Everyone loves a frothy cappuccino, with a fine foamy head that sets the espresso shot up just perfectly.
How do you choose the best cappuccino maker for you though?
To help you navigate this particular corner of the coffee world, I’ve put together an in-depth guide that will answer all your questions.
In this article I’m going to be reviewing the following cappuccino makers:
- Delonghi ECAM23260SB Magnifica
- Breville Barista Express BES870XL
- Mr Coffee Cafe Barista
- Gaggia Classic
- Ninja Speciality Coffee Maker
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What you need to know
When it comes to choosing a cappuccino maker, there are a few things that you should think about before settling on a machine.
Will you make other drinks?
Obviously a great cappuccino is of primary importance here. That said, most machines will also be capable of making a lovely latte for you too – to name just one example.
Different drinks need different milk finishes though, so it’s worth thinking about how much versatility you need from the machine.
An all-in-one maker will do a pretty good job on all fronts, but probably not the best.
If you opt for a machine that has a manual frothing wand though, you’ll have more control over the texture of the milk.
How much control do you want?
That leads naturally onto the next point. How are your barista skills, and how much fine control do you want over the process?
Some espresso machines take over much of the brewing process for you. You add your beans or coffee grounds, you choose your settings, and then it’s all hands-off from that point.
If you still want to be able to tamp down your coffee grinders and handle other elements of the process though, make sure the machine gives you that flexibility.
As for the frothing side of things you have a few options.
A dedicated steam wand will let you manually steam the milk yourself. This allows you to get the consistency of the foam just right for the drink in question.
That, of course, also requires you to develop a few new skills!
I would say though that none of this stuff is beyond the reach of most people, and shouldn’t be something that puts you off. Even if your first few attempts are a little wanting, you will pick this stuff up quite quickly.
Elsewhere on the site I’ve written a guide to steaming and foaming milk – give that a look if you need some starting tips.
To grind or not to grind?
For the average coffee drinker, pre-ground coffee does a pretty good job of delivering a decent drink.
The problem though is that coffee begins to lose its rich aromas and flavors as soon as you’ve finished grinding it. Even when packaged well it’s a compromised experience.
If you use whole beans and grind them as they’re needed though, you’re setting them up for the best possible extraction.
Some of the machines featured in this article have built-in grinders. All you have to do is add your beans to the bean hopper, then choose your settings.
(A burr grinder is particularly useful here, as it ensures the beans are ground more evenly, which results in a richer brew.)
These sorts of machines tend to sit at the higher end of the market though, but all is not lost if you choose a machine without this functionality!
There are some great dedicated grinders on the market that won’t break the bank. If you’re picking one up separately, I recommend splashing out on a burr grinder if it’s at all possible.
What’s your budget?
In general, you’ll pay more for a manual control (or semi-automatic) machine, then you will for an automatic machine.
If you’re only drinking the occasional cappuccino and you just want a very good – rather than outstanding – drink without too much hassle, an automatic machine is the way to go.
As these are typically cheaper to get started with, you can then work your way up into a more advanced machine. That’s if you feel it’s justified in terms of your time, skills and money.
Cappuccino Maker Reviews
Those are the things to keep in mind when shopping around. In the next section I’m going to cover some cappuccino machine reviews:
Delonghi’s cappuccino maker is one of the more advanced automatic machines I’m reviewing for this round-up. It’s important to know in advance that all the bells and whistles it packs in come at a premium.
One of those advanced features is very fine control over the coarseness of your bean grind. A burr grinder is built into the machine, which means you get very consistent grinds, which results in a more evenly flavored cup of coffee. Overall it brews pretty consistently too.
There are thirteen different grind size options in total, but you can also bypass the grinding process altogether if you wish.
If you want to use some of your existing pre-ground coffee (for a decaf cup, say), then you just add it to the second chamber. You don’t have to scoop everything out of the bean hopper, just to grab a quick cup of something else.
The ECAM machine also has two separate boilers: one for heating the espresso and one for heating the milk. The advantage of this is that both elements of the drink are heated optimally, which means a better overall coffee experience.
As for the water reservoir, you can fill the machine with up to 60oz of water between refills. That’s not the biggest tank on the market, although it’s pretty generous and should be good for around half a dozen drinks.
Despite the machine’s relatively advanced features, it’s pretty simple to use. A selection of push buttons are used to select the various brewing options, which light up clearly on the front. It’s not as intimidating as it looks at first glance!
As for the quality of the milk foam, De’longhi’s machine makes use of some clever, bespoke LatteCrema tech. This does a good job of producing dense foam that doesn’t just whisper away the moment you put your lips to the cup.
- Warms up from a cold start in around five minutes.
- Detachable milk reservoir can be placed in the refrigerator.
- A decent selection of coffee strengths to choose from.
- Useful self-cleaning regime built-in to keep the machine in good working order.
- Initial water hardness test helps establish the right descaling schedule.
- Self-cleaning cycle gets through a fair bit of the water reservoir.
- Bean hopper requires a bit of rummaging around to keep the beans moving
- Even a simple digital screen would have removed some of the interface clutter.
- Coffee may not be hot enough for some purists.
- The quality of the crema on espresso shots leaves a little to be desired.
Breville’s Barista Express is one of the go-to machines for those of you who want to develop their coffee skills. It features frequently in our round-ups of high-quality espresso machines.
As well as having a burr grinder, which helps achieve that crucial even grind, the Barista Express also features advanced PID temperature control. This adds water to the grind at just the right temperature, which means the flavor of the beans is extracted with real precision.
Although much of the brewing process is handled automatically by the machine, you will need to manually foam your milk using the built-in wand.
This may present a bit of a challenge on your first few attempts. Once you’ve mastered the process though, you’ll be able to produce really luxurious latte milk – and perhaps even dabble in a little latte art once you can whip up that essential micro foam?
Despite this hands-on approach, the controls are pretty simple on the Barista Touch. There’s a dial for choosing the grind size, and a few big blocky buttons to help you select things like double-shots and brew intensity.
Out of the box you get all of the gadgets and gizmos that you’ll need to get started, including a portafilter, multi-size filter baskets, and a stainless steel jug for foaming your milk in.
Just be aware that this is a machine that requires a more manual approach than others in this round-up. If you’re looking for the simplest cappuccino maker, then in all honesty this isn’t going to be the right machine for you!
If, on the other hand, you’re ready to flex your muscles and develop your skills then the Barista Express is one of the best all-round espresso / cappuccino machines on the market right now.
- Everything you need is included right out of the box.
- Pressure gauge is great for learning and really helps you drill down on making a better brew.
- Once you’ve mastered the process, the milk wand makes really good foam.
- Hot water dispenser is useful for making other drinks like hot chocolate or tea.
- A very hands-on espresso machine, which demands a desire to learn. This may be a plus for you!
- Despite an elegant stainless steel appearance, some components are made of plastic.
- Requires lots of cleaning to maintain in top working condition.
- The supplied frothing jug is a little on the small side, and you may want to buy something bigger alongside the machine.
Mr Coffee’s Cafe Barista machine is much easier to use than the previous machine, and is another very popular option.
It’s also a much better choice for those of you working to a smaller budget, but who still want a great cappuccino!
It’s a less hands-on coffee maker overall, with a milk frother that handles the entire foaming process for you. If you know that you’ll never want to take manual control of this part of your cappuccino crafting, then it’s a really good option.
It has a very simple interface as well, with just a handful of buttons for selecting things like the froth size you want for your cappuccino, and the number of espresso shots. That milk reservoir is front-loaded as well, which means it easy to take out and top up.
Just be aware that there is no grinder of any kind built into this machine, and so your only option is to use pre-ground coffee. That helps keep the machine affordable, of course, but it does mean you won’t get the best possible espresso shot from a machine like this.
It’s a very simple offering, then, but I can’t knock the quality of the cappuccino it cooks up. Overall I think it’s a really good option if you’re after very good coffee, want the machine to do all the hard work, and you don’t want to break the bank in the process.
- A very simple machine that nevertheless produces a pretty decent cappuccino.
- Automatic milk frother creates good quality foam.
- 15 bar pressure produces a very good espresso shot.
- Overall a great starter machine.
- Limited customization options, with a greater focus on clarity and convenience instead.
- For best results, I’d recommend buying a separate grinder and using fresh beans.
- Takes a little bit of practice to get the right amount of pressure when packing your grounds.
Like the Barista Express I reviewed earlier on in this guide, the Gaggia Classic is another very popular espresso machine for making top-notch cappuccinos.
It has a much more industrial looking design though, and it’s one that I personally find a little off-putting if I’m honest. You will, of course, have your own preferences when it comes to the aesthetics of your kitchen equipment.
The good news for everyone though is that it makes extremely good espresso shots. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Gaggia’s reputation for producing killer coffee machines.
Many of the brewing elements included in the Classic are the same as you’d find in a coffee shop. The 58mm portafilter is a notable element here, ensuring a fantastic shot of espresso that’s – theoretically – as good as anything you’ll get commercially.
This is another machine that comes with a manual steaming wand, and so you’ll need to be ready to roll your sleeves up and make your own cappuccino foam. If you want to make lattes as well, the wand does a good job of creating that super-smooth micro foam.
There’s no built-in grinder here. For that reason you’ll need to either buy a dedicated grinder separately, or make use of pre-ground coffee. The Gaggia Classic can also accommodate Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) pods. Think of them as little tea bags, but for coffee!
If you’re after a hands-on cappuccino brewing experience from one of the industry’s most reliable manufacturers, the Classic is a very good option. Have a look at my review of the machine if you’d like a more detailed look at what it’s capable of.
- High quality, commercial-grade brewing components
- A very good milk foaming wand – one that’s much improved on the original machine.
- Clever pump mounting minimizes brewing noise
- The Gaggia brand is highly regarded and this machine has a long lifespan.
- A rather blunt and industrial design aesthetic overall.
- Shallow dispenser height limits cup sizes.
- Extra accessories required to get the most out of the machine.
- Very simplistic controls and brewing options.
The coffee concentrate produced by Ninja’s machine is very rich and is good not only for cappuccinos, but also for drinks like lattes and macchiatos. If you’re after a machine that provides a lot of versatility, it’s an excellent option.
There are two distinct brewing options to play with as well. If you want a really punchy shot you can opt for the Rich Brew setting, which works the coffee harder, while Classic makes a more balanced drink.
I really like the design of the machine as well. In particular, the milk frother is designed to fold away, which helps to reduce the machine’s space requirements. The frother isn’t the best in the world, but it does a good enough job for cappuccinos.
Another very welcome inclusion is the adjustable cup height. You can get a huge array of cups, travel mugs and carafes under this thing, so it’s ready for pretty much any occasion. This kind of flexibility is not at all common, so top marks to Ninja on that front.
Unusually for a machine at this end of the market, it’s also certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). They don’t give their mark of approval easily, and a machine with this label is guaranteed to brew coffee at the optimal temperature for maximum flavor extraction.
Again though, there’s no grinder built into the machine. You’ll need a separate, dedicated grinder or be happy to stick with pre-ground coffee.
- A very versatile home cappuccino machine that’s designed to pack a lot into a small appliance.
- Carafe included for when you need to entertain (or just brew a big personal batch)
- Can be programmed in advance. Set your first cup of the morning up the night before!
- Easy to use settings for whatever size and strength coffee you want to brew.
- Largely plastic-constructed but feels durable.
- Despite its clever design it’s a little on the tall side. Check it will fit underneath your cabinets first.
- Carafe cannot be cleaned in the dishwasher and it can be tricky to get at the insides.
- Brew head gets gunked up quickly and will require frequent cleaning.
I have two recommendations to make based on these machine reviews.
Which one you choose will depend on whether you want a simple machine that does all the hard work for you, or a more advanced espresso and cappuccino maker that you’ll have to add your own delicate touches to.
For convenience, my top pick is the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker. It makes really good cappuccinos, but you also have access to loads of other specialty drinks as well.
I also love its design, and the ability to make so many different brew sizes in one coffee maker. Click here if you’d like to read more reviews of this popular machine.
If you want to take a more hands-on approach to your cappuccinos though, then overall I recommend the Breville Barista Express instead.
It’s a very popular, tried and tested machine that really delivers on all fronts. The espresso’s fantastic, and – once mastered – that steaming wand produces really good froth too. Click here to find out more about the machine.