A few years ago I finally had enough.
I was willing to give Starbucks $5 a day to get my caffeine fix!
I decided that I was finally going to invest in an espresso machine, but finding the right one proved to be a daunting task. They all looked so similar.
It took me a whole month before I settled on the machine that I finally found: Rancilio Silvia.
Along the way I’ve learned a few things about choosing the perfect espresso machine for my unique needs, and now I’m here to share those tips with you.
1. Set your price range
I like to think that I am a financially responsible consumer. I love having nice things and new gadgets (especially kitchen gadgets) but I almost always shop within my budget.
So my first tip is to understand your budget and set a price range for your espresso machine.
You can spend as little as $30 and get a Bialetti Moka Pot or you can get a top-of-the-line super-automatic espresso machine and spend $2,000.
You are probably somewhere in the middle.
There are so many different types of espresso machine that cover that $30-$2,000 price range, so there really is something for everyone. At a high level you will be choosing between these five types:
1. A stovetop espresso machine (like a Bialetti Moka Pot)
2. Steam espresso machine (uses steam instead of a pump to generate pressure)
3. Capsule-based espresso machine (like Nespresso)
4. Semi-automatic espresso machine (uses a pump to generate pressure)
5. Super-automatic espresso machine (uses a pump and has all the bells and whistles)
Those are ranked in rough order from worst to best espresso, but ultimately it depends on the model you choose.
As a responsible consumer mentioned above I certainly do not agree that a higher price always means a better product, but with espresso machines that tends to be the case. These are complex machines that require many fine-tuned components to generate a truly great espresso.
So I repeat: Set your price range.
But as you proceed through the next four tips on this list and compare engine models, be flexible with your price range. If you decide that the best machine for you will cost an extra $200, that’s fine! Make sure you have the budget for that purchase. And if not, set a savings goal to buy it when you do.
2. Determine what you want to drink
Are you a “I want a decadent latte every morning” or a “double shot three times a day” espresso drinker?
It’s an important question because what you want to drink is the first determining factor of which machine you want to buy!
So, which of the following best describes you:
I drink shots of straight espresso and rarely drink lattes and other specialty drinks.
People in this category should focus on machines that make really great espresso and should not concern themselves with the ability of a machine to make steamed milk.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Shouldn’t any espresso machine make great espresso?
Well, not necessarily if you’re in the following category.
I drink lattes and other specialty drinks but I rarely drink straight espresso shots.
As an occasional latte drinker I can attest to the wonderfully soothing qualities of a well-made latte.
(Before the caffeine kicks in, that is.)
But a great latte isn’t so much about a great shot of espresso as it is about great steamed milk. If you drink specialty drinks almost exclusively, you may be able to stay within your price range by getting a lower quality espresso machine and a high quality frother.
I often drink both straight espresso shots and specialty drinks.
The most challenging espresso drinker to please is this, because he or she wants the flexibility to do it all. There is no easy right answer for anyone in this category, and the best machine for them will come down to tip number five below.
3. Weigh convenience vs. complexity
Maybe I’m weird, but I like to add a little complexity to my espresso routine. I like to have a separate grinder, I like to manually tamp my base, and I like to manually steam my milk. For me, a semi-automatic machine allows me to reach espresso Nirvana.
For others, Nirvana is marked by complete convenience. A super-automatic espresso machine, while expensive, gives you a great espresso drink at the push of a button. Capsule-based espresso machines also give you the same convenience at a lower price, albeit with a reduction in quality. Ditto for steam and stovetop espresso machines.
When buying your espresso machine, consider these questions:
- Do you like to control every aspect of your espresso?
- Want total convenience?
- Are you willing to sacrifice a little convenience for a lower price?
You are often left to choose between convenience, quality and cost, so be honest with yourself about how important convenience is to you.
4. Consider your countertop
I think this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Consider how the espresso machine will sit on your countertop.
This doesn’t just mean surface area, though. There are a few other factors to consider:
- How tall is the machine and will it be placed under the cabinets?
- Where is the water reservoir?
- How long is the cord and where is your power outlet?
Regarding height and cabinets, don’t forget to consider how much additional height is needed to fill some water reservoirs or bean hoppers. I also suggest giving an additional six inches or more for the steam to dissipate.
5. Be honest about needs vs wants
This tip is the culmination of everything we have already discussed.
- You have an idea of your price range.
- You know what types of espresso drinks you want to make.
- You know how important convenience and related features are to you.
- You know the limitations of your space.
Armed with that information, there should be a short list of espresso machines that fit your criteria. They will all have slightly different features – one may come with more refined temperature control while another may have a better foaming wand – so what’s important to you?
This step may not be necessary if all the models you’re considering fit within your price range, but what if you need to start cutting features?
What stuff do you need in your espresso machine and what stuff do you simply want in your espresso machine?
This task can be challenging, but it is an important step to ensure that you get an espresso machine that does everything you need at a price you can be happy with.
Following these tips may seem like a lot of work, but if you take them to heart you will soon be enjoying your espresso based drink knowing that you have the perfect machine for you.
Byline: Bryan is a coffee fanatic and writes for it The Coffee Mavena comprehensive online resource dedicated to creating compelling coffee content.