How To Choose Espresso Machine - What To Look For In An Espresso Machine

How To Choose Espresso Machine – What To Look For In An Espresso Machine

Knowing how to choose espresso machine, being a home espresso machine or a professional one will help you to get and buy the one that best fits your needs and requirements and get the one that is most suitable for you.

By the time you have finished reading this article, you will know exactly how to choose an espresso machine, whom one is for, why you need one and what to look for in an espresso machine and how much you should expect to pay for one.

Who Is An Espresso Machine Best For?

An espresso machine is best for you if you are more than curious about making great barista quality coffee at home and need to make espresso based drinks such as a latte, cortado, flat white and, of course, a straight espresso and a ristretto.

A manual espresso machine, an automatic espresso machine and semi-automatic machine will help you to make more than just a shot of espresso. This is going to be handy at dinner parties where you can attend to your guests with not only great food, but with Starbucks quality coffee too and meet all their needs and brew up their coffee as they love it.

If you are a proper coffee lover and especially for you espresso lovers out there, you will benefit from being able to make quality espresso at home.

An espresso machine is for home baristas of all levels, from beginner to advanced.

Who Is An Espresso Machine Best For
An espresso made with an espresso machine

Read: Espresso Vs Coffee Taste

What Should I Look For In An Espresso Machine?

There are a number of things that you should look for and consider before parting with your money these are:

  • The size – Do you have space for it?
  • The coffee drinks you can make with it, and the non coffee drinks.
  • User friendliness – is it easy to use.
  • Does it have a steam wand or not?
  • How easy to clean is it?
  • Are spare parts easy to find?
  • How long it is expected to last?
  • Customer service? Do they have technicians available in your city or town?
  • Does it have a built in grinder or not? (N.B It is best not to have a built in grinder!).
  • Does it have a water filter? Does it have programmable features?
  • The cost.
What Should I Look For In An Espresso Machine
A home espresso machine

The Size Do You Have Space For A Popular Espresso Machine?

From entry level espresso appliances to ultra automatic espresso machines and everything in between, you need to consider the physical dimensions of a coffee machine. This is important if and when you have limited kitchen space as it is common for most consumer espresso machines to take up more space than you expect.

The typical size is 11.02 x 9.06 x 11.61 inches (28 x 23 x 30 cm) for most machines and should be in an open access area at a reasonable counter top height to be able to make your coffee, froth the milk and serve it. An additional small area set aside for your coffee grinder as an independent grinder is best — I’ll go into that later.

I suspect most people will have enough space for a twin group head machine.

Why Do You Need A Home Espresso Machine?

There are a number of reasons why you need an espresso machine at home. The main stand out reasons are being able to pursue your hobby of making gourmet coffee and learning all the skills required and related to making a wide range of barista style craft coffees.

  • 1. You can kick off your day with an amazing homemade coffee.
  • 2. You will develop your coffee know how and knowledge.
  • 3. They make much better coffee than a Nespresso.
  • 4. You become the ultimate dinner party host.
  • 5. You have a gourmet coffee shop at home.
  • 6. It’s better for the environment – you save on those pesky pods!
  • 7. No more average coffee for you!
  • 8. You can recycle the used coffee grounds into a wide range of products including compost, de-odoriser, facial scrub etc.

There are many more reason, those there are 8 great reasons.

Why Do You Need A Home Espresso Machine
You can make world class coffee!

How To Choose An Espresso Machine

Naturally speaking and it is understandable you don’t want to just buy any machine and later find out it is not quite what you were looking for or that it can’t make the drinks you want to make or is missing an important element that is a must have for you.

The Grinder

A lot of people in the home barista community and those looking to improve their barista skills might look at and consider an all in one machine with a grinder.

A grinder is not something that your espresso machine or any home coffee machine should have. I believe in simplicity and convenience. You have no need to over complicate your life and make life more difficult than it needs to be.

These grinders and all in one units are more difficult to clean. You need to take it apart and do a whole lot of messing about. Owners tend to neglect cleaning out the grinder or to perform regular preventative maintenance by brushing it out.

This leads to a lack of maintenance for the rest of the machine.

The result of which is a quality of coffee that is not as good as it should be, less than optimal.

Besides, a stand-alone coffee grinder is not expensive to own, lasts years and gets you overall a better, cleaner grind.

Always look for a ceramic conical burr grinder as these have less heat build up and are easy to clean.

This is one mistake not to make – please do avoid all in one coffee machines with a built in grinder.

How To Choose An Espresso Machine
Don’t consider an all in one machine with a grinder

The Boiler

This is the core functionality of your home espresso machine. The boiler of coffee machine is where the steam and hot water are produced. The bigger the boiler, the better, as a bigger boiler offers greater temperature stability.

Let’s talk about the boiler and heating process a little more.

A Single Boiler

In a single boiler system you have just the one boiler, one unit that generates the hot water for espresso brewing and making the steam to steam your milk.

The draw back is you cannot do both at the same time. The result of which is a longer preparation time for your beverages.

A single boiler is what is found in a low end cheaper entry level machine and usually have a small capacity which equates to low heat efficiency and stability of temperature. The result of which is a less than perfect quality coffee. Your coffee is not as good as it could be.

A single boiler machine is ideal if you like making an espresso shot, black coffee, caffe Americano and so on.

A Dual Boiler

A dual boiler has as the name suggests, two boilers, each with separate heaters. One provides the hot water for brewing and the other the hot water for making the steam. The two boilers are not interconnected and function independent of each other. You can have different settings for each of them. Dual boiler systems are what is used in top professional espresso machines.

You have the broadest options regarding the configuration of the machine and, most importantly, temperature stability.

Heat Exchange System: 

Super-Automatic espresso machines and top professional high end automatic and semi automatic espresso machines use a heat exchange system. The bigger main boiler generates the steam for your milk frother. Inside it is a smaller boiler that is heated by the water surrounding it. The water inside this is what provides the water to brew your coffee.

Like a dual boiler, this allows you to make your coffee and froth your milk at the same time. A heat exchanger system is usually physically bigger in size and offers greater stability of temperature.

The drawback of a heat exchanger system is that you are fully dependent on the steam boiler’s temperature, you have no independent settings for each.

Water Temperature Control

Water temperature is a key variable that affects your coffee. Having stability and control over the temperature is important for getting good quality coffee extraction and getting all the flavor compounds out of your grounds.

A Thermostat or pressure control switch is an old fashioned analog temperature control system where the values and settings are not readily marked. This is very unfortunate as it means you will be doing a lot of guest work and rough adjusting. With an analogue temperature control temperature system it will take you a bit of practice to get to know your machine and what the water temperature is.

The use of a digital thermometer and calibrating your machine and noting or marking with a sticker or masking tape what temperature a specific adjustment are is a work around.

It is not going to be too much of an issue for you if you are just making espresso, a letter or any coffee with milk.

If you are a more advanced and exacting in your coffee brewing and need a more precise control of the temperature, a digital PID temperature controller is what you will need your espresso machine to have.

This uses advanced electronics and a software algorithm to ensure that your desired temperature setting is not only achieved and maintained. A digital temperature controller of this nature will ensure you have a very stable temperature – always.

Water Temperature Control
Digital precision control of the water temperature is better than analogue and no control

The Water Pump

This is an important aspect for making a great espresso with a rich crema as the crema is formed thanks to the water pressure and soluble coffee oils. You need to be able to adjust this setting as required.

It may be that this setting is inside the machine and can only be accessed by removing the cover. Most pumps that are in coffee machines are vibration pumps which are noisier than rotary pumps. A rotary pump is better due to a greater level of efficiency.

Drinks

Of course, you want to be able to make all the coffee drinks that you and your family like, love and enjoy. You should get your hands on a machine that can make all the drinks that you will be making regularly and more.

A good espresso should be able to make an espresso, a ristretto, caffe Americano, and a whole range of milk based drinks like a cortado, flat white, a latte, cappuccino and more.

Look for the ability to make teas and infusions due to having an ample hot water outlet. Most espresso machines available should meet this requirement.

Also, have a good thought about how many coffee drinks you can make at a time and how many group heads will you need. If you really need two group heads, ensure that you have at least 2 double portafilters and one single, so that if you are particularly busy making coffee, you can make up to 4 at a time.

How To Choose Espresso Machine
Make sure you can make a wide range of coffee drinks.

The Cost

You should buy the best possible machine that you can get that fits your requirements without blowing your budget. A good quality home espresso machine well maintained will easily last you 10 years and more. What you are spending now will last you for many years to come.

I’ll talk later about how much you can expect to pay for a machine that will last you 10 years and more, easily.

Ease Of Maintenance

The last thing you or anyone wants to do is to take your coffee machine apart to perform regular preventative maintenance.

A water supply or tank that is easily accessible for the purpose of cleaning your espresso maker and running cycles with distilled white vinegar.

Water Filter

Does the espresso machine have a water filter or not and is it easily replaceable. This is an important factor for me as it does ensure that your machine will last longer due to mineral deposits and line scale not getting into the important parts of the espresso machine.

Even if and when it does have a water filter I’ll still filter the water that I put into to it. Not for quality reasons or to make better coffee, but to keep the machine well maintained and last me for many, many years to come.

Steam Wand

An unquestionable must have is a steam wand if you want to make milk based drinks or even hot milk for a hot chocolate. No espresso machine is complete without some kind of milk frother and I steam wand is the best way to make frothy milk.

Steam Wand
You will need a milk frother

How Much Should You Expect To Pay For A Home Espresso Machine?

The price should be well within your budget, and you shouldn’t be afraid to spend money on your espresso maker as it is a kitchen appliance that will last you for a decade or more.

As a ballpark figure I personally won’t spend less than U$1,200 on one knowing that it will make me great coffee for the next 10, 12, 15 years to come.

US$1,200 should at todays price can get you a very good machine.

If you have the budget, you can, of course, go all in and spend well over a thousand dollars and even several thousand dollars. Get the best machine that you can afford and make sure it meets all of your requirements.

How Do You Know If A Espresso Machine Is Good?

A good espresso machine will allow you to have full control over the variables, at least when setting it up for the first time.

  • 1. The water pressure.
  • 2. The water temperature
  • 3. The brew time. 

These are the three main variables related to an espresso machine that will affect the aroma, taste, and texture of the coffee made, regardless of which type.

The remainder of the variables are “off machine” such as the grind size, the beans, the roast, etc.

The Different Brands Of Espresso Machines

There are a number of different brands to choose from De’Longhi to Gaggia to Breville to Capresso and Hamilton Beach and more.

I don’t particularly suggest that you go for one brand over another based soley on brand loyalty or anything at all like that. I will say the first 4 mentioned I have used, and I do like their machines.

You ought to base your choice on it meeting your requirements and needs.

Frappé-Ing It All Up! – How To Choose An Espresso Machine

You should now be well-informed and educated on how to choose an espresso machine that exactly fits your needs and requirements and what to look for in one and what the must haves are and what you absolutely should not do – buy an all-in-one machine with a grinder.

Bookmark this page (control +D) just in case you need it for reference.

Coffee is love, it's more than love — it's a passion of mine. I've had the luck to have travelled and enjoyed the most exotic of coffee's and unique flavors, brewing methods and techniques of making the perfect coffee from Thai hill tribe coffee to Indonesian volcanic coffee, Malaysian coffee that comes in a tea bag and the array of flavors in Vietnam, from Vanilla to Orange to Coconut to Avocado to even salt coffee and the famous egg coffee. The best part of my coffee adventures is getting to mix with the locals over a nice brew and learning how they make it! I'm cited and referenced on Google Scholar for the topic of coffee.

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