features you’ll love on these bean-to-cup machines.
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Exploring Semi-Automatics

Moving on to semi-automatic machines, there’s quite a range available. From entry-level appliances starting under $200, up to refined, hand-crafted machines built for decades of service. Semi-automatic machines do require some skill to operate. If you’re a beginner, there are entry-level espresso machines that are good for learning the ropes. But, understand that semi-auto espresso is a game of controlling variables, including parameters like grind size, coffee dose, and brewing temperature. Fine control of those variables tends to be more difficult and results are less consistent when using lower cost entry-level machines.

Most entry-level espresso appliances use undersized pressurized portafilters, which are much smaller and lighter than the 58mm commercial portafilters found on more expensive machines. Pressurized portafilters are kind of a cheat that tend to produce a lower quality espresso. On the upside, they are more forgiving of grind size, so you can start your espresso journey without purchasing a grinder and use pre-ground coffee or ESE pods.

Gaggia Carezza De LUXE Espresso Machine

Gaggia Carezza De LUXE Espresso Machine

67 Reviews
The Gaggia Carezza De LUXE is a semi-automatic machine with a vintage, Italian look, designed to capture the atmosphere of retro cafes. The intuitive push-button interface and pressurized portafilter make for an introductory machine that’s easy to master in no time at all.

Low cost, entry-level espresso appliances use thermoblock boilers with the same boiler heating water for brewing and for steaming. That means waiting for 30 seconds to a minute or so for the machine to get up to temperature when you want to froth milk. While they will do okay steaming with their auto frothing wands, there is a huge difference in power between these entry-level appliances and more expensive machines with larger volume boilers. If you’re interested in taking your skill to the level of pouring latte art, be aware that entry-level machines or any machine with an auto-frothing wand is not really capable of frothing to the quality required for that.

Semi-Automatic: Where to Start

If you are at all serious about getting into quality espresso, I’d suggest bypassing entry-level espresso appliances with their plastic construction, thermoblock boilers, and lightweight pressurized basket brewing and go straight to an entry-level single boiler machine like the Gaggia Classic.

Gaggia Classic Pro Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Gaggia Classic Pro Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

225 Reviews
The Gaggia Classic Pro improves on the decades old reputation of its predecessor. With an updated commercial steam wand, rocker switches, temperature ready lights, and a streamlined frame, the 100% Italian made Gaggia Classic Pro is the best entry-level espresso machine on the market.
Unlike cheaper entry level espresso appliances, the Gaggia Classic Pro is a true machine. It comes with upgraded features including rocker switches with temperature ready indicator lights, improved pump mounts, a commercial size and weight portafilter and both pressurized and a regular non-pressurized filter baskets, but most importantly it's a machine that can grow with you.

You can start without a grinder using the pressurized baskets with pre-ground coffee or ESE pods, and then move up to grinding fresh beans when you’re ready by using the standard non-pressurized baskets. The Classic Pro has been one of our favorite semi-automatic espresso machines especially for beginners since it’s release in 2019 and it shows no signs of slowing down with satisfied customers. It’s built to last and is hands down the best value in single boiler machines.

Bill H.

01/13/20

I just got this machine Christmas of 2019. I simply I love this machine. It has an extremely powerful frothing wand for its size. One thing is for sure, I feel like I’m making true espresso now. None of my previous machines had a commercial portafilter and were pressurized. Wow, it’s SO much better with this machine! Now to just upgrade my grinder Read more about review stating Excellent little machine with big performance.to the Baratza 270 and I will be setup even better.

Read more reviews from customers like Bill!

Boiler Types

A step up from single boilers are machines with heat exchanger boilers. With these you can brew and froth milk at the same time because steam is always available. Inside the boiler, a heat exchange section provides cooler water for espresso brewing.

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Espresso Machine Boiler Materials Guide

Boilers for the modern espresso machine speak to their purpose through the materials used to construct them. These materials are varied, and sometimes a combination of materials are used when boilers are manufactured. The composition of a boiler should be strongly considered, but it is hard to say exactly when one one material is better than the other.
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At the high-end of home espresso is the dual boiler. On these machines there are separate boilers for producing water for brewing and steam for frothing. Because of this, you can expect to be able to brew and steam at the same time like with heat exchange machines. Dual boilers are the most temperature stable, with very accurate control of brew water temperature. The temperature control is important to those working with specialty coffee. You’ll likely see heat exchanger and dual boilers or higher-end super-automatic machines, but if you’d like to go deeper into semi-automatic machines in general, check out our curated list of our favorite semi-automatics of 2019.

Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Investing in the best semi-automatic espresso machine will level up your barista skills and help you to craft the best cafe-style beverages in your own home.
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Super-Automatic: Where to Start

For super-automatic recommendations we can open things up a bit as they require little skill to operate.The Gaggia Brera, for example, is one of our favorite super-automatic machines for the best value. It’s been around for years, it's super simple to operate, and uses the same brewing technology found in Gaggia’s more expensive machines. The Brera uses an auto-frothing wand for milk steaming, it has a low profile, and has convenient front slide-out access to the water reservoir and used coffee drawer. Like all Gaggia machines with a steam pipe, you can get an optional latte art wand. It does the auto-frothing but slide off a sleeve and it becomes a manual wand. With a little practice, you can froth to the delicate micro-foam required for latte art.

Gaggia Brera Espresso Machine in Black

Gaggia Brera Espresso Machine in Black

251 Reviews
The Gaggia Brera is a super-automatic machine designed for incredible value and convenience. It grinds, tamps, and brews in one-touch, and frothing is made easy by Gaggia’s patented pannarello wand, which automatically aerates the milk for cappuccinos and lattes.


A step up from the Brera is the Gaggia Anima line: The Anima and Anima Prestige. The base Anima uses an auto frothing wand and the Prestige uses an attachable self-cleaning milk carafe for start-to-finish lattes and cappuccinos with a single button press. Animas tend to be a better value when compared to machines from other manufacturers with similar capabilities. They are very slim, so they're easy on counter space and all have the clearance to handle taller cups and glasses. For an in-depth review of the Anima line, comparing all three machines, check out our video Compare: Gaggia Anima, Anima Deluxe, and Anima Prestige Espresso Machines.

At the mid-range of super-autos, check out the Gaggia Accademia. It has clearance for tall cups, and a flow control dial decreases flow for straight espresso and increases the flow rate for larger cups of coffee so it doesn’t over-extract. It’s also one of the few machines with programmable milk froth density, and it’s got the manual steam wand for weekend baristas in addition to a self cleaning carafe.

Gaggia Accademia Espresso Machine

Gaggia Accademia Espresso Machine

218 Reviews
The Gaggia Accademia is a super-automatic machine that brews and steams espresso and milk-based drinks at the press of a button. It offers control over the coffee flow and milk frothiness, plus a manual steam wand to ensure every drink is exactly the way you like it.


JURA makes very stylish machines. Starting with their E8, you get into their line of One-Touch machines, with dial-adjustable froth density, pulse extraction espresso brewing, and beautiful color displays. After the E8, the sky's the limit when working up to JURA’s GIGA 6. This machine includes dual grinders and bean hoppers and the ability to make two milk based drinks at the same time. The GIGA 6 can handle a high capacity and is capable of making over one hundred cups per day. It’s undoubtedly a top choice for discerning home users who want the best or for busy office environments.

JURA GIGA 6 Espresso Machine

JURA GIGA 6 Espresso Machine

2 Reviews
The JURA GIGA 6 is a luxury dual boiler super-automatic espresso machine that brings the cafe to the home or office. Equipped with two thermoblocks, two grinders, two hoppers, and a wealth of adjustable settings, you can expect full control over it's 28 specialties.

Wrap Up

We’ve got a lot more resources if you want more information on all things coffee and espresso, espresso machines, coffeemakers, grinders, and more. Check out our in-depth guides for absolute beginners before making a purchase so that you’re confident when brewing, steaming and becoming your own pro-barista at home or in the office.

The Complete Guide to Coffee and Espresso

The Complete Guide to Coffee and Espresso

This guide covers everything you need to know about brewing the best coffee and espresso at home along with our recommendations on which espresso machines to buy.
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If you want some one-on-one advice, or have questions about these machines or anything coffee, you can always give us a call and talk to a coffee expert. We’re always happy to help and want to make sure you’re having the best experience possible as your own barista.

Marc Buckman
Marc Buckman

Marc is one of Whole Latte Love's resident experts on everything coffee. He built our YouTube channel from the ground up in 2009, demystifying the world of coffee for upwards of 100k subscribers by producing over 1000 in-depth videos. Marc enjoys hiking, scuba diving, and saving the lives of his coworkers when the kitchen runs out of coffee by sharing some of his own.