Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Best Espresso Makers for a Bargain

Enjoy the smells and sounds of a cafe, right in your own home.
Enjoy the smells and sounds of a cafe, right in your own home.

If you’re serious about your caffeine addiction like me, then you NEED to have an Espresso Machine in your kitchen. I have one, and I’m a fully functional caffeine-fiend – actually, if I don’t have my caffeine, then I’m not really functioning at all.

Here’s my current favorite: Nespresso Espresso Maker. Check pricing at Amazon.

Though espresso comes from what seems like a relatively simple process grind coffee beans, pour in hot water things are not as simple as they first appear.

  • Hot (but not boiling) water is not so much poured over finely ground coffee beans as it is forced through under pressure
  • This results in a higher concentration of dissolved solids in espresso, a thick suspension with a rather satisfying cream on top
  • Because of the pressurized nature of this method, espresso is a concentrated, powerful little number

Why should I own an espresso maker?

While many enjoy an espresso from a sidewalk cafe in Paris or as a digestive after a monster meal in Milan, most people do not have this luxury. If you’re like me, you’ve been settling for a quick double shot from Starbucks while rushing to work. It doesn’t quite have the same romance to it.

Fortunately, there’s a happy compromise that’s a lot cheaper than airfare fresh brew espresso in the comfort of your own home! Whether you want a quick jolt of flavor and caffeine or a base for your own Americano or macchiato, an espresso machine is just the thing for you.

Which espresso machine should I buy?

Some machines take pods, some take coffee grounds, and some take both!
Some machines take pods, some take coffee grounds, and some take both.

Espresso machines may look and sound quite intimidating in your local coffee shop or restaurant, but today’s home espresso makers are very easy-to-use. You don’t have to break the bank to get one, either! There are plenty of quality machines on the market for great prices that will not only do the job but do it well (and for many years).

Let’s look at some of the models on the market.

DeLonghi EC702 15-Bar-Pump Espresso Maker

De'Longhi 15 bar Pump Espresso Maker, EC702, Metal

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If what you want is an espresso machine that seems like it would be perfect at home or in a restaurant or coffee shop, then look no further. This particular machine is a bit on the pricier side, but the EC702 is definitely worth it because of the build quality.

It is the perfect model for experimenting with espresso, as there are two thermostats to let you keep the water and the steam at separate temperatures.

The built-in top heated warming tray lets you make two different styles and keep the first on hot while you make the next. It’s also great for pre-warming your coffee or espresso mug in the morning while your brew is being prepared.

What’s great about the DeLonghi EC702 15-Bar-Pump Espresso Maker is its versatility. You can pop in an espresso pod (or 2) if you are in a rush or use your own ground beans and the steam wand to impress your friends after dinner.

With a built-in milk frother, you can also practice your latte art and espresso making skills and create delicious cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, and more! It also automatically self-primes, taking out an entire step in the process. With an easy to clean, removable 1.3L water tank and reputable customer service, you really can’t go wrong with this model.

Nespresso Vertuo Coffee and Espresso Machine

Breville BNV250CRO1BUC1 Vertuo Coffee and Espresso Machine, 15.511.514.75 in, Chrome

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If you are looking for convenience, this option could well be one worth checking out. The ultimate best in convenience is brewing espresso drinks from capsules, and this neat, sleek espresso maker can hold 50 of them. It has 19 bar pressure espresso options, as well as a folding drip tray for larger brews. It also features a 24oz. removable water tank for easy cleaning after the brewing process.

The water is heated to the correct temperature in as little as 25 seconds, meaning your espresso will be in the cup and ready to drink in a minute. The machine has espresso and lungo options, as well as a folding drip tray for larger brews.

Saying you don’t have the time to make your own coffee doesn’t work with this one! It’ll take longer to go through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get a cup than it would have you simply used the Nespresso Pixie.

This machine is not for the budding barista to practice with, but it’s perfect for those who want their espresso now! With other convenient features like a backlight indicator, water level detection, auto power-off, used capsule container, and convenient power cord storage, this is a comprehensive espresso machine, to say the least.

Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Espresso Maker

Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker | Café Barista , Silver

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This model opens up the possibilities a little more. It includes an automatic milk frother that lets users choose the froth thickness level and also has a few extras when it comes to the coffee, too. Don’t be worried if you’re a novice barista, as this is still a one-press machine if you want it to be.

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of a restaurant-grade espresso machine, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Espresso Maker might be the perfect match for you. What it does offer are options such as single or double shot espresso, espresso cappuccino, and latte. Its 15-bar pressure pump will make sure that you will still taste the espresso if you do choose a creamy setting.

It also fits a full-sized pint glass if you remove the drip tray. Mr. Coffee looks great more like something you’d see in a small cafe with its stainless steel exterior design. And, thanks to its removable water tank and drip tray, it’s still effortless to clean. With impeccable customer service and part replacement services, if anything goes wrong, this machine is an awesome choice for your kitchen.

How to choose the best Espresso machine

When you are paying five bucks for a quick espresso before work every morning, one at lunch, and maybe one in the afternoon to avoid the lethargy that can creep in around half past three every day, the numbers add up quite quickly.

An espresso and cappuccino machine is like a good pair of shoes or a decent mattress. It will pay for itself in no time at all. A quick shot of caffeine in the morning to get you going or an after-dinner sip to help you digest a nice meal is a pleasure that cannot be taken away from.

There are many great espresso machines on the market today, but how do you know which one is best suited to your particular needs?

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

These machines are relatively easy-to-use but do require more in the way of manual intervention than other espresso machine models. It can also get quite messy. This type of espresso maker requires some practice, but it does offer the most in the way of flexibility and gives you a very tasty and high-quality coffee which makes all the trouble worth it in the end.

If you don’t have much counter space available in the kitchen, this option is also good because of its compact size that won’t take up too much room. You can also find an entry-level model for $100 making this machine a bargain at a more than affordable price point.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

Super automatic machines are also easy-to-use but requires no practice or additional skills. Simply fill it with the water and coffee beans and press the button. However, they offer less flexibility when compared to semi-automatic espresso models, and it may not be able to brew an espresso that is as thick and creamy.

They will also require more counter space as some can take up a fair amount of space. They are a bit more expensive as well.

Manual Lever Espresso Machines

These machines require a significant amount of skill and practice. While it is a relatively straightforward brewing process, many other variables can affect the quality of the espresso including the grind of the bean, the tamp pressure, and the rate and timing of the manual lever manipulation.

Capsule or Pod Espresso Makers

These machines use convenient espresso pods or capsules and are good for a quick espresso shot at home before leaving the house. They are also great for the office as well. They are very easy-to-use and are typically pretty compact in size depending on the model you choose so it won’t take up much of your counter space. They are also relatively inexpensive, so you are sure to find one for a bargain. However, the price for the pods and capsules can definitely begin to add up.

Factors to Consider

When purchasing an espresso machine, you want to consider its ease of use, ease of cleaning, the overall cost, your drink preferences, its durability, its size, and its other features.

Some extra features include a built-in coffee grinder that ensures that the flavor is fresh every time you make espresso. The water filter dictates the quality and taste as well. If you want to make espresso but keep it warm, then the cup warmer feature is ideal. Programmable settings are also great because it lets you customize the options and make the process easier for you.

Cold brew fan? Here’s my review of the best coffee grinder for cold brew.

Espresso machines for the home

You may just want something fast and convenient with no hassle, you might like to explore your inner barista, or you may well be a training to be one – so there are many different considerations to be taken into account when you are choosing which espresso machine will be best for you.

So, let’s take a look at some of the different styles of espresso machine on the market today, the range of features that each one of these models has can help you make a more informed decision on which one will be more suited to your needs.

There are a few basic rules that need to be followed no matter what when it comes to making a good espresso. It is a simple drink, and there is nowhere to hide, no frothy milk or caramel sweetener just you, the beans and the water.

  • The water needs to be very hot but not boiling, as this can scald the ground beans and lead to an overly bitter and nearly acrid drink
  • The coffee beans need to be ground uniformly and should be very fine but not powder. If you live in a very humid area, you may want to grind your beans a little more finely
  • The water will be forced through the evenly tampered powder under pressure, and many models have an option to change how much pressure is being used
  • The fun part is you can play around with all of these factors and see what results in your preferred style of espresso

You may of course just wish to hit a button and let the machine do all the work; this does have its advantages in the time it takes to make and will also help to keep a more consistent flavor. A machine does not have moods and off days (hopefully), so there is no reason to expect a variation in your single or double shot.

Espressos are not, contrary to popular belief, overly caffeinated. In fact, there is nearly 50% more caffeine in a regular cup of coffee and a lot more than that in some of the big cans of energy drinks. This means that the main reason for making one is to enjoy the rich dark flavor and the way that it pairs beautifully with a fresh croissant or a little cigar.

Most espresso machines double as a cappuccino maker, and if this is the way you intend to use the shot, then it is worth getting a machine that creates a beautifully creamy foam perfectly. The pump that will provide the pressure needed to create this is of the utmost importance, and unsurprisingly, the best is to be found in some of the more expensive machines.

Some MORE of our favorite Premium Models

We start with a model that closely resembles the machines that you will see in restaurants and coffee shops everywhere from Breville.

Breville Barista Express

Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine, Large, Stainless Steel

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The Breville Barista Express not only walks the walk in terms of looks but it talks the talk when it comes to performance.

With a powerful 15 Bar Italian pump, 1600W thermocoil heating system, and a flat shower head water dispensing apparatus to make sure that the water is optimally distributed through the coffee puck, this machine is nothing short of impressive.

Most machines require a separated grinder for the beans or take pre-ground capsules; the Breville, on the other hand, features a conical burr grinder that can accommodate up to half a pound of your favorite roast. Dials on the machine let you choose a variety of settings, from fine to coarse coffee grinds, along with your preferred amount of freshly ground espresso beans. The filter size function also lets you determine whether you want to use a single or double wall filter basket.

It also has a hefty 2L water tank, along with a “purge” function, which adjusts the water temperature after steaming to create optimal extraction environment. The Breville even removes excess water from the filter basket after the coffee is extracted to make cleanup a breeze.

Sleek and stylish with brushed steel, a cup warmer on top, and a weight that is reassuring, this is a machine that you can be proud to display on your kitchen counter and delivers a perfect 1 ½ ounce shot of rich, dark flavor every time.

Gaggia Classic

Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso Machine, Solid, Brushed Stainless Steel

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The Gaggia Classic is another top of the line espresso machine that justifies its price tag and remember, if you are buying several cups of coffee every day, it just might pay for itself in a month or two.

With a big water reservoir (72 oz. to be exact), one of the best tampering tools, and producing frothed milk that is as good as we have seen, the Gaggia is quite rightly considered one of the best espresso makers that is available for home use.

It also comes with great accessories, including a coffee tamper, a 7-gram measuring spoon, and a portafilter. It even works with simple coffee pods, if that’s more your speed.

It is a manual espresso machine, so you do have to practice a little, but there is a certain satisfaction in making espresso that you can truly call your own. It has a high power 17 bar pump as well as a 3-way solenoid valve, which immediately releases pressure once the pull is complete.

This speeds up the cleaning process and lets you to start making your next drink ASAP! Keep your next cup warm and ready for brewing with a built-in cup warmer on top of the machine. With a one year warranty, this is a great machine that is worth the investment.

DeLonghi EC 155

DeLonghi EC155 15 Bar Espresso and Cappuccino Machine

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For something a little gentler on the wallet but uncompromising when it comes to the end result, the DeLonghi EC 155 is a great lightweight and more compact option.

It doesn’t take up as much room as its more expensive counterparts, and as it is semi-automatic with a self-priming operation, it is quicker and more convenient if you need to get that early morning pick me up on the go while you get ready to leave the house.

It is remarkably good to steam and froth milk with its manual swivel jet frother, and you can be assured of a fantastic marocchino or latte every time. This machine also works well with either pod or ground coffee with its patented dual filter holder and its two separate thermostats; this lets the steam and water pressures be controlled separately – ideal for experimenting with different drinks.

Some of its espresso machine reviews say the machine is a little loud to work with, but its convenience, underscored by its simple to remove water tank, may make this the perfect option for any espresso lovers and their needs.

KRUPS EA8808 2-IN-1 Touch Cappuccino Super Automatic Espresso Machine

KRUPS EA8808 2-IN-1 Touch Cappuccino Super Automatic Espresso Machine, 57-Ounce, Black

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The KRUPS EA8808 is another great espresso maker and produces a rich crema, looks great, and super easy-to-use.

This model also comes highly recommended as it consistently made some of the best espresso drinks we tested.

It has an easy-to-use touchscreen for simple selections of custom beverages (including ristretto!) along with an impressive metallic conical burr grinder and an adjustable knob to control coffee grind and size. It also features attractive auto on and off functions, as well as an exclusive latte tray that fits a wide variety of mug and cup sizes.

BESTEK 3.5 Bar Steam Espresso and Cappuccino Maker Coffee Machine

BESTEK 3.5 Bar Steam Espresso and Cappuccino Maker Coffee Machine, Carafe Included [ETL Listed]

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If you’d prefer a semi-automatic machine instead of a full-service espresso maker to cut a few bucks off of your budget, BESTEK has your model. Their Bar Steam Espresso and Cappuccino maker is an affordable, quality espresso maker that will give you a beautiful cup of java every time.

This espresso maker uses 3.5 bars of pressure and can make 4 cups (or 240 ml) of coffee in about 5 minutes. It’s a simple, quick, and easy operation. It also features a frothing option to make cappuccinos if that’s your drink of choice!

It’s very simple to operate, with a single switch knob that has an indicator light. With coffee or steam options, you have complete control over both brewing and steaming, which lets you set exactly how strong you want your espresso. The handle of the machine also stays cool to the touch throughout the brewing process. It also comes with a boiler cap.

Your purchase of this semi-automatic espresso maker comes with a strong, durable stainless steel filter with aluminum alloy filter holder for maximum efficiency in terms of heat distribution. You also get a metal funnel and plastic measuring spoon for precise brewing. The carafe that comes with the machine also has a water level gauge for simple measuring.

Clean up is also a breeze with this machine, with a removable drip tray. All parts of this machine that come in contact with your water and espresso are made of FDA approved BPA free materials. You also get a one year warranty, and many reviewers have said BESTEK has impeccable customer service. You can’t go wrong!

Drink Up!

So, when you are choosing which espresso machine is best for you, first think about how you are going to use it and how much effort and time (and money) you wish to spend to get the best possible espresso.

Sometimes the process is part of the fun, and like anything else, the more you put into it, the more you will get in return. So, don’t be afraid, you don’t need to grow a hipster mustache and get a semi-ironic sailor tattoo – a good espresso can be made by everyone!

All of these espresso makers make a great cup of the dark stuff, so it all comes down to whether you want one that is “run out the door quick,” or one you can play around with. At the end of the day, if you’re going to have an espresso maker in your house, you might as well get a machine that looks the part.

Throw on an ironic t-shirt, learn a few obscure indie band names, and pick up the DeLonghi. You will be painfully cool in no time at all!

References and Links

Prefer a latte? Here are my recommendations for the best milk frother. Or if you’re into tea, I’ve got recommendations for the best stainless steel tea kettles for one.

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