A good latte or cappuccino is like a rich milky mug of heaven. They’re simply delicious drinks, and just writing about them makes me want one. Sadly, creating these drinks at home can be a big hassle. Making a barista-worthy espresso is tough enough, but getting the right amount of milk and foam, perfectly heated and combined, is surprisingly daunting.
I’ve always wondered how well machines that make lattes and cappuccinos actually work. A few months ago, I decided to dive headfirst into the world of advanced coffeemaking devices and find out what makes them tick…er…hiss. After a fair amount of research, I spent almost three months testing eight different machines with latte and cappuccino functionality.
Some machines made pure espresso using coffee shop-style portafilters and came with milk canisters for frothing. Others relied on single-use pods with separate foamers. A few even came with legit steam wands and advanced options. Whether you’re a hardcore latte lover or just want something quick, these are the best latte and cappuccino machines we’ve tested.
1. Best Overall
At first, the Barista Express seemed too hardcore for me—it’s basically a coffee shop 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.
Because it can do so much, there’s a steep learning curve. The manual is a little dense and it’s hard to know what to do with all of the included accessories, at least to start. There’s a stainless steel milk jug, magnetic tamper, trimming tool, and more. They’re the highest quality accessories any machine came with, and all proved handy in time.
The Barista Express isn’t cheap, and is probably overkill if you already own a burr grinder, but you’d be hard pressed finding a sturdier, more authentic latte and cappuccino machine that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars.
(Tip: Use the double-walled filters—they deliver better crema—and when heating your milk, try to position your steam wand just below the surface. If you have it right, the milk will spin as it’s heating. Slowly lower the jug to add foam.)
2. Best Latte for Your Dollar
The Café Barista is perfect if you want pure espresso and a machine that mixes the milk for you without much fuss. It’s plastic and lightweight, which means you 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-sized espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes with the push of a button.
The 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—clean-up is easy, thankfully. Milk tends to come out a little foamier I prefer for a latte, and it took me some time to understand what size glasses I needed for each drink (a double latte, for instance, is 15 fl oz, but a double cappuccino is only 10 fl oz). The slide-out booster is nice for smaller glasses.
3. Most Convenient, Easiest Cleanup
I love this machine. It’s the best Keurig I’ve used (8/10, WIRED Recommends), and has the best frother of any machine I tested for this guide. Despite the fact that the K-Café doesn’t technically make espresso shots (the K-cup system doesn’t put its grounds under any pressure), it still makes a delicious “espresso style” 2 oz shot that can taste almost as strong, though without the crema that you might desire.
The real magic is the frother. It has three settings—cold, latte, and cappuccino—and froths milk to perfection with the tap of a button. When it’s done, simply pour your milk with the spout on the side. The jug is made of stainless steel, and the plastic spinner comes right off, making cleanup as easy as a quick run under the faucet. It was so simple to use and clean that I sometimes frothed milk with it even when I used other machines to make my espresso. I liked it so much, I didn’t even mind that the spout on the frother was designed for right handed folks. This lefty was happy to adapt.
4. Best For Nespresso Lovers
My house has had a Nespresso in it for years. Nespresso doesn’t taste quite as flavorful as a freshly brewed shot from a coffee shop, but it’s fast and does the trick. There are other Nespresso makers with frothers, but Delonghi’s Lattissima One is an elegant little machine with a solid 19 bars of pressure. The milk jug doesn’t hold a lot of milk, but it’s enough for at least two cappuccinos or a latte and a cappuccino. Just fill it, press the latte or cappuccino button, and the machine will do the work for you. The lattes are good, as long as you don’t mind them on the foamy side.
One quirk worth noting is that the steam nozzle tends to send hot milk in all directions. You’ll learn to compensate by angling the spigot but you do have to keep an eye on it.
The design of this model is top-notch. It’s easy to snap the frother jug on or off (there’s even a tiny door that covers the attachment point, if you want to leave the jug off), and cleanup isn’t too bad, though you’ll need to clean and refill it every day or two. Even with the extra maintenance involved, the Lattissima One is an easy upgrade if you wish your Nespresso could also brew a nice capp.
5. Jack of All Trades
The Ninja Coffee Bar (CF092) is for those who want a machine that does it all. It can brew a 4 fl oz “specialty concentrated” shot of strong coffee that’s similar to espresso (minus the crema) and it has a built-in milk frothing wand. Sadly, the wand won’t heat your milk, so you’re going to need to microwave it first.
If you also want to make regular coffee in a single-serve mug or a full pot of brew, the Coffee Bar is a good compromise. It can make eight sizes with other options for stronger or iced brews. The coffee filter is very easy to remove and clean out—just a rinse and you’re ready to brew again. The coffee scoop also snaps onto the side, which is handy.
(The previous model (CF091) is nearly identical and available on Amazon for $162.)
6. Cheap, Simple Espresso
If all you want is a dead simple espresso maker and frothing wand, this Hamilton Beach works well considering its $100 price tag. It has two settings: steam and brew, and performs them both honorably—though there is no way to get fancy and alter the temperature or pressure. You’ll also have to maneuver taller glasses carefully into place under the spout.
The feature that set me over the edge was the easy lever-style lock for the otherwise traditional portafilter. Instead of getting carpal tunnel syndrome desperately trying to twist it in every day, you can pull the handle down to lock it in place. Espresso comes out tasting as rich as you’d expect, with a healthy head of crema thanks to the 15 bars of pump pressure.
Machines that Didn’t Make the Cut
Keurig K-Latte ($100): The K-Latte is an admirable, affordable little Keurig with a traditional electric frother on it. It can put out a concentrated shot like the K-Café we recommend, but the frother isn’t any better than one you can buy separate, and its nonstick coating sometimes requires a gentle scrub.
Gourmia GCM4000 K-Cup Latte Maker: This Gourmia also uses Keurig K Cups, has an easy interface, and a nice milk frother built-in. Unfortunately, it has some design flaws. The K-Cup drawer often leaves a puddle around your cup, and if you use reusable K-Cups, they could get stuck in it. The milk jug is also difficult to remove and the distance from the milk spout to a normal cup is too far, leading to splashing and spills. You can adjust the cup shelf height, but you have to watch diligently: there’s a chance your cup might slide right off due to the flimsy nature of the shelf.
Questions and Answers
How did you test each machine?
To find the best latte and cappuccino makers, I first researched what was on the market, widely available, and stuck to models under $800. I ended up testing eight different machines for 1-3 months (depending on the model), using different types of coffees, pods, and milks. I tried to live with each machine, to a degree, and use them casually, but also tested the same milk and grounds in each (where possible) to compare milk/froth ratios and taste.
Setup and cleanup were especially important, as was durability. The entire point of a device like these is to save time and energy, and/or produce a drink of higher quality than can be made without it, so we didn’t recommend any products that didn’t produce tasty espresso and save time.
How do you make a good latte or cappuccino?
There are a lot of differing opinions on ratios, but generally a cappuccino is about 1 fl oz espresso shot (or a 2 fl oz double shot), 2 fl oz steamed milk, and 2 fl oz foamed milk, or an even 1:1:1 ratio. A latte is similar but has more milk and less foam. It’s a 1-2 fl oz espresso shot, 6(ish) fl oz of steamed milk, and a bit of foam that mixes with the espresso crema as you pour in the milk. I sometimes use a spoon to hold back the foam until the end. (I have yet to try and make latte art.)
Technically, the machines in this guide that have milk canisters make latte macchiatos because they pour the milk and foam before the espresso shot. In a traditional latte, the coffee comes first. I prefer traditional lattes in my testing. They were creamier and richer, but they were also more work to make (except with the Keurig K-Café).
Other Espresso Necessities
Great Beans: I’m still trying coffee beans. If you haven’t made espresso before, I recommend you use your favorite standard coffee beans. Just make sure they have a fine grind to them and pack them in tight if your machine has a portafilter. At first, I tried a lot of pre-ground popular espresso blends like Lavazza, Gevalia, and Café Bustelo. They were all too dark and bitter for my taste, but you may like them. Right now, I’m enjoying Kicking Horse coffee beans, specifically Three Sisters.
Electric Frother: Even if you don’t use one of these machines, you can add some froth to your espressos or coffee with an electric milk frother. This $33 Secura frother is pretty standard and has a two-year warranty.
Leveler & Tamper: A lot of machines come with a plastic tamper, but out of the units I tested, only the Barista Express had a proper leveler and tamper. I immediately began using it for other machines. You’ll need to double check the size of your portafilter (some are smaller than normal), but this $19 leveler and tamper should help you pack in those espresso baskets.
Stainless Steel Frothing Pitcher: If your latte maker only comes with a steam wand (like the Hamilton Beach machine on this list), you’ll want to invest in a nice frothing jug. This $13 Star Coffee Frothing Pitcher is nice because it has measurement scales on the inside, which is helpful if you want to get the right coffee/milk ratio.
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