What Makes An Expensive Machine Better?
It may seem odd that espresso machines have such a wide price range. Why is it that we recommend such expensive machines when $200 options exist? What makes a $2,000+ machine worth it? Loads of factors actually! Some may seem obvious, but others are not.
Arguably the largest cost point of an espresso machine is its heating element. Espresso needs a tight temperature band right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Producing consistently hot water like this can be a challenge. You have probably noticed that as soon as you pour boiling water, it drops by a few degrees. Water for espresso needs to get from the water tank, through a heater, then to the portafilter at 200 degrees. Cheap machines tend to fail to do this without telling you. The result is lower quality espresso.
Another factor is heatup time. Some machines are designed to quickly heat small quantities of water for each shot. Machines with larger boilers take longer to heat up initially but hold more hot water for multiple shots. In both of these cases, water is heated quickly and efficiently, which isn't always true with cheaper brewers.
Consistent hot water is one of the keys of brewing perfect espresso. Consistent pressure is the other big element. 9 BAR of pressure must be applied to the puck with the water in the portafilter. This pressure is what creates proper extraction. To brew good espresso, the pump must be able to quickly put out 9 BAR and sustain it through the brew process. Cheap machines offset this requirement by using pressurized portafilters. These portafilters have additional material in them to provide resistance. While some great machines do brew with pressurized filters, they generally still have consistent pumps. Cheaper machines lack this.
Case Material, Interface, Odds and Ends
Another core element of machine pricing is materials. It may seem obvious, but a shiny stainless steel machine just costs a lot more to produce than one made of plastic. While plastic isn't always a bad thing, it can be a factor for many users. Having that solid, metal case can be a major selling point. More important than the case though, is the inside. hoses, gaskets, and fittings made from solid, long lasting materials matter. Cheaper machines might use plastic on the inside of machines at common failure points. More expensive machines avoid this by using stronger metal and rubber.
Also important are things like controls. Does your machine have mechanical control elements like levers and dials? Or are you simple pushing a cheap feeling button for steam? This won't matter for some, but for others having that tactile control is important.
Finally, little odds and ends like cool touch steamwands, specific grouphead styles like E61, and three way solenoid valves may SEEM minor, but they can matter. E61 groupheads, for example, help hot water stay hot during brewing. There are a lot of seemingly small bullet points that really matter in the long run.
...And Much Much More!
Beyond everything here, there's so much more to talk about in the nitty gritty. Temperature controllers, plumbability, NSF certifications for commercial outlets, and even more! Trust us when we say, there's a lot that goes into upping your espresso game. It's worth it to do hard research on your new machine purpose to understand the cost. It'll help you end up with a generational machine for you to learn on instead of one you'll replace in a year or two.