Brewing Espresso On a Budget

Can you brew up a latte or americano with machines available for under $100? There are certainly options to do so, but the results you’ll find ten to be just a little bit mixed. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to go about pulling shots on a budget:

DeLonghi Stilosa EC260

The Stilosa is DeLonghi’s newest machine offering that seeks to bring real espresso in a small footprint and at a very low price. DeLonghi has long been a producer of affordable espresso machines that try to cut costs in the right places, and the Stilosa is perhaps their best example of that yet. With a stainless steel boiler, compact case, and simple controls, the Stilosa is a good place to start, but what are the drawbacks?

For starters, there’s the look and feel of the case. This is the key area where DeLonghi has helped bring costs down. With mostly plastic casing, it might feel a bit cheap to some. This is easy to forgive given its $99 price point however. 

The other issues with the Stilosa come from its portafilter. For starters, like many affordable machines, the Stilosa lacks the pressure regulation to make non-pressurized portafilter baskets a viable option. This means you’ll be working with pressurized baskets. While baskets like these can still pull a tasty shot, it can be tough to effectively dial in a really tricky single origin or light roast on a pressurized basket. 

The other issue is the size of the basket. Because of the smaller basket size, it’s tough to brew more than standard Italian 7oz shots. This can be a frustration when trying to brew up your 20oz latte. 

On the topic of milk steaming, it’s also worth noting that the Stilosa’s panarello wand makes steaming easier, but less precise. You might be able to get a tasty latte out of it, but steaming dry enough for a traditional cappuccino or steaming for latte art might be out of reach.

Ilsa Stainless Steel Neapolitan Coffee Maker

Stovetop coffee makers ride the line between espresso and something entirely different. They use steam pressure (or a unique gravity brewing technique in the case of the Ilsa) to brew a pressurized “cup” of coffee that is somewhere between a percolated coffee and an espresso. While the science behind the brew method is different, the result is coffee that bears quite a lot of similarity to espresso.

The downside here of course is that it’s not espresso, and doesn’t come with a good way to steam milk. WIth that said, if you like the taste of stovetop coffee and prefer americanos (or pick up a separate milk frother), stovetop espresso can be a great option.

The part of this equation that we’ve left out entirely is a grinder. While a basic brew grinder might get you close enough to espresso grounds to work with the Stilosa, you’ll really want a dedicated espresso grinder. The Eureka Mignon Notte is a great starting point in this department, but it is more expensive than either of these machines that we’ve outlined.

So the answer then is that while you can get an acceptable espresso with a machine under $100, it comes with some caveats. 

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