With so many brands and models out there, finding the best espresso machine can seem like a daunting task. This buyers guide will help the average coffee drinker gain a better understanding of the options out there so you can make an informed buying decision. Use our espresso machine reviews to help you make the right choice to suit your budget, needs and preferences, so you can start every day with a delicious shot of espresso.
Types of home espresso machines
In order to gain a better understanding of the type of espresso machine that will suit your needs, it helps if you know a little about the types of machines out there. From manual systems to semi-automatic ones, there’s something out there to suit any espresso lover – no matter how long you’ve been making coffee.
Stovetop espresso coffee maker
Also known as a moka pot, the stovetop espresso maker is a timeless classic and the most basic type of coffee maker. The process used to make the coffee is completely manual, giving you a great deal of control over the taste. You’re not getting a machine with this maker, since there are no moving parts or fancy tricks.
It takes up little space in your kitchen and is a more affordable alternative to the proper espresso machines. The end result is a rich, strong, dark coffee with the same characteristics as that of an espresso. While you might not get the real deal, this type of coffee maker suits someone looking for a no-frill, low cost device.
Manual espresso machines
Also known as a lever espresso machine, this coffee maker requires manual strength to pull the handle used to squeeze water through the coffee grounds. Using the lever gives you greater control, which is why espresso fanatics tend to love these machines. Expect a high level of customization, which will give you the freedom to experiment until you get just the right shot.
Manual machines are typically not recommended for beginners, as they require a great deal of patience and practice to get the hang of. You really need to pay attention to get a consistently good shot, so it’s all about taking the time to learn how to use the machine and figuring out the best timings, temperature and measurements. These are great for those looking to get a real hands-on approach to making espressos.
Semi-automatic espresso machines
Semi-automatic machines feature automated temperature controls for the boiler, an automated pump, while you decide when to turn the pump on and off through an activation switch. You can also adjust the steam and water flow to taste, so you have more control over the finished product.
These tend to be the most popular choice for those looking for a traditional machine, since they offer convenience, while giving you control over how your shot will progress. That is why there are so many machines out there that fall under this category, offering you plenty to choose from.
Super-automatic espresso machines
These machines are all about offering convenience to the user, so you don’t have to worry about fine-tuning the process to your own personal taste. Since most of the brewing steps are automated, all you have to do is fill up the water, add the coffee beans and you are good to go.
This machine goes through the full cycle; it grinds the beans, tamps the coffee, brews the espresso and most even come with cleaning or auto-rinse cycle. They tend to be the most expensive, but are extremely easy to operate. These machines are great for busy people on the go, who are after great espresso without all the fuss.
Pod espresso machines
These types of machines use premeasured coffee pods and have become a big hit in the coffee industry due to their versatility and ease of use. All you do is place your chosen pod in the machine, press a button and the machine will do the rest. While they may not produce an expert shot of espresso, they are neat, tidy and you don’t need any coffee knowledge to produce a decent cup.
While the machines themselves tend to be inexpensive, the price of the pods can quickly add up. However, they offer a great deal of convenience to the consumer and a lot of variety, so they are a great option for households where users have different preferences. If you are looking for a no-fuss way to make coffee, with a wide choice of flavors, then this might just be the machine for you.
What are you looking for?
With so many different choices out there, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. The trick is to take a moment to consider what you are actually looking for in a machine before you start reading all the espresso machine reviews out there. The product you end up buying will really depend on budget, intended use, coffee making ability and how serious you are about your coffee drinking.
After all, there is no such thing as the best espresso machine for absolutely anyone, because what is deemed as best for one person might not work for somebody else. You need to think about what type of machine is going to suit you and your family. And just so you know. Even in Space they now have espresso makers.
These are a few standard questions you should ask yourself first to help guide you during the buying process:
What are you going to use it for?
If you are looking to buy an espresso maker, the answer may seem obvious. However, you should also be asking yourself if you need a machine to make espressos on a daily basis, to use every once in awhile and if you need a machine that has the ability to make more than just espressos. If there’s going to be more than one person using it, then you need to take their personal preferences and coffee making abilities into account as well.
What is my coffee making ability and how much fine-tuning am I willing to do to make the perfect shot?
If you are a beginner who doesn’t have the time or patience to learn how to make the perfect shot of espresso, then a super-automatic or pod espresso machine may be the best option for you. However, learning to make a great cup of coffee can be a fun experience and you may even find that it becomes a new hobby.
Semi-automatic machine are the next best option since they give you some control over the finished product, without making the process overcomplicated. At the end of the day, you should match the right machine to your ability, as well as your coffee making goals.
[infobox]Top tip: While it may be tempting to go for the best deal, it’s worth investing in a high quality machine with a long life span. Take your long-term coffee goals into consideration and avoid purchasing a machine you will just have to replace in a years time. [infobox]
What is my budget?
When it comes to espresso machines, you can buy anything from $100 budget buys to the $5000 professional varieties. The fact of the matter is that your budget will have a big influence over the type of espresso machine you are able to purchase.
While some espresso machines are expensive, not all are and you can still find quality machines at reasonable prices. For beginners with limited coffee making ability you can easily find a suitable coffee maker in the $400-$600 region. If you’re looking for a higher quality machine without spending a fortune, you’ll most likely be looking at the $600-$1000 region.
Take the time to consider which factors are most important to you, so you can then decide how to spend your budget. Typically, the more expensive the machine, the better quality coffee you will receive.
Brands to look out for
There are so many different coffee machines on the market that it helps if you know you are buying a machine from a brand you can trust. Let’s take a look at some of the best espresso machine brands out there, known for consistently receiving high reviews and producing quality products.
Rancilio: Rancilio espresso machines and grinders are some of the best known and highly regarded in the world and with good reason. Its coffee machines are well known for offering high quality components and features, which translate into delicious cups of coffee.
By using commercial grade components in their domestic coffee machines they have managed to produce superior quality coffee worth paying extra for. By delivering in terms of quality, reliability and customer care, Rancilio has earned itself excellent reviews time and time again.
Gaggia: This Italian brand is the number one espresso machine manufacturer in Italy. It offers a wide range of coffee machines, including traditional espresso machines and the bean-to-cup varieties. You can find both home espresso machines and those for commercial use, so there is lots to choose from.
Their machines can range from $200 to $2,000 and include the semi-automatic and super-automatic variety. Many of their machines delivered espressos rated as superb by coffee industry expert Giles Hilton, earning them Best Buy status.
Breville: This brand first became a household name in the 1980’s when it introduced the world to its popular sandwich maker. Now well known across the world for their small home kitchen appliances, this company is driven by innovation and design. They offer highly diverse machines in terms of functionality, to please newbies and experts alike.
Their coffee makers often feature on bestseller lists and tend to get great reviews from the public. Prices for their coffee makers typically range from $200 to $2,500 and they are rated highly for offering value for money. Their machines also score highly when it comes to ease of use, convenience and reliability.
De’Longhi: This brand offers one of the largest ranges of coffee machines out there and prices range from the relatively cheap to the much more expensive. You can expect to find machines from as little as $130 to over $3000, so it really depends on what type of machine you are after.
De’Longhi scored very highly for after sale service in a customer satisfaction ratings comparison for coffee machines, while also receiving good marks for reliability, value for money, ease of use, cleaning & maintenance and design.
Don’t forget the grinder!
Even the best espresso machines need a high quality grinder in order to produce a great tasting shot of espresso. It’s about more than just having good ingredients, in order to really achieve great quality you need to grind the coffee to the right particle size. This will help to ensure you get good extraction from your coffee bean. Not only that, but once coffee is ground it stales quickly, no matter what packaging is used. The fresher the coffee, the better the taste.
So, rather than just focusing on getting the best home espresso machine, also think about purchasing a great grinder. The last thing you want is to end up with bitter coffee or insufficient crema simply because you opted for preground or prepackaged coffee, rather than freshly ground coffee beans. Espresso enthusiasts around the world comment on the importance of a good grinder, so make sure you have one at home to go along with your new espresso maker.
Top tips for creating quality espresso
A well-prepared espresso will have an extraordinary texture, aroma and crema all in as little as 30 milliliters of coffee. In order to produce a great tasting shot, you need much more than just the right espresso machine and a high quality grinder.
If you want to keep making delicious espressos time and time again you should make sure you follow these tips:
- Keep your machine clean: If you leave coffee residue to build up in your machine, you ruin your chances of creating a perfect shot of espresso. Don’t make your espresso shots have to pass through a layer of burnt, caked-on coffee residue, as this will impact the outcome of the shot.
- Select quality coffee beans: For a truly great espresso, you want to make sure you select the right beans. A dark-roasted bean will produce a more complex flavor, a popular choice for most espresso drinkers. Lighter roasts produce a fruitier flavor, so it depends on your personal preference. For optimal flavor, use beans between four days and three weeks after roasting. The roast date should be found on the back of your bag of coffee beans.
- Storage is key: For great tasting espresso, opt for whole beans and store these in a cupboard, away from heat and light at a constant temperature. Keep them in an airtight container and aim to use within three weeks.
- Get the grind right: The grind controls the rate of extraction, so it’s vital that you get this part right. If the ground is too course then the outcome will be a thin, watery espresso. If it is too fine then you may end up with an “ashy” or burnt flavor. The perfect texture should feel like flour with a little bit of grit through it, like sand.
Getting your espresso shot just right will likely take a bit of practice, so don’t get discouraged. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different beans, textures, temperatures and coffee strength. At the end of the day, it should be about producing a shot that you are happy with, so find a method that works for you.