The world of espresso is as beautiful as it is intimidating. A quick search on Amazon will bombard you with dozens of different options at a variety of price points, ranging from around $5 Aluminum Stovetop Coffeemaker to the $700 Breville The Barista Express. For beginners, I do not recommend either of the extremes when considering espresso machines. The inexpensive options will inevitably disappoint, and the expensive ones will inevitably confuse a beginner.
Although it can seem overwhelming, worry not. Many high-quality espresso machines can be purchased for under $200.
Choosing The Right Espresso Machine
Even for what many coffee enthusiasts would consider an entry-level price, there is still a wide range of options. Some machines are entirely automated, cutting out the difficult aspects of brewing your espresso at home. Some of them are versatile, allowing you to brew not only espresso but other sizes and strengths at the push of a button. However, many would say that for a genuinely refined espresso experience, one should learn the art of grinding your own beans and packing your own grounds.
These machines range from dead-simple to highly advanced. While the options are vast, the machines at this price point tend to fall into one of three major categories: Simple, versatile, and traditional.
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Let’s take a look at some examples of these categories. By the end, you should be able to make an informed decision based on your personal espresso-based goals.
Brewing espresso by hand requires a great deal of expertise and patience. You need to know how to grind the beans correctly, how many pounds of pressure to apply when packing said grounds, water clarity, and many other variables. That can be a lot of work. If you would prefer not to worry about the process, look no further than Nespresso’s espresso machines and pods line. Nespresso has spearheaded the movement to making barista-quality espresso accessible without the trek to a local coffee shop.
Breville, on the other hand, has historically produced expensive coffee shop grade equipment. However, they have collaborated with Nespresso to create a home espresso machine more accessible than ever. The Breville Inissia Espresso Machine is a beautiful Nespresso-compatible espresso machine, and using it could not be simpler.
Pop a Nespresso brand (or compatible) espresso pod in the port, fill the reservoir with water, and press Start. Within a minute, you will have a bold, bitter, and luxurious cup of freshly brewed espresso. If all you’re looking for is a high-quality cup of espresso without the fuss of selecting beans, roasts, and grinds, then this is the espresso machine for you.
Let’s say you don’t always want a traditional 1.35 oz espresso. Maybe you would prefer a 2.7 oz double espresso. Or, perhaps you’re looking for a 5 oz Gran Lungo, which is a lighter and larger espresso. Sometimes you might rather have a 14 oz Alto but don’t want more than one coffee machine on your limited counter space.
If versatility is what you are looking for, look no further than Nespresso’s Vertuo line of coffee machines. These machines are built on the foundation of Nespresso’s original espresso machine. Still, they have been expanded to work with a new line of coffee pods for various coffee experiences.
The technology behind this machine is fascinating. Here is how it works:
The Nespresso Vertuo pods come in a variety of blends, sizes, and pours. The top of the pod is labeled with a tiny bar code, which tells the machine if you popped in an espresso, double espresso, alto, mug, or gran lungo. The Vertuo machine then uses the barcode’s information to automatically draw the correct amount of water, heat to the proper temperature, apply the right amount of pressure, and brew for the correct amount of time.
For you, the complex process of brewing different types of espresso is as simple as popping in a pod, putting an appropriately sized mug under the nozzle, and pressing start.
While more expensive than a dedicated espresso machine, the Nespresso Vertuo allows variety while maintaining its espresso-exclusive counterpart’s simple nature.
Now that the simple options are out of the way let’s say you are looking for a bit more control over your coffee. If you would rather not be beholden to Nespresso’s slimline of coffee types or are put off by the price of refills, you may want a professional espresso maker to fill yourself.
In that case, the De’Longhi ECP3120 15 Bar Espresso Machine is an excellent pick. This machine allows you to use your espresso grounds to make espresso, cappuccino, and lattes. The machine still handles the difficult work on its own, ensuring proper pressure and water temperature, so your espresso comes out with that light, creamy layer of froth on top.
On top of that, the machine has a built-in milk frother — something that you would need to purchase separately with Nespresso’s offerings. While your espresso is heating and brewing, you can get your milk choice and froth it on the side. This is a necessity for brewing lattes and cappuccinos. With the heated frother, you can froth your milk to the consistency you prefer. Froth for a short period for a smooth, creamy latte consistency. Keep the milk in longer to achieve a thicker, puffier cappuccino consistency.
Control is the key element for the De’Longhi ECP3120. Rather than leaving your espresso’s quality up to fate, every aspect of the brew is in your hands. Will you go for a pre-ground Cafe Bustelo with its curated and exquisite dark flavor? Or will you ground your own exotic blend with a Shardor Electric coffee grinder? With this espresso machine, you have the luxury of being able to make that choice.