How to Choose the Best Espresso Machine

Buying the best home espresso machine is not tough if the proper shopping procedures are used. Gourmet coffee is very popular in the United States. Because of this, many homeowners purchase the best machines, so they can replicate the drinks that are offered at coffeehouses in their home.

Understanding The Machines That Are Available

Best Espresso MachineVarious stores have many kinds of espresso machines. However, half of the market in the United States is owned by Mr. Coffee and Krups. The prices of many machines vary. There are some machines that are available at low prices, and there are units that are offered for more than $1,000.

When shopping for a unit, there will be many options available, such as stovetop devices and steam machines. The most expensive machines are electric-pump devices which make the best coffee. Electric-pump machines also have several options, such as machines that provide manual or automatic features. Automatic machines will grind the beans and make the espresso automatically. These machines also collect grounds that have been used. You can then empty the container when needed.

There are also machines that use pods or capsules. They provide a portion of coffee that is preground and measured. Although these particular kinds of machines are useful, consumers must shop carefully because some machines only use the pods or capsules that were designed by a specific manufacturer. This can make the shopping process challenging because the pods or capsules may not be available at certain stores.

Breville BES860xl / Sage Barista Express

The Breville BES860xl is a semi-automatic espresso machine that comes with a built in burr grinder.

This not only saves you money since you won’t need to purchase a separate grinder like you do with other semi-automatics and it takes up less counter space since everything is combined in one nice looking machine.

The Barista Express has a stainless steel exterior for added durability and gives it a quality look and feel.  The burr grinder has adjustments for grind and dose size  so you can get the perfect espresso shot from any type of coffee bean. You can also adjust the extraction time to help dial the best shot.

Why the Breville Barista Express BES860XL is the BEST All-In-One Espresso Machine

  • Excellent All-Around Performance – Sure, you can go spend 2 grand on a top of the line grinder and machine, but for most people with normal needs and normal kitchens, the Breville Barista Express is the best value for your money. I did a lot of research before I bought mine, and there wasn’t even a close second.
  • Integrated Burr Grinder & Bean Hopper – Most machines require the purchase of a separate grinder. This one is built in with a bean hopper at the top. Just pour your beans in and you’re ready to go all week long.
  • Small Footprint – It takes up relatively little space considering the features included. I have a small kitchen in a townhouse and this fits unobtrusively on a small part of the counter.
  • Solid, Metal Construction – It’s built like a tank (a really fancy, sports car looking tank)
  • Solid Industry Reputation of Breville – Breville has a reputation of quality and a name that is sure to be around for a long time.

Product Information

With its integrated conical burr grinder and dosing control, The Barista Express delivers the optimum path from espresso bean to thick crema in less than two minutes. Non-pressurized cafe style single-wall filters allow for experimentation of grind size, grind amoung and tamping pressure to explore the art of espresso. Pressurized dual-walled filters help beginners by delivering smooth crema every time. The integrated tamper with magnetized lock in storage allows you to tamp to your preference while attached to the machine or the counter

  • 15 Bar Italian-designed Thermoblock Pump
  • Sealed bean hopper with 8oz capacity
  • Integrated conical burr grinder
  • Removable 67oz water tank with water filtration system
  • Programmable or manual settings

With the built in grinder, large variety of settings and built in tamper the Breville/Sage Barista Express makes a great, compact, good looking home espresso machine. Click here for full review

Rancillio Silvia

The Rancillio Silvia is one a the best built semi-automatic espresso machines out there.

It comes with a commercial size brass brew group and portafilter as well as a large 12 oz brass broiler and a three way solenoid valve. All this brass means it takes a little longer to get up to brew temperature but the quality of the espresso it produces is well worth the wait.

The Silvia costs a bit more than some other semi-autos but if you are the kind of person that really likes to dive in to a new hobby head first and want learn all the barista techniques to make the best shot of espresso then this is the perfect machine for you. The

Silvia is just as good if not better than many commercial machines and you will get many years of trouble free service from this best selling machine. Click here for full review

Breville BES920xl / Sage Dual Boiler

The Breville BES920xl is Semi Automatic dual boiler espresso machine.

The big advantage you get with a dual boiler machine is you can make your espresso and steam your milk at the same time. With single boiler units you have to make your espresso first, then switch over to steam mood and wait for the boiler to get hot enough so you can steam your milk.

The BES920xl is a quality stainless steel dual boiler machine that sells for a vary reasonable price compared to other dual boilers. It has enough automation so even a novice baritsa can make a great espresso and there are enough manual adjustments to keep the expert barista satisfied.

If you are thinking about getting a dual boiler espresso maker you definitely need to check out the BES920xl. Click here for full review

Gaggia Classic

The Gaggia Classic is one of the best selling espresso machines in its price range.

It’s a small, basic looking semi-auto machine that includes many features only found on much more expensive models. The outside of the machine is made from a solid sheet of stainless steel that comes in a brushed or shiny finish.

The grouphead and portafilter are both made from marine-grade brass which is usually only found on higher priced machines and helps to retain heat producing a consistent temperature when extracting a shot for cafe quality results.

You also get a 3-way solenoid valve to quickly release pressure after making a shot so you can remove the portafilter and make another one without waiting.

If you don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles that come on a lot of modern machines but are more focused on the quality of your espresso and durability of your machine then I definitely recommend the Gaggia Classic. Click here for full review

Jura 15079 E6

The Jura 15079 E6 is one of Jura’s lower priced super-automatic espresso machines. It comes in a stunning black and chrome finish that will fit into any modern kitchen.

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This super automatic does all the work for you; no need to grind, tamp or clean up after making a shot. Simply dial in your settings, hit he button and you are ready to go.

The built in conical burr grinder ensures even fineness of the coffee grounds and the 15 bar pump provides more than enough pressure for perfect extraction. Steam or froth your milk using the 1450 watt boiler powered steam wand for great cappuccinos or lattes.

Cleaning is a snap using the integrated descaling and cleaning setting.

If you are looking for a modern super-automatic machine the Jura E6 should be on your list. Click here for full review

Krups EA82 Espresseria

The Krups EA82 Espresseria is super-automatic espresso maker that includes a quality stainless conical burr grinder.

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It features an LCD screen that allows you to select various options such as espresso, strong espresso, coffee, long coffee as well as various other settings. For heating this Krups espresso machine uses a thermoblock and there is a swivel steam nozzle for frothing your milk. The water reservoir holds 60 oz of water and has a built in filtration system.

Included with the machine is the KRUPS XS 6000 Set which attaches to the steam wand for frothing milk and it works great for making cappuccinos.

The EA82 is one of the most compact super-automatic machines available on the market so if counter space is a concern for you but you want an easy to use, set and forget machine you might want to consider the Krups Espresseria. Click here for full review

Delonghi Esam 4200 Magnifica

A super-automatic espresso machine at the price of an automatic. That’s the best way to describe the Esam4200 from Delonghi.

This is a budget priced super-automatic that features dual boilers, albeit thermoblocks instead of traditional boilers but it still makes a pretty decent shot of espresso. The two boilers allow you to steam your milk at the same time you are brewing your espresso shot to help save you time.

The Delonghi Esam4200 features a patented “Cappuccino System” frother, “direct to brew” adjustable burr grinder ,push button and rotary controls, build in clock with timer to turn your machine on in the morning, decalcification indicator as well as an instant reheat feature.

If you really want a super automatic machine but don’t think you can afford one the Delonghi Esam 4200 Magnifica just might be the ticket. Click here for full review

Saeco Vienna Plus

If you are looking for a super-automatic espresso machine but don’t want to spend a lot of money you might want to have a look at the Saeco Vienna Plus.

The Vienna Plus is an entry level super-automatic that isn’t big on bells and whistles but gets the job done and makes a pretty decent espresso shot at the push of a button.

It has a built in adjustable conical burr grinder with a storage bin for coffee beans, steam wand with Pannarello frothing attachment, adjustable dosing dial, a removable water tank, 1250 watt stainless steel boiler, 15 bar pressure pump and a dreg container for spent coffee that holds up to 15 pucks.

For the price this espresso maker gets pretty good reviews and comes in at a reasonable price for a quick morning coffee to start your day at the push of a button. Click here for full review

Breville BES840xl Infuser / Sage Duo Temp Pro

The Breville BES840xl, also called “The Infuser” is a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine that features an electric PID (proportional integral derivative) controller.

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The PID controller constantly monitors the temperature and makes minor adjustments to keep it in the sweet spot to produce quality, consistent espresso every time. Espresso makers without this feature can have a wider fluctuation in temperature resulting in inconsistent shots.

The BES840xl features a powerful 1600 watt thermocoil heater which is an upgrade from the leak prone, light weight thermoblock used in the older BES830xl version. It’s called “The Infuser” because at the beginner of the shot it uses low pressure for a few seconds to saturate and expand the ground coffee prior to hitting it with high pressure.

They claim this method helps extract the maximum flavor from the beans and based on espresso machine reviews it seems to work great. Click here for full review

Nespresso Pixie

The Nespresso Pixie is a compact, light weight, easy to use single or double shot espresso machine.

It is fully automated and uses convenient disposable pre-filled coffee capsules that come in a wide variety of strengths and flavors to suit your personal tastes.

This is a great machine for someone who doesn’t want to go through the learning curve of trying to figure out how to make a great espresso like you have to do with manual machines.

All you need to do is turn the machine on, wait for it to heat up (about 25 seconds) , insert the capsule of your choice and hit the button. A few seconds later you have a perfect shot of espresso which is consistent every time.

A great choice for those who are in a hurry in the morning or put one in the office so you can enjoy it all day long. Click here for full review

Espresso Basics

Let’s face it – a lot of us run on coffee. It gets expensive though, especially if your daily drink is a grande triple caramel latte, really anything beyond your regular joe. At $3 to $5 a pop, you’ll be shelling out well over a $1,000 every year. Yikes.

This article will teach you how to take the DIY (Do It Yourself) approach, saving significant time and money achieving better-than-the-coffee-shop results. Just don’t be surprised if family and friends start knocking on your door in the mornings and calling you barista. They mean well.

Machine Tour

The Breville Barista Express

Bean Hopper

Fresh whole beans are stored in the bean hopper to be ground by the integrated burr grinder directly into the portafilter. The Breville Barista Express is only of the only machines that has an integrated bean hopper in the machine (as opposed to purchasing a separate hopper and grinder). The hopper on this model can store 7 ounces of beans.

Burr Grinder & Adjustment

The burr grinder is located inside of the unit and provides the grinding mechanism which grinds the beans. An adjustment dial on the left side of the machine allows you to control the fineness of the grind. The portafilter can be placed in the rubber holster under the grind shoot, allowing the beans to be ground directly from the hopper into the portafilter.

Water Tank

Fresh, clean water is a vital ingredient to extracting good tasting espresso. It’s best to use pre-filtered water for the best taste. The espresso machine you’ll see in the videos has a built in water tank on the back which holds 67 ounces of water and contains a charcoal filter to help remove any impurities from the water as it is drawn into the machine for use.

Pressure Gauge

The pressure gauge on the front face of the machine is active during the extraction process and provides feedback on the pressure level as steam is pushed through the grinds. As you’re learning about the factors that affect extraction (water quality, grind size, grind amount, tamp pressure) the gauge will help critique your shot as it is being pulled.

Steam Wand & Dial

The steam wand attached to the espresso machine is inserted into a metal pitcher that is filled about 1/3 – 1/2 full of cold milk. Turn the steam dial to the on position, and hot steam will be pumped out of the wand to froth the milk.

Portafilter

The Portafilter (aka group handle) is a small metal “bucket” with a handle. It is used to carry the grinds, and to form a seal with the espresso machine during the extraction process.

Grinding Beans

How do you grind your beans for a perfect espresso?  Follow the below easy to follow steps and you will be making great espresso in no time.

  • Ensure that there are fresh, whole espresso beans in the bean hopper
  • Place the portafilter under the grinder
  • Select the grind size on the dial
  • Select the shot size (single or double)
  • Push the portafilter to trigger the grind cycle
  • Make sure the grind is evenly distributed, fills the basket, and creates a small mound on top of the filter basket
  • Pinch some of the fresh grounds and rub them in your fingers to get a feel for the size and consistency

Why Grinding is Important

  • Grinding greatly affects the espresso taste
  • Fresh beans that are freshly ground will make the best shot
  • The fineness, or size of the grind is extremely important
  • Different kinds of grinders produce different results – the conical burr grinder is the best type
Freshness

Fresh coffee beans make better espresso. Buy your espresso beans whole (never pre ground) and in small batches from a reputable coffee shop or roasterie so that the shelf time is limited. Regarding grinding, the less time between grinding and extraction – the better. Never grind your beans hours or days before extraction. The optimal time between grinding and espresso extraction is under 1 minute.

Grind Size

The size, or fineness, of the grind is a crucial factor in the process of making espresso. Most expresso machines have an adjustment dial that allows the size setting to be fine tuned. There is one particular number, or setting, that will be the sweet spot. Your job is to find that spot, and then make slight tweaks to account for variables like different types of beans, the freshness of the beans, and various conditions. It’s really a matter of practice-makes-perfect, but when you do find that sweet spot, you’ll likely get a decent shot without fine tuning, even if it is not absolutely perfect.

The grind size also affects the length of time and the amount of expresso that is extracted. A good extraction for a double shot is about 4 ounces over about 20 to 30 seconds.

Grind Amount

The amount of grinds that you’ll need in your portafilter depends on whether you will be making a single shot or a double shot. Depending on your machine, your grinder may be integrated into the espresso machine, or it may be a separate unit. In our videos, the burr grinder is actually part of the espresso machine, so grinding is simply a matter of moving the portafilter under the grinder and pressing a button (I’m using the Breville Barista Express).

The grinds should fill the portafilter and form a small heap on top. It is important the the grinds are distributed evenly as they fill the basket.

Tamping Grinds

How to use a tamper
  • Fill the portafilter with good grinds
  • Make sure the grind is evenly distributed, fills the basket, and creates a small mound on top of the filter basket
  • To level the coffee grinds, pat them down with four fingers so that they create a flat surface that is level with the top of the filter basket
  • Wipe off any remnants on the rim of the basket
  • Remove the tamper and place it on the center of the grinds
  • Press down firmly and evenly with 35-40 pounds of force
  • Tap the porafilter to knock off any remnants
  • Tamp a second time with less force
  • Lock the portafilter into the espresso machine
Why Tamping is Important
  • Tamping ensures that the grinds are packed tightly into the filter basket
  • The correct tamp pressure allows pressurized water in the machine to extract the best flavor and oils
  • Ensuring good distribution helps to produce more uniform espresso that flows evenly and is of a higher quality

Extracting Espresso

Steps to Extracting Espresso:

  • Lock the portafilter into the machine
  • Ensure that there is enough water in the tank
  • Place two espresso shot glasses or your cup directly under the portafilter
  • Press the extraction button for single shot or double shot depending on the filter size you have in the basket.
  • Observe the pressure meter and count the number of seconds the full extraction takes. The meter should rise to the center, and the extraction should ideally run between 20 and 25 seconds.
  • If using a clear glass, observe the depth of the layers that form. Crema should be on the top (light brown foam), the “Body” is a central layer that is a medium brown, and the “Heart” is the bottom layer that looks like black coffee.

Well Extracted Espresso (GOOD)

  • Sweet smelling
  • Plenty of crema (layer of light colored foam)
  • Full “body” (majority of the shot under the crema will be a medium brown)
  • Pressure gauge on the Barista Express rises approximately to the center of the meter
  • Takes between 20 and 25 seconds to complete a double shot extraction

Did you know? – The Espresso’s Crema – the brown/red foamy layer atop the espresso shot – is comprised of sugars and proteins as well as vegetable oils.

Over-Extracted Espresso (BAD)

  • Tastes weak, with bitter and acrid notes
  • Pressure gauge on the Barista Express will rise too quickly and will arrive in the last quarter of the meter
  • Little crema, mostly black, possibly white specks on the top
  • Toss it and start over
  • Takes longer than 25 seconds to extract

Under-Extracted Espresso (BAD)

  • Tastes sour and thin
  • Pressure gauge on the Barista Express will rise slowly and only reach 1/4 of the way through the meter
  • Thin layer of crema if any, mostly black
  • Toss it and start over
  • Takes less than 15 seconds to extract

Frothing Milk

If you would like to froth milk for your espresso, follow the steps below.

  • Fill the metal milk pitched about 1/3 full of fresh cold milk (the colder and fresher, the better)
  • Turn on the steam wand so that it produces a stream of hot steam
  • Place the steam wand tip into the milk just below the surface until you hear a “hush” sound
  • Ensure that the wand is angled to create a whirlpool effect in the milk
  • About half way to the desired temperature (~160°F), drop the tip down into the center of the milk for about 15 seconds
  • Finish by moving the tip back up into the first position until the temperature is reached
  • Turn off the steam wand and remove the metal pitcher
  • If there are any visible bubbles, tap the pitcher on a hard surface a couple times to pop them

Microfoam

Microfoam is the result of an ideal froth where the milk turns into a rich, velvet texture and there are no visible bubbles. Texturing milk takes practice, but it is not a complicated process. Every machine is slightly different, and we will be using the Barista Express in this video to teach good technique.

Did you know? – Espresso drinks with milk are more common in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

Temperature

When learning, it’s best to use a thermometer to watch the temperature rise as the milk is heated by the steam wand. Once you’ve become proficient, you may be able to get away with reading the appropriate temperature by touch and heat. The milk should be heated to about 160°F (70°C) – too hot and the proteins in the milk can be destroyed by the heat. (See the thermometer I use from Amazon)

Stretching The Milk

When frothing milk, you are doing two things at the same time: heating, and stretching. Stretching milk increases its volume by introducing tiny air bubbles. The volume can increase up to about 50%. Stretching occurs when the tip of the steam wand is held close to the top of the milk in the pitcher. Heating occurs when the tip is moved down into the center of the milk.

Where to Place the Wand Tip

  • Place the wand tip just below the surface of the milk for the majority of the frothing time. The steam will make a mild “hush” sound as the steam produces tiny air bubbles in the milk. The tip should be slightly submerged so that it does not create large visible bubbles or splatter. The proper position will create good microfoam.
  • Place the wand tip down into the center of the milk about half way through the process for about 15 seconds. This helps to heat the milk and stir the microfoam throughout the milk so that it is of a more even consistency.
  • Throughout the process, the wand should be angled against the milk so that it creates a whirlpool effect, swirling the milk around in one direction.

How To Choose The Best Espresso Machine

A general espresso machine makes coffee by forcing water that is under pressure. The machine provides a small shot of espresso that is very concentrated. Consumers must have knowledge about making a shot of espresso if they choose to buy a manual pump machine. Understanding the various kinds of beans and how to grind them is very important. Other important things to consider involves the amount of coffee per shot, temperature, and pressure.

All the technical issues, however, will not matter when an automatic machine is used. A few automatic machines will also grind the beans, but the user has to adjust the grind and other elements, such as the amount of ground coffee to be used as well as the water. Most consumers buy automatic machines because they provide a few manual benefits without all the challenges.

Automatic units that use capsules or pods are the easiest to use. However, the process of making coffee is more expensive. Capsules can cost nearly 60 cents per cup.

Machines that have an integrated grinder will be heavier. These machines also need a lot of counter space. Espresso machines are generally used a lot, so consider a unit that blends with the counter space in the kitchen. Because espresso machines are used often, they will require cleaning. Cleaning can be somewhat challenging depending on the machine. Manual machines that have metal filter that will need cleaning.

It really comes down to how involved you want to be when making your espresso at home. If you want to just hit a button and get a shot of espresso a super-automatic is your best choice. If you want to grind and tamp the coffee yourself than a semi-automatic is perfect. If you want to do everything yourself you might want to consider a manual piston machine but they can be expensive and do require a lot of skill but they are capable of making a great shot of espresso in the right hands.

Benefits of buying an espresso machine:

  • Save money. The average coffee shop espresso drink costs $4. You can make the same thing for about 75 cents. (Take the quiz below for more)
  • Save time driving and standing in lines. Wake up in the morning and have your home-made latté ready in 5 minutes.
  • It’s a great hobby. Learning the art of espresso is simple to get started, but takes years to fully master all of the different drinks.
  • People will love you. Seriously. Imagine having some guests over and offering to make their favorite coffee drinks for them in your living room.
  • It just looks cool. Yes, they take up a little counter space in the kitchen, but that hunk of polished stainless steel machinery will take your kitchen to the next level of classiness.

We know, these fancy espresso machines are so darn expensive.
True… but so is spending $750 on coffee shop café lattes each year. Take that money and invest it into yourself by buying a quality espresso machine that will serve you for years.

Types of Espresso Machine Boilers

All home espresso machines need to have a way to heat water to a specific temperature. This heated water is then forced under pressure through the brew group into the ground espresso in the portafilter for a specific amount of time to extract a shot of espresso. Espresso maker manufacturers have come up with a few different ways to achieve this goal, some better than others and they all have their unique advantages and disadvantages. On higher end machines they may have two separate boilers, one for brewing and one for steam. This means you can steam or froth your milk at the same time you make your espresso without having to wait for a single boiler to heat up to steam temperature.The three main types of water heaters are the thermoblock, thermocoil, and the boiler which will all be discussed below.

The Thermoblock

The thermoblock is the most economical and compact way to heat water and is usually found on lower priced espresso machines.  The thermoblock does not store water like a traditional boiler, instead it heats the water on demand as it is needed. It consists of two teflon lined aluminum blocks that are mounted together with a gasket or seal in between.  Inside the thermoblock there is a long pathway the water passes through and a heating element which heats the water. The small mass of the thermoblock means it doesn’t have very good temperature stability which can cause inconsistent brewing. Another issue is the fact it’s made from two separate pieces and is prone to leaking because of failure of the gasket or seal between the pieces. They work fine for making average quality espresso but may not last very long before they start leaking so you are probably better to choose a machine with a better water heating system.

The Thermocoil

A thermocoil is similar to a thermoblock in that it heats water on demand but with a few distinct advantages. A thermocoil consists of a long stainless steel coiled tube for the water to pass through and a coiled heating element cast into a solid block of aluminum. The mass of the aluminum is much larger than that used in a thermoblock which gives the thermocoil better temperature stability for more consistent shots. Another advantage is the fact the heating element and water tube are encased in a single piece of aluminum so there are no seals that can deteriorate and leak. Choosing an espresso maker with a thermocoil instead of a thermoblock is definitely recommended.

A Boiler

A proper boiler for heating water is usually found on quality, higher end espresso machines.  A boiler works very much like a water heater in you house. Its made from a metal container with a heating element inside. Water is stored in the boiler and has to reach the proper temperature before you can brew a shot so there is some waiting time after the machine is first turned on. A boiler can be made from aluminum, copper,stainless steel or brass with brass being the best material. Brass is corrosion resistance, has incredible thermal conductivity  and capacity. This results is a much more stable water temperature for cafe quality  espresso at home. If you want the best of the best then choose an espresso machine with a proper brass boiler like the Rancilio Silvia.

Espresso Beans

1. The beans must be ESPRESSO ROAST

You can buy many different roasts of coffee beans. Basically, the longer you cook them, the darker the roast and the stronger the taste. (Note, darker roasts don’t necessarily provide more caffeine). If you put your typical “morning brew” beans into your espresso machine, it will tast terrible… at least most people think so. You need to purchase beans that are roasted especially for espresso drinks. Just look for “ESPRESSO ROAST” on the label. Also, don’t cheap out on beans – buy them from a good coffee shop.

2. The beans must be FRESH

Your espresso will be about a million times better if you start with fresh beans. By fresh, I mean that you bought them within a week or so of grinding them for your espresso, and that they weren’t sitting on the coffee shop shelf for too long before that. Store your beans in a dry, dark place – not in the freezer or out in the sunlight.

3. The beans must be WHOLE BEANS

Never grind your beans until you’re ready to pull the espresso shots. As soon as they’re ground, the beans begin to release their lovely coffee aroma and oils. If you grind them too soon, you’ll lose some of that flavor and richness. Ideally, wait no more than 2 minutes between grinding and initiating the espresso shots.

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