I’ve had an espresso machine on my home brew bar for the past decade. I love it. What began as an idea to save a few dollars instead of paying for lattes every morning at neighbourhood cafes, has evolved into a full blown passion.
Like anything in life, there is always the initial start-up costs to get set up with the right gear, but in the end, you do end up saving money! But even beyond the financial aspect, espresso at home is a lot of fun!
So I want to talk for a bit about brewing espresso at home.
The truth of the matter is, I feel like for some people, the thought of making espresso at home can feel overwhelming. And maybe that’s because when you walk into your local coffee shop you see the gear that they’re using, and you recognize the training that has gone into each barista… you think “how in the world can I ever do this at home?“
Now you could always splurge on the 5-figure cost of a cafe set-up, but if you’re like 99.9% of the population you likely don’t have that kind of budget. And if money is no-option let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.
But if you’re like the rest of us, you’re looking at something that is affordable, easy-to-operate, and won’t take up your entire kitchen counter!
So let me share with you some great tips to consider if you’re looking to get an espresso machine at home and some great options for espresso machines that I would consider solid options as you begin this adventure.
1. Super-Auto vs. Semi-Automatic
Espresso machines come in two main options: super-automatic & semi-automatic.
SUPER-AUTOMATIC: These machines are truly built for convenience. There is very little you need to do with a super-automatic espresso machine. Just load the beans into the built-in hopper and use whatever interface the machine has to select your drink…and voila.
These machines will do almost everything for you including grinding, tamping, brewing your coffee and even steaming your milk. Where these machines are helpful is in their consistency. They are incredibly simple to use and will produce a consistent shot every time.
What they lack is that you–as the user–have little to no ability to influence the final product. If you truly want to learn the craft of espresso this is not the option to choose. The other convenient option with this style of machine is that it will almost always come with an integrated grinder. So you won’t need to have that added expense as you get going.
So if you’re living life in the fast lane, and just need that early morning caffeine hit this likely your best bet. If you’ve got a desire to learn a bit more about what all goes into pulling that perfect shot then the next type of machine is more up your alley.
MACHINES TO CONSIDER:
Breville Oracle – The Oracle has automatic grinding, dosing, tamping and milk texturing, automating the two most difficult parts of manual espresso. You can extract espresso and texture milk simultaneously, enabling you to go from beans to latte in under a minute.
Gaggia Accademia – The Gaggia Accademia is a super-automatic machine that brews and steams espresso and milk-based drinks at the press of a button. It offers control over coffee flow and milk frothiness, plus a manual steam wand to ensure every drink is exactly the way you like it.
SEMI-AUTOMATIC: This is the most popular style of espresso machine. A semi-automatic is just like what its name insinuates. Parts of the espresso extraction process is manual and part of it is automatic. Where you have control is over some of the key input areas like weighing, grinding, and tamping. Then the portafilter is loaded into the group-head where the automatic portion takes over and your espresso is extracted into your cup. What’s left is one final manual process of steaming the milk.
Whereas the super-automatic takes almost all of the guesswork out of making that morning cup of coffee, semi-automatics will take a bit of time to get comfortable with, but allows the user to grow in their knowledge, experience and joy of pulling shots of espresso.
But don’t let the learning curve of at-home espresso get to you. There are a number of great Instagram accounts, blogs and other resources that are available. If you want to chat more about this I am always happy to share my experience in at-home espresso. I have been doing this for a decade and I would say I’ve learned a few things.
3 types of semi-automatics
Single Boiler – These are often the most entry-level style of machines. While affordable these lack some much-desired features. These machines can pull your espresso shot, but then you’ll have to wait briefly while you switch to the steam function to froth your milk. If you’re not in a hurry to make your coffee this can be a good option.
Heat Exchanger – These are often to most common mid-level espresso machines. These machines can pull a shot of espresso and steam your milk at the same time.
Dual Boiler – These are often the most expensive of espresso machines, but come with greater features and functionality. With dedicated boilers for both the steam & brewing there is even greater consistency and quality.
If you’re looking for even greater insight into these three types of machines I would be happy to share more with you. Or there are some great online resources that can explain the benefits of each.
MACHINES TO CONSIDER:
Breville Dual Boiler – At the heart of this machine is its dual boiler heating system. The boiler, for the espresso shot, is PID temperature controlled, while a separate steam boiler offers instant and powerful steam on demand. *This is the machine I own, and I highly recommend it.
Breville Barista Express – The all-in-one espresso machine. Create third wave specialty coffee at home –from bean to espresso– in less than a minute. The Barista Express allows you to grind the beans right before extraction for full flavour and precise temperature control (PID) ensures optimal espresso extraction.
Rocket Apartamento – A heat exchanger machine with a smaller footprint. Rocket has designed this unit with circular side panel inserts that come in white or copper. Consumers who want the quality of a prosumer machine but have limited counter space will really benefit from the Rocket Espresso Appartamento.
Rancilio Silvia Pro – The Silvia Pro takes the best of the original Silvia and adds precision and control to every shot, with a limited footprint due to its compact design. The Silvia Pro is a blend of the professional performance of Rancilio’s commercial machines and the robust simplicity of the Silvia. With the addition of two PID’s, a digital display and two independent boilers, the Silvia Pro is designed to provide specialty cafe-quality espresso from the comfort of your home.
The one downside with semi-autotmatic machines is that almost all of them do not come with a grinder. I saw almost all because the Breville Barista Express is one that does have an integrated grinder and is an excellent option to consider. If yours doesn’t have a grinder that brings me to my next tip.
2. Invest in a good grinder!
There is no other single item that you need to invest in when it comes to home espresso than a good grinder.
No, that blade grinder your grandpa used to brew his coffee is not a suitable option. Yes, this does mean that you should budget a decent amount to put towards a burr grinder. This style of grinder will crush the beans evenly rather than slicing them into uneven bits.
Why are espresso grinders more expensive? Because espresso requires a grinder that can grind your coffee quite fine, even finer then what you’d use to brew drip coffee. This level of consistency requires a higher degree of manufacturing and so that’s reflected in the higher cost.
So when you do begin to put a budget together for your at-home espresso I would highly recommend reading this article by Mark Prince the “Coffee Geek”. His suggestion is to prepare to spend at least $200 on a grinder and to even plan for more than that depending on the overall cost of the machine you’re buying. This article goes into great depth and offers a number of pointers to consider and grinders to look into.
MACHINES TO CONSIDER:
Baratza Sette 270 – The Sette has a macro/micro adjust for grind size, as well as 3 programmable settings for dosing. These combined features offers the user incredible repeatability. A built-in convertible holder allows you to grind directly into your portafilter.
Breville Smart Grinder Pro – With 60 unique grind settings, this programmable conical burr grinder maximizes the potential of any coffee you brew. With guidelines of “cups” for French Press or Filter and “shots” for Espresso, you have the power to choose the proper grind setting for the coffee that you’re brewing.
Eureka Mignon Specialita – This little grinder will surprise you with extraordinary performance, large 55 mm burrs and an exact micrometric adjustment system. It is a doserless grinder so you can grind directly into the portafilter.
3. There will be accessories
One of the most un-anticipated expenses when it comes to purchasing an espresso machine are the accessories. Isn’t always the case with most things in life?! Depending on what your machine comes with the amount you’ll need to spend on accessories will vary.
But some of those “must-have’s” you should consider investing in is a tamper, tamp-mat, some cups, knock box, milk pitcher and a scale. While each of these items can vary significantly in price, again my recommendation is not not skimp if at all possible. It is possible that your machine may come with some of these and so always check what accessories comes with the machine you’re interested in.
My go-to spot for espresso accessories is Eight Ounce Coffee.
4. Plan for the long-haul
Like anything in life, you do get what you pay for. And while I am not saying that you should cash in your retirement savings in order to get your next espresso machine what I would suggest is to not rush into this.
When you do begin looking for your espresso machine ensure you check for build-quality (plastic vs. metal), overall repairability (is that a word), read reviews online, and check with various espresso machine retailers.
While you can’t just assume a more expensive machine will last longer, investing in a well-built machine is never a bad decision.
I can’t tell you how much I love espresso at home.
And I hope that this article has been helpful for you as you begin your journey to making espresso at home too. If you have any questions feel free to let me know. You can connect with me via my DM’s on my Instagram page or reach me through my CONTACT PAGE.