The Best Single-Serve Espresso Makers of 2018By Sharon Franke
As a coffee fanatic, I can drink it any time of day (or night), so I signed on to test cup after cup in the quest to find an espresso machine worthy of a place in your kitchen. Single-serve machines let you knock out a great cup at home without mastering all the ins and outs of grinding, measuring, and tamping. In addition to requiring absolutely no skill on your part, these pod-based espresso makers are quick, neat, and give totally consistent results. Shot after shot comes out with a beautiful layer of crema, the signature of a true espresso.
To find the best bang for your buck, we chose seven espresso machines that work with capsules, all priced under $350, and put them to the test. We examined temperature, timed how long a brew took, rated the affordability of capsules, and measured crema.
Our winner, the Nespresso Citiz (available at Amazon for $173.96) wasn’t the cheapest in the pack but has features that make it worth the splurge. If you need to compromise on price or space but not espresso quality, we have a machine for you too.
Here are the best single-serve espresso makers, in order:
- Nespresso Citiz
- Nespresso Essenza Mini
- Nespresso Pixie
- Nespresso Expert
- FrancisFrancis for Illy X9 iperEspresso
- Nescafé Dolce Gusto Esperta 2 by DeLonghi
- Illy Y3.2 iperEspresso
If you're looking to make coffee and espresso, check out our guide to the best pod coffee makers.
Updated December 14, 2018
Nespresso CitizBest Overall
The Nespresso Citiz by DeLonghi is just plain gorgeous. While not compact, it’s narrow so it doesn’t take up a wide swath of countertop space. As the tank (which easily detaches for filling at the sink) holds enough water for about 17 cups, this brewer is perfect for espresso-loving households that feed their habit throughout the day.
The Citiz uses OriginalLine capsules, which only brew espresso. (If you want an 8 oz. cup of coffee, you'll have to buy a VertuoLine machine.) Each time you pop in a new capsule, the last one is automatically dispensed into an internal chamber which you empty after nine cups. With a lever to lock the capsule in place and just two buttons—one for espresso and one for the larger lungo (Italian for long) it couldn’t be easier to operate. If you want to brew into a tall cup for a double cap or an iced beverage, you flip up the espresso cup holder.
Every cup of espresso brewed in less than 25 seconds, measured two ounces or less, and was hot enough even if you opt to add a dash of cold milk. If you like your cup shorter (fewer ounces and more intense) or taller (more ounces but less strength) you can set the volume you prefer by holding down the button as it brews and releasing it when your desired amount is dispensed; the Citiz will remember the setting. In cup after cup, Nespresso espressos had the combination of bitter and sweet notes that always make espresso so satisfying.
The company offers a large variety of capsules from beans grown all over the world, including special editions and flavored coffees, varying in price from about 70 cents to $1.25 per capsule. One objection we have to Nespresso systems is that the aluminum capsules are discarded after each use. Nespresso has addressed this issue by making the capsules recyclable and providing mailers to send them back for processing. You can also buy compatible capsules that are compostable and biodegradable, though in our tests, we found that they were less consistent than Nespresso-branded ones at delivering a layer of crema, and the brew didn't taste as good.
Cleaning is pretty much a non-issue. There are a few parts to rinse off occasionally. Every 3 months or so, more often if you have hard water, you will want to descale your machine according to the instructions in the manual. The Citiz & Milk is available with a red, white, black, or chrome finish.
If you prefer a version with a matching frother, you can buy the Nespresso Citiz & Milk for around the same price, depending on sales. It comes with a Nespresso Aeroccino 3 milk frother that anchors on one side of the machine. Unlike the all-new Aeroccino 4, the Aeroccino 3 does not have a dishwasher-safe milk jug.
Nespresso Essenza Mini
Nespresso Essenza MiniBest Value
With the new Essenza Mini, you get the same great cup of crema-topped espresso you would expect from even the largest, most expensive Nespresso machine—but you don't have to give up as much of your kitchen's precious counter space. Wondering what you give up? Although it’s attractively designed, the Essenza doesn’t quite have the heft of the pricier models.
Its tank only holds enough water for about 10 shots, but since it’s recommended that you refill the tank with fresh water every day, this won’t be a drawback unless you keep yourself super caffeinated. After every six brews, you’ll need to empty the used capsule holder.
If you buy the Nespresso Essenza Mini Bundle—from Breville—you get the same Aeroccino 3 frother that comes with the Citiz & Milk—but it will sit on your countertop instead of on the machine.
The Essenza comes in 2 styles, both of which are eight inches deep. The Mini by Breville is 13 inches tall and just 3.5 inches wide, and it comes in black, white, and grey. The Mini by DeLonghi is 12.75 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide at its base, and shaped like a trapezoid. It comes in your choice of black, white, green, or red.
How We Tested
Hi, I'm Sharon Franke, and I’ve been testing kitchen equipment for the past 30 years.
In addition to reviewing and writing about everything from potato peelers to pots and pans to gas and electric ranges, I’m an avid home cook. Before I became a cooking tools maven, I worked as a professional chef in New York City restaurants for seven years. If I have one great love (other than my husband), it’s coffee. My expertise in scientific testing and kitchen skills, along with my passion for java make me uniquely qualified to judge espresso makers.
I tested seven espresso machines that use capsules rather than ground coffee. Each machine sells for under $350, and was evaluated on design, ease of use, and most importantly, the quality of the cup of espresso and/or cappuccino it delivered.
Since this is an appliance that is going to live on your countertop, how it looks and how much real estate it takes up is important to consider. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what appeals to your sense of style and how much space you’re willing to dedicate, but we gave high marks to good construction and attractive design, and machines that were no larger than they had to be to perform well.
We considered the clarity of the manual, how easy it was to get the espresso maker up and running, fill the tank with water, use the controls, and clean the machine, as well as about how many espressos you can expect to brew without refilling the tank.
When it came to brewing, we measured the time it took to deliver an espresso, along with the volume and temperature in the cup. Ideally, an espresso should brew in 20 to 30 seconds, measure about two ounces, and the temperature should be around 160°F. When a machine included a frother, we looked for milk that was whipped to at least half its volume and was easy to fold into our coffee.
Until the Essenza Mini came along, this model was the smallest Nespresso machine you could buy. It is still a very reliable choice, if every single bit of counter space isn’t precious.
We found this machine slightly sturdier but a little less easy to use, as it is possible to neglect to push the lever all the way down. Do that, and it will pour coffee all over your counter instead of into the cup. The tank holds enough water for about a dozen cups of espresso. You can choose an aluminum or titanium finish.
An Aeroccino 3 frother is included if you buy the Nespresso Pixie Bundle for $269.
If you like the latest bells and whistles, the Expert is the machine for you. Its basic usability is the same as other Nespresso machines and you get the same consistently good espresso but you have a broader array of settings from small ristretto to americano as well as hot water. Designed for heavy users, the Expert’s tank holds enough water for about 18 shots and the interior compartment about 10 capsules.
In addition to being able to control the volume each setting delivers, you can easily adjust the coffee temperature. Because you make all these choices before you press the brew button, you do have to check the settings when you change up your drinks.
The biggest innovation, however, is the Bluetooth connectivity which allows you to control your machine and order coffee through an app on your phone as well as receive alerts when the tank is empty or the used capsule compartment is full.
Now, honestly, it’s pretty easy to order new capsules online without the app. And is it really necessary to start the brewing process from your phone, rather than by pressing the button on the appliance itself? We found it more convenient to adjust the amount of coffee for each setting with the app, instead of on the machine, but we'd still caution you to think hard before purchasing the Expert (which doesn’t come with a frother) at a higher price than our other Nespresso picks.
FrancisFrancis for Illy X9 iperEspresso
FrancisFrancis for Illy X9 iperEspresso
Many coffee drinkers believe the Italian brand, Illy, is the gold standard in espresso coffee. Using Illy capsules, the handsome, sturdy X9 brews a single perfect espresso. In our tests, it consistently brewed a very short half-ounce cup in about 15 seconds or less.
We also found the espresso wasn’t as hot as it was from some of the other machines we tested. If you like a less intense beverage, you have the option of increasing the volume, which slows down the brew time a bit and increases the coffee temp. There’s a setting and drip coffee capsules for what Illy calls "long coffee," but anyone looking for a good old cup of Joe will be disappointed.
The tank, which holds enough water for approximately a dozen espressos, is housed in the base of the machine. While you can remove it to fill it at the sink, it doesn’t pull out smoothly. Because of its shallow profile, replacing it when it’s full or emptying it when the water’s been sitting for a while can lead to sloshing.
However, the biggest drawback is that you're limited to using Illy iperEspresso capsules. Although there is a selection of varieties offered, it’s not as large as Nespresso’s. If you want to make cappuccinos and lattes, you’ll have to buy a milk frother. The X9 is available in red or black with chrome accents or in all chrome.
Nescafé Dolce Gusto Esperta 2 by DeLonghi
Nescafé Dolce Gusto Esperta 2 by DeLonghi
This product has been replaced by the Esperta 3.
Think of the Esperta as a drink station rather than an espresso machine. Yes, it makes an acceptable shot with a layer of crema, but what really distinguishes it is its ability to make everything from a vanilla latte macchiato to chai to peach iced tea.
To prepare a milk-topped beverage, you brew two capsules consecutively, changing the setting between each. The toppings are made from a dried powder that’s reconstituted and lightly frothed during the brewing process. They definitely don’t have the taste or the volume you get from frothing real milk, which means this is not the machine for a serious coffee aficionado.
From the clarity of its diagram-filled manual to the grip in the tank, you’ll appreciate that this appliance is exceptionally easy to use. However, unlike all the others we tested, it doesn’t automatically dispense used capsules into an internal chamber, so you have to pop each one out before you use another. A bin is included to hold them if you plan on recycling them but the machine is already bulky too begin with. The tank holds enough water for a whopping 22 cups of espresso, but most likely you’ll use the Dolce Gusto to make larger drinks.
Illy Y3.2 iperEspresso
Where To Buy$99.00 Bed Bath & Beyond Buy Click for price Amazon Buy $149.99 Target Buy $99.99 Best Buy Buy
Illy Y3.2 iperEspresso
If you’re an Illy fan, this is a less expensive—if less stylish—option than the X9. We also found that it brewed more slowly and offered up a longer and hotter espresso. You have the option of changing the volume but not the temperature. The tank holds enough water for about a dozen shots. For lattes, you’ll need to buy a frother.
Our chief objection here is that the Y3.2 seemed “creaky”. When you press the lever and remove and replace the tank, the parts don’t fit together smoothly, and we get the sense that they might break with the mildest abuse.