So you finally want to make espresso in the home environment. Perhaps you’re sick of paying exorbitant prices during your morning commute. Maybe you want a little more crema and to not have to suffer through hearing jam band music in a slow-moving queue. Or perhaps you’ve simply burned all your bridges at Starbucks. It happens to the best of us. Even if “fancy coffee” is going to be relegated to a strictly “weekend activity,” every coffee drinker should invest in a home espresso machine.
The world of home espresso machines used to be dicey at best. Most of what was on the market made really bad strong coffee and called it espresso. If the coffee in question isn’t brewed under pressure, I won’t even be considering it for this post. The rubrics that I will use when judging these machines come from my decade-long love affair with making espresso at home. This includes:
- Ease of use: If you have to clean up a bunch of coffee grounds after making a macchiato, there’s a good chance your machine will gather dust. That would be a shame, and more importantly, a waste of money.
- Espresso quality: Is the crema––the luscious head on top of a properly pulled shot––so thick you can stand on it? Is it bold without being harsh? Can it stand up to some properly frothed dairy? Anything less than ideal and you’re better off just chugging Folgers.
- Maintenance and upkeep: Even the pricier models require a good cleaning and descaling once in a while. The better machines come with easy, detailed instructions, and occasionally some tools packed in to help with this chore.
Good Espresso Machines
Cheap espresso machines are rarely worth it. Cheap is also a relative thing here. Unless we’re talking about stovetop models (which isn’t exactly real espresso), you can expect to drop at least a hundred dollars to get a machine that will make solid espresso. There are two models I’d recommend to folks new to at-home fancy coffee.
- Features: The Nespresso line of pod coffee is easily the most user-friendly. And while there are tons of different Nespresso machines on the market, the Breville Nespresso Essenza Mini with Aeroccino milk frother is one of the best and most affordable offerings. Simply put the pods in, click a brew style (espresso or lungo), and in less than a minute, you’ll have a solid shot with good quality crema. It’s footprint is small, and cleaning it is practically an afterthought.
- Setbacks: Plastic. There’s so much plastic. While the pod system makes pretty stellar espresso, its carbon footprint can’t be too great. Plus, there’s less freedom with the kind of coffee you can use. Official Nespresso pods can also get pretty pricey, costing as much as 70 cents a shot. Still, it’s a great entry-level machine and requires no elbow grease or how-to videos to master.
- Price: $169
- Features: If pods aren’t your jam, this is a great entry-level machine. This machine comes with two different filter holders to make two shots at once instead of just one. Very convenient. It’s even easy to clean, and comes with a frother to whip milk for cappuccinos and lattes. There’s a good amount of space between the drip tray and the coffee dispenser so it will accommodate your favorite mug, even if it’s bulkier.
- Setbacks: Making a coffee will require a little bit of work, since you’ll have to tamp every shot you pull. Some folks don’t mind the elbow grease first thing in the morning. I’m not one of these living saints.
- Price: $139
Similar Good Models you might also like:
- Gevi Espresso Machine, $119
- Tchibo Fully Automatic Espresso Machine, $299
- De’Longhi Espresso Machine stainless steel, $290
Better Espresso Machines
So you want your espresso love affair to get a little more steamy? I get it. More than anyone else, I get it. Starter machines are fine, but a little more investment not only renders better coffee, but less heartache.
- Features: Another great entry in the Nespresso line, with a built in milk frother. The milk frother even has a handy fill line so you can add just as much dairy as you need. There’s even a removable stand that you can use at will, whether you’re making a single shot or a nice tall afternoon latte. It’s also easy to clean and alerts you when it needs to be descaled.
- Setbacks: Like all Nespresso machines, there’s the plastic issue.
- Price: $479
- Features: The Breville Barista Touch is an apt name for this little powerhouse of a machine. The digital display is sexy and practical. There are built-in drinks programmed into the machine that are a simple click away. But, like any great machine, you are encouraged to play with your coffee and modify not only the amount of beans per shot, but brewing time, and even temperature. This machine even sports an automatic milk frother that will provide thick, latte-art ready dairy. If it sounds like I’m gushing about this machine, it’s because it’s the one I use every day. Check out my full review here.
- Setbacks: It looks expensive doesn’t it? I’m almost ashamed to say it but this machine cost more than my first car. And while most of what this machine does is automated, you still actually have to tamp down coffee between shots.
- Price: $999
Similar Better models you might also like:
- Philips 3200 Series Fully Automatic Espresso Machine, $599
- De’Longhi La Specialista Espresso Machine with Sensor Grinder, $699
- Gaggia Magenta Plus Super-Automatic Espresso Machine, $749
The Best Espresso Machine
- Features: If there was a mountaintop of homemade espresso machines, this baby would rest atop its peak. Like the Barista Touch, it’s got a gorgeous LCD touchscreen with 21 specialty drinks that are only a few clicks away. It dispenses espresso as well as perfectly frothed milk to make your favorites better and quicker than just about every other machine of its caliber on the market. Even the cleaning process is automatic. It’s not like having a live-in barista: it’s better.
- Setbacks: If the Barista Touch price is high, the Jura Z8 is astronomical. Are there models even pricier than this one? For sure, but those are mainly for use in commercial settings. It’s a monster of a machine in size and scope, but if you’re an absolute espresso fiend, it’s not totally unwarranted in a home setting. However, a machine this fancy would be right at home not just in a kitchen, but an office break room. How’s on-demand Americanos sound for an employee benefit?
- Price: $4,250
A few notes
No matter how fancy or humble your machine is, you won’t get good espresso out of crappy beans. While many assert that you should only use espresso beans to brew coffee, I would play around with it. In my opinion, brewing lighter roasts renders really fruity, refreshing coffee. If you do want something more bracing, then sure, go with the standard espresso roasts. Here are three of my favorite beans and capsules on the market:
- Stumptown: These are the beans I break out for special occasions. Of its six main blends, Hundred Mile is my favorite. When brewed, it’s got flavor notes of blueberry jam and the caramel sauce found in the bottom of my mom’s flan recipe. Still, there’s no Stumptown roast I would kick out of bed.
- Lavazza: Plenty of popular coffee brands make dedicated espresso blends, but Lavazza offers a myriad which are both tasty and economical. Lavazza Oro blend is my favorite because it’s fruity and aromatic, but do a little bit of exploring for yourself. Different blends offer different flavor profiles from the lime zest and jasmine flavor of Tierra! to the spicy chocolate smack of Gran Crema.
- Solimo Espresso capsules: Nespresso machines are weirdly affordable. But that’s how they get you. Because its patented pods cost up to $1.50 per serving. That’s way more than anyone should ever pay for a shot of espresso. There are a handful of off-brand espresso pods including these Solimo capsules, which run about 26 cents a pod.
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