If you’re an avid coffee drinker like me, then you have likely taken a jump into the world of espresso and other alternative coffee drinks at one point or another. Maybe you’ve even developed a fiendish double espresso habit to help get you through the work day. Don’t worry, I won’t judge. I’m the exact same way.
There’s just something so satisfying about coffee as you wake up for the day and start taking care of business. There’s the warm, roasted smell that coaxes you out of your foggy mental state early in the morning. Then there’s the cleansing sensation in your stomach as you follow up a light breakfast with a cup. By the time you’ve sat down to work you’re already alert, and your body starts to tingle slightly with great anticipation for the day that is to come.
It’s nice to have a Starbucks or your local coffee shop to retreat to when you need a change of scene. There are plenty of times though when you have a hankering for a cappuccino but leaving your home or office just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention the fact that repeated visits to the coffee shop can rack up quite the tab.
For aficionados like us it really makes sense to look into our very own home espresso machines. It’s kind of insane how many different products you’ll encounter when you start to look around the internet, or even in stores. It’s enough to make your head spin. I’ve been through this a couple of times before, and I actually just purchased a new DeLonghi espresso machine for my home. I figured this would be a great opportunity to shed my thoughts on this buying process.
Define Your Budget
The very first thing that you’ll notice when you start looking at home espresso machines, and a main proponent of why this process is so mind-boggling, is that the prices range drastically. You can find products for under a hundred dollars and you can find products well into the thousands of dollars – even the tens of thousands of dollars for some of the super high-end models. What in the world is an espresso machine supposed to cost?
This is why it’s important to set your budget right from the get-go. This is especially true if you’re just buying your first home espresso machine, as you’re likely to find some features that aren’t your favorite in your first purchase. Set an amount of money that you’re willing to spend and be comfortable with before you even start looking seriously. That way, you can make sure things don’t get out of hand too fast. Once you’ve had some experience with your espresso maker you will have a better idea of what works best for you, and you could always buy a better one later on down the road.
Get Familiar With The Lingo
There are quite a few different designs that you’ll encounter when it comes to home espresso machines, and they have different functionalities. I want to give you a quick run-down of the important features to save you some digging and reading as you go on your search.
You’ll want to pay attention to how the espresso machine physically brews the espresso. You definitely want something that makes use of high pressure during the extraction, as this is one of the primary factors that truly separates espresso from a regular ol’ cup of joe. The most basic models are heated on a stovetop, and the steam passes through the grounds. These will work OK, and they’re probably what you’ve seen your Italian Nonna using. You can find much better espresso machines out there though.
Mechanical designs are the next step up. You create the pressure for the extraction manually by pulling a lever. These can certainly get a richer and creamier cup of espresso than the design we just discussed, but they’re still rather rudimentary. They allow for inconsistency due to human error – that is, how much pressure the person operating the machine uses during the extraction. Another large drawback is that they rarely, if ever, come with a steam wand.
Steam wands are essential if you want to make lattes, cappuccinos, or other coffee drinks that require frothed milk. You’ll start to find them on the more sophisticated espresso makers out there. The next steps up are the semi automatic and the super automatic espresso machines. I’m going to gloss right over the capsule based machines, as the big brands (I’m sure you’ve heard of them) have enough of a marketing budget to get the word out.
Semi automatic espresso makers are where most people end up when making their first purchase. They utilize an electric pump to create the pressure during the extraction, ensuring you have sufficient and consistent pressure for a repeatable cup of espresso, every time. The pump also allows them to have a steam wand on board. Because the components of these designs are still fairly simple, you’ll find them in the low hundred-dollar range.
If you’re really looking to take your espresso game to the next level then look no further than the super automatic espresso machines. They have all of the benefits of the semi automatic machines, and then some. They’ll take care of everything from grinding the beans, to tamping and brewing. All you have to do is select a recipe and press a button. The largest benefit comes in the customization. You can set extraction temperatures and pressures to really get the perfect brew from the beans your using. Don’t expect this to come cheap though, as many of these models come with a price tag in the thousand dollar range.
So how do you feel, are you ready to go find your perfect home espresso machine? By now you sure should be. One last word of warning before we sign off though – keep on the look out for cheap knock-offs. You might be able to save you a few bucks, but at the end of the day you’re going to get a product made from inferior components. You get what you pay for, and these simply won’t hold up to long periods of use. Espresso machine components see a lot of wear and tear. Good luck out there, and if you have any questions while you’re on your search please don’t hesitate to give me a shout.