The idea of being able to make delicious cups of espresso from home is an appealing prospect to many coffee drinkers, but with so many espresso machines out there, finding the best one for home use can be challenging, especially for the beginner.
The first step in choosing an espresso machine, is simply deciding exactly what kind you want or need, which usually comes with a decision on how much you are willing to spend. There are a lot of affordable espresso machines available on the market, and a lot of very expensive ones too but, especially if you’re just starting out, you needn’t spend a lot to drink high quality espresso coffee at home.
When purchasing your first espresso machine, I would recommend you pick some kind of pod-based machine or a semi automatic machine. While steam driven machines are generally cheapest, the coffee which they produce is considerably inferior, and while fully automatic or super automatic machines offer many more features than a semi-automatic espresso machine, they come at a much higher price without necessarily giving you a better espresso at the end of it.
If you want to keep things even simpler, and don’t really care what type of espresso machine you get (as long as it’s good), check out my best espresso machines article for the most up-to-date recommendations, or read on for more information on the different options.
Semi automatic Espresso Machines
Semi automatic espresso machines are typically the most common home coffee appliance, striking a pretty perfect balance between price, complexity and quality of output. Generally, with a semi-automatic machine, you will need to grind your own coffee (or buy pre-ground), put it in the filter, tamp it (apply pressure to compact the grounds) and then flick a switch to draw the water through it. Semi automatic espresso machines generally start at around $100, and you can get a good pump-driven product at this price.
Automatic (Espresso Pod) Machines
Espresso pod machines are becoming increasingly popular due to their sheer convenience, cheap price and compact size. Simply stick a capsule in the machine, press a button and you have a coffee! The quality of these machines, and the coffee pods which you use with them, can vary massively but there are some really good options on the market such as Nespresso, Tassimo and Krups. This is one of the cheapest machines to get started with, with prices starting as low as $90 or $100, however typically buying the pods is quite a bit more expensive than just buying ground/whole coffee beans so a pod machine will almost certainly cost you more in the long run.
Super Automatic Espresso Machines
Super automatic machines are relatively uncommon, and typically occupy the very top-end of the market. To get even a half-decent machine, you’ll be looking at around $400 (but you can easily spend a lot more). These machines perform everything for you, from grinding your beans (which live in a little enclosure on top), to tamping, to drawing through the perfect amount of water. If you’re looking for hands-off, amazing quality espresso, this will be a great choice all day, however you better be prepared to pay for it! These machines are also typically very large, so you’ll need a lot of free space in your kitchen.
Stove Top Espresso Machines
The single cheapest way to get into espresso coffee, is with a stove top. This isn’t traditional espresso by any means, and does produce a different flavour from your beans, but if you’re looking for a super affordable ($30 to $40) option, which is also highly portable and doesn’t take up any room in your kitchen, then a stove top (often also known as a Moka Pot) is a great choice.
Air Pump (Aeropress) Espresso Machines
The Aeropress machine is becoming increasingly popular, and evangelists of this method of brewing coffee claim it is far superior to regular espresso. This point is very much up for debate, however it’s undeniable that this is another fast, cheap and portable way to get a great cup of coffee. Prices start at around $30.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful and that it’s helped you get an idea for the kinds of machines which are out there, and what you can get for your budget. As with anything, there are good and bad examples in every category, so make sure you ready plenty of reviews and comparisons before taking the plunge. If you want to jump right in and get started, you couldn’t do much better than one of the machines on my top espresso machines list or, if you’re just getting started and don’t want to spend too much money, see my top espresso machines under $100 list.