How to Choose a Home Espresso Machine
If you’re looking to go deeper into coffee, chances are you’re considering purchasing a home espresso machine. But with so many options on the market and such a wide range in price, it can be overwhelming. Here you’ll find everything you need to consider when purchasing a home espresso machine including our recommendations on the best espresso machines on the market.
What Makes a Good Home Espresso Machine?
With so many features to choose from, here are the most important features to consider when purchasing a home espresso machine.
The size of the portafilter is a big thing to consider. 58mm is the standard size and it will make upgrading your portafilter, its basket, and finding accessories like distribution tools and tamps a lot easier.
Getting an espresso machine with dual boilers is very helpful because you won't have to wait on the machine to catch up when pulling shots of espresso and steaming milk at the same time. Single boiler machines use the same boiler for the steam wand and the grouphead which means if you steam milk, you’ll need to wait for the machine to build pressure again before you can pull a shot of espresso. But in a dual boiler machine, the steam wand and the grouphead have their own boilers and work independently making your workflow better and drinks more consistent. The only downside is dual boiler machines typically cost more.
Water Line Capable
Can the espresso machine you’re considering be plumbed directly into a water line? Though most machines have a water reservoir, not all machines have the ability to connect to a water line. This is especially helpful if you plan to drink a lot of espresso or host people often. Just keep in mind that if you don't have minor plumbing experience you may want to hire someone to install it for you.
Digital Temperature Control and PID
Espresso machines with Digital Temperature Control and PID (Proportional, Integral, Derivative Controllers) keep your water at a steady temperature instead of letting it fluctuate above and below a temperature. It’s ideal to keep your water temperature at a steady temp around 195-205 and it's even better if you have the ability to adjust this based on your personal preferences and the coffees you're using. We keep our machines temperatures around 201 degrees.
Other Considerations When Buying a Home Espresso Machine
With espresso machines, you really do get what you pay for. And with such a wide range of cost, a couple hundred to thousands of dollars, it may be difficult deciding on a model. One thing to keep in mind is the additional equipment costs such as grinder, tamp, pitchers, knock box, dispersion tool, etc. You want to ensure your budget has room for these as they are required tools for enjoying good espresso.
When considering which machine would work for you, consider the amount of time and effort you’re willing to spend on each drink. Machines with a single boiler will require a bit of time to let the boiler catch up after pulling a shot and steaming milk. So if time is a factor, consider dual boiler models.
Espresso machines require considerably more maintenance and cleaning than coffee makers. Purging, backflushing, and descaling and just a few things you’ll need to do to get the best out of your machine.
Semi-Automatic vs Automatic Espresso Machines
Automatic and semi-automatic machines are what you will come across in most circumstances (manual machines barely exist anymore). With both of these styles you will still have to grind your coffee, tamp it and load the portafilter in yourself.
A semi-automatic machine is the standard style of machine where after you load the portafilter into the grouphead, you press a button to start the shot of espresso and then press the same button to stop it at your desired weight or measurement. A semi-automatic machine will be exactly what most home brewers are looking for.
An automatic machine will likely be programmable and will allow you to load in the portafilter, press a button to start the shot and it will turn the shot off for you at your chosen weight or ounce parameter that you've set it to stop at. An Automatic machine might be overkill for what most people would need at home as it doesn't really provide any advantages if you're just brewing coffee for yourself.
A capsule machine takes the grinding, tamping and etc out of the process. Similar to a keurig, all you do with a capsule machine is load the capsule in the machine and press a button to pull your shot. It will then pump a predetermined amount of pressurized hot water through the capsule and into your cup. Though they do make reloadable capsules for some of these machines so that you can use your own coffee, you lose a lot of control over the quality of the shot itself with these machines.
The Pros and Cons of a Built-in Grinder
We recommend looking for built-in grinders with stainless steel or ceramic burrs and a wide range of grind adjustments and calibration options available. The Breville Barista Pro is a really popular choice that seems to be a good option for people looking for an all in one solution.
Aside from that you'll probably be looking at super-automatic machines which grind the coffee and pull the shot all at once on demand. These machines are similar to capsule machines in which case you often lose control over the quality of the coffee, but you do still retain the advantage of it being fresh ground.
3 Best Affordable Home Espresso Machines
A great entry model that comes without a built-in grinder.
Breville Barista Pro
The most popular entry-level home espresso machine that includes a built-in grinder.
A no frills machine that will get the job done that is also right around $600.
The 3 Best Home Espresso Machines
If budget is no object, go for the Linea Mini. You'll have professional-level quality on your hands with nothing to worry about.
If you'd like to keep it under $2k, I'd look towards any machines from Rocket, though they aren't the prettiest machines to have on your counter.
If aesthetics play a huge role in your purchase, the new Ascaso Steel machines look incredible and have all the features you'd want in a home machine. They look phenomenal and come in a single or dual boiler option.
Though espresso can be intimidating, and it does take some practice to perfect, it’s a beverage that is hard to beat and a skill that is fun to acquire. When considering which coffee to enjoy on espresso, keep in mind that there is no such thing as espresso coffee or an espresso roast. Those labels simply refer to coffees that are roasted dark because darker coffees often taste best in milk-based drinks like lattes, though we’d recommend trying any coffee on espresso and seeing what you like best. We serve all our blends on espresso in our cafes, but a good coffee to start is our Belly Warmer blend.
Photos by Emily Jeffords.