If you’ve recently gone from clocking in at an office to working from home like so many Americans have, there are probably a few things you miss, like catching up with your colleagues over a freshly brewed cup from the office espresso machine or coffee maker, or having the option to pop out to a nearby coffee shop for a latte when you need a mid-morning pick-me-up.
Do you see a trend here? (Hint: It’s coffee!)
Many people who find themselves working from home may want to recreate their favorite espresso drinks, which makes the recent increase in sales of packaged coffee (up 28 percent in March 2020 alone, according to Nielsen data) far from shocking. So whether you miss the office coffee maker or crave the fancy espresso drinks you used to buy from the barista down the street, perhaps it’s time you looked into the best espresso machine for your personal use.
The best espresso machine for you
Choosing the best machine requires an understanding of the different types of espresso machines. One of the biggest differentiating factors is ease of use. While some people enjoy a multi-step, manual ritual, others seek out simpler or super-automatic options that reduce the effort required to make each cup. Figuring out where you land on this spectrum will help you decide which espresso machine will best suit your home.
- Steam powered: If you’re looking for a low-cost, easy-to-use option, this type of machine may fit the bill. However, if you’re a true espresso aficionado, a steam-powered machine is not recommended. It is unlikely to prepare an authentic espresso due to an inability to reach the proper temperature and brewing pressure, so you’ll get something more like a too-strong drip coffee. If you truly want to recreate your favorite espresso drink at home, it may be best to save up and opt for an entry-level version of one of the options below.
- Capsule: It’s hard to beat the convenience offered by a capsule espresso machine, in which you simply pop in an espresso-filled capsule, make sure there’s water in the reservoir, and press a button. You can get a rather good quality espresso drink with a capsule machine, but keep in mind that you’ll be somewhat limited to using only the type of capsule it’s designed for. Size can vary — starting with some pretty compact models — and they tend to fall on the lower end of the price scale.
- Semi automatic: This is the most common type of espresso machine. It features an electric brewing pump that you manually switch on and off. You’ll need to spend a little time and effort learning how to use a semi-automatic machine and it can be a bit messy, but many espresso lovers believe it’s entirely worth the quality of espresso you can brew. You can find truly compact versions, especially among newer models, and some may have the option to use both pre-ground espresso and Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) style paper espresso pods, which are somewhat like tea bags but with coffee. It’s possible to find a good entry-level model for around $100. You can expect to pay extra for more stylish, rugged, or feature-filled models.
- Super automatic: You don’t need skill or much patience to make your favorite drink with one of these machines — just press the right button and the machine will grind your coffee. Go from bean to cup with the press of a button, no skill required. It’s unlikely to brew as creamy a cup as you could get from a good semi-automatic machine, but you skip the learning curve and the mess since super-automatic machines typically dump the used grounds into an internal waste container. You may need ample counter space and budget (the price typically falls around $400 or more).
- Manual lever: For espresso purists seeking a hands-on, old world sort of experience, this one’s for you. A manual lever espresso machine will take considerable skill, so it’s only recommended for people who are truly interested in putting in plenty of time and effort to hone their caffeinated craft. Because once they do, they’ll be rewarded in full when they pull a perfect espresso shot. These machines are usually fairly small and made with quality first and foremost, so they’re costly (starting around $800) but designed to last a lifetime.
- Budget: There are espresso machines available in a wide price range, as you’ve seen above. The quality of your brew does not necessarily improve as the cost increases; higher prices are often more related to factors such as looks, features, and durability.
- Space: Make sure you have room for the machine you want by measuring not only the available counter space, but also the clearance you have beneath any cabinets. The best espresso machine in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have a place to put it.
- Durability: Consider whether you want a machine you can store and if you plan to store it in a spot where it will be bumped or moved. If that’s the case, than a highly durable machine is a must.
- Type and frequency of drinks: If you’re a straight espresso or Americano drinker and make just one at a time, a machine with a single boiler (or perhaps a small dual boiler) should do the trick. However, if something like a 16-ounce latte is more your style or you’ll be using your machine to make multiple drinks at a time, a large dual boiler is a better bet. And, while we’re talking about types of drinks, look for a machine with a frother if you want to make lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos.
- Water storage: Large, high-end espresso machines you see at coffee shops may connect to a water source rather than have a fillable reservoir; if you opt for one of these machines, you may have to reroute kitchen piping to use it. Unless you’re making a lot of espresso drinks every day, a machine with a tank will probably suffice.
- Frothing capability: As previously mentioned, most machines have a mechanism to froth pressurized milk, but it’s worth double checking.
- Quality of grinder: According to some coffee connoisseurs, it’s recommended that 40 percent of your budget go into a grinder to ensure you craft the highest quality brew possible.
- Looks and basic functionality: Naturally, you’ll be more drawn to a pretty machine that works with your kitchen décor, but also think through other details, such as whether the cord length will work for the spot you have in mind and how convenient the angle of the spout is.
- Ease of cleaning: Even a super-automatic machine can’t keep itself perfectly clean. Any espresso machine is a notable investment, so you’ll want to make sure you take good care of it by cleaning it and drying it after each use — a much easier task with a machine that boasts simple disassembly and reassembly.
Caring for your espresso machine
Once you choose your machine and learn how to make an exceptional espresso drink, you’ll need to make sure you care for it properly by keeping it clean. Not only will doing so help reduce the need for costly repairs, you’ll help prevent flavor issues, problems with inconsistent steaming, and even blockages in pipes and filters due to calcium scale.
Fortunately, keeping your machine clean is a simple and speedy process; just follow these steps after every shot.
- Remove spent grounds immediately after every use so oils and grounds don’t get stuck in the filter screen.
- Rinse the filter and clean the steam wand after every use. Make sure to get that milk off!
On a weekly basis, do a deep clean (a process which is dependent on whether you have a machine with or without a valve system). Find the steps for deep cleaning both types of machines here.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure to descale the machine regularly to avoid those previously mentioned blockages. Every machine needs to be descaled, but the methods and necessary frequency vary, so check the manual for specific instructions.
Now you’re ready to buy, use, and maintain your espresso machine so you can enjoy all your favorite fancy java drinks at home. Just don’t forget to stock up on coffee, water, snacks and, of course, coffee supplies!