Smeg has carved a particular niche in the home appliances market. Its instantly recognizable, retro-inspired designs fit a specific aesthetic, and it’s become renowned for products that don’t only stand out on style but deliver on substance. The Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine looks to build on this reputation.
With its rounded edges, large 'SMEG' emblazoned across the front of the machine, and (in the case of my review model) its bright red finish, it’s not designed to blend in. It’s built to be the centerpiece of your kitchen. But are its coffee-making skills as loud and impressive as it looks, and more importantly, do they really warrant its premium price tag?
For my Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine review, I’ve spent the past month putting the machine to the test. I’ve made a range of drinks, from iced lattes to macchiatos, and experimented with different beans.
Victoria is a freelance lifestyle and technology journalist with almost two decades of experience reviewing gadgets, beauty tech, and household appliances. She's a huge coffee fan and is signed up to multiple at-home coffee bean subscription services, which she used to put the Smeg Manual Espresso Machine through its paces.
Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine: Product specifications
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Row 0 - Cell 1|
|Model no.||#EGF03PGUS (Pastel Green), #EGF03RDUS (Red), #EGF03WHUS (White), #EGF03BLUS (Black), #EGF03CRUS (Cream), #EGF03PBUS (Pastel Blue)|
|Type of coffee||Espresso|
|Brew time||20-30 seconds|
|Brew size options||1 - 2.5oz (single / double espresso)|
|Power cord length||0.9m / 3ft|
|Average noise level||65dB|
|Dimensions||17.4 x 17.4 x 13.4in (w x d x h)|
Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine: price and availability
The Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine is on sale in the US, UK, and Australia for a list price of $899 / £849.95 / AU$ 1190. In the States, it can be bought from reseller Williams Sonoma, whereas in the UK, it can be bought directly from Smeg, as well as John Lewis and Currys. It's not yet available to buy from Smeg.com, but it will be soon.
Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine: First impressions
Upon unboxing the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine, its retro design and bright red gloss finish immediately clashed with my cream and gray kitchen and looked out of place, especially alongside my other stainless steel appliances. It comes in a range of colors, including white, black, and cream, as well as pastel blue and green, and any of those would've worked better in my kitchen.
The next thing I noticed was how heavy everything was. Not just the machine itself – which at 27lbs and 17.4 inches wide is significantly heavier and bulkier than my Breville Barista Express – but the accessories, too. The portafilter and tamper are both large and weighty, the milk jug is solid, and the water tank feels larger than its 2.4L capacity would suggest.
When building the coffee machine, it's not immediately clear how all the pieces of the drip tray go together, and I had to resort to the instruction manual sooner than I would have liked. A huge plus to this, though, is that the spare filter cups can be stored behind the drip tray, out of sight. This way, you always have them to hand without them cluttering up your kitchen drawers.
There's a lot going on, and it can seem overwhelming, at least initially.
Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine: Design
The weight and size of the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine give the appliance a luxury, premium feel. It would be disconcerting to spend this much on a coffee machine for it to feel flimsy or poorly built. The materials used, mainly die-cast aluminum and stainless steel, add to the machine's overall sense of quality.
The steam/hot water wand can be adjusted away from the machine or over the drip tray. There isn't much room for the milk jug and a cup to sit comfortably next to each other on this tray, so I tend to have this wand facing down and out.
The 2.4L water tank is a generous size, aimed at those who are serious about their coffee rather than occasional drinkers. The built-in grinder, with its 15-stage grind size adjustments, offers the kind of settings usually found on standalone grinders. This machine is clearly targeted at coffee enthusiasts who want convenience without having to sacrifice quality.
That said, the buttons, levers, and settings can seem daunting. The grind settings are managed via an arrow and numbers on the grinder itself. You turn the grinder dial to the desired settings. On the left-hand side of the machine's panel are single and double bean buttons. In the center is the espresso pressure dial, and on the right are single and double cup buttons. There is then a small handle fitted into the right side of the machine where you control the hot water and two steam controls.
Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine: Performance
To begin my testing, I removed the water tank, filled it with water to the maximum water line, and placed it back into the machine. This was a little fiddly because the water tank, when full, is too heavy to easily maneuver one-handed. Plus, with the coffee machine in the corner of my kitchen counter, I couldn't easily get two hands around it. That said, once in place, the tank slides in easily and clicks into place.
From there, I loaded the grinder with beans – with some help from my youngest – and pressed the power button situated on the left-hand side of the machine. The bean buttons immediately lit up, while the LED rings around the cup-size buttons began flashing intermittently. This went on for around 30 seconds and at first, I thought there was an error before I realized the machine was simply heating up. Once it reached the required temperature, the buttons stopped flashing, but it was not possible to alter the water's temperature.
When it came to selecting a grind size, I largely had to guess and experiment on my first few uses. I also had to play around with these settings each time I used different beans to make sure the consistency and flavor were how I wanted it. This is common on bean-to-cup machines and the key is to make sure the espresso pressure sits within the set parameters for the machine in question.
As you run the water through the ground coffee, the pressure dial found in between the buttons on the front panel will start to rise. As long as it lands in the black, highlighted section, your coffee should taste like an espresso. However, adjusting the grind can help you position the dial in the center of this gauge (or wherever you want the dial to land) and it's ultimately this dial's location that determines the espresso's consistency and is what gives it a creamy finish.
This machine is what's known as a 15-bar espresso machine which Smeg claims is the "optimum" pressure. Ideally, an 8-9 bar machine is optimal but it's difficult to achieve such bars on at-home machines. The conditions need to be just right to manage these lower bars, so 15-bar machines are widely considered the next best thing for home brewing.
To turn the beans into ground coffee, you first need to check which filter you're using – the single, or double filter – before resting the portafilter in the grey, plastic holder and pressing the corresponding single, or double bean button. The machine will grind the coffee into the filter, and you then use the tamper to compress the grounds. From here, turn and lock the portafilter in place and press the corresponding cup size button – and make sure you place a cup underneath.
Once made, this is where the fun begins. You can drink the espresso as is, fill it up with hot water for an Americano, or froth the milk in the jug with either of the steam settings for a cappuccino, pour the espresso over ice, and more.
For my taste, the hot water from the machine isn't as hot as I like, so I tend to use water from the kettle instead. Similarly, the low steam function froths the milk to my liking, so I haven't found myself needing or using the high steam option. They're nice features to have, I just didn't find them that useful.
A couple of additional things to note – the Smeg coffee machine is significantly quieter than every other coffee machine I've tested, especially my Breville Barista Express. My youngest son used to cover his ears when I ground coffee on the Breville model, but he doesn't even notice when I do the same on the Smeg machine. Elsewhere, you can go from using the hot water wand straight to steam without any delay. This isn't always the case with machines of this type, and it makes a noticeable difference in time and convenience.
The machine's manual nature means that there is a learning curve involved, and the machine is not without its flaws. The limited adjustability in coffee quantity and espresso volume – only being able to choose between a standard single or double – means that you may have to experiment a bit to find your ideal brew. In my experience, though, all of this is more than worth the effort.
Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine: Taste test
When it comes to the actual taste of the coffee, the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine comes into its own.
The built-in grinder allows you to use freshly ground beans each time, guaranteeing a stronger and fresher taste. The machine's high water pressure and adjustable grind settings help you make a rich, full-bodied espresso, albeit with a little experimentation.
Once you've found your ideal settings, the Smeg Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine is consistent, producing cup after cup of great-tasting coffee. The large water tank and bean hopper also mean that you can entertain guests or get through a busy morning – or cope with a late night – without constantly having to refill the machine.
The steam wand's two froth levels offer versatility in milk texturing, and this means you can go from a super frothy cappuccino to a smoother, flat white, although in reality, I found the lower setting was enough to create a mix of textures on its own.
Should I buy the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine?
|Price & availability||It's high price and limited availability make this a somewhat exclusive product.||3/5|
|Design||Iconic Smeg look and sturdy design works well but is an acquired taste.||4/5|
|Performance||Learning curve is more than worth the effort for taste and quality.||5/5|
Buy it if...
You want style and substance
The Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine is not just a pretty face; it's a high-performing machine that delivers great-tasting coffee time and time again.
You don’t like refilling the water tank every day
The water container is fairly large, which means you could make multiple espressos in a row without having to refill it. One full tank usually lasted me about three days, despite making multiple coffees for myself and my partner every day.
You want a built-in grinder
The convenience of having a grinder and espresso machine in one not only saves time, space, and washing up, but it means the grind of the beans is designed to be optimized by the water pressure. A small but significant benefit when it comes to getting great-tasting coffee.
Don't buy it if...
You want more control
The Smeg coffee machine offers enough customization settings for most people, but if you're a coffee aficionado, you may find it too restrictive.
You're on a budget
This machine comes with a hefty price tag, making it a significant investment. You'll likely only get good value from this machine if you like and make coffee regularly but don't want the hassle of complicated settings.
You don’t have a lot of counter space
The Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine is bulky and will take up a considerable amount of room, so it may not be suitable for smaller kitchens or cluttered countertops. Its design is also an acquired taste.
How does the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine compare?
The Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine is not to be confused with Smeg's other older coffee machines.
The Smeg ECF01 is the brand's original manual espresso coffee machine. It's half the size of the Semi-Automatic and is missing the grinder – so you need to buy ground coffee rather than beans – but it does come with a milk frothing wand and multiple espresso sizes. It was recently succeeded by the upgraded but largely identical ECF02. This retails for $530 / £400 / AU$ 830.
Then there's the Smeg BCC02, which is a bean-to-cup machine with a steam wand on the front and the grinder built into its slim base. It sells for $995 / £650 / AU$ 1500.
When looking at alternative machines outside of Smeg, the Breville Barista Express Impress costs £730 / $700 / AU$900 and offers very similar functionality and features. With 25 grind settings and an in-built tamper versus Smeg's 15 settings and a separate tamper, the Breville model may be a better option for coffee purists or people who want more customizability.
How I tested the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine
- Used the machine to make an espresso every morning and afternoon for a month
- Spent time trying out the different portafilters, grind settings, and wands
- Tweaked quantities to get the best results
I tested the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine for a month in my home in Aylesbury, UK. I made at least one, sometimes two, espressos or espresso-based coffees every day and tested a range of beans from different brands. I experimented with different grind settings, as well as making different types of coffee.
Read more about how we test
First reviewed: September 2023