A Complete Home Espresso Machine Buying Guide: All You Need To Know

Choosing the right home espresso machine can be a demandingly difficult task. Between espresso machine lingo, the price range, and the features, it’s a daunting mental workout many prefer to avoid. But, by avoiding an espresso maker, you’re avoiding a whole new coffee experience.

Espresso is a rich and flavorful coffee option for all who dislike drip coffee. What’s more, these coffee makers allow you to customize and play around with different recipes, enabling you to save money and time in the long run!

Because I understand how stressful can the process be, I’ve gathered all the information on these special brewers in one place, providing you with a complete buying guide on home espresso machines.

Let’s dive into the world of espresso makers for home use and help you understand what it’s all about. Step by step, we’ll help you find the best espresso maker for your needs. By the end you’re done with the article, espresso machines will be a piece of cake to understand!

How to choose the best espresso home machine?

Before buying an espresso machine (which can be quite an investment), there are a few things to consider:

  • What’s your budget?
  • Do you need a solid espresso maker, or do you want to make cappuccinos and lattes too?
  • How big is your kitchen?
  • Do you want to control your coffee or prefer a machine that does the work for you?
  • How much experience you have with making espresso?

Can an espresso machine save me money?

In the long run, it can. Espresso machines make more than just espresso. They come with different features that enable you to create different espresso-based drinks (see more below) and save you the trip to a coffee shop every day.

If you buy lattes and cappuccinos regularly, then you know how the costs can add up and dry your wallet. True, high-quality espresso machines aren’t the cheapest, but if you buy a Starbucks latte every morning, that costs you about $1,000 per year. You can get a decent espresso machine under that budget.

What’s more, owning an espresso machine allows you to brew coffee according to your taste. It gives you an option to test and try different coffee beans, experiment with different coffee recipes, and even make coffee cocktails!

Plus, you get to make a tasty coffee from the comfort of your home whenever you feel like it. No more drive-thru or waiting in lines to get your morning coffee!

Types of espresso machines

Before you choose the best espresso machines, you should know there are different types of these coffee makers.

To avoid any confusion, here’s the general breakdown:

Manual/Lever espresso machines

These were the original espresso machines and they require your physical strength to pull a shot:

The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot.

There are two types of these machines: manual and spring-loaded.  You need to have the skill to use it and practice to get it right but once you do, the results are rewarding! These are mostly suitable for baristas and people who are extremely serious about their home espresso.

Pump espresso machines

These come with a pump that helps to brew coffee to the right temperature. They produce 9 to 15 bars of pressure and have an electric pump that helps you pump espresso. There are different types of pump machines available, one of the most well-known is also air-pump coffeemaker (Aeropress).

Semi-automatic

These machines won’t do everything by themselves. You have to grind and measure the coffee you want to use, tamp the grinds, and control the amount of water you want to use manually.

Automatic

These are pure one-touch espresso makers. Many let you choose your preferences in terms of coffee strength and milk frothing, but once you’ve done that, all you have to do is wait for the coffee to be ready.

Super-automatic

These are like automatic machines but elevated for a few levels. You select your preferred drink for a screen, and your coffee is ready in seconds. All with one simple push on a button. In other words, these machines don’t require you to do anything. Some even come with self-cleaning cycles and self-frothing options. They may also indicate that the water level is low and that it’s out of beans.

Portable/compact espresso makers

These are excellent for all who struggle with small living spaces or live a nomadic life. These brewers don’t require electricity to make coffee.

Pod espresso machines

These are normally fully automatic and use a pod or a capsule that you insert into the machine. You press a button and the machine does all the work. These are a good option if you want a fully automatic machine and aren’t concerned with environmental issues (though some are compostable and recyclable).

Stovetop espresso maker (steam-driven)

These aren’t really machines and they don’t brew the real espresso since the pressure they use to brew is too low. But, a Moka pot is an affordable coffee maker that’s easy to maintain, clean, and use.

Parts of Espresso machines: What is it all about?

If you’re feeling a bit confused when browsing for espresso machines, don’t be. They come with their own expressions that you can’t know unless you’re in the coffee business or a serious coffee geek.

Let’s have a look at the expressions and the important features of espresso machines, and how can they be of use to you.

Espresso shot and double shot

When brewing espresso, forget about the large mugs of coffee that you’d get with a drip machine or with Moka pot, for that matter.

Espresso comes in two serving sizes: a shot and a double shot. Not all brewers have both options available, but some do and come with two different filter baskets. One is enough for a single shot of espresso, other for a double shot.

Portafilter

The portafilter is another fancier name for a handle that holds the filter basket. What you do with this handle is you lock it in place before brewing a shot. Also, these are available in different sizes, which is important to know especially if you’re buying spare filter baskets.

Filter basket

This is a piece inside the portafilter. It’s a filter basked that holds the grinds. These can hold an ESE pod and ground coffee, but it depends on each machine separately.

One-touch

Many espresso machines enable you to customize your drink before brewing it with a push of a single button. You can choose water temperature, amount of milk, an amount of ground coffee. You push a brew button and the machine does the rest for you.

Heating system

The wattage of a coffee maker is an important factor as it influences how quickly can the machine heat water and how well it can keep constant temperature while brewing.

Single-boiler

Some automatic and semi-automatic machines have 2 boilers, but most manual brewers have one boiler. A single-boiler means that there is only one boiler with hot water for espresso and to steam the milk. Single-boiler brewers require you to brew coffee first and then steam milk. The dual-boiler machines let you steam and brew at the same time.

Drip tray

This is a removable tray where you place your cup while brewing espresso. You can remove, clean, and empty this section. Some machines allow you to remove the tray in order to place a taller cup under the portafilter.

Steam wand

Steam wand aka milk frother is the mart of your espresso maker that allows you to steam and froth milk for lattes and cappuccinos.

You can control come wands with a button and others with a knob. Keep in mind that not all espresso makers are good enough to make lattes.

Gadgets you need to make good espresso

A sturdy and good espresso maker for home is a great thing to keep, but if you want to make the most of your daily cup, just the machine isn’t enough.

For those who are super-picky about their espresso, consider also investing into one of the gadgets that will allow you to brew amazing rich, fragrant espresso with gorgeous crema on top.

A coffee grinder

Using freshly ground coffee is a must if you want to drink high-quality coffee, and this goes for all types of brewing methods. It’s equally important for espresso and your best option in a burr grinder.

Burr grinders will give you a consistent grind more easily than other grinders, without overheating the beans too much and potentially ruining the final flavor of the coffee. You can also opt-in for a more traditional approach, and get yourself a hand grinder (but prepare to work your muscles!).

No matter the choice, the grinder should give you an extremely fine grind, which is ideal for espresso coffee.

An espresso tamper

A tamper is a tool that helps to compress the grinds into the basket (portafilter) equally and consistently. That way you can expect to get a high-quality cup of espresso.

What’s more, some espresso makers already come with a tamper, others don’t.

A milk frother

This is another optional gadget; some machines already come with one, others don’t. Most automatic machines already have a steam wand included, but not all budget-friendly espresso makers do (even though our top five affordable espresso makers under 100 all have it).

You can choose from various milk frothers, and pay attention to that especially if you love a latte or a cappuccino daily.

A steaming pitcher

Once you have a milk frother, you’ll need a pitcher to steam milk. This isn’t a crucial thing to keep around, you can easily use a measuring cup or even a normal coffee mug, but working with a pitcher is much easier since it also helps you prevent splashes during steaming with its tapered sides.

Espresso machine brands

There is a sea of espresso machine brands out there. To avoid confusing and endless research, I’ve provided a list of the most trustworthy brands available today.

These manufacturers have a good reputation, make high-quality espresso machines, and other coffee-related gear. They’re all great value for money too.

Breville

An Australian company established in 1957, Breville is a versatile company with a diverse array of products: from fryers to steam irons, and espresso makers. They’re an affordable option to other pricier brands on the list, and their products are made to last.

Delonghi

Established in 1902, De’Longhi has a long history and many satisfied users. Their family-owned business offers everything from toasters and air conditioning to high-quality coffee makers.

Nespresso

Famous for their espresso machines, Nespresso specializes in all things coffee: brewers, beans, accessories, and much more.

Gaggia

Gaggia focuses on making high-quality coffee makers for home use. Gaggia is a UK-based company and while they’re on the pricier side, you can expect to get a top-quality brewer that will serve you perfectly, one brew at a time.

Mr. Coffee

Founded back in 1950 in the US, Mr. Coffee focuses on coffee machines, gadgets, and accessories. They’ve specialized to provide everything a home coffee aficionado needs to start their day.

Hamilton Beach

Based in the US, this company designs and distributes a wide array of products for home and commercial use. They make solid espresso machines that are affordable and accessible also for home baristas.

Bialetti

An Italian company, Bialetti have been making their coffee makers since 1933. They’ve gained a reputation of high-quality coffee makers; their Moka pot is a timeless coffeemaker that sits in the homes of the majority of Italians. You can’t go wrong with choosing one of their espresso machines for home use either.

Bella

Bella company provides a little bit of everything with an idea of making your kitchen fun. They have tips, recipes, and product videos available apart from coffee makers that are small and efficient.

Capresso

A Swiss-based company, Capresso specializes in all things coffee-related: espresso machines, grinders, frothers, coffeemakers, and more. While they aren’t exactly budget-friendly, they target serious home baristas and all who want high-quality products that will last a lifetime.

Cuisinart

Cuisinart is a famous maker of all things kitchen, from bakeware to cutlery and coffee machines. It’s a US-based company established in the 1970s with a solid reputation for quality and affordable products.

Rancilio

Founded in 1927 in Italy, Rancilio manufactures and sells professional espresso machines for baristas as well as a machine designed for home use. They’re very experienced, which shows in their design and performance.

What drinks can you make with home espresso machine?

Did you know that espresso machines can make many more beverages that just espresso? If you’re looking to diversify your beverage home menu, you’re in for a treat.

Let’s have a look at a few drinks you can make once you’ve perfected espresso from your home brewer.

Classic espresso

This is a base for all coffee-based beverages. You can also drink it straight if you’re an Italian or looking for a quick boost.

This is a strong coffee both in flavor and aroma; since it doesn’t use a lot of water, it’s quite high in caffeine.

Ristretto

This one is best for coffee snobs and beasts because it’s just that potent. Ristretto is essentially made with the same amount of ground coffee as espresso, but with half the water. It’s high in caffeine and very strong.

Caffe Americano

This is a shot (or two) of espresso, diluted with hot water. You can additionally add milk to it if you so prefer. It’s a longer drink than espresso, milder in flavor but with the same caffeine content.

Lungo

Long or lungo (Italian) is similar to Americano, but the water that’s added to the coffee comes from the brewing process and not added afterward. The brew is stronger than Americano.

Macchiato

A macchiato is a single or double shot of espresso topped with a teaspoon of steamed milk. It’s simple, straightforward, and strong. Not for the faint of heart!

Cappuccino

Originally from Italy, cappuccino is one shot of espresso with foamed, steamed milk, which is characteristically creamy on top.

Latte

Latte is an extremely popular coffee drink and perfect for those who don’t like strong coffee. It’s made with steamed and foamed milk and a single shot of espresso. Adding syrups to it is quite common.

Now, the right way to do it is to pour the steamed milk and froth into the serving glass/mug. Make an espresso shot, and pour it over the milk, from the top.

Best coffee beans to use for espresso

First of all, espresso isn’t a specific type of coffee beans nor coffee roast. That’s just a general misconception.

Espresso can be made with any coffee bean types, but two most common are:

  • Arabica (pricier, with a milder and sweeter flavor, also fruity and chocolaty)
  • Robusta (cheaper, with a stronger flavor and higher caffeine content)

So, what are the best beans? That’ll depend only on your personal taste!

Best coffee grinds for espresso

You can choose an excellent espresso machine but if you’re not grinding your beans yourself, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

The coffee beans have to be ground consistently and uniformly if you want your coffee to taste good. The best grind or espresso is a very fine grind. You should consider getting a high-quality burr grinder that targets espresso grind.

Some espresso machines already have an in-built grinder, but these are not always good enough to provide consistency and uniform grounds.

The best grinders come with more grinding options and flat burrs that provide a better flavor that conical burrs. What’s more, avoid blade grinders because they are cheap gadgets that completely ruin the coffee bean flavor.

How to clean espresso machine at home?

Let’s get something clear: you’ll have to work for that perfect shot of espresso. Cleaning espresso home machine regularly is extremely important if you want it to create maximum flavor and crema every time.

The film the essential oils make and leave on filter basket and portafilter influences the final brew, resulting in an unpleasant taste in your coffee. What’s more, the better the maintenance, the longer the machine will live!

For more detailed info, have a look at how to clean espresso machine here.

FAQ on home espresso machines

What is a good pressure for an espresso machine?

Good pressure for espresso machines starts at 9 BAR. The pressure is measured with a barometer (also known as atmospheric pressure).

What temperature should my espresso machine be?

The optimal temperature for the espresso brewing process should be between 90 and 96°C (195/205°F). a higher temperature will cause burnt coffee and lower temperatures will extract coffee at a slower rate.

Keep in mind that not all espresso machines will allow you to control and adjust the brew temperature.

Can you use regular coffee beans in espresso machine?

You can use any type of beans you prefer, but many people recommend to use darker roasts in espresso for most flavor. But that’s entirely up to you and your taste buds.

Also, espresso in a brewing method and not a roast or coffee bean type. You can use the same type of coffee beans for espresso, French press, pour over…the brewers are there for your experimentation. Some beans taste better with espresso, others with pour-over. But the final choice is up to you and you can make espresso with any coffee beans!

What is the best affordable espresso machine?

Not all espresso machines are affordable, especially if you’re looking for extra/professional features. If you need a solid espresso maker for home use with excellent value for money, De’Longhi EC155 is a good option, also suitable for beginners. It combines a stylish appearance with features that will allow you to customize your cup of cappuccino and start saving money. You can find the whole list of budget-friendly espresso machines here.

What is the best espresso machine for beginners?

There are plenty of espresso machines out there but if you’re completely new to the game of espresso, you need a solid, simple, and reliable machine that will support your learning curve and prevent you from ruining your espresso-based drinks.

Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso Maker is a solid and excellent machine for beginners that works fast and allows you to make tasty drinks with every use.

Can you make espresso without a machine?

There are certain ways to make espresso on the stove without a machine, but Moka pot won’t give you a good result compared to modern espresso that you get in a coffee shop.

You can give stovetop espresso a try (there are a few options), or you can turn to Aeropress instead. The coffee is quite similar to espresso even though it doesn’t make true espresso.

Aeropress has been recognized as a brewer that comes close to making an actual espresso, but it’s not as intense or concentrated. According to Javapresse:

 True espresso is rich, aromatic, very intense, bright, and has a heavy, syrupy body. A layer of fine crema tops the shot and lasts sometimes a minute before decaying back into the shot.

Aeropress espresso is rich, aromatic, somewhat intense, crisp, and has a slightly heavier than normal body. A thin layer of large bubbles tops the shot, but they quickly decay back into the liquid. It’s delicious, balanced, and concentrated – but not as concentrated or intense as true espresso.

Espresso Machine for Home: A Recap

There is incredible diversity when it comes to espresso machines for home use. Before you buy an espresso machine, consider your budget, the space available, your experience level, and the types of beverages you want to make.

Once you narrow your demands, it’ll be much easier to choose the right machine for your needs. The sole buying process may seem a bit overwhelming, but in the long run, owning an espresso maker can save you a lot of time and money.

You can play around with different types of coffee beans and coffee drinks, which is especially important if you live with others who equally love their lattes and other espresso-based drinks.

To elevate your daily cup, consider a high-quality burr grinder and freshly grind the beans before every brew. I know it may seem repetitive and irrelevant, but the fresh grind is crucial when it comes to the quality of coffee, especially such as espresso!

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