Espresso makers buying guides

Espresso makers buying guides


  • A heavy, metal housing is an indicator of quality.
  • Espresso must be rewed at 10 bars minimum, and a good machine should produce sufficient pressure.
  • Piston powered machines are expensive and difficult to use, but can make a perfect espresso.
  • Electric pump powered machines will consistently produce even pressure, but the quality of the espresso is still usually relative to the price of the machine.
  • Steam powered and stove top espresso makers woefully insufficient for making espresso, but they can brew an excellent cup of coffee.
  • Adjustable steaming wands are convenient, and a good machine should have the boiler to power it.


Dark, thick, rich, creamy, bold, and complex, good espresso is a revelation. Whereas a regular cup of coffee is an extraction of the beans aromatics, espresso is composed of a high amount of dissolved coffee solids, an emulsion of the beans' essential oils. A good espresso is never bitter, never sour, and is always topped by a foamy rich burnished crema.

Three elements are essential for producing a perfect espresso. Any coffee bean, not just darkly roasted beans, can be used to make espresso, but the beans need to be fresh, they need to be ground extremely fine, and they need to be well packed into the filter. The espresso needs to be brewed with water heated as close to 90 EC as possible. And last, but most important, espresso needs to be brewed at about 10 bars, or atmospheres, of pressure.

Perfect espresso is possible in the home kitchen, but the machines capable of producing a crema can get very pricy. If you're willing to make an investment, and you're willing to learn how to use it, a professional quality espresso maker will never disappoint. However, if you're on a budget, or you're just looking for a cup of coffee with a little something extra, the marketplace offers a number of affordable options.


These are the machines that originally made espresso possible, the machines for those who want to experience the art of espresso, for afficionados desiring a personal connection with their coffee. When the machine's boiler has reached the appropriate temperature and pressure, you, the barista, manually pull heated water into a holding chamber by means of a spring powered lever and then it force it through the grinds by the weight of your own hand. The ability to produce a perfect crema with a manual espresso machine is the mark of a master.

Piston powered espresso machines are never inexpensive, but can still usually be purchased for a fraction of the cost of the best pump-driven machines. Although they are difficult to use, although they require a precision that comes with experience, they can produce the highest quality espresso possible.


By far the most common espresso machines in both home and commercial settings, pump driven espresso machines force heated water through coffee grinds at pressures as high as 20 atmospheres. They are the only automatic machines capable of producing a crema. Although electric pump machines generally require a bit of technical understanding to use, we recommend them above all others for their ability to consistently produce shot after shot of rich creamy espresso.

The number of pump driven machines on the market doesn't amaze you, the prices of some will. They can cost as little as $100 and as much as several thousand. The features they offer vary just as widely. No frills machines will require you to do most of the work apart from the brewing. More elaborate models will automatically grind, tamp, prime, and brew your coffee beans, then clean up after themselves. Nespresso style machines simply require you to press a button after inserting a prepackaged foil canister of grinds, and although they do make a surprisingly good cup of espresso, you are usually limited to the options marketed by the manufacturer. When choosing an espresso machine, we recommend looking for the heaviest, most solid machine you can find, but you should consider your budget and your needs. You will usually find that you get what you pay for.

Here are a few other things to consider. Machines with large reservoirs can produce many consecutive cups of espresso and are convenient when brewing in quantity (the average shot requires 30 to 60 ml water). Machines with large reservoirs will also provide more consistent steam for foaming. Machines with removable reservoirs are easy to fill. Machines with pumps delivering pressures greater than 10 bars are more likely to deliver pressures of at least 10 bars, and more pressure won't hurt your coffee. Machines with adjustable foaming wands are ideal. Although foaming and steaming milk is an art in itself, an adjustable wand will make the process easier. Also, if your machine does not include a coffee tamper or a foaming pot, you will probably want to purchase these separately.


Steam powered espresso machines force water through your coffee grinds with the pressure that builds up in the boiler. As a result, the temperatures at which your grinds are brewed is usually too high and the pressure is always insufficient good espresso. A steam powered machine will never fully extract the flavors of your grinds, and will never produce a shot of espresso topped with crema. However, steam machines usually allow for easy, hands-free brewing without all the electronic gadgetry and personal interaction required by pump powered machines, and they can be purchased at very affordable prices. We recommend entirely avoiding steam machines for making espresso. However, they do brew a very deep cup of coffee suitable for mixing with hot water and milk for lattes and long blacks.


Stove-top espresso makers, commonly known as Moka pots, function along the same lines as steam machines. As water held in a bottom chamber is heated, the pressure from the steam forces that water up through a filter of grinds and into an upper chamber. We do not recommend them for making espresso, but they do brew an excellent cup of coffee.


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The RRP (Recommended Retail Price) of a product is the price at which the manufacturer or wholesaler recommends that the retailer sells the product and is not necessarily the price at which it has been offered for sale in the market.