Espresso is defined as a highly-concentrated coffee beverage and is brewed by forcing either near-boiling water or steam through finely ground coffee beans under high-pressure conditions. Due to the specialized nature of this beverage as well as its widespread popularity, espresso machines have become bestselling appliances, built for providing coffeehouse-strength espresso in the comfort of your own home. Rather than heading out to the nearest coffeehouse every day for a caffeinated morning pick-me-up, espresso machines allow coffee drinkers to save money and make espresso to their own finely tuned tastes.
Shopping Tips for Espresso Machines
Most consumer espresso machines fit into one of two categories: steam-driven or pump-operated. Steam-driven espresso machines are typically the most affordable options but are not capable of producing the same levels of pressure and heat that higher-end pump machines offer easily. Pump-driven espresso machines, meanwhile, offer a more authentic espresso taste but are also quite a bit more expensive than their steam-operated counterparts. Deciding which machine is right for you should be based on a number of factors, including price range, flavor preference, and additional features.
Popular Espresso Machine Features
- Beverage buttons or strength controls; lets you tell the machine exactly how you want your coffee
- Cup warmer
- Milk frother/steam wand
- Built in coffee grinder. Espresso requires finely ground coffee, so if your machine doesn't come with a grinder, you will have to purchase one separately
- Water filters
- Dual-thermostat systems: assure the heat of your beverage is just right
- Backflushing capability: essentially makes a machine "self-cleaning"
Steam-Driven Espresso Machines
Some hardcore espresso drinkers maintain that steam-driven machines do not actually produce genuine espresso and instead create very strong, dark coffee with something approximating an espresso flavor. The reasoning behind this is that steam-driven machines can only produce about three bars of pressure, while an ideal coffeehouse machine gets somewhere closer to nine bars.
If you are a self-described espresso expert and you want to lay down the extra cash for a higher-pressure system, you should look elsewhere. For buyers who simply want an extra shock of caffeine in the morning or who want to stay on a tight budget, however, a steam-driven espresso machine is an inexpensive alternative. Many coffee drinkers won’t even be able to tell the difference between pump- and steam-produced espresso, making the lower cost option the better one in many cases.
Inexpensive and available in an attractive black design that will match many a kitchen set, the KRUPS XP100050 is a perfect, easy to use, entry-level steam espresso machine. A three-way knob and fixed steam nozzle make it easy to froth milk for cappuccinos, while a safety valve in the coffee pot cap reduces the likelihood of burns or spills. A two-year warranty makes the KRUPS a popular option.
Mr. Coffee ECM160 4-cup
One of the most popular and affordable espresso machines, Mr. Coffee’s ECM160 brews between one and four cups of espresso. The machine is also versatile, with a frothing aid perfect for creamy and delicious cappuccinos or lattes.
Capresso 303.01 4-Cup
Another bestselling espresso machine, the Capresso 303.01 features a handy coffee/steam-selector that allows users to adjust coffee strength to personal taste. Such easy machine customization is perfect for a multi-use household where coffee tastes vary.
Semi-Automatic Pump Espresso Machines
Pump-driven espresso machines create the highly concentrated espresso taste by pumping water from a boiler and forcing it through the coffee grounds. A semi-automatic machine is the more common version of a pump-driven espresso machine and is what you will commonly see in a coffeehouse. The user merely grinds the coffee beans, puts them into the coffee filter, and presses a button. Each machine in this category generally has different quirks or interfaces that can result in a bit of a learning curve, but the reward is significant: with these machines, you can create the kind of dark, creamy, and flavorful espresso that, unlike steam-driven machines, garners the endorsement of all espresso aficionados.
De'Longhi EC155 15 Bar
Consistently among the top-selling products on the espresso machine market, the De’Longhi ED155 has an affordable price that approaches steam-machine levels but produces 15 bars of pump pressure, enough to create genuine and satisfying espresso drinks for most—if not all—drinkers. Two separate thermostats allow you to control water and steam pressure separately to assure perfect brewing pressure, while a swivel-jet frother turns the machine into a terrific cappuccino and latte machine.