When my cousin asked me a couple of weeks ago : “What is the best latte machine?” I didn’t have an answer on the spot. When it comes to coffee brewing, obviously, all friends and family rely on my expert advice. I was a bit disappointed by myself for not being prepared for this question. In my defense, I am not a latte drinker. I can fix a perfect one, I can even throw in some latte art if I’m in good mood, but it never occurred to me that many people are actually using the espresso machine to make exclusively lattes. Everything else is secondary, espresso, cappuccino, coffee are just nice to have. This obviously changes the way you look at your coffee brewer. Obviously, my semi automatic espresso machine is not the most efficient equipment for this drink, though I get great lattes out of it. My cousin was a little surprised when I told her that I needed a day or two to research that for her, but she knew I was going to give her the best answer she could get. This is how this article came to life.
First of all, the question is a bit confusing. In my eyes there is no such a thing as a latte maker. For me, the device is an espresso machine with a milk frother. I get my daily espresso shot in the morning, and occasionally I prepare a cappuccino or a latte for guests. For my cousin though, the espresso part is unimportant. She doesn’t care how good is the espresso coming out of the machine, the shot will be drenched in milk anyway. What really matters for her is the fluffy foam on top of her coffee cup and how easy is to prepare that.
So, armed with this assessment of a latte lover needs, I began my research. She was very evasive when I asked about her budget, and I had to work a bit more because of that. Buying a latte maker is like buying anything else… You would like your machine to have all the possible features, but will you afford it? So this was exactly the mentality of my cousin. Yeah, she made my work a bit harder, but it was well worth it, because I could write this article, and share that information with you, and help you save money; I mean a lot of money.
The Best Latte Machine – Convenience vs Price
Because I didn’t have a price range, I had to research a little bit more, trying to cover the whole spectrum, from the most inexpensive semi-automatic espresso machine to the most sophisticated super automatic latte and cappuccino makers.
Is there any distinction between an espresso machine and a latte machine? No, not really. The only place where we can see a clear distinction is with expensive super automatic espresso machines that have built-in feature for perfecting lattes. We’ll talk about it in a bit.
What is the difference between these machines, price aside? Well, the convenience is the most important. But there are other things to consider when you are buying a machine. And there is one tiny detail that can save you a lot of money. I’ll share that with you in a second.
On the high end we have the super automatic machines. Sure they cost more, but with one of these, at the touch of a button you can get a latte prepared automatically for you.
On the lower end we have a machine that brews coffee over milk, and then it froths the mix with an immersion mixer. Genius, why didn’t I invent that? It’s café au lait, not really latte, but it’s delicious anyway.
Super Automatic Machines
Super-automatic espresso machines are the most expensive, but to be honest, are the easiest to use, the most convenient, and they have the most features. It is a pleasure to work with. If your budget is not generous enough, you might as well skip this section. Although, you can still have a look to plan for your next latte machine.
With a super automatic espresso machine, things like micro foaming, and milk steaming are auto magically done for you. You don’t need to master the tamping technique when pulling the shot, or to know how to steam or froth milk. All these are done for you at the touch of a button. Some of these machines allow you to tweak a latte, or a cappuccino and save the settings for later use. This allows you to create the perfect drink, and have it at the press of one button. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Considering that you won’t get this level of customization even in a coffee shop, I’d say it is amazing.
Even though convenience is most likely the most looked after feature, there are a couple of other things to consider. Consistency of your beverage is probably the second most important aspect. You will get the same beverage every time you press that button; unless you change the beans, or the milk. This is very important, and as a coffee shop client, you probably noticed that your drinks are sometimes different. This happens because your drinks are prepared manually by baristas. With a super automatic this will not happen.
One other thing to consider is the special microfoam that some of these machines produce. That velvety froth cannot be replicated by home baristas using a regular milk frother. Yeah, a skilled barista can be pretty close to that, but as a home barista you will need some training.
Super automatic latte machines range from 600$ to 3000$, but realistically, you don’t need to buy the most expensive, or fancy one. The best ratio between convenience, price and features is between 1000 and 1600$. That’s not to say that super automatics under 1000$ are not great machines, but there are still things that you need to do manually.
More Super Automatic Espresso Machines
We wrote an article comparing 5 super automatic espresso machines with various degrees of automatization and feature sets. Check the article below.
Semi Automatic Machines
If you need to save some money, or you are confident in your barista skills, a semiautomatic espresso machine should be perfect for brewing you latte. The three biggest advantages with semiautomatics are the machine’s reliability, the price for the equipment, and the option to tweak your beverage for a new experience with every drink you make. Also, if you want to do latte art, the semiautomatics are great. Here is a guide to frothing milk for latte and cappuccino. And here is another one, read them both you’ll learn cool things from both. If convenience is your thing, you can probably skip this section, although it is a nice read. I personally love semiautomatics, but I am a geek. The thing is: if your goal is to make a latte fast, and not worry about grind size, tamping pressure, and other espresso parameters, this might not be for you.
Decent domestic use semiautomatics are in the range of 70$ to 600$. Why the big price range? There are many things to take in consideration when you draw the line. Features, reliability, noise, drinks per hour, are a few of the things compared during such an assessment.
In my comparison I didn’t care much about the number of drinks per hour, because that’s something you calculate when you buy an office latte machine. My cousin’s needs were minimal, however, she needed to make a few lattes at a time. This meant I needed to look for a machine with two boilers, one for the espresso and one for steaming/frothing milk. When you want to make cappuccinos and lattes back to back, with a single boiler machine things can become very slow. You don’t want to sit by the latte machine fixing drinks while everybody else is enjoying the party. If you only make one or two drinks at a time you are fine with a single boiler machine.
The bottom line:
Most of the features of semiautomatics are for the espresso brewing, so for the latte lover these are almost useless. So really, the most important things in your choice are reliability, single or double boiler, and the steaming wand tip. Most machines have a great steam tip, so you don’t have to worry about this.
DeLonghi EC702 Semi Automatic Espresso Maker
If you are ready to do the manual work, and you want learn to brew an espresso like a barista, a semi automatic machine is great. It is a great compromise between price and features, and it allows you to tweak your latte to perfection.
The DeLonghi EC702 is one of the decently priced, reliable espresso makers. The patented frother helps you get a perfect steamed and frothed milk every time. You will get a better drink than your daily cup at the coffee shop, it’s certainly cheaper, and you don’t need to go out to get it.
Specialized Latte Machines
What is a latte maker? A latte maker is a machine that can automatically steam and froth milk. Latte makers are just as the super automatics, but with less espresso related features. The coffee side is not that important when fixing a latte, so most of the features for coffee brewing are just kept at a minimum, in order to optimize the cost. Make sure you don’t buy the cheapest “latte maker”. They might be less expensive, but those don’t really steam, or froth the milk. All they do is heating the milk and mixing it with the coffee. Real steamed milk has a distinct taste and texture. The temperature of the steamed milk is also very important. The sugars in milk, (lactose), taste the best at 135–160 °F.
DeLonghi Silver Lattissima Plus
A great specialized latte maker is the Nespresso Lattissima line, which is a capsule based espresso brewer with an automatic milk frother. In my opinion this is the best approach for automatic lattes at home. You don’t invest too much in the equipment, and it’s a one button push preparation of a real latte.
The machine can make not only latte, but also latte macchiato, cappuccino, and espresso. The Nespresso machines are the most convenient way to prepare a real latte, using the right ingredients, espresso and steamed milk. The thermoblock heating system ensures the machine is ready to brew in 40 seconds.
Lattissima plus is very elegant, and it looks great in any kitchen.
Keurig Rivo Latte Machine
Keurig Rivo is a capsule based espresso maker, with a built in latte frother. Very similar to its direct competitor, the Nespresso Lattissima, it is less expensive, but it still makes you a great milky caffeinated drink. The pump on the Rivo is a real espresso pump, with a 15 bar of pressure capability, this means it brews a real espresso.
The Keurig Rivo, has a nice feature, it can do cold froth, which is very nice if you prepare cold coffee beverages. The price per capsule is also decent, although Nespresso capsules are slightly cheaper. The Lattissima Plus is more expensive when you buy the machine, but the cost of capsules will make up for that price difference.
Mr. Coffee BVMC-EL1 Café au lait
Is Mr. Coffee BVMC-EL1 the best latte machine? Certainly not. It isn’t even a real latte machine, because latte is prepared with espresso. The beverage the BVMC-EL1 makes is in fact caffe au lait, which in French means coffee with milk. This doesn’t mean it’s not a delicious coffee, it even makes a nice froth, as you get with the more expensive machines.
No, the beverage you get is not the real thing, and people with a good palate will recognize immediately the different taste. It is however pretty close to latte, and the machine is incredibly inexpensive. I have a close friend who is using this machine at home, and when I questioned in a discussion with her the quality of the beverage, she bluntly accused me of being snob. Lesson learned.
This machine didn’t make it on my list for my cousin, she wanted the real thing. It was however one of my favorites, because of the price.