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Hit Me With Your Best Shot

It's easy to find the perfect shot of espresso at a neighborhood café. But for those who prefer to drink their first cup of the day while wearing pajamas, home brewing is a bit iffier. Thankfully, a handful of luxury machines on the market can bring a slice of Starbucks into any kitchen.

Espresso is made under pressure, and machines are rated by how many "bars" (think barometric pressure) they have. Melissa Niosi, coffee education manager for Saeco USA, a maker of quality coffee machines, says it takes only nine bars to make a great cup of espresso. Yet all top-shelf machines offer between 15 and 19 bars. The perfect espresso has a good dose of "crema" on top, that frothy, foamy brown skin—really an emulsification of the oils in coffee beans—that gives texture to your drink.

The price of a machine depends on its ease of use and construction materials. Near the top end, Saeco's Primea Cappuccino Touch Plus prepares two cappuccinos or latte macchiatos at once, using a built-in ceramic grinder to freshly grind the beans each time, a colorful illuminated touchscreen and nanotechnology to fully clean itself. It looks cool, too ($2,900;

The Illy Francis Francis X6 is the iconic Italian espresso machine that has added pizzazz to kitchens for 20 years. Funky, fun and serious, the 18-bar X6 now uses premeasured Illy paper pods (about 70 cents apiece) instead of loose grounds to make each cup. Milk is steamed the traditional way, through the attached nozzle ($500;

The DeLonghi Lattissima is a one-touch phenom that uses a choice of 12 espresso pods (made by Nestlé's Nespresso, about 45 cents each; to effortlessly make all manner of coffee drinks. One touch brews the coffee and froths the milk ($699;

Breville's Gourmet Single Cup Brewer makes American-style coffee, tea and hot cocoa from 150 different varieties of easy-to-load prepacked cups. A stylish backlit screen allows for a programmable start time and four brew strengths ($300; Your local barista will miss you.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot | World