The Best Cup-o-Joe-At Home

Invest in an espresso machine and you not only save money but get some sweet java, too

Coffee is part of our culture. We alter our daily routine and travel routes according to what coffee shop is open at what time on which street corner. On July afternoons we splurge on $3 iced mochas. In late December we go for $4 peppermint lattes. But what if you didn’t have to make that stop every day? The technology behind espresso machines has improved so much over the past few years that we were surprised a barista didn’t pop out of some of those we tested. From semi- to super-automatic, these machines are as chic as the espresso they produce.

Gaggia Syncrony Compact Digital, $999.99   
Cooking Uptown, 1707 E. 7th Street, 704-333-7300
If you’re thinking of re-designing your kitchen, here’s your centerpiece. With a stunning silver-gray finish, your next dinner party will migrate to your new Gaggia. Not only does it look good, the espresso it produces is fantastic. Karen Cooley of Cooking Uptown recommends Caribou Coffee Espresso beans, which have a beautiful flavor. It may take a few tries to find your preferred settings, but once you do, you’ll be rushing through dinner in anticipation of that perfect cup.

FrancisFrancis! X6 Trio, $429.95  
Sur La Table, SouthPark, 704-362-2360
Sur La Table has one of the best selections of espresso machines in town, and customers can test almost all brands. The most eye-catching model of the bunch is the FrancisFrancis! X6>Trio. It’s semi-automatic, which requires the user to rotate the portafilter handle to select the espresso of choice: long, normal, or ristretto, the preferred short shot of espresso aficionados. We loved the retro red finish, but it’s also available in black, or white with a bonus coffee mug warmer on top. Once done, however, it beeps like a seatbelt signal and won’t stop until, well, we couldn’t figure it out so we just shut it off.

Capresso Classic, $199.99
Reid’s Fine Foods, 225 E. 7th Street, 704-377-1312
This Capresso is one of the few machines that fits on a modest-size countertop and still makes a very decent espresso or cappuccino. As with all of these espresso machine options, reading the instructions and practice is necessary, and the semi-automatic Capresso really makes you feel as if you accomplished something. It’s not as fancy as the rest and could use a heavier portafilter holder, but if you’re looking for a simple model for espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos this is it.

DeLonghi Magnifica Coffee Center     
Crate & Barrel, SouthPark, 4320 Sharon Road, 704-362-4003
Espresso is much more than beans in a filter and a little water. Similar to wine, many factors affect the taste and experience of an espresso. But until you learn these factors, the DeLonghi will do it for you. It’s automatic and has a digital screen to guide you when you’ve forgotten if you’re making a cup of coffee from fresh beans or a cappuccino from quality grounds. It’s pricy, but if you use it as much as you buy a cup of java for your morning meeting, it could pay for itself in a
few years.

Nespresso D290, $499.95
Williams-Sonoma, 6401 Morrison Boulevard, 704-364-8886
There’s something magical about authentic stove-top espresso makers and how they produce such a pure beverage. But let’s be realistic, few of us have enough time to grab a Pop-Tart, let alone wait ten minutes for an espresso. The motivation behind the Nespresso is ultra-convenience. Turn it on, insert your favorite capsule blend (there are more than a dozen strengths to choose from), and press go. Twenty seconds later, it’s done. The capsule flavor wasn’t very impressive

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