I wrote this espresso machine buying guide because getting one is the most exciting purchase a coffee lover can make. It can be as important as a new car or moving to a new home.
An espresso machine can change your daily rituals dramatically and your overall home experience. However, there are so many different machines in the market that it can be a nightmare to pick one. If you know which are the essential features for you, it’s a lot easier.
Thinking about it, I wrote this article to help you decide which is the best type of espresso machine for you. In this regard, I classified key features into two different categories. First, there are a few must-haves for any decent Espresso Machine for home. Second, but equally important, there are a few features related to personal preferences.
I don’t want to be too abstract in this article, so that I will close it with a short explanation about the most common types of espresso machines for home use, with a few examples.
If you already have an espresso machine, please let me know how you picked yours. I would love to learn from you!
I strongly recommend you to consider the following features as absolutely non-negotiable. Compromising with any of them will mean a waste of money, time, and energy.
The best espresso machines will enable you to pull a great espresso out of them. Depending on their type, it will require lots of skill or pressing a button to obtain a good espresso. Yet, it’s crucial to brewing a great espresso when using your machine correctly.
High-end espresso machines can last a lifetime, and a good home espresso machine should last at least 4 to 6 years without any major repair. Although durability and maintenance are intertwined, we can’t deny that mediocre machines will break too soon, even with a dedicated owner.
Cleaning and Maintenance Process
Coffee Shops spend serious money on cleaning and maintenance. The most disciplined cafe owners set their preventive maintenance schedules, as Costa and Starbucks do, for efficiency’s sake. At home, it shouldn’t be that different. All espresso machine owners value the simplest, cheapest, and dependable cleaning and maintenance processes for their machines.
Reliable and Accessible Technical Service
Most new machines won’t require technical service, especially if they’re good ones. Yet, it’s almost impossible to have one for more than five years without calling the technical service center at least once. The best brands have outstanding post-sales service. It’s crucial to have service centers in your area so that you can have any significant fix in a few days.
The decisive ones
The following features will help you to narrow down your selection very quickly. Moreover, they will make your decision process a lot smoother.
If you ask anyone, most would say that the espresso machine of their dreams is a commercial-grade Italian beauty that looks like a Ferrari. However, those tend to be very exclusive and pricey.
On the other hand, if you love espresso drinks but aren’t planning to spend thousands of dollars, I wouldn’t recommend buying the cheapest one.
Set a price range you feel comfortable with, and check some machines that fit your budget with all the must-haves.
If you check the range of machines available, you will still have doubts about them, so keep reading, because price narrows your search a lot, but it isn’t enough to make your best choice.
Control over your brewing
There are many kinds of espresso machines, and one of the most significant differences between them is how much power you have over the process. Strictly speaking, more control implies less usability, as well.
Regarding handling difficulty, some people enjoy mastering the art of espresso-making, while others want their shot as easy and convenient as possible. There is a massive range of machines for all coffee lovers regarding the learning curve, and I will explain further below when I talk about the different types of espresso machines.
A few machines will make espresso after only pushing a button, while in the other extreme, you will find lever-operated machines that are entirely manual.
In short, the easiest to use are super-automatic machines. They have built-in grinders and tend to be completely intuitive. The manual espresso machines are the complete opposite. It can take months to master them, even with an expert trainer guiding you through the learning process.
Although smaller espresso machines tend to be more affordable, it isn’t necessarily the case all the time. Still, counter space is a constraint we can’t take too seriously. You will need to measure the width, height, and depth available to check the appropriate dimensions accordingly.
You will save lots of time if you have a note with your counter space dimensions at hand.
I remember the first time I heard about espresso machine groups. It was so eye-opening that I can’t forget that feeling. I won’t get overly technical here, but you need to know if you will serve a single espresso shot for you, several servings for a family group, or an espresso galore for a co-working team.
Capacity is relevant for your choice, as you will have different water tank sizes and single and two groups options.
Additionally, dual-boiler espresso machines have separated water reservoirs for the group and the frothing wand. They tend to be pricier, but they help you have enough water and pressure to deliver several espresso drinks, with and without milk, more efficiently.
A built-in grinder can be convenient, but it limits your possibilities as well. Overall, an espresso machine that includes a built-in grinder fits better the convenience-oriented mindset. However, it offers a rich and complex espresso.
It’s a significant upgrade over a blade grinder or pre-ground coffee. However, most built-in grinders are not as good as the best prosumer ones.
If you are exigent and want to improve your barista skills, you will prefer buying your grinder and machine separated.
If you want to entertain your friends with latte art, or you simply enjoy it, a frothing wand is a must for you. However, if you love espresso and couldn’t bother less about flat whites, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, then you won’t need a frothing wand.
Frothing wands aren’t all the same, but if you take it as part of your crucial features, it will narrow your search options.
Some machines, mainly the automatic range, tend to include a set of water filters. As you may know, water hardness and water chemicals can change your coffee’s aromatic profile dramatically.
Some manufacturers include a water filtering system to help you improve brew quality. Arguably, it’s valuable only if you don’t have a reverse osmosis filter system at home already. Moreover, a few experts claim that mineral water or treated water is better than filtered water.
For sure, tap water is not an option in most cases.
Types of Espresso Machines
If we combine all the previous features, we could get dozens of possibilities. That is, without thinking about brands and other perks. Although there are different classifications for espresso machines, I believe that manual to super-automatic is the simplest way to understand their features’ gradient.
Some brewing devices like the Flair, the ROK, and the Aeropress could be confused with a manual espresso machine. Although these brewing devices are excellent, they aren’t espresso machines, strictly speaking.
Manual espresso machines have levers to deliver pressure over ground coffee for espresso extraction. They look stunning and lure classic coffee lovers with a heart for vintage objects.
On the contrary, more convenience-minded coffee lovers tend to avoid them.
Somewhere in the middle, between levers and pressing a button, semi-automatics are quite popular among home baristas. They provide some degree of control and require several weeks of practice to master.
The best semi-automatics are prosumer machines with an outstanding build quality. However, you can find lots of low-quality machines in the semi-automatic range, so be careful with the recommended must-haves I explained above.
If you’re downright pragmatic about espresso, a super-automatic is for you. Super Automatic Espresso Machines have built-in grinders, and they offer programmable settings.
They are the easiest to use espresso machines, and they don’t require any barista skills to obtain a good espresso. Yet, some affordable super automatics can require a short learning curve to master a few tricks.
Having the best espresso machine at home can change your life. It can improve your coffee experience radically.
I am not a fan of overthinking, but considering the key features above, your selection process will be a lot smoother. Moreover, you will find a tiny gap between your expectations and your machine features and performance.
Finally, there is no absolute best espresso machine for home out there, because there isn’t any objectively best coffee in the world either.
I wrote this article because I want to help you find the best fit for your home setting and enable you to elevate your coffee experience.
Enjoy your Espresso Machine hunting!
How I wrote this article
I have read and analyzed hundreds of comments, reviews, and product features to understand and categorize the most relevant ones.
As a trained Social and Organizational Psychologist, I can read through people’s opinions and find systematic trends in their attitudes and priorities. Although this article isn’t a professional research piece, I made my best effort to help you find the best espresso machine for you.
If you have more ideas about the features, find something overly complicated, or hard to grasp, please leave a comment below, and I will do my best to improve the article.