The real trick to making great espresso and espresso-based drinks is pressure. We’re not talking about the kind that leads your barista to make your latte as quickly as possible, but the kind that pushes hot water with great force. It’s the secret to excellent coffee, and it’s also why the machine at your local coffee place takes up a lot of room and looks the way it does, with pipes and steam. Smaller machines for home use won’t achieve the pressures of the commercial ones, but they can offer great results at a fraction of the size typically.
The Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso Maker is a 15-bar model that fits perfectly on a kitchen countertop. It isn’t small, precisely, but nicely compact, and offers a decently-sized water reservoir that means less hassle when you’re trying to get your morning brew. Coffee lovers have so many options- single-cup machines like those from Keurig, as well as interesting “cup or pot” options like the recently-reviewed Capresso model, or even a combination espresso and coffee machine like the Krups we liked late last year. But this is a perfect option for those who want their caffeine in shot form and want a milk steamer as well, with minimal hassle and at a reasonable price point.
We compared shots from the Cafe Barista with both our local coffeehouses and our other machines, and the results were strong- great coffee, well extracted, with solid crema. For best results, you’ll need a good grinder (or pre-ground beans with a nicely fine grind); we recommend Baratza, which has a few models to choose from. If all you need is good espresso at a reasonable price, then the Cafe Barista is a solid bet. It does a lot of things right, and looks pretty slick, with decent build quality. But there is more to a machine than the output, and the Barista offers a few advantages over many in this category.
For starters, it’s easy to use. There aren’t a lot of options or complicated controls- there are separate buttons for espresso, cappucino, or lattes and you can easily choose between single or double shots. The milk chamber has a dial that allows you to select how frothy you would like your milk as well. There are separate filters for single or double shots, which is the only possible misstep- make sure you choose the right one, and that the other is handy. Unfortunately, there’s no obvious place to store it, and they can get lost fairly easily.
We also recommend getting a metal tamper if you’re serious. A plastic one is included, but felt flimsy. The milk spout can be a little messy too. But we liked the inclusion of a self-cleaning mode, and everything was except the filter is actually top-rack dishwasher-safe! Making your own lattes and cappuccino can take a bit of time, about five minutes or a bit more, once you’ve gotten the process figured out. Cleanup here was better than many that we’ve seen, thanks to some small design tweaks. The heating block works quickly, with temperatures that were good and seemed consistent, competitive with other residential machines.
It’s not as simple as an automatic machine like the ENA Micro 9, but there is a romance in tamping and you can change coffees with ease. Plus, the steam results were actually much better- you’ll have to find a separate spin frother/steamer to get superior milk. The included milk container can be refrigerated as well, meaning you can just reach in and grab it from your fridge without needing to pour each time. Plus, there isn’t much cool down time needed between drinks, a nice change from some other models.
Overall, it’s not a revolution in home espresso- but the Café Barista Espresso Maker does a lot of little things right, and it adds up to a unit that is easy to like, especially with a price point just under $200. Available now, online and in stores.