Best Espresso Machine The Ultimate Buyers Guide For 2017
If you’ve spent any time at all looking to buy an espresso machine you've probably already noticed that it’s not as simple as just plucking one off the shelf at your local store, taking it home, and then plugging it in. Buying the best espresso machine can be far more confusing when compared to buying any other type of home coffee maker.
Making the perfect shot of espresso at home requires a bit of practice and picking out the right home espresso machine can either aid you to becoming a great home barista or it can hinder you making you quickly run back to your trusty automatic drip coffee maker, and in-turn leaving your new espresso maker sat gathering dust never to see the light of day again.
Once you realize that you’re shopping for a coffee machine that is a little bit more complicated than your regular home coffee brewer, it can become a bit daunting as well as a little confusing when trying to figure out where to begin and exactly which is the right home espresso machine to buy.
In this ultimate espresso machine buying guide, I’m going to take you by the hand and lead you down a road to an espresso-fueled knowledge-fest showing you the ins-and-outs of the home espresso machine. So grab a large cup of coffee, a pen a paper for note taking, and let’s crack on.
STOP: Before We Dive in Head First
What’s Your Budget?
How much have you set aside for your new home brewing machine? Sure, you can get a good espresso machine for almost any budget, and some decent espresso makers for under $200 but you typically get fewer features along with less durability I find in machines with the lower end price tags.
For a beginner just venturing into the world of home espresso making cheaper machines aren't necessarily a bad thing. You can still get what you want without breaking the bank, but don’t expect the machine to last a lifetime or come with extras to froth milk or even a built-in grinder to grind your whole coffee beans.
So before you run out the door set a budget and try to stick to it. It’s easy to become all giddy when you get to the store to buy your new espresso machine and often the sales clerks will "reel you in" with features and functions found on expensive machines that you’ll probably never use. When choosing the best espresso machine I would recommend setting a budget of up to $1000, that doesn’t mean you have to spend every last cent, but this should allow for a bit of wiggle room so that you can get the right machine with the features and functions you need.
Hands-On or Hands Off?
You’ll soon quickly realize that all of the better espresso machines have some level of automation and before you scrutinize the features and functions of each device you can quickly whittle down your options by deciding on how much automation you want with your new espresso maker.
If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about or if you didn’t even realize that there were different automation levels keep on reading and I’ll briefly cover the various options available along with an approximation of their cost to buy.
As the name suggests, semi-automatic espresso machines do some of the work for you, but not all the work. You still have to let the espresso machine know how strong you want your shot of espresso, how much coffee grounds to tamp in the portafilter (that cup with the handle that hooks into the top of the espresso machine), as well as the amount of water needed to make the perfect shot.
The semi-automatic espresso machine still does take a lot of the guess work out of making an espresso as it heats the water to the correct temperature and allows you to determine when the espresso meets your preferred consistency. If you are looking for a cheap espresso machine, the semi-automatics tend not to be too costly, and you can pick up a consumer level machine for under $200.
The difference between semi-automatic and automatic espresso machines is slight however the price jump to this class of machine can leave a big dent in your pocket. Sure automatic espresso machines have a few more functions and features, but the most significant difference between the two is the fact that automatic espresso makers will measure the correct amount of water for you and once done they will then automatically shut off.
This makes automatic home espresso machines perfect for the novice just venturing into the world of espresso making; you don’t have to guess whether the espresso is ready to serve or if it still needs more water because the machine has taken that element of guess work away.
Personally this is my favorite type of espresso machine, and I own this Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine like the one pictured at the top of this article; however, this machine could be classed as a super-automatic espresso machine seeing as it also grinds my beans.
If you thought that you couldn’t get any better than the automatic espresso machine, think again, because the super-automatic espresso machine comes with all of the bells and whistles and even takes your dog for a walk, ok maybe not dog walking, but you get my point.
If you have the money to buy the best home espresso maker on par with those installed in high-street coffee houses, then the super-automatic is the way to go. This class of home espresso machine lets you create an espresso entirely hands-free, to be honest, the machine literally does everything for you.
You don’t have to measure the water or know when it’s hot, you don’t have to grind or measure your coffee beans, and on some of the best super-automatic espresso machines, you don’t even have to froth your milk!
If you want to be the number one home barista in your neighborhood this machine is for you, however, don’t expect much change out of $1000.
Coffee Pods or Coffee Beans?
In the past espresso machines operated without pods but with the latest trend of using prepackaged coffee pods the most modern espresso machines have caught on, and you can now find a host of espresso makers that take both pods as well as ground coffee.
There isn’t much of a price difference between a machine that takes pods and one that doesn’t, that being said if you drink regular cups of coffee brewed with those prepackaged coffee pods the cost of making your cup of Joe will soon add up. In the long run grinding your beans not only tastes better in my opinion but will cost a lot less per cup versus the coffee pods.
With the prepackaged coffee pods, you are paying for convenience; personally, I don’t like them, but opting for an espresso maker that uses pods comes down to a matter of precision and your personal preference.
Pumping the Iron or Getting Hot and Steamy?
One of the big differences in the best espresso maker is how the coffee gets pulled out of the grounds. There are two ways this is achieved with espresso machines (as far as I am aware) with machines being split into two types, pump driven and steam driven. Simply put, one method uses steam to extract the coffee and the other method uses heated, pressurized water which is pushed through the coffee grounds.
The best espresso machines are the pump variety (again in my opinion, but ask any barista, and they will probably tell you the same) the produced espresso tastes like real espresso, and you find that there is no burned or charred aftertaste that can sometimes occur with the steamed driven machines.
I’ll admit, the pump espresso machines are a bit pricier when compared to the cheaper steam units, but if you enjoy and savor your espressos you won’t be happy with the results of a steam driven machine, trust me, so opt for the pump machines (you can thank me later).
Get your Grind on!
One of the features of the best espresso machine for home use is a built-in grinder. You will tend to find coffee grinders built-in to the more expensive machines, plus they're on all of the super-automatic models I have seen so far. Let’s be honest, if you want your espresso maker to weigh, grind and move the beans for you you’re going to have to pay a little bit more for it.. right?
If you are on a tight budget, I would probably rule out buying an espresso maker for the home that comes with a grinder. However, that being said you will have to pay for a separate coffee grinder at some point because pre-ground shop bought espresso doesn’t taste the same as freshly ground.
To Froth or Not to Froth - That is The question!
You would think that all of the high-end best espresso machines would have a built-in milk frother or steam wands as they are often called; however, that isn’t the case. I have found that many of the cheap espresso machines have milk frothers better than the more expensive machines that tend to offer almost nothing but maybe a little bit of hot air.
Here you will have to use your instincts and intuition to make sure the home espresso maker you choose has a decent milk frother. The Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine I own has an excellent milk frother and makes light work of frothed milk for cappuccinos. With that said, don’t worry if your machine hasn’t got a milk frother because you can buy one separately, check out my best milk frother article if you need to buy one.
Best Espresso Machines (Top Picks For 2017)
If you’re ready to put your hand in your pocket and part with your cash below I have recommended three home espresso makers that I have used in the past and one that I own now. Both of these machines are great espresso brewers, and for a novice just venturing into the world of espressos or even full fetched barista, you won’t go far wrong with one of these for making espresso at home.
Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine
The first espresso maker recommendation is the one I am using at home right now, the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine (BES870XL). When I purchased the coffee brewer, it was just under $600, and I didn’t think that was a bad price for the best espresso machine for the home. I was sold the Breville Barista as an automatic machine by the sales clerk, but it’s more like a super automatic. It has a built-in conical burr grinder, a milk frother, and a large half-pound bean hopper to hold my whole coffee beans, you would be hard pushed to find any other so-called automatic machines with a built-in grinder.
What else can it do? Well, the Breville Espresso Machine has a neat purge function that continuously monitors and adjusts the water temperature after steam to give you the optimal espresso extraction temperature, it really is hands-free!
Once you have set your grind setting from fine to coarse the built-in coffee grinder takes your beans from the bean hopper and grinds away and fill your portafilter directly without you having to touch a thing. There is also an indicator to let you know when it’s time to give your machine a clean; it really is as simple as pressing a button, removing a few parts and then using the supplied cleaning kit to get your espresso machine looking and running like new again.
In my opinion, this is the best espresso machine for the money I’m over the moon with mine and haven’t had any problems (touch wood) with it since I purchased it as a replacement for an older model earlier in the year. If you can’t find the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine in your local department store, you can get one from places like Amazon.
GAGGIA: The Baby Class Espresso Machine
If you are looking for a cheap espresso maker, the Gaggia is the perfect option. Gaggia is a well-known brand and has a long history in coffee. They have a full range of kitchen appliances, but it's their espresso machine's that they are known for.
Made in Italy, the Baby Class Espresso Machine features a desirable 15-bar pump, a turbo milk frother, chrome plated brew group, elegant push button controls, and a removable portafilter and water reservoir. Plus its made in Italy, the home of the best espressos, so you know you're getting a top rated machine!
The Baby Class Espresso Machine gives you the ability make two cups of coffee simultaneously, and the stainless steel, easy to clean outer body means this machine is an absolute favorite for home use.
With a great mix of functions and features, the Gaggia provides everything to help make your morning espresso brewing ritual painless and easy while allowing the complete beginner to retain full control over the brewing process. The simple yet sleek design of this espresso maker is ideal for any modern kitchen and will complement your counter effortlessly.
Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
If you’ve got a bit more cash to spend the Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine is a great upgrade from the above Breville. Priced at just under $700 (at the time of writing) this isn’t a cheap espresso machine by any means for home use. However, this traditional style best-selling espresso machine has been produced by one of the most recognized manufacturers in the world of espresso making!
I had my Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine for 15 years (yes 15 years) before I decided to replace the aging machine with the above Breville. It really is a workhorse when it comes to making great tasting, consistent espressos at home, albeit with a little bit of practice - but as they say, pratic makes perfect!
Even though the Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine has been designed with home use in mind, it has still been built with their commercial grade parts and fixtures. For example, the portafilter, the commercial grade group head for excellent heat stability, and the single boiler (which is the largest I’ve seen in any home espresso maker holding 0.3 liters) are some of the key components on any best espresso maker and can all be found on their high-end commercial lines. Which just goes to show that they haven’t skimped on quality even for their cheaper home coffee makers.
Just like the above Breville espresso maker, this Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine features a milk frother that has more precise controls for producing steam than the Breville, I found. One of the downsides of the Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine is the fact that it doesn’t have a built-in coffee grinder. So you would have to buy a separate coffee grinder to use alongside the Rancilio. Try and buy a good burr grinder such as Gaggia MDF or Rancilio Rocky which are both excellent grinders, and then grind your beans just before brewing.