If you’re looking for the best home espresso machine there are a ton of options to think about. Here are a couple of key points to think about when you start shopping.
It’s important to keep in mind that we’ll be talking about machines that are a little bit higher end than the ones you pick up at the local big box store. Most of the machines we’re talking about here start around $500 and go (way…) up from there depending on a number of things. If you’re looking at a $30 machine from the kitchen appliance store this is probably not the article for you.
Espresso can be an Awesome Adventure
I love espresso. I love creating all kinds of espresso drinks and I love tasting how different coffees taste in an espresso. However, I also realize that the espresso rabbit hole goes deep, Deep, DEEP! If you’re considering the machines we’re talking about here, you need to look at espresso as a hobby and not just a way to get your morning fix. And if the home espresso bug really bites you, I can guarantee it’s definitely not less expensive than going to the local cafe every day. If you’re looking to get into espresso to save money, you’re in it for the wrong reason.
Basic Types of Home Espresso Machines
There are a lot of home espresso machines on the market. Generally, they’re broken down into a couple of different categories:
- Semi-Automatic machines require that you start and stop the espresso shot on your own. There’s usually a lever or button somewhere that you have to pull or push to start the shot and stop it. It comes with a portafilter that you have to grind into, tamp and insert into the group head in order to
- Super-Automatic machines basically do everything for you. Push a button and it grinds, tamps, and brews. With most super-automatic machines you probably need to froth the milk yourself. Keep in mind, the more moving parts the more likely something will break. You get what you pay for. Plus – my opinion here – coffee changes over time. You can’t consistently get an excellent espresso without making minor changes to the grind, your tamping method, etc. If you’re happy with something resembling espresso that requires little effort on your part, super-auto it is.
- Ultra-Automatic machines are relatively new on the market. These machines do absolutely everything for you. Grind, brew, froth the milk and spit out a cappuccino or other drink just by pressing a button (read: big $$$$)
In this series of posts, we’re not touching on the super or ultra auto machines. We’re talking to the coffee nerds here who want to craft a great beverage. Not the person who wants life push-button easy.
What Makes the Best Home Espresso Machine?
There are always going to be a ton of bells and whistles. Here are the basics you need to consider:
- Buy a pump driven machine – cheap little machines use steam to create pressure and it’s nowhere near consistent enough or strong enough to make good espresso. There are some details that might matter between vibratory pumps and rotary pumps, but that’s a topic for another post.
- Spend money on a good grinder first – A good machine with a cheap grinder will kill you. You’re better off spending money on a good grinder first, using it for your pour-overs or Aeropress and saving for the machine later on. Grinders are really REALLY important to good espresso.
- Direct plumb machines vs. Tanks – this is entirely a convenience factor. How many espressos are you making at once? Do you regularly have dinner parties with 20 espresso drinkers? Better do a direct plumb machine. If you’re just making one or two a day, a tank can work great for you. Plus, don’t forget that good water is important too.
- E61 Group – there’s a lot that goes into the design of the brewing group. The most common one is known as the E61 group. It’s been around since Faema introduced it in 1961 and, most recently since the patent ran out, it’s become more popular and some aftermarket vendors have made changes to it. In general, it’s a solid group head design that has worked in both commercial and pro-sumer espresso machines for a very long time. If you can, I’d most likely spend my money on a machine with an E61 group head for my home machine.
Our next post has a whole lot of information about how heaters in home espresso machines work. As you do your research you’ll hear words like heat-exchanger, thermoblock and double boiler. We’ll clear up what those are and help you determine what is the best home espresso machine for you.