I’ve historically been a gear gal, nerding out over the best espresso machines, high-tech rice cookers and sous vide machines. But since I began working as a chef, my tastes have taken a more austere turn. Mostly, I daydream about elegant and functional knives. Now and then I find myself scrolling through a restaurant kitchen retailer at night, checking out the industrially sized, bare-bones stock pots. I considered asking for a never-ending supply of $1 kitchen towels in my Christmas stocking.
For the most part, I’ve been completely won over by the no-frills equipment of a professional kitchen. The single exception to this: the espresso machine. Sure, it’s possible to make a good—great!—cup of coffee with plenty of humble at-home brewing processes. Consider a simple French Press or pour over, a stovetop moka pot or the nimble AeroPress, so lightweight Chris Morocco brings it on vacation. We even have high-quality drip coffee makers that we’d recommend.
And yet, I love all the shiny clunkiness of my beloved espresso machine. The satisfying click of the portafilter, the roar of the steam wand, the crunch of the coffee grinder. Most of all, I love the piping hot double shot of espresso each morning, complete with a foamy, golden crema—and even more, the weekend cappuccino, topped with a little cloud of frothed oat milk.
Yes, there’s plenty of easier ways to brew coffee at home, and making great espresso is an expensive, time-consuming process with a learning curve. But if you’re regularly ducking out for americanos or macchiatos and your gear-loving self is itching to commit to a home espresso machine, join me in adoring the Breville Bambino Plus—the best espresso machine at its price point, in my book.
What type of espresso machine is right for me?
On one end of the espresso maker spectrum are super-automatic machines. My first espresso maker was a Jura—and to be honest, it made such consistently good coffee that it outperformed the Bambino for the first few weeks, while I was still learning the espresso ropes. A fully automatic coffee machine measures and grinds the beans and pulls the shot. Some machines also froth milk. All you need to do is fill the water tank and replenish the coffee beans, and the Jura will make you the coffee drink of your choice at the push of a button. It’s about as involved as popping a pod into a Nespresso machine—there is no grinding beans or tamping down a portafilter involved. There’s nothing wrong with that—and if you prefer the ease of use of an automatic espresso machine and can stand the price tag, I do recommend the Jura—but it is less FUN.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, are the more advanced manual espresso machines, which require a solid amount of know-how. If you’re basically a barista, Laura Perry, co-founder of Luna Coffee (one of my favorite coffee subscription picks), recommends the Decent DE1. “It’s not cheap, but the Decent DE1 is awesome for a few reasons,” she says. “It’s got incredible temperature control at the group head (a rarity for home machines), and there’s a tablet to graph and deploy shot profiles.” Take all the information that built-in coffee iPad gives you and go check out the Decent Espresso chat room, “which means lots of support as you embark on your espresso nerd quest,” says Perry. This is a pro pick, and there’s no arguing with the performance of this high-quality machine. But, for the home barista who wants to pull a shot without reading about PID and pressure gauge on coffee Reddits, I’d rec swinging for a machine with a gentler learning curve.
The Breville Bambino Plus fits in the middle category of semi-automatic. That means the machine uses a pump to get the pressure right in your shot, making it easy enough for beginners. About half an hour of manual-reading (or video-watching, for my fellow manual-averse people) and a few practice shots and you’ll be on your way to coffee shop-quality espresso. After playing around to figure out the right grind size, each shot I pulled was rich and flavorful, and I found that the machine had very few quirks.
It’s also speedy. One of the biggest reasons an espresso machine takes dedication each morning is the timing of all the little steps. Some machines need to be constantly refilled; luckily, this one has a roomy water reservoir. Others take ages for the heating mechanism to switch from espresso making to milk steaming. Not the Bambino Plus, with its ThermoJet heater. Even though it has a cost-and-space saving single boiler, it’s ready to pull a shot about three seconds after you turn it on, and the steam wand revs in the same amount of time. If you prefer milky espresso drinks like lattes, you can even set the steam wand to an automatic setting and skip that extra minute of foamy fiddling.