Buying a Home Espresso Machine
Buying a Home Espresso Machine
Matthew Gee and David Gee
We’ve heard the following scenario played out in department stores time and time again.
Shopper: "Hi there. I’d like to buy an espresso machine."
Salesperson: "Manual or automatic?"
Shopper: "I said an espresso machine, not a car!"
Salesperson: "Right…Well you see there are two types of espresso machines. One with a group handle and steam wand and another with automatic capability where you can get a coffee just by pressing a button. They’re all fantastic so go for your life and look around. I’ll be over at the cash register when you’re ready to buy…"
Shopper: (muttering to self) "This is all too hard!"
There are lots of machines out there and they all look a little bit different. The purpose of this article is to give you a little bit of knowledge so that you can decide what machine is best for you.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
The first decision to make is how much to spend because home espresso machines can be categorised as sub-$1000 or above-$1000. The type of coffee you produce and the ease at which you do it will be directly related to the above choice.
The former category will get you a manual espresso machine that comes with a group handle that you must load yourself with ground coffee. People who want the barista experience at home where they are preparing every aspect of the coffee themselves will prefer these machines. The latter category should get you an automatic machine. The increased expenditure will get you espressos at the push of a button from freshly ground coffee beans, a faster recovery time and arguably better milk because of the better pressure that these machines can produce.
The sub-$1000 home espresso machine
If you have made the decision to spend a bit (but not a lot) of money on a home espresso machine, you will be manually frothing your milk and loading up the group handle with ground coffee to produce the espresso. You won’t be able to produce masses of coffees at once and the process can be an arduous one if you don’t like preparation and cleaning up.
There are two further decisions you will be faced with when considering this type of machine:
 Do you only drink black coffees or do you want a machine that can do good milk-based coffees as well?
After road testing fourteen different domestic espresso machines under $1000 with Choice magazine last year, we actually found that the cheapest machines produced the best espresso! Without naming names, the machines that were around the $200 mark were the best espresso makers. (We would, however, strongly recommend sticking to plunger coffee if you have less than $100 to spend on making coffee at home).
All home espresso machines come with a steam wand, but if you really want to make milk-based coffees (most salons and offices do) you need to be looking at the $450-plus category to get anything that has enough pressure to create a perfectly extracted espresso and café-quality milk. We recommend Saeco espresso machines such as Magic Cappuccino or perhaps better still Via Vanezia.
 Do you want a machine with a built-in grinder, do you want to buy a separate grinder or will you will be satisfied just buying pre-ground coffee to load into the group handle?
An extra $150 or so will get you a machine that has a grinder in-built. These are relatively new creations for this sub-$1000 home espresso machine category and we would recommend these be given serious consideration. The key to great espresso is freshly ground coffee and having a grinder in-built will save on bench space. If you were to buy a separate grinder for salon/office use you would really need to spend $200 or more to get anything decent anyhow so we think it’s better to get a machine with one already in-built. An example of such a machine is the Saeco Via Vanezia Combi. If you are not interested in grinding fresh coffee beans then you have to get pre-ground coffee from the supermarket or your local café.
Handy hint: for most machines you should take the external mechanism off the steam wand to create better, more silky milk.
The above-$1000 home espresso machine
Machines in this category are getting better and better each year. They are handy for people who:
The big decision that you will be faced with when considering this type of machine is whether you want to manually froth the milk or whether you want the machine to produce the froth at the press of a button. The latter machines cost more (over $2000) but they are ideal for a salon or office where consistent and fast coffee is important. An example of such a machine is the Swiss made Jura. Press one button to get espresso then move your cup to another part of the machine and press another button to get frothed milk. These machines are great for office environments or high-traffic salons.
For machines between $1000 and $2000, milk is still frothed manually. Arguably the milk you can achieve by manually frothing (rather than by letting the machine do it for you) is better. The only drawback of course is that it takes longer. Big name brands include Krups, De Longhi and of course Saeco.
In summary, whatever above-$1000 machine you buy you will get your espresso at the touch of a button and for this reason it is going to be faster and cleaner than a sub-$1000 machine and therefore probably better suited to salons and medium-sized offices.
A note pertaining to all home espresso machines: read the instructions regarding cleaning. Regular cleaning will avoid machine breakdowns and greatly enhance the taste of your coffees!
Ó & Ô 2004 David Gee and Matthew Gee
No part of this article may be reproduced without the express permission of the authors