Have you been wondering if getting an espresso machine is worth it? From a pure cost perspective, the answer is yes. Here’s how an espresso machine can save you money in the long run—and a former barista’s picks for some of the best espresso machines to buy.
Espresso is very important to me. It has always been a source of comfort, as well a harbinger of all that is hip and sophisticated in the world. I grew up in coffee shops, and now that I am reaching middle age, I visit them more than ever. I love a good latte on the weekends, a cappuccino in the mornings, an occasional afternoon cortado, and even a shot of espresso after an evening meal. I am a person who has always enjoyed a walk to the local coffee shop, either to take a drink to go or to sit and enjoy one with a good book or a couple hours of work on my laptop.
The thing is, though, that espresso drinks purchased daily over the counter of a hip local coffee establishment can really, really add up over time, especially if those espresso drinks include the addition of a delicately frothed alternative milk of some kind. But just how much can it add up? And how can one keep feeding the monkey without breaking the bank? The answer lies in the countertop espresso machine.
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Let’s cut out all of the excessive afternoon and evening caffeine fixes and just focus on one espresso drink every morning—a common expense for a lot of people in the United States. In my neighborhood, Wicker Park, there are a dozen coffee shops, and the average price of a 12-ounce latte is around $5. Throw on a $1 tip, and you’re looking at $6 a day, which comes to a grand total of $2,190 a year. That is no small chunk of change.
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In contrast, a very high quality bag of espresso beans from Metric Coffee, one of the finest purveyors of coffee in Chicago, will run you about $18 after tax for a 12-ounce bag. If you are measuring out your espresso properly (22 grams of espresso for one double shot), there are about 15 double espresso shots in that one bag. Throw on a couple of $3 cartons of an alternative milk of some kind, and you are looking at $24 for 15 12-ounce lattes—$1.60 for your daily latte, which comes out to $584, or a savings of $1,606 a year.
This is obviously a smart financial move. But now what? Where do you buy a countertop espresso machine, and how do you learn how to use it?
Related Reading: How to Create a Coffee Station in Your Kitchen
My short stint as a barista introduced me to the extremely pleasurable full-body experience of “pulling a shot” on a vintage, piston-driven Gaggia machine with a lever as big as my arm. On piston-driven machines, the barista pulls a lever to pressurize the hot water and send it through the espresso grounds. You have possibly seen these in action before, but they are becoming more and more rare these days as the cost of purchasing them and keeping them in working order is extremely high. The coffee shop where I worked had its own espresso machine mechanic who would come around every week or two and check on the machine. None of the machines below have any pistons or levers or mechanics involved, but they all produce delicious espresso for a fraction of the cost. And you know that after all of this latte talk, I’m not going to recommend any machines that aren’t equipped with a steam wand.
At just under $700, the Breville Barista Express is an investment, for sure, but according to the enthusiastic reviewers on Amazon it is very worth it. It is gorgeous, for one thing, and it has a grinder integrated in the machine to save on counter space. The grind size dial gives you precise control over the grinding of your beans, and the conical burr grinder delivers the precise measurement of grounds directly into the portafilter. The machine also has digital temperature control and a pressure gauge for optimal extraction. This thing is for the true coffee nerd.
The cost of the Rancilio Silvia, which is similar to the Breville above, would appear to be due to the iron framed construction. Even with three inches less width and without the integrated grinder, the pressure gauge, or the digital temperature control, the Rancilio weighs seven pounds more than the Breville. It delivers a consistently delicious espresso every time, however, and has a long and flexible steam wand for foaming that delicious latte art.
For the last three countertop espresso machines on this list, we feature budget models that still deliver on a quality product. It should be noted, however, that all budget models require a bit of creativity on your part in order to get optimal extraction of your espresso with a good layer of crema on top. You may have to play with the size of your grind and the amount of pressure you use to tamp the grounds into the portafilter. But once you figure all of that out, these machines can still deliver café-quality coffee to your kitchen counter, every morning.
This DeLonghi is a much lighter machine, as the construction is a mix of stainless steel and plastic. Its popularity mainly stems from the unique patented dual filter holder, which allows the option of brewing either espresso grounds or the Easy Serving Espresso pods that are so popular. It is loud and the water tank can be difficult, but for the money it delivers on quality espresso, and people love the large steam wand.
The Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker has over 4,000 reviews on Amazon, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. This thing is not built for the control freak, however, as it is basically a “push a button and watch the magic happen” kind of operation. You basically load the espresso grounds into the portafilter and fill the milk pitcher (if necessary), and then you push either the “Espresso,” the “Cappuccino,” or the “Latte” button and the machine does the rest. Pretty wild, right? We are living in the future.
The Cuisinart EM-200 holds a special place in my heart, as my fiancée got one as a gift a few years ago and it is sitting on our kitchen counter right now. It is loud and doesn’t offer any sort of pressure or temperature control; you just load up the grounds in the portafilter and push a button and the espresso comes out. But after learning just the right grind and tamp for the espresso grounds, I have found that I get a consistently high quality extraction every time, and other than the fact that the steam wand drips a little bit it has caused me no problems. For $164, this thing is an absolute steal.
I Bought My Machine. Now What?
You bought your new espresso machine, unpacked it, and found a spot for it on your kitchen counter. Congratulations! But now you may be looking at all of that beautiful brushed stainless steel in a state of utter confusion. Lucky for you, we have a video of Allie Dancy, Head of Education at Cafe Devocion in New York, showing you exactly how to pull the perfect espresso:
Now you just have to learn how to pour some gorgeous latte art, and you’ll be well on your way to a lifetime of café-quality mornings in the comfort of your own kitchen.