How to Buy Your First Espresso Machine
Are you in the market for your first espresso machine? Are you ready to bring that cafe flavor to your kitchen counter? Well look no further, because we’ve got some tips for helping you pick out the perfect machine for your countertop. Let’s jump in!
Setting Your Budget
One of the first things you should do when shopping for an espresso machine is setting your budget. There’s a huge range of espresso machine prices out there and you really can spend whatever you want. One thing to keep in mind when shopping for coffee equipment is that you really do generally get what you pay for, and this is especially true for espresso machines.
While you can get buy with a $100 machine for a while, you will find that if you really enjoy espresso you’ll want to upgrade before long. Conversely, there are compelling options for thousands of dollars that do justify their price, but they might be a bit of overkill for your first machine.
A good way to set your budget is to decide how long you’d like your first espresso machine to last. This is less because more affordable machines aren’t reliable, and more because you might outgrow your machine if you aim for lower cost options.
Another thing that’s important to work out early in your process is whether you want a superautomatic or semi-automatic machine.
Super or Semi?
There are two main kinds of espresso machines that most users consider: Superautomatic and semi-automatic. A superautomatic combines machine and grinder and adds a layer of automation allowing you to get your coffee with a couple of button presses. A semi-automatic is more like the machine at your local coffee shop. They are less automated and may or may not come with a built in grinder.
Which style of machine is right for you is going to depend entirely on how much effort you want to put into making your drinks. The upside with superautos is that they’re very easy to use and you can get up to speed on making solid coffee drinks on them quickly. The benefit of a semi-automatic is that you get more fine control over your drinks. While superautos do make solid coffee, you’ll want a semi-auto and extensive practice to really get the very best shots and steamed milk.
Speaking of milk, let’s talk about the next thing to consider when purchasing your first machine.
What Drinks Do You Like?
There’s a huge range of coffee drinks out there to choose from, and knowing what you like ahead of time will help you pick your machine. For example, not all espresso machines (especially not all entry level machines) come with dedicated hot water dispensers. While most machines will provide some way to get direct hot water, if you love americanos then you might want to opt for something with a spout.
If you’re shopping for a superauto, make sure the machine offers the sort of drink selection you like. If you love a cortado then it’s possible most superautos might not make the cut. That being said, most superautos will produce lattes and cappuccinos, so if those are your favs then you shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Don’t Forget the Grinder
Most semi-automatic espresso machines do NOT have built in grinders. This means that you will need to purchase a standalone espresso grinder alongside your machine. This is something you’ll want to budget for, as good entry level espresso grinders like the Baratza Encore ESP and the Fellow Opus usually start at around $200. Don’t plan on relying on pre-ground espresso, as much of the benefit of brewing your own is being able to freshly grind the beans.
If buying a separate grinder sounds scary then there are solutions. All-in-one options like the Breville Barista Express are a great way to get a grinder and machine bundled together in one perfect package. The downside here is that you may decide you want to upgrade your grinder before you move on to a new machine, and if you do it’ll take up extra counter space.
Now that we’ve talked a little bit about these different concepts, let’s answer the big questions.
Where Should I Start?
The next thing for you to do is start comparing machines. If you’ve decided you want to start at the entry level with a semi-automatic espresso machine then you can’t go wrong with the Breville Bambino or the Solis Barista Perfetta. Both of these machines will require a standalone grinder, so if that’s a deal breaker then your best bet is the aforementioned Barista Express.
If you are looking at the lower end of the superautomatic side then we can recommend the Philips Carina as a great starting point. It’s on the lower end of the pricing scale and makes solid drinks without much hassle.
If you’ve decided you want to go higher end than there’s a lot of great places to start looking. We love Rocket Espresso’s Appartamento, everything Diletta has to offer, and newcomers like the Lelit MaraX. All of these machines cost more and will need a separate grinder, but they offer prosumer performance and could be the first and last espresso machine you buy (because they’ll last, not because you’ll hate them).
And that brings us to our biggest piece of advice - try these machines out if you can. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a Seattle Coffee Gear store then we offer demos of a wide range of machines. Stop in to learn more and try coffee from the machines you’re shopping for. If not, do your best to taste test as many espresso machines as you can. This is ultimately going to help you pick the perfect option!