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Espresso Machines - The Ultimate Guide



Buying an espresso machine can be really tough! There are so many different options available at such a huge range of prices from anywhere around $50 up to $10,000 or more, it's easy for people to get confused and not know where to start. That's why I decided to write this ultimate guide to buying an espresso maker.


Before we get down to the nitty-gritty I'd like to point out that if you already know the specific brand that you're interested in, you can find prices, deals, sales, or even just more information on the specific machine you're looking for by clicking on the brand name on the list at the right-hand side of the screen. If you aren't that far along in your decision making process just yet, then keep reading!


Today I'm going to discuss several things including:


  • Commercial espresso machines versus home espresso machines
  • Pump Machines versus Steam Machines
  • Single shot machines versus multi-shot machines
  • Manual espresso machines versus automatic and semi-automatic machines
  • Price ranges
  • Espresso Basics


Where to Start?


If you're new to the world of home espresso machines than it can all seem a little overwhelming at first. After all, there are so many different options available that it's hard to know where to get started... so let's just dive right in.


The first question you have to ask yourself is this: what do you want to use your machine for?


Do you drink a lot of espresso or is it something you just do every once in a while? Do you like to drink straight espresso or do you prefer to make drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes, or other starbuck-like drinks? How much money do you have to spend? How much space do you have available on your countertop?


These are all very good questions to ask yourself before you purchase an espresso machine of any kind and I'll talk about why as we go on...


Let's Talk About Price


Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Espresso makers can be incredibly expensive but they don't have to be, which is the good news. You can walk into a normal department store such as Wal-Mart, or Target, or Costco and pick up a cheap espresso machine for anywhere between $20 and $50. On the other hand, you can buy an all-inclusive super automatic machine that cost anywhere from $800 up to $5,000 and if you're looking for commercial machine you can expect to pay even more than that.


So let's start with the cheap $20 models. Do these work? Are they any good? The answer is; possibly...


Steam vs. Pump Espresso Machines


To understand the cheap machines you have to understand the difference between steam powered espresso machines and pump powered. The cheap machines that cost around $20 are usually steam powered. What that means is that they use steam to force the water through the coffee grounds. The problem with that is that steam doesn't really create enough pressure to get really good dark rich espresso. For that you need a pump powered machine (pump machines give that nice rich crema at the top of the espresso).


On the other hand, if you're not really an espresso connoisseur and you don't know the difference between this espresso bean and that one, and you're really only interested in making mixed drinks like cappuccinos or mochas, then you may be okay with a cheap steam powered machine. After all, you're just mixing the espresso with milk and chocolate anyway, and it's the chocolate that you're going to taste more than anything.


And also, if you're new to espresso and don't have a lot of money to spend, a cheap $20 machine is a great way to ease yourself into this great new world!


So that's the first thing you need to look for when purchasing any kind of machine; whether or not it's steam or pump powered. More likely than not, you want to buy a pump powered machine and you can expect to pay anywhere from $90-$200 for an entry-level single shot pump powered machine.


Manual Machines vs. Semi-Automatic and Super Automatic


The next thing you need to look at is a manual espresso machine versus semi automatic and super automatics (which from now on I'll just refer to as "automatics"). Basically a manual machine is a simple espresso maker with a water tank in the back and a single arm in front that holds enough coffee grounds to make one shot of espresso, after which you have to manually remove that arm to dump the used up coffee grounds into your trashcan. They usually have a milk frothing wand too. Chances are this is the picture of an espresso machine that you have in your mind right now.


On the other hand automatic machines are all-inclusive and usually quite large boxes. They do everything for you from pour the beans into a grinder that grinds them to the specific fineness needed, to emptying the grounds out afterwords into an automatic disposal system and then self-cleaning to boot.


It seems like a silly difference, at least it does to me. I've never understood what's so hard about pouring in a scoop of coffee grounds, tamping it down at the filter myself, clamping the arm back onto the machine, pressing the button, waiting 20 seconds for the espresso to empty into my cup, and then pressing the off button... but if all that manual labor is too much for you then you may want to look into an automatic espresso maker.


Prices for Manual vs. Automatic


The only problem is price. A top-of-the-line quality manual machine can cost you anywhere from $90 up to $200 and will make excellent single shot espresso. On the other hand, even the cheapest automatic machine is going to cost you at least $400 or $500 and can easily shoot up to anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 depending on the brand and the bells and whistles. Further, automatic machines have lots of moving parts and are prone to breakdown much easier than a simple manual machine.


On the other hand, they look really nice sitting on your counter top! And after all, espresso drinking is a matter of style to some degree. The choice is up to you and it's really a personal choice that depends on your own personality and how much money you're willing to spend.


Single Shot vs. Multi-Shot


One thing that makes automatics better than manual machines in some circumstances is the concept of multiple shots of espresso versus a single shot. With a manual machine you load in the coffee grounds, press the button, and wait for a single shot of espresso to empty into your cup. Then you clean out the grounds and if you want another cup of espresso you have to reload it and start all over again.


Automatic machines don't have this problem. Some of them come with two or three spouts so that you can make three shots of espresso at once, others have a simple button you can press that will tell the machine how many shots you need to make automatically.


Think of it like this... if you're looking for something that will make a nice shot of espresso for you in the morning or one or two shots to mix in for cappuccino or some other drink, then a manual machine is perfectly fine for you in every way. If, on the other hand, you have lots of parties or even just like to entertain company often and you would like to serve multiple espresso drinks at one time, then an automatic machine may be what you need.


Of course, price comes into account here as well. Single shot machines cost much less than multiple shot makers and of course manual machines cost much much less than automatic machines; so keep that in mind.


Commercial Espresso Machines vs. Personal Machines


What is a commercial machine? Basically it's a huge contraption like something you would see behind the counter at Starbucks. These machines can cost anywhere from a couple thousand dollars all the way up to $10,000 or more. If you're reading this guide it probably means that you have no business buying a commercial machine because there aren't many circumstances where you're going to need that much firepower in your kitchen.


The only reason I wanted to mention it very quickly in this guide is because sometimes people mix up commercial machines with automatic and super automatic (or even semi automatic) espresso makers and I wanted to make the distinction between the two so that there isn't any confusion. Chances are you don't have to worry about this because normally you're not going to be able to buy a commercial machine in a regular store, they're something you have to special order.


All of the machines I've talked about so far in this guide would be labeled personal machines or home machines.


Beginners Suggestion


Hopefully this guide has helped sort out some of the more confusing topics when it comes to buying an espresso machine but it may not have put you any closer to actually picking out your first machine.


I've run this website for a long time and I've been interested in these things for over a decade so why not let me make a quick recommendation...


I assume that you're just getting started in the world of espresso, and if that's the case then I suggest you start out with a manual machine that is pump powered and cost anywhere from $80 up to $150 depending on your specific budget. If you've got money to burn then by all means buy an automatic espresso machine (I suggest Jura Capresso - see link on right hand menu).


But if you don't know exactly what you like in an espresso machine, spending $1,400 on something that may not be what you're looking for can be a costly lesson; which is why I suggest you start out with a nice mid-range manual machine.


Browser around our website to learn about specific brands (check out the menu on the right hand side of the screen) where you can also see customer reviews and specific brand buying guides.


When it comes to buying an espresso machine, there's really too much to learn for one guide. But hopefully this espresso machine buying guide has covered the basics and answered some of your most pressing questions. Check out the related articles below for more specific guides. I hope you find the machine that's right for you because there aren't many things more enjoyable in this world than starting your day with a nice shot of espresso!








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