How to choose an espresso machine: absolutely everything you need to know before buying

Buying an espresso machine: Everything you need to know
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Espresso machines make barista-style coffee possible to have at home. 

If you’re looking for a perfect cup of coffee, you can check out our round-up of the best espresso machines, but if you want to know what to look for in a new machine, you’re in the right place. 

Espresso machines can brew a tasty shot of coffee, either for a quick espresso hit or to use in a latte, cappuccino, or Americano, right at home. And you don't have to shell out a small fortune every time or stand in a line for 20 minutes at a coffee shop. 

Some espresso machines do much more than simply make espresso, too. You can find an espresso machine that has an in-built grinder, milk frother, or coffee tamper to ensure the best drink possible. 

How much do espresso machines cost?

At the most basic level, a stovetop espresso maker costs about $30. If you want a simple, single-cup, pod-style espresso machine, you might spend between $40 and $150. This depends on frothing capabilities, water reservoir size, and other features. 

The most popular espresso machines cost between $150 and $300. But if you're into concentrated coffee, you should consider espresso machines between $450 and $1,200. These machines can produce professional café-quality espresso in your kitchen.

Buying an espresso machine: Everything you need to know

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What makes a good espresso machine?


A perfect shot should balance sweet, acidic, and bitter flavors. It should be hot but not scorching and have a thick layer of crema on top (this is the light brown froth). 

We found machines without pressurized portafilters or filter baskets required a finer grind. It was easy to spot the high-quality shots by their crema alone, but we also relied on testers to determine which machines made the best espresso.

Since an espresso machine doubles as a cappuccino maker, we tested each one’s ability to create tight microfoam out of milk. We used 4 ounces of milk for each steaming test and heated it to about 150 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. A few automatic steamers produced better results than the steam wands because they are regulated, but you don’t get as much control.

Most commercial espresso machines use nine bars of pressure (one bar equals regular atmospheric pressure), enough to brew a proper cup of espresso. Most home-use espresso machines claim they can use 15 bars or more. The difference here is in the type of pump they use, and it’s why the best commercial espresso machines cost more. The vibratory pumps home espresso machines use must create 15 bars of pressure to get the required nine bars to the portafilter. 


Automatic espresso makers are much easier to use than manual machines. With a manual machine, you need to know how fine you should grind your coffee beans and how much pressure to apply when tamping them in the portafilter. An automatic machine doesn’t require any expertise. Once you understand how to grind your beans and pull a quality shot, it’s like second nature.

Some machines need you to prime the pump or the boiler. It’s a good habit to get into, and you only need to do it when you haven’t used the machine in a while. Self-priming machines are more convenient and more hands-off than others.

It’s also important to know what maintenance your espresso maker needs. Note how easily and quickly you can clean your machine. 

Little details, such as a removable cup tray or adjustments for bigger cups, are important. Some machines include a cup-warming tray, which is convenient because espresso quickly cools. 

A larger water reservoir cuts down on maintenance, and an auto-shutoff is an invaluable safety feature, too. 


The temperature of each espresso machine’s exterior as it brews matters. Most machines become warm to the touch but don't burn. Still, you'll want to be aware of this when choosing your espresso maker. A status light that tells you when the machine is on can also help prevent accidental burns if you inadvertently press buttons. 

Warranty & Support

Espresso machine warranties vary between one and two years in most cases. We found that the best home espresso makers we tested offer support at least by email, and most offer phone customer care. Other manufacturers offer live chat help, too. 

What accessories can I get for my espresso machine?

The best espresso machines include most of the pieces you need to start immediately. Although, you will need to buy espresso cups. 

Some manufacturers include a pitcher for frothing milk to make a cappuccino or mocha right out of the box. The semi-automatic espresso machines include at least one portafilter, but some may include a second one or a pod-adaptable filter. Most makers also come with a tamping tool, and some include a measuring spoon.

Can an espresso machine save me money?

These machines make more than just espresso; they can create a variety of coffee drinks. If you learn to use the features of these machines, you can replace your morning coffee shop stop with a homemade cup for the road.

After spending money on an espresso machine, you could save plenty of money on takeout coffee. Machines that use pods, however, can be pretty pricey to keep stocked. 

Erlingur Einarsson

Erlingur is a 12-year veteran of publishing, both in print and online. Film lover, basketball fan, functioning coffee addict, he was previously a film journalist, freelance writer, and editor of Photoshop Creative magazine before channeling his passion for software and home improvement through Top Ten Reviews. Erlingur has now moved over to work in magazines again.