What is the best home cappuccino maker? This has been a question that I have been asked a lot recently. Not an easy way to answer that question. It is easier when you know the person, their personality, budget, and barista skills. But when you write about it, you need to take all budgets in consideration, and all barista skills. At the end of the day a great semiautomatic espresso machine is good for me, but my wife hates to use it, she says is too geeky.
Everybody wants to know how to prepare a delicious espresso or cappuccino without breaking the bank and without causing too much fuss. Since my wife is a cappuccino lover, and I love one from time to time after lunch, I didn’t need to do too much research on the market. I tried quite a few machines before, so it was just a matter of refreshing my memories.
The best thing to do, when you help someone to buy new equipment, is to give them the best options, and let them decide. The same goes for a home cappuccino maker. I don’t know what your budget is. I don’t know what’s important for you, convenience or control over the brewing process. I don’t know what your barista skills are. That’s why you will not see just one machine, because depending on the above, your definition of the best might be different. So here I am, writing an article to compare the best domestic cappuccino makers on the market.
How to Buy a Cappuccino Maker
When you buy a domestic cappuccino maker, you have to define your needs. Depending on your needs as a home barista, and depending on your skill set, and personality you can buy various machine types.
Super Automatic Espresso Machines
You can choose a specialized super automatic machine that can be programmed to deliver a highly customized coffee drink. Yes, one of those is expensive, but if convenience is your friend, it’s worth to spend the money. The super-automatics can do many types of coffee beverages, and the advanced ones can even be programmed to deliver personalized drinks. These machines incorporate a grinder, an espresso brewer, and a milk frother. Everything happens automatically, but you can customize your coffee by modifying the brewing parameters. This is the best option for the coffee lover with a generous budget. It gives you convenience and complete control over the preparation of your cappuccino.
Semi Automatic Espresso Machines
You can also choose the complete opposite of the super automatic, which is a semiautomatic. With a semi automatic you need to do the legwork, and most importantly, you need serious skills, or determination to get these skills. The name is a little confusing for the uninitiated barista; it gives you the impression that the machine is easier to use than a manual espresso machine. So you think that: “It can’t be that hard.” Well, it’s not that hard, if you ask me, but for many beginners it is frustrating to nail the perfect espresso shot, and the perfect frothed milk. This is the best option for the coffee geek, or the wannabe barista, who want to control all the steps of the cappuccino brewing. If you are a beginner home barista, make sure you arm yourself with some patience while training to perfect your technique. Make sure you read my tutorial on how to make a perfect espresso, and Coffee Geek’s guide on how to froth milk for cappuccino and latte.
The third option, the capsule based cappuccino maker, is the most convenient of the three. The espresso purists will tell you aren’t getting a real espresso out of those, but trust me, you won’t notice a difference; unless you are a coffee cupper by trade. Do I use these machines? Yes, I use one of these at work, and it works great for the espresso, latte and cappuccino lovers group. I would have preferred a semi-automatic, but not all my coworkers know how to pull espresso shots and froth milk. Even the ones who know how to do it find the Nespresso machine more convenient. The Nespresso machines are the best for convenience and consistency. You will get the same cup every time, you can’t miss.
De’Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
This espresso machine is probably the cheapest way to get your morning fix without giving up on quality. It’s not as convenient as the capsule based machines, and it doesn’t have the features of a Rancilio Silvia, but it is a decent machine, if your budget is tight. Retailing under $100, this is the best cheap cappuccino and latte maker. It comes equipped with the option of using pods or ground coffee as well as a steam wand for milk frothing. This means that you can adjust the grind size, brew time and milk foam. Compare this to the Nespresso DeLonghi Lattissima, where nothing can be adjusted. This is a plus for coffee nerds like me but it does require a bit more time and attention in the mornings. If you have the time, this cappuccino machine allows you to make a more consistently delicious cup of coffee for a low budget. Make sure you include a good espresso grinder in your budget. With a bad grinder, your shots will be underwhelming at least.
Choosing Based on Features
From the convenience perspective, the best are the capsule based espresso makers, with an integrated milk frother. What if you are looking for certain features, or you need to have more control over the espresso brewing? With semi-automatics you have the most control over the preparation, from espresso pulling to milk frothing. To a certain extent, you have some control with super automatic machines as well, just not as much. The capsule based machines are conceived to make it easy for you. This is the reason you have the least control on the brewing process. You also have less features, but you actually don’t need those, because you cappuccino is done with precision, to the highest standard possible, every time.
My favorite machine
is a Breville BES870XL, which is a semiautomatic with so many features that will allow you to fine tune your espresso to perfection. For most of the cappuccino lovers though, the capsule based machine might be the best choice. The BES870XL is impressive and it is within the budget of most espresso aficionados. If you want a fully automated manual espresso maker, the BES980XL – Oracle is a great machine. I have played with it, and we wrote a review here, but it’s out of my budget range. It’s on my Christmas wish list though.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Your Home Cappuccino Maker
After carefully considering all the options, I believe that semiautomatic espresso machines should not even make our list. I included the De’Longhi EC155 because it’s one of the cheapest machines on the market, and because it’s a great semi-automatic, for the price. Yes you can make a cappuccino with a semiautomatic, but unless you are a barista, or a coffee enthusiast, the process takes some time and skills. This is the reason an automated machine is the way to go. Illy has a great tutorial on how to make a cappuccino here.
Beware of Cheap Machines
When you are shopping, and you have a tight budget, the natural choice is to go for the least expensive machines. Nothing wrong with that, but preparing cappuccino requires two things: real espresso, and frothed milk. Real espresso cannot be brewed with a steam espresso machine, or with a Moka pot. Frothed milk is relatively easy to make with the steamer of a semiautomatic, but many specialized machines come with an automatic milk steamer. Cappuccino is a drink that features the espresso. The milk only takes the edge off, but you can still taste the espresso. In a latte, for instance, the coffee is drenched in milk, so the taste of coffee is completely lost. For lattes you can even use stronger drip coffee, and no one will notice. For cappuccino, because of the small amount of milk, you can’t use bad coffee.
According to Wikia, the recipe calls for 2 thirds of milk and one third espresso. The Italian Espresso National Institute defines cappuccino as drink made from 25 ml. of espresso and 100 ml. of steam-foamed milk.
ESAM3300 Magnifica Super-Automatic Coffee Machine
The next leap in domestic cappuccino makers is to the fully automatic machines. With the Delonghi ESAM3300, everything is done for you. You choose the coffee you want and wait for it to pour. There are no capsules required. It is extremely easy and painless preparing your morning coffee in this way. Beans are ground each time a coffee is prepared. This is preferable to the capsule machines as the fresher the grind, the better the coffee.
The milk frothing is still done separately, which can be a deterrent for the absolute convenience seeker. You have to froth milk manually. For a completely automated brewing, from pulling the espresso shot, to frothing the milk and adding it to the drink, you need to spend a little more money. But in my eyes, the ESAM3300 makes one of the best choices for a domestic cappuccino machine. Read this other article with more super automatic espresso machines reviewed.
This machine allows you to adjust your grind so that you can appreciate the optimum coffee grind and extraction. In general, with semiautomatics you also need to spend on a good grinder. A good grinder will bump up your budget, and you can’t skimp on it. Then, think about the process of grinding your own coffee manually every morning. Sure I have seen people buying pre-ground coffee for the sake of ease. This is something which I really don’t recommend. This is one of the reasons that domestic coffee isn’t as tasty as coffee bought in your local coffee shop.
This machine does sound a little too good to be true and the downside, of course, is the price. You can pick up one of these machines from amazon for around $600. Should you pay the price for one of these technological wonders? It depends on your budget, and the amount of convenience you are looking for. If you think about how much you pay for a cappuccino in a coffee shop, and the fact that you don’t have to actually go to the shop anymore to get your delicious morning fix, the investment is totally worth it.
Mr. Coffee Espresso Maker with Automatic Milk Frother, BVMC-ECMP1000
Retailing under $200 on Amazon, the Mr. Coffee Barista Espresso Maker has the best ratio between the convenience, price and features. With an automatic frother, a feature only seen with more expensive machines, it is very close to perfect convenience, as you would expect from a home cappuccino maker. You still have to grind coffee, tamp, and clean the machine after using it, but on the other hand, you have absolute control over your espresso. Mr. Coffee’s machine cannot compete for convenience with the Lattissima line from Nespresso. I consider it a happy medium between the De’Longhi‘s ECC155 and Lattissima. It will let you brew a decent espresso with fresh beans, or prepare milk based drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos while still run on a tight schedule.
This cappuccino machine takes the complication of milk frothing out of the preparation process. Frothing good milk for cappuccinos and lattes can take professional baristas months to perfect. Here the milk is frothed for you which takes that added level of stress out of your morning.
You can switch between cappuccino and latte foam, depending on your mood, or your guests’ preference. This is a real cappuccino and latte maker; you don’t need to learn to froth milk, or to master the micro-foaming technique. You just press a button and your cap is prepared for you.
DeLonghi Lattissima Plus Nespresso Capsule System
The Lattissima Nespresso system is the most convenient way to prepare a cappuccino, or a latte. The capsule based espresso makers are one of the greatest inventions for the home cappuccino maker market. Every aspect aspect of the preparation is fully automated, and optimized for consistent results. Because of this, many restaurants are starting to use this type of machines to replace the commercial semiautomatics.
Espresso connoisseurs will argue that capsule based espresso is just not up to par with the real one coming out of a semiautomatic. Maybe that is true, but the difference are so little, that most of us don’t detect it. Another argument against the capsule based espresso is the inability to customize the pulled shot. While for espresso aficionados this is a must, for the vast majority of cappuccino lovers the consistency is the only thing that matters.
Here are some of the advantages of the Nespresso systems:
- It brews great espresso shots and great cappuccinos with the push of a button.
- There is no mess, and you don’t have to clean.
- You need no barista training, and you don’t need to perfect your technique. Not for pulling espresso shots, not for milk frothing.
- Relatively compact, and great looking.
- The machines are reliable, so you won’t have to buy a new one every year.
- Sliding tray to accommodate various cup sizes.
- Powerful brewing pump with 19 bar of pressure, enough to ensure the machine will not choke while pushing steam through the capsule.
Instead of Conclusion
Which of these machines is the winner? I’ll let you decide. On one hand the price, the ease of use and overall taste of Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is a great buy. An automatic milk frother, real espresso for those who don’t like capsules, all of this while maintaining an affordable price.
The super automatic ESAM3300 Magnifica is the most expensive of our selection. When you compare it to the Nespresso Lattissima you will notice that, although is a super automatic machine, is less automated than the Lattissima. So why pay the extra couple of hundred dollars? Firstly, it’s going to be cheaper in the long run, because you don’t need capsules. Equally important for some, you do have more control over the brewing process with the ESAM3300.
In my eyes the real winner here is the Nespresso Lattissima, mostly because of the convenience. Many espresso lovers, however, consider that is nearly impossible to grind beans, seal it in a capsule and preserve all the good properties of the coffee.
The two budget cappuccino machines are not bad choices, with the Mr. Coffee Barista being a clear winner. The automatic frothing option makes it so attractive for convenience seekers. Remember though, that for both the Mr Coffee Barista, and the ECC155, you will need to budget for a decent grinder too. That means another 100$ expense.