Espresso Machine Buying Guide For Home

Finding the best espresso machine can be a tricky process. There are so many different types of coffee machines to choose from, so it can be difficult to know which one suits your needs. And more importantly, which one actually makes great coffee!

I’ve written this guide to help the average coffee lover understand the differences between cappuccino machine classes, what features to look out for, and by the end of it know what machine to buy. So let’s get to it!

best espresso machine

Types of Espresso Machines

There are three main classes of espresso machines:

  1. Semi-automatic/Automatic Espresso Machines
  2. Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
  3. Coffee Pod Machines

Each of these machines offers a different coffee making experience and demand different levels of coffee making ability. The Super-Automatic and Coffee Pod machines require the least amount of “barista knowledge”, while the semi-automatic and automatic machines require at least general knowledge of espresso extraction and milk steaming techniques. There is also another category of “manual espresso machines,” however these will be left for another guide as they are not so common.

Semi-automatic/Automatic Espresso Machines

When buying your first serious espresso machine, people usually go for either a semi-automatic or automatic espresso machine. What’s the difference between the two? A semi-automatic machine allows you to control the pump, while the automatic does not. Control over a pump is important as it allows you to switch off the flow of water during espresso extraction, as sometimes you may have an impressive shot earlier than expected and adding more water would dilute the taste. By turning off the water you will have a superior drink.

Other than the pump control both types are still very hands on. They both require you to steam milk on your own milk and pull your own shots. However, the semi-automatic has more customisation while the automatic has set boiler temperatures and preset water volumes (although usually programmable).

There are three sub-classes for semi-automatic and automatic espresso machines that influence the price:

Single Boiler, Dual Use Machines:

Single boiler dual use machines are the cheapest option when it comes to semi-automatic and automatic machines. They contain one boiler and two or more thermostats inside. One thermostat controls the water temperature for milk steaming while the other controls the water for brewing. Usually a flip has to be switched between these machines to change from milk steaming to coffee brewing.

Single Boiler, Heat Exchange Machines:

Single Boiler machines with heat exchange usually cost above the $1000 mark. One big boiler heats the water to a temperature ideal to steam milk, while “heat exchange” coils within the boiler heat water to the group head to produce ideal coffee brewing temperatures. This allows for simultaneous steaming and espresso extraction.

Dual Boiler Machines:

These are the most expensive of the three options due to their two boilers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a dual boiler for less than $2000, although a few exist. The reason for their price is due to their two boilers. The dual design allows for an independent heating for both the steam production and espresso extraction, which allows for consistent results and customisation. This also gives you the ability to steam milk and brew espresso at the same time.

Best Espresso Machine: semi-automatic/automatic

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

Press one button and it’s done. A Super-Automatic machine does it all for you. It steams the milk, grinds the coffee, pulls the espresso and makes the drink. All you need to do is supply the cup – although some do this too.

The espresso that these machines produce are of a decent quality compared to their semi automatic/automatic cousins, and are a viable option if the variables of coffee making are too daunting. I would still recommend picking up a semi-automatic espresso machine over a super-automatic. As after the initial learning curve a semi-automatic machine will always produce a better drink.

But the super-automatic machine still has its place in the world of espresso. They are very prominent in offices and are easy to maintain. Furthermore, if you want a hassle free solution it may be a good fit for you.

Best Espresso Machine: Super-Automatic

Coffee Pod Machines

Coffee Pod machines have become very popular as of late. They involve inserting a capsule into a machine that contains pre-prepared coffee shots or grind. Each of these capsules are bought separately but are relatively inexpensive hovering around the 50-cent mark. Frankly, a coffee pod machine will never be able to match a semi-automatic or manual espresso machine in terms of quality and taste. But their simple design and hassle free build has brought espresso to the homes of the masses and revolutionised the domestic coffee experience. Because of this, coffee pods can produce decent tasting espresso for a very cheap price range. Some are as cheap as $100.

Best Espresso Machine: Coffee Pod

What Else To Look For?

Quality of build

When looking to buy a new espresso machine it is important to look at the materials it is made out of. Is it prominently plastic? Stainless steal? Does it look like it’ll break easily? These are all important questions to consider. Usually the build quality of a machine is linked to the price you pay. The more expensive the machine the more likely it will use quality materials. A machine made of good materials will last longer and produce better coffee. It’ll also look better on your kitchen bench top!

Usability

Usability is really important to me when it comes to buying an espresso machine. You have to make sure it has all the features you need. For example, if you’re investing in a semi-automatic machine you may want clear controls that tell you the temperature of the boiler, or perhaps you want good quality switches, nobs and levers. Another thing to look at is the machines drip tray – is it big enough? Or can it be attached to external plumbing? There are many variables, but make sure you consider your needs before buying.

Price

Now not everyone can afford to invest heaps towards an espresso machine (though there are good espresso machine under $1000) or even $2000+ into a coffee machine, however I am a strong believer of buying a quality product the first time around, rather than having to upgrade later due to the original product breaking or not having the features you desire. The good thing about investing in a good espresso machine is that they are very future proof. Quality espresso machines are not like TVs where a new model is released every year. They are designed to last and the top quality models have a long lifespan. The art of making espresso hasn’t change much in decades, so it’s safe to say a top quality espresso machine will produce excellent coffee for years to come.

I hope this guide has helped you understand the world of espresso machines in more detail and if you have any questions or comments just leave a post below.

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