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 automatic 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 guesswork 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 the guesswork away.
Personally, this is my favorite type of espresso machine, and I own this Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine. However, this machine could be classed as a super-automatic espresso machine seeing as it also grinds my beans too.
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 type of 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 steam 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 desirable features of an 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 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 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 Macchiato, Cappuccino, Mocha or Lattes. With that said, don’t worry if your machine hasn’t got a milk frother because you can buy one separately.
Best Automatic Espresso Machine (Top Picks 2018)
If you’re ready to put your hand in your pocket and part with your cash below I have recommended some great home espresso makers. All of these machines perfect for a novice just venturing into the world of espressos or even full fetched barista and you won’t go far wrong with one of these for making espresso coffee 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 a decent 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.
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, practice 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.
Best Espresso Maker Under $200 (Excellent Budget Options)
If you are looking for a good cheap espresso machine for under 200 dollars, you’ve landed on the right page. For as little as $200 you can get a good cheap entry level espresso maker that can brew up a mean shot of espresso.
I’ll admit that the buying any espresso maker under $200 bucks probably isn’t going to come with all of the additional bells-and-whistles found on the more expensive machines, but from my experience and talking to others, you can still get a good espresso machine for that amount of money.
I’ve found that most of the best espresso machines in today’s marketplace typically use a pump-driven system versus an old steam style setup. In my opinion, these pump espresso machines are the better option. However, they do tend to be slightly more expensive than the steam variety but don’t worry you can still find a pump espresso maker for under $200, and in fact, I have recommended some below.
Your options don’t stop there because you also have automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines and sometimes super automatic in this budget range. But often you’ll find these super machines are typically priced higher than $200 and are reserved for only the serious coffee lover or retail high-street coffee shops.
Below I have covered a handful of what I think are some of the best espresso makers under $200 that are currently available.
De’Longhi 15-Bar Pump Espresso And Cappuccino Machine
This first good cheap espresso machine is one that I currently use at home; now there are two different models which are virtually the same the EC702 which is the older model and the ECP3630 which is the latest model which is the one I own. There’s no big difference between the two and they are both priced at under $200 (at the time of writing).
As far as I’m concerned the De’Longhi 15-bar pump espresso maker is the best cheap espresso machine you’ll find, you’re not going to get a better bang for your buck (not for $200!). I’ve had my machine for little over 6-months, and it was a replacement for an older De’Longhi machine that had seen better days.
So far (touch wood) I’ve had no real significant issues with the De’Longhi espresso machine (ECP3630) apart from trying to figure out the water tank. I found that the machine won’t work until the water tank is fully pressed into place, I’m not sure if it’s just isolated to my espresso machine or the entire range?
This inexpensive espresso machine is one of the pump varieties, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this article these are the best type of coffee maker when it comes to espresso.
What else can the De’Longhi 15 bar pump espresso maker do? Well for starters, if you’re a fan of Cappuccinos or Lattes the De’Longhi comes with a milk frother built-in which saves you having to buy a separate milk frother which can be costly depending on which brand you buy. I should point out that the De’Longhi doesn’t come with any other tools to complement the milk frother such as a stainless steel milk pitcher, so that would have to purchased separately, here is a cheap one if you are not sure which one is best to complement this unit.
Another neat feature of the De’Longhi is the option to use coffee pods as well as freshly ground coffee. The unit actually comes with various attachment holders; one for a single shot of espresso, a holder for two shots and the espresso pod contraption which I’ve yet to use (I’m not a fan of those coffee pods).
To get the most out of your coffee, the De’Longhi uses 15-bars of pressure that helps to maximize crema for a delicious, barista-style espresso. The drip tray can also be removed so you can accommodate larger mugs or even squeeze in a small thermal coffee mug. A good cheap espresso machine that is well-worth the $200 asking price in my opinion.
Breville Cafe Roma Stainless Espresso Maker (ESP8XL)
The second budget espresso machine on my list has been recommended to me by a fly fishing buddy of mine. To be honest, when I took a look at it there seemed to be no real difference in design when compared to the above De’Longhi; though it does have a slightly more minimalistic look and fewer functions.
Priced at about the same price ($20 cheaper than the De’Longhi at the time of writing) as the above De’Longhi the Breville Cafe Roma Stainless Espresso Maker is a decent inexpensive espresso machine.
My fishing buddy has had his for about 12 months, and he openly admits he’s having a few problems with it. He says that when he first purchased the Breville Cafe Roma the machine would make a noise, but no coffee would come out. After fiddling around with the unit, it seems like the unit was suffering from a similar issue to the above De’Longhi where the water tank wasn’t properly seated in the correct position. Another potential problem showed itself with interment clogging, after experimenting and playing around with the unit it’s apparent that if your coffee grind is too fine, the machine can get clogged up.
Apart from that the machine apparently does a good job for a good cheap espresso machine. Some of the other notable features and functions on the Breville Cafe Roma Stainless Espresso Maker include an external water window that indicates when the water tank is low, a removable drip tray for easy cleaning and to accommodate larger coffee cups; and unlike the above De’Longhi the Breville it includes a frothing jug – perfect for all of the cappuccino fans reading this.
Cuisinart 15-Bar Espresso Maker (EM-100)
If you are looking for the best espresso machine for the money and you want something slightly cheaper than the above two, the Cuisinart 15-bar espresso maker is a good budget option (about $50 cheaper at the time of writing). It has similar functions as the above two. However I must admit that I find the build quality not as good, it feels a lot more plastic(y) and not as solid to touch as the others.
Even with its flaws, I was surprised to find a pump espresso machine at this price that delivered the preferred 15-bar of pressure, consistently. The Cuisinart also comes with a steam wand for frothing milk for cappuccinos, lattes and other drinks (however the wand doesn’t seem to be as robust or durable as the others). You can use fresh or ground coffee, or if you prefer you have the option to use coffee pods. With both brewing options, you can brew 1 to 2 cups in any one brew cycle.
The drip tray on the Cuisinart 15-bar espresso maker can be removed just like the above two, so you can fit in different cup or mug sizes, and it also features a cup warming plate to preheat your cups before you fill them up with coffee.
If you’re new to making espressos at home, you may struggle with this Cuisinart as it comes with very limited operating instructions. However, a quick search on YouTube should bring up some step-by-step tutorials on this exact machine to give you a helping hand.
Things You’ll Need To Make Espresso
Most of the best espresso machines come with the basic tools to get you started but to be honest the quality of the prepackaged items are typically not that great. I recommend that you check what actually comes with your machine and buy extras if needed.
For example, you’re going to need a good grinder for freshly ground espresso, a frothing pitcher jug and maybe a milk frother depending on whether the espresso machine has a steam wand already built in and lastly, you will need a tamper to evenly and firmly press the ground coffee into the portafilter.
If your chosen espresso machine doesn’t already have a built-in grinder or it doesn’t use pods you will have to dig deep in your pocket and invest in a decent grinder. There’s no getting around it you will need a grinder. Burr coffee grinders are going to be your best option, forget about blade grinders (like the F203 grinder) they just won’t cut it.
If you’re on a budget I recommend that you pick up the Hario Skerton grinder, it is a manual grinder but for the price, you can’t complain. If you want to know more about this burr grinder take a look at my full Hario Skerton coffee grinder review.
If you’re planning on making a latte or a creamy cappuccino you will need some way of frothing your milk. Luckily most of the best espresso machine comes with a steam wand already built in so you will have the ability to froth milk using that and a simple metal jug – which is often also provided. If your espresso machine has a built in steam frothing wand but no frothing jug, you can buy this reasonably priced Rattleware Frothing Pitcher over on Amazon.
If your machine doesn’t have a steam wand you can still froth milk but you will need to invest in a milk frother. Don’t worry these aren’t typically that expensive and you can read my full guide on the best milk frothers.
Lastly you will need a good espresso tamper so that you can evenly press your freshly ground coffee into the portafilter. There are many different types available and to be honest it can be confusing as to which is the best to buy.
Personally, I recommend that you get yourself the 58mm Espro Calibrated Flat Tamper, it’s great for beginners as it takes the guesswork out of how much pressure you need to use. You can find more details on this tamper and some other options in my best espresso tamper guide, so make sure you give that a read.
How to Use an Espresso Machine?
So now you have got yourself a new espresso machine and you have all of the tools needed to churn out a great tasting espresso next I’m guessing you will want to know how to make the perfect shot of espresso with a rich and golden crema.
To be frank, the best place to start is to take a look at the instruction manual provided with your unit since every machine is a little different. The manual will tell you the pull time and the general consistency to look for, so at least you will know that your machine is at least functioning correctly.
Basics Brewing Tips When Using A Semi-automatic Espresso Machine
Pour clear, cold, filtered water into the water chamber of your machine. About an ounce of water per shot will be required.
For a typically double shot of espresso, you will need 18 grams of finely ground coffee. Tamp the coffee firmly and evenly (read the manual for the suggested pressure) inside of the portafilter. Remove any grounds from around the sides and top of the filter then twist and lock it into place in the machine.
Place your cup under the spout. Next, you will need to flip a switch or simply press a button depending on the design of your unit. When the optimum temperature is reached and the machine begins to force water through the coffee grounds start your timer (a simple stopwatch will do the trick).
You should start to see your espresso shot start to drop in about 5 to 6 seconds. The consistency will be a syrupy, dark liquid and as the espresso starts to finish it will be a lot lighter (referred to as “blonding”).
Because we are pulling a double shot of espresso the whole brew cycle should take roughly 20 to 30 seconds and the overall volume should be around 30 grams (this is a very rudimentary starting point).
How to Clean Your Espresso Machine?
Now comes the fun part – cleaning! Good quality espresso machines aren’t cheap so after you’ve parted with a small fortune you will want to make sure that your machine keeps running for years to come; to be honest, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, if you keep clean and well maintained.
This is a basic cleaning schedule that you should follow for your espresso machine.
Cleaning After Each Pull
This is the easiest and at the same time the most overlooked. Keeping your unit clean after each use is going to not only save you time in the long run but it’s going to ensure that your machine is in tip-top shape.
If you are not planning to pull another shot of espresso, you should empty the grounds from the portafilter rinse thoroughly then place it back into the machine run some water through it from the to rinse out any remaining coffee grounds. Any old coffee ground stuck in the unit will only taint your next shot of espresso.
If your unit has a built-in steam wand make sure to wipe it down with a clean damp cloth and release a little steam to ensure that any remaining milk residue has been flushed out.
When you know you’re not going to use your espresso machine anymore that day you should ideally do a final clean. It’s not as hard as it sounds and it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. It’s taking the extra time doing ongoing cleaning like this that will ensure that your unit works without issues for years to come.
Wipe off any residue from your splash screen with a damp towel.
Install the backflush portafilter basket into the portafilter.
Run a brew cycle through the group head whilst gently jiggling the portafilter handle, this will help to clean and remove any coffee grounds that have found their way into small crevices. This step is known as backflushing but, be careful because the water is going to be hot.
Repeat this backflushing process at least 3 times or until the water runs clear.
Finally, remove the drip tray, drain and wash, dry and put back on the machine.
Every 1 to 2 Months
Even though you are hopefully cleaning your espresso machine after each use and at the end of the day you will still need to do a deeper clean every month or at a push every 2 months. This deep cleaning will help to remove the buildup of any minerals that have been deposited from the water, the amount of buildup will depend on the hardness of the water in your region.
First, you will need to fill your espresso machine with the required amount of a heavy duty descaler solution such as Saeco Espresso Machine Liquid Decalcifier.
Next, start your machine so that the descaler solution will flush through the boilers and pipes which will clean out calcium deposits in the espresso machine water lines.
Leave the machine turned on with the cleaning solution for at least half an hour. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions at this point for the appropriate time.
You can also use some of the descaling solution on the steam wand and the group head too.
Finally, empty the reservoir and refill it with clean water and rinse the machine with the clean water. You can repeat a couple of time until you are confident that all of the build-up of mineral has gone.
Once you are finished I strongly recommend that you use a litmus paper to test the pH of the water to ensure that all the chemical descaler has been completely rinsed out. If the blue litmus paper turns red, continue flushing clean water through the espresso machine.
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