Making espresso at home is a coffee lover"s dream. Fortunately, there are now a number of affordable products on the market that deliver high quality shots. Here is our roundup of the best espresso machines in 2021.
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First, decide which kind of machine you want. There are a few types you’ll want to become familiar with: manual, semi-automatic, and super-automatic.
Manual espresso machines require a high level of skill: every stage of brewing is a hands-on experience. Semi-automatics are the most common machines, and what you find at your local coffee shop. Depending on the machine, they still require a bit of skill to operate, but the pump is automated. Super-automatic machines do all of the heavy lifting for you: grinding, tamping, and extraction.
A quality cup of espresso depends on a variety of factors, including the fineness of the grind, the pressure of tamping, the temperature at which it brews, and the pressure the machine creates to extract the coffee. Look for a machine that will generate between 15 and 18 bars of pressure.You"ll want to find something that gives you reliable and consistent heating. Many higher-quality machines use a PID controller to regulate heat. These systems often use double boiler heating, which allows you to extract and steam at the same time. However, more basic machines operate with a Thermocoil or Thermoblock system and a simple thermometer. Machines will vary by how much you can or cannot control the temperature: more reliable heating produces better-tasting espresso, but will add to the cost.
Dual stainless steel boilers and heated group head controlled by digital temperature control (PID) brings water to precisely the right temperature (+/- 2⁰F) to extract maximum flavor potential, shot after shot.
This is a good time to mention safety: using a more durable machine means you"re less likely to find yourself sprayed with hot coffee. For added safety elements, look for machines with features such as automatic shut-off to prevent overheating while also conserving energy. Heating material is also a crucial element for both safety and quality. Aluminum and plastic are cheap but prone to corrosion and leaks. Stainless steel won"t corrode but is more likely to attract bacteria. Brass neither corrodes nor invites bacteria, but can be quite pricey. The better the quality of the material, the longer the machine will last.All machines will come with some kind of water tank and filter, but the size will vary. Smaller reservoirs mean you will have to regularly refill the water supply between pulling shots, so look for one that has a decently sized tank if you"re looking to produce multiple shots in quick succession. Also consider how easy the tank is to manage: removable reservoirs or those filled from the top are easier to manage than those that slide out from the back.
Besides these basics, there are a lot of bells and whistles attached to espresso machines and their utility will depend entirely on your preferences and needs.If you want to make cappuccinos and lattes, then find a machine that includes a steam wand or steamer of some kind. Some machines also come with built-in grinders for convenience, but check the blade type and quality. It may be more worth it to buy the bean grinder as a standalone machine to get one that uses a conical burr versus heat-conducting blades
Many lower-budget machines will come with accessories like frothing pitchers, espresso cups, cleaning tools, and tampers. Keep in mind that many of these are included as an afterthought and tend to be lower in quality. However, if you are just starting out and don"t have any equipment, their addition might add to the value of your purchase.Finally, check to see if the machine"s components are adjustable and replaceable. Good machines will last for a while, but if something breaks then you"ll want to replace just that part rather than the whole machine.
Everyone wants a machine capable of consistently producing good espresso, but what "consistent" means depends entirely on your skill level.The easier a machine is to use, the less ability you have to take control over the brewing process.If you"re an experienced home barista, you should consider finding a machine that"s more hands-on with customizable features. However, if you"re a beginner just starting out on your espresso-making journey, advanced machines are often more likely to create frustrating experiences than great-tasting espresso—at least at first. If you want a simple, hassle-free option, a Nespresso machine might be right for you.For the most part, you get what you pay for. Cheaper machines are often simpler but you can still find feature-filled espresso machines at an affordable price.At-home systems are not designed to pull shots all day long like commercial-grade machines, but durability is important if you plan on brewing every day. Also, know how much kitchen space you are willing to sacrifice for your espresso and consider whether aesthetics are important.Finally, you"ll want to make sure your espresso machine partners well with your preferred coffee roast—which leads to the next question, what exactly can you do with an espresso machine?
Honestly, the world is your oyster unless you want a plain cup of coffee. You can obviously be super classy and sip a shot (or a double) out of a demitasse, but there’s so much more you can do. You can make a cappuccino, latte, macchiato, mocha, ristretto, an Americano… it’s all a matter of what sort of machine you purchase or the extra gadgets you get with it. A milk frother will go a long way in making some of your coffee shop favorites, and top it off with your favorite syrup (such as caramel or mocha) if you enjoy adding flavor.
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Here are some of our picks for the best espresso machines on the market. Keep in mind these are all designed for specific consumers and most differences will come down to customization, ease of use, and price point.