How to Choose the Right Latte and Cappuccino Machine
Before digging into specifics of each of our nine picks, let’s talk about your strategy for buying the best latte coffee maker. There are four things to consider when purchasing. Read carefully and choose your latte maker today!
What do you need for a latte or a cappuccino?
Both latte and cappuccino consist of two components: espresso and milk. What varies is the ratio of denser steamed milk, to airy foamed milk. A cappuccino is one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam. By contrast, a latte is one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, with just a layer of foam on top (1).
The important take-away is that both drinks are more milk than coffee. So when you’re shopping for the best latte machine, you want to look for more than just high-quality espresso. That is, you want to seek out a good milk frother (2). Some latte machines rely on steam wands, which are fantastic for texturing milk but require some skill. Others machines like Jura models, however, feature foolproof automatic frothers. (By the way, you can check out our reviews of the best Jura espresso machines here.)
If you’re more interested in the best espresso machines, we’ve compiled a list of top picks. We also have a breakdown of the best high-end models. Or, our high value for money options, and our favorite cheap espresso machines.
Semi-Automatic, Automatic, Super-Automatic
To choose the best espresso machine for you, the first thing to weigh is convenience versus control. Latte machines can be broadly categorized into semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic (3).
[With semi-automatic machines] you’re in charge of the shot, but there is regulated water pressure and temperature so it’s harder to mess up.Max Haydon, Perfect Daily Grind
Semi-automatic has the steepest learning curve, but once mastered, it allows the most intimate control over results. If you love the idea of crafting a cafe-worthy cappuccino, this is probably the type for you. As a bonus, they tend to be the least expensive.
Differently, automatic machines do a bit more of the work for you. They’ll often have a built-in burr grinder and an automatic milk frother but still require some hands-on work to perfect tamping and dosing.
Finally, super-automatic machines do it all, as long as you’ve added beans and water. Your latte or cappuccino comes at the press of a button. These are incredibly convenient and provide little opportunity for human error, but also leave the user with less control and tend to be the most expensive.
If you’re looking for a machine that allows even more user control than a semi-automatic, our list of the best manual lever espresso machines will have the one for you.
Type of Coffee
Many espresso machines have built-in grinders and thus take whole beans as an input. This addition is very convenient because it saves you from buying a separate grinder. Moreover, it guarantees the freshest grind, a factor that is particularly important for espresso. (4)
You have more aromatic complexity and intensity this way. For the espresso coffee, freshness matters.Prof. Chahan Yeretzian, Coffee Chemist
But not everyone will benefit from one of these machines. If you already have a grinder or prefer to buy pre-ground beans, a machine that uses ground coffee makes more sense and saves money. Perhaps most convenient, in terms of both brewing and cleaning, is a machine that accepts capsules or K-Cups. However, these usually produce lower quality espresso and have a detrimental environmental impact (5). Pod-based coffee also tends to be more expensive per cup than ground or whole bean coffee.
With their built-in grinders and milk frothers, latte machines can be big, and not all will fit under standard-size kitchen cupboards. When choosing the one for you, consider a machine’s height and footprint. In other words, take into account available counter and storage space. Some espresso machines are even so compact as to be travel-friendly. Though, they need a separate milk frother for a latte or cappuccino.
The 9 Best Latte and Cappuccino Machines for 2020
Making a great latte or cappuccino at home means buying a machine that froths milk, as well as pulls espresso. We designed this list of our nine favorites to help you find the perfect one.
The Breville Barista Express tops our list for its combination of advanced features, quality espresso, and an affordable price. This model is quite compact, given its myriad bells and whistles. Still, it is also relatively tall and might not fit all spaces.
It features a bean hopper, integrated tamper, and conical burr grinder. Thus, you brew each espresso with freshly ground beans. With this semi-automatic machine, you also control the grind size, the weight and temperature to pull the perfect shot. Barista Express delivers the optimal 9 bars of pressure (6) and comes with pressurized and non-pressurized filter baskets. In this way, novices and experts alike can achieve a rich layer of crema. Additionally, a separate hot water dispenser makes it easy to pre-warm your cups.
For milk frothing, the steam wand can conveniently swivel 360 degrees. However, prepare for a bit of a learning curve, since this isn’t an automatic frother. Nonetheless, the results will be worth the effort.
Read our Breville Barista Express review.
Italian company Saeco was the first to release a super-automatic espresso machine, and their expertise is apparent (7). The sleek and stylish PicoBaristo isn’t cheap, but it does everything for you. PicoBaristo features several preset drink options, including both a latte and a cappuccino. Moreover, it lets you tweak nearly every aspect of the process.
The built-in burr grinder has ten options to optimize your grind. You can also adjust the water temperature, shot length, dosing, and milk volume. Once you have it dialed, you can store your preferences at the touch of a button. The milk frothing is automatic, and the milk carafe is removable so you can store it in the fridge between drinks. Importantly, the frothing works equally well with dairy and non-dairy kinds of milk.
Cleaning is one of the hardest parts of owning a high-end espresso maker. Yet, Saeco makes it as easy as possible. Their patented Aquaclean filtration system provides better-tasting water for your coffee. With the filtration system, you will also descale this machine less often than the others. Finally, with a burst of hot steam, the milk steamer automatically sterilizes after use.
Gaggia is among the most trusted names in espresso machine manufacture, so it’s no surprise that the super-automatic Babila found a place on our list. Aside from making great espresso, this machine features modern Italian aesthetics and a durable stainless steel finish.
Babila latte machine is remarkably easy to use, while still packing a ton of options to fine-tune. These include aroma, body, and temperature of the coffee, coffee and milk length, pre-brewing level, and milk foam. Furthermore, the display screen alerts you to anything that needs attention, from refilling the water reservoir and bean hopper to emptying the drip tray or descaling the interior.
Unique to this machine is that it has both a steam wand and an automatic milk frother and carafe. Those who prefer a hands-off approach can use the automated system, while those who want to master the crafts of milk frothing and latte art can use the steam wand. Gaggia Babila is the most expensive machine on our list. Therefore, it won’t be for everyone. But if your budget permits, it is well worth the cost.
Read our full Gaggia Babila review.
Moving away from the elite Italian machines, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is a super-automatic latte and cappuccino maker priced for the rest of us. Plus, it features a user-friendly interface.As with all super-automatics, human error is removed from the brewing process as much as possible. Both milk frothing and tamping are automatic. Also, the milk reservoir is removable so you can store it in the fridge.
The Cafe Barista doesn’t have a built-in grinder, and its water reservoir is a relatively small 30 ounces. Still, these sacrifices give it a very compact form that fits well in any kitchen. The only downside to this machine is its durability. Sadly, it’s mostly plastic, with some stainless steel accents. While this keeps it affordable, there will be an inevitable impact on longevity.
The Mr. Coffee Cafe Latte Maker is a rare latte maker that isn’t single-serve. Of course, astute buyers will know that this suggests it isn’t making an actual cafe latte. But does that matter when it delivers a delicious and foamy milk-and-coffee beverage? That’s up to you.
Mr. Coffee’s latte maker isn’t an espresso maker. Still, with its easy-to-use, automatic latte cycle, it makes a full carafe of whipped milky coffee that certainly satisfies the latte craving. As a bonus, it comes with a free book of 20 latte recipes, for all your at-home pumpkin spice or gingerbread latte needs. Plus, you can use it to make hot chocolate.
It’s much quieter than an espresso machine and relatively speedy, taking just 8 minutes to brew a full 24-ounce carafe. A smart feature is an automatic shut-off upon completion, which avoids overheating the milk and ruining the taste of your drink. Be aware that the carafe features built-in electronics, so you must treat it carefully when cleaning. You can’t put it in the dishwasher or fully submerge it in water.
Nespresso has smartly partnered with some well-established companies to build espresso machines. The collaboration with De’Longhi is a great example, featuring the durability and style of De’Longhi paired with the convenience of Nespresso capsules. This compact machine will fit nicely, even in small kitchens. Alternatively, you can stash it in a cupboard between uses.
Milk frothing is automatic. Conveniently, the dishwasher-safe removable milk carafe can be stored in the fridge when not in use. A regulator knob allows you to adjust the milk froth texture and quantity. Moreover, the milk system is self-cleaning, requiring just the touch of a button to sterilize.
Though not entirely on par with freshly ground beans, the espresso is very high quality. Nespresso is known for sourcing the most exquisite grounds for its capsules, and their airtight seals ensure freshness. It has six preprogrammed drinks, adjustable via an easy-to-use touch display. A thermoblock heater means this machine is ready to go in under a minute. Even better, an energy-saving auto shut-off kicks in after 9 minutes of inactivity.
Keurig’s K-Cafe doesn’t make real espresso, but rather a powerful two-ounce shot of coffee. This shot serves as a fine base for a milky drink like a latte or cappuccino. And true to Keurig form, it couldn’t be simpler or more affordable. Like all Keurigs, this one operates with K-Cups, which are incredibly convenient but come with an environmental cost (8).
The top feature of this machine is its smartly designed milk frother. Unlike the others, it uses a spinning magnet to froth, leaving nothing to go wrong, wear out, or break. The built-in frothing jug includes marks that tell you how much milk to add. With all this, it’s as simple as pressing a button.
Uniquely, the K-Cafe is equally adept at brewing coffees and espresso drinks. It is thus a practical purchase if you like to switch between cappuccino and coffee regularly. The K-Cafe is wide, with both the frother and water reservoir located on the sides. But if it saves you from owning a separate coffee maker and espresso machine, it may be a space saver.
The Breville Bambino Plus has a lot going for it. Foremost of which is its remarkable speed. Thanks to a unique thermojet heating system, it only takes 3 seconds to heat up. The Bambino also delivers a remarkably good espresso, on par with the Breville Barista Express. The 15 bar Italian-made pump and pre-infusion function guarantee a thick crema and rich espresso shot.
The milk frother is an automatic steam wand that is virtually foolproof. Just select your temperature and texture, and the touch of a button will perfectly froth to your specifications. Like all Brevilles, this stainless steel espresso machine is very well made and durable. It features a large 64-ounce water reservoir, but still manages to maintain a compact frame.
This machine is the narrowest Breville coffee maker. On a downside, it lacks a built-in grinder, which may be a con for some buyers. Still, this keeps the Bambino at a very affordable price. If you already have a burr grinder at home, this is a remarkable value.
Making a latte or cappuccino at home is a great way to save money, learn new skills, and experiment with recipes and flavors. Each machine on our list is guaranteed to satisfy. However, our overall favorite is the Breville Barista Express. With a built-in burr grinder and swiveling steam wand, this semi-automatic latte machine has everything the budding barista needs to make delicious cafe-style drinks at home.
You get the best crema by optimizing all the variables in making espresso. These include the fineness of the grind, the tamping pressure, and the extraction time. Of course, a super-automatic espresso machine will do all that for you.
The best milk for lattes, according to many baristas, is low-fat cow’s milk, like 1% or 2%. But many other kinds of milk, including skim, whole, and non-dairy milk, will also deliver excellent results. (9)
A latte usually consists of one or two shots. But a latte is defined by the two-to-one ratio of steamed milk to espresso, not by the number of shots.
- Grant, T. (2020, March 16). What Is a Cappuccino & How Has It Developed Over Time? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2020/03/what-is-a-cappuccino-how-has-it-developed-over-time
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- Sprudge Staff. (2015, September 23). 5 Incredible Myths of Coffee Freshness Revealed. Retrieved from https://sprudge.com/5-incredible-myths-of-coffee-freshness-revealed-86011.html
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- Holt, S. (2017, May 11). How to Select The Best Milk For Coffee Foam & Latte Art. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/05/select-best-milk-coffee-foam-latte-art/