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Buying an espresso machine: Everything you need to know

Buying an espresso machine: Everything you need to know
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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 it doesn't leave you having 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 now too. You can find an espresso machine that has an in-built grinder, milk frother, or coffee tamper to make sure you get the best drink possible. 

How much do espresso machines cost?

At the most basic level, you can get a stovetop espresso maker for 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 really into concentrated coffee, you should consider espresso machines between $450 and $1,200. These are capable of producing professional café-quality espresso in your kitchen.

We have tested a range of espresso makers from the most popular mid-range price point, which you can read all about in our guide to the best espresso machines.

Buying an espresso machine: Everything you need to know

(Image credit: De'Longhi )

What makes a good espresso machine?

Performance

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

We found that 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 exactly 4 ounces of milk for each steaming test and made sure to heat it to about 150 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. There were a few automatic steamers that 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), which is enough to brew a proper cup of espresso. Most espresso machines made for home use 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 need to create 15 bars of pressure to get the required nine bars to the portafilter. 

Convenience

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, though, it’s like second nature.

Some machines need you to prime the pump, or rather, the boiler. It’s a good habit to get into and only needs doing 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 sort of maintenance your espresso maker needs. Take note of how easily and quickly you'll be able to clean your machine. 

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

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

Safety

The temperature of each espresso machine’s exterior as it brews matters. Most machines become warm to the touch but don't burn. Still, this is something you'll want to be aware of when choosing your espresso maker. A status light that tells you when the machine is on can also help prevent accidental burns, in case 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 of them 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 get started right away. Although, you will need to buy espresso cups. 

Some manufacturers include a pitcher for frothing milk so you can 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. In fact, 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 the initial spend on an espresso machine, you could save yourself plenty of money on takeout coffee. Machines that use pods, however, can be pretty pricey to keep stocked.