A good latte or cappuccino is like a rich, milky mug of heaven. Just writing about these delicious, warming drinks makes us want one. Sadly, creating the perfect cap or caffe latte at home can be a hassle. Making a barista-worthy espresso is tough enough, but adding the right amount of milk and foam, perfectly heated and combined, is surprisingly daunting.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of machines that make excellent milk-based or alternative-milk-based beverages at the touch of a button (or a couple buttons). The machines here differ from the picks in our Best Espresso Machines roundup in a couple of important ways. Here we’re gathering machines that make it easier, specifically, to make milk-based or alternative-milk-based drinks. That includes machines with built-in containers for milk, or machines that effectively do the steaming for you. In that way, these machines are automated or semi-automated and are great for anyone who wants a device that specializes in dispensing coffee at the touch of a button.
WIRED’s Favorite Coffee Gadgets and Tips
Updated December 2022: We’ve adjusted the picks on this guide to focus on automation and ease of use, we’ve also revised the Q&A section and checked prices throughout.
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This Mr. Coffee machine sits at a comfortable intersection where ease of use, automation, and affordability. It can extract a flavorful espresso from almost any beans and grind, and its milk reservoir will automatically mix a cappuccino or latte for you.
This is basically a sturdier, better-designed version of the Mr. Coffee Café Barista, our affordable pick, with a nicer portafilter basket that takes ESE espresso pods and a larger milk reservoir that snaps in more firmly. Like the cheaper version, you have to load coffee into the portafilter basket and twist it on (use a fine grind and tamp it down with some pressure for the best taste), but the machine can mix a cappuccino or latte macchiato for you at the press of a button. It has two sizes of each and a manual mode that will just keep foaming or extracting espresso until you tell it to stop.
On the downside, you’ll need to clean the milk canister at least once a week. (You can keep it in the fridge.) It also won’t extract quite as much rich espresso flavor as the Breville machines below, but it is a lot easier to use. One day, for fun, I (Jeffrey) put standard Maxwell House coffee into it. The result was definitely Maxwell House-like espresso, but it was still an acceptable Maxwell House espresso—good to the last drop™. It pulls as nice an espresso as it can from almost anything.
Best Machine for $200
The Café Barista is a downgraded version of our top pick, the Mr. Coffee One-Touch Coffeehouse. It’s perfect if you want pure espresso and a machine that mixes the milk for you without much fuss, but it’s also more plasticky and lightweight, which means you really have to steady the machine with your hand as you twist the portafilter into place. But other than that it makes fairly rich single or double-size espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes with the push of a button.
Like the One-Touch Coffeehouse, this machine’s integrated milk container has its pros and cons. You will have to remember to remove and refrigerate it each morning and clean it every few days or it could clog up—cleanup is easy, thankfully. Milk tends to come out a little foamier than I (Jeffrey) prefer for a latte, and it took me some time to understand what size glass I needed for each drink. (A double latte, for instance, is 15 ounces, but a double cappuccino is only 10 ounces.) The slide-out booster is nice for smaller glasses.
Better Taste, High Learning Curve
The Breville Barista Pro is a coffeehouse in a box. The built-in pressure-activated conical burr grinder gives you fresh grounds however you like them, and the pressure gauge and options let you adjust the water temperature and shot amount. You have to froth your own milk, and the steam wand makes it easier than the competition, with a handle and the ability to tilt in any direction. It cleans itself, and you can get hot water from the machine to brew tea or make an Americano.
Previously we recommended the Express model because it’s cheaper, but it was also more difficult to use. The Pro has revamped the controls, and operating it is much simpler and more intuitive. All the accessories you need are included here: a stainless steel milk jug, magnetic tamp, trimming tool, and more.
…. to be continued
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