A few years ago I had finally had enough.
I was done giving Starbucks $5 each day to get my caffeine fix!
I decided I was finally going to invest in an espresso machine, but finding the right one proved to be a daunting task. They all seemed so similar.
It took me a whole month before I settled on the machine I ultimately got: a Rancilio Silvia.
Along the way I learned a few things about selecting 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 I’m a financially responsible consumer. I like to have nice things and new gadgets (especially kitchen gadgets) but I almost always purchase within my budget.
So my first tip is to understand your budget and set a price range for your espresso machine.
You could spend as little as $30 and get a Bialetti Moka Pot or you could get a top-of-the-line super-automatic espresso machine and spend $2,000.
You’re probably somewhere in the middle.
There are so many different types of espresso machine spanning that $30-$2,000 price range, so there truly is something for everyone. At a high level you’ll be choosing between these five types:
1. 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 a 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 an aforementioned responsible consumer I definitely don’t 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 a lot of finely tuned components to generate truly great espresso.
So I reiterate: Set your price range.
But as you proceed through the next four tips on this list and compare machine models, be flexible with your price range. If you decide the best machine for you is going to cost an extra $200, that’s fine! Just make sure you have the budget for that purchase. And if not, set a savings goal to purchase it when you do.
2. Determine what you want to drink
Are you an “I want a decadent latte every morning” or a “double shot three times daily” 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 straight espresso shots and rarely drink lattes and other specialty beverages.
People in this category should focus on machines that make really great espresso and shouldn’t concern themselves with a machine’s ability to make steamed milk.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Shouldn’t any espresso machine I get make great espresso?
Well, not necessarily if you’re in the following category.
I drink lattes and other specialty beverages but 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 as much about a great espresso shot as it is about great steamed milk. If you drink specialty beverages almost exclusively, you may be able to stay in your price range by getting a lower quality espresso machine and a high quality frother.
I frequently drink both straight espresso shots and specialty beverages.
The most challenging espresso drinker to please is this one, because he or she wants the flexibility to do it all. There’s no easy right answer for someone in this category, and the best machine to them will come down to tip number five below.
3. Weigh convenience vs complexity
Maybe I’m weird, but I like adding a little complexity to my espresso routine. I like having a separate grinder, I like manually tamping my grounds, and I like steaming my milk manually. 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 pricey, will give you a great espresso beverage at the push of a single button. Capsule-based espresso machines also will give you the same convenience at a lower price, albeit with a drop in quality. Ditto for steam and stovetop espresso machines.
When shopping for your espresso machine, consider these questions:
- Do you like controlling every aspect of your espresso?
- Do you want total convenience?
- Are you willing to sacrifice a little convenience for a lower price?
Frequently you’re left choosing between convenience, quality, and cost, so be honest with yourself about how important convenience is to you.
4. Consider your countertop
I think this one goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Consider how the espresso machine will fit 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 cabinets?
- Where is the water reservoir located?
- How long is the cord and where is your power outlet?
Regarding height and the cabinets, don’t forget to consider how much additional height is needed to refill any water reservoirs or bean hoppers. I also suggest giving an additional six or more inches to allow steam to dissipate.
5. Be honest about needs vs wants
This tip is a culmination of everything we’ve 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 is to you and the features related to it.
- You know your space limitations.
Armed with that information, there should be a shortlist of espresso machines that fit your criteria. They’ll all have slightly different features — one may come with more refined temperature control whereas another might have a better frothing wand — so what’s important to you?
This step may not be necessary if all the models you’re considering fit in your price range, but what if you need to start cutting features out?
What stuff do you need in your espresso machine and what stuff do you merely want in your espresso machine?
This task can be challenging, but it’s an important step to make sure you get an espresso machine that does everything you need at a price you can be happy about.
Following these tips may sound like a lot of work, but if you take them to heart soon you’ll enjoy your espresso-based beverage knowing you have the perfect machine for you.
Byline: Bryan is a coffee fanatic and writes for The Coffee Maven, a comprehensive online resource dedicated to creating compelling coffee content.