Home coffee machine guide…
Hopelessly trying to figure out which espresso machine to buy? Or if it’s even right for you? You’ve come to the right place. This page has all the information you could ever want on picking a home espresso machine! We’re going to cover the pros and cons of espresso machines, how to use them, where to buy one and we’ll even use our 25+ years of barista knowledge to recommend our favourites.
Breville / Sage Barista Express
Should I buy an espresso machine?
This is definitely a question you should ask yourself; a good quality espresso machine isn’t cheap nor is it a skill you pick up overnight. It is however a cool hobby that rewards you with awesome tasting coffee and bragging rights, as you pour your friends and family a coffee with real latte art on top! Put simply, are you willing to spend a bit of money and some time on the weekends tinkering and learning the ropes? If so…awesome, welcome to the club! But if you’re thinking ‘hmm I don’t really want to spend hours learning and practicing but i do want good coffee,’ don’t worry! You deserve delicious espresso coffee as well and for that you should head over to our Nespresso page. It’s never going to be quite as good as the real thing but as a morning pick me up, I’ve had a lot worse!
Are Espresso machines worth it?
With an average specialty coffee costing you around $3-5 depending where you live and a high quality beginner espresso machine setting you back $400 – 600 + and roughly 60 cents in coffee cost per cup you would need to make 150 coffees before you start saving money.
For me that would take around 6 months to start saving money instead of buying coffee out each day, but this is looking at it from a purely financial perspective. If it’s something you enjoy doing and learning more about then it’s definitely worth it!
What drinks can I make on an espresso machine?
How does an espresso machine work?
In a nutshell espresso machines work by forcing hot water under high pressure (usually 9 bar) through a puck of ground coffee. This makes for a quick and rich extraction of desirable dissolvable solids from the ground coffee.
Why are espresso machines so expensive?
They are devices for heating and pressurising water…I wouldn’t risk cheaping out on low quality parts would you? The unfortunate truth is a good quality espresso machine needs to be quite pricey. There is a lot more going on than just boiling water. Cheap machines are riddled with temperature control issues, inconsistent pressure, they feel light weight and plasticity, they are leaky ( aka ‘shower sneeze’) and make it near impossible to make good coffee.
High quality machines host a range of features like pre-infusion, temperature control, pressure release valves and pressure control. You may think “I don’t even know what those things are, I’m sure I don’t need them,” but trust me it’s the bare minimum to make good espresso coffee. Like a good mattress or a pair of shoes, coffee machines are something you should buy quality the first time.
All of that being said not all of us have $600 to spend on an espresso machine. At the end of the day it’s just coffee. If that’s the case but you’re still set on having good espresso coffee at home check out Nespresso machines they come in at a fraction of the cost, they are insanely easy and you can even make lattes with some models. They will never be as good as barista made coffee but you still deserve a proper morning pick me up!
How long do espresso machines last?
Well like anything you have to take good care of it and occasionally things will break and need repair but I would expect a good quality espresso machine to last years before it needs any kind of repairs.
I have friends who have had home machines for over a decade with no issues but I’ve seen commercial machines breakdown after just a couple of years. The best thing you can do to make sure your new coffee machine becomes a family heirloom one day is to do your due diligence when buying it. Does the manufacturer offer a repair service? Can you easily find parts for the machine online? Call up local coffee machine engineers and ask if they service the machine you intend to buy. If this is a particular point of interest for you a good place to start might be the Gaggia classic. Along with countless blog posts and YouTube videos there is also a very active reddit community dedicated to upgrading, repairing and generally tinkering with these iconic machines.
What to look for in a good espresso machine
It’s easy to be tricked by some snazzy photos and a few great sounding buzzwords when looking for a new coffee machine but what should you really be looking for? I’ve broken our reviews down into three key areas. Build, usability & technical stuff.
Is the machine made from high quality materials? Do the buttons feel nice to press? Is anything a likely point of failure? These are the questions we ask when it comes to figuring out if a machine has a high quality build or not. If it’s going to last you a long time you want your machine to be built like a tank!
If this is something you are going to use everyday it needs to be a joy to work with! Trust me when the water tank is fiddly to fill up, the drip tray is overflowing and the machine takes ten minutes to warm up you will wish you never bothered. For me, finding a machine that is a pleasure to use first thing in the morning is key for setting my day up right.
This is where clever marketing folks use your lack of knowledge against you! I see a lot of manufactures boasting irrelevant and even undesirable traits in their machines as unique selling points. We’ll cut through all of the BS so you don’t have to become a barista to wrap your head around it. We’ll also explore more genuine technical advantages that some machines have over each other.
What coffee machine should I buy?
Finally we’ve arrived at our recommendations of the best home coffee machines so how do you know which is right for you? Get an idea of your budget in your head, decide if you want a grinder built in or if you’re going to buy one separately. What features are key to you? Do you want all the bells and whistles of touchscreens and fancy doodads or a classic machine that keeps it simple with a couple of buttons? Do you want a machine that supports your right to repair or voids warranties if you look at it the wrong way! Without further adieu, here’s a list of the best espresso machines on the market…
Breville Barista Pro
Full disclosure this is the machine I have at home and use everyday and I love it. If you’re confused about the name it’s breville in the US and everywhere else whilst in the UK it’s Sage, why?… Who knows! Confusing naming structure doesn’t hold this machine back though, it perfectly straddles the line of being intuitive and easy for beginners to get to grips with whilst having pro features for you to play with as you skills advance. If you are just getting started on your home barista journey I can’t imagine a better machine to get going with. You don’t have to worry about finding a good espresso grinder, it comes with a tamper & cleaning tools and changing settings is clear and intuitive.
The parts feel close to commercial grade; the buttons and dials are nice and sturdy. The body is stainless steel that gives it a high quality feel. Pros for the build are nice features like a pressure gauge, magnetic tamper holder and a cute little sign that pops up to let you know your drip tray needs emptying. Cons are few but maybe the plastic disc in the portafilter to help guide your espresso. I don’t want plastic in my brew environment if I can avoid it and it actually traps old coffee under it. Thankfully this can be removed albeit a little fiddly.
10/10 on usability Breville have clearly done their homework. The machine heats up fast. The portafilter fits neatly into the grinder where you can leave it to fill automatically whilst you grab some milk from the fridge. Programming single or double doses is a breeze. The steam wand is powerful but not overkill giving you time to perfect your milk. Changing grind is a doddle and even has a handy guide of course/ fine. Cleaning is a breeze. The only flaw I could really give it on this front is noise. The machine can be quite loud first thing in the morning but I’m really stretching for issues here.
The Barista express offers all the bells and whistles, pre-infusion, grind dosing, and purge feature to cool the water after steaming ready to pull espresso again. Smart. For a machine of this price you get a lot of nice features that are genuinely executed really well. If it had a built in shot timer and scales that would truly raise the bar…one can dream.
This espresso machine is built like a tank. Parts are readily available online for upgrades and repairs with a small community who like to mod these machines if you are that way inclined / qualified. Everything is sturdy. It is mostly brushed stainless steel and very close to a ‘commercial grade’ feeling machine.
The switches and steam dial are nice industrial quality pieces and the machine is quite heavy, meaning no moving around on your countertop. It’s hard to see how much water you have in the reservoir which in itself is awkward to fill with two rubber hoses that like to flick water at you! It’s also missing a float to warn you if your drip tray is overflowing which you think you might not need..until you do. A huge plus for the silvio is the steam wand, it is awesome commercial level power which might be a little scary if you are new but you’ll soon adapt.
Unfortunately this machine has no real temperature control and the thermostat seems to run a bit hot for espresso brewing so it’s advisable to purge some water before pulling your shot to get some slightly cooler water. There’s no frills with this machine but it will certainly get the job done.
La Marzocco Linea Mini
Real quick before I go any further, this espresso machine is over $5000 so certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes! It is however one of the best prosumer machines on the market. You may recognise it’s iconic design from the italian espresso machine masters la marzocco. This is because its ubiquitous big brother the Linea classic, basically the industry standard espresso machine. It can be spotted in hipster coffee shops and suave hotels the world over. There’s a good reason for it’s huge fan base but does it’s little brother deserve the same adoration? Let’s dive in.
“Ask a child to draw a car, and certainly he will draw it red.” – Enzo Ferrari “Ask me to draw a coffee machine and I’ll certainly draw a Marzocco” – Me. I mean, just look at it… it is truly a thing of beauty but not only that, a machine of substance also. This machine is built using the same commercial parts that go into Marzocco’s industrial coffee machines and it really shows that this machine is built to last! The accompanying parts that come with the machine (tamper, milk jug and porta filters) are all the same high standard. I’ve worked with a lot of coffee machines and Marzoccos portafilers are still my favourite to date!
Dials, knobs, buttons, steam pressure and porta filters are all a treat you will run into no issues with the core features. However we’re talking about a very high end and pricey machine so it’s only fair that we demand perfection right? First up we have pressure gauges for steam and espresso bar which is nice but wouldn’t it be so much easier to read it digitally? With a brew timer and settings options thrown in for good measure! Also the (admittedly large 2.5L) water reservoir has to be filled by removing the drip tray. It’s all a bit fiddly and feels very form over function. This reservoir style also prevents any in machine filtration meaning if you have hard water you may have to filter your water or buy bottled to ensure the quality of water and avoid a build up of limescale. Machines a fraction of the price have solved these issues and it feels as though industry giants should catch up!
Put any concerns of water reservoirs out of your mind because as may be expected La Marzocco have knocked it out of the park with what really matters. The machine uses dual boiler technology. In layman’s terms you want your espresso water to be cooler than your steam water, a problem that plagues many lesser machines but Marzocco were the pioneers of this technology and have transferred it to their home machines as well. Brew temperature can be controlled with a dial on the left hand side of the machine. All round expect quality performance.
Gaggia Classic Pro
Classic for a reason, The Gaggis classic has been around in some shape or form for over 30 years! It’s had time to grow and evolve with the consumer expectations of a home coffee machine and today stands as a fan favourite. It stands boldly as a high quality espresso machine still manufactured in Italy today. Oh and it comes in different colours!
This Machine squarely fits in the “lifetime” category of home espresso machines. It’s built to last and when that fails it’s built to repair. If that sounds good to you, vote with your feet and buy a machine that’s built to last! It’s a stainless steel build and everything feels quite hardy!
Three switches and a dial make this machine a no frills nice and simple experience. The steam wand is slightly weaker than similar machines in its price range however a lot of new baristas like a weaker wand as it gives them more time to get the consistency right. The water tank can be pulled out from the front or filled from the top which is nice to have both options. The flat shaped portafilter feels a bit meh, it’s of good build but why the shape! Lastly there’s no warning that your drip tray is overflowing these days. It feels like a beloved feature that shouldn’t be missing!
A slightly frustrating feature of the Gaggia classic pro is how it is over pressured out the box. Producing a hefty 14 bar of pressure as standard. I believe the thinking is that it improves the flavour of store bought pre-ground coffee, however it’s a detriment to freshly ground high quality coffee. If this is a deal breaker for you, you could consider an adaptor kit to take the pressure to 9 bar but adding this will void your warranty and should be done by people who know what they are doing. Unfortunately no temperature control but I’ve had no issue when I’ve used it. If in doubt, purge a little water before brewing your coffee.
I would reccomend The espresso shop for spares & repairs
A little homework will go a long way! It’s a shame how expensive it can be to get into making espresso as it’s such a fun hobby but it can certainly be done on lower budgets! I hope this page gives you some good ideas for where to get started though.