Elsewhere on our web site are other articles to help you with some of the terminology that is used to categorize various types of espresso machines, and to make you acquainted with the basic equipment used to make coffee and espresso drinks. We know that if you are fairly new to the espresso craft, the number of choices can appear to be overwhelming, and it can also seem quite confusing.
It is not. It is actually quite simple. The purpose of this article is to help you cut through the wide range of products quickly so that you can focus on the ones that will best fit your particular needs.
The very first misconception that many have is that there is a "best" espresso machine, and that you've got to do lots of research to unravel the mystery of which one is "the best." Wrong. Which espresso machine is "the best" depends much more on you and your lifestyle than it does on the espresso machine. There is no such thing as a "best" handbag or bicycle or computer. The definition of "best" in these contexts depends on who is using those things, and under what circumstances.
A handbag that you would take to an elegant dinner and a Broadway show would be completely inadequate for a weekend at the beach (and your beach bag would be inappropriate at dinner). A bicycle used by a professional racer may actually feel very awkward to ride by a student using it for basic transportation on a college campus, not to mention the fact that it would likely be out of the student's price range. The kind of high-powered computer needed by a scientist would be a liability to the business traveler who needs to carry their computer around in airports mostly for simple email and text.
It is the same with espresso machines. What is best for one person might be completely wrong for someone else. Our primary goal at TheCoffeeBrewers is to match you to the equipment that is best for you. We want you to be happy and comfortable in the long run with your choice.
At TheCoffeeBrewers, we will not sell you more than you really need, unless money is not a problem for you, and it is something that you really want. If anything, we will tend to recommend simpler equipment over more expensive choices for most customers.
To start, choose the heading below that best describes why you came to visit us, and we will explain the kinds of characteristics and qualities that you should be looking for, and we will suggest a few espresso machines that might be of interest.
Note that whatever espresso machine you choose (and if you've just come to browse and read some articles, that's great too), our stated price is your total price. There are no taxes added, and shipping is free if your order is over $100. Bookmark us, and then read on.
Then you don't have to spend much time looking. While we don't carry lots of coffee makers, we carry the best in the business. These are Bunn coffee makers. Bunn has many years of experience designing coffee makers, and all of their coffee makers are built to run all-day, everyday. Bunn is the premier brand known in the US, and is so confident of their quality that they offer a 3-year warranty. You will not go wrong with any of these coffee makers - they are much better than what you are likely to find in your local department store. The various models have different features - you will need to read about them to choose the features that best suit you.
And frankly, you can make coffee that is nearly as good with a simple coffee funnel and some paper filters that you can buy in your local supermarket for a few dollars. (We don't sell these.) You simply put a paper filter and ground coffee into the funnel, put the funnel over your cup, and pour boiling water into the funnel. The coffee will filter through the grounds into your cup. (This is exactly what a drip coffee maker does anyway.)
If you just want to make a quick cup of coffee to take with you on your commute, you might also consider a simple French Press Pot (also just called a " press pot"). This is a simple glass canister into which you put coffee grounds and hot water. After the grounds have steeped, you push a plunger (with a filter screen) into the pot to hold the coffee grounds on the bottom of the pot. You can then pour the coffee into a cup.
The main advantage to a drip coffee maker is that you can make an entire pot of coffee at once. This is a great convenience in households where there are multiple coffee drinkers. And some of the Bunn coffee makers keep the reservoir of water hot and ready all day so that there is no waiting for the water to boil. Note that these machines are just coffee makers. They will not make espresso. These coffee makers are in the $100 to $200 range. You can find cheaper coffee makers at your local department store, but will not be as happy with those in the long run.
TheCoffeeBrewers does not specialize in coffee makers. For this reason, we only have a few of them, and we do not waste your time by offering anything but the best ones.
If would like to be able to make both coffee and espresso, you have two choices. You will either need to buy an espresso machine too, or you might consider a so called " super automatic espresso machine" (also called an "espresso center" or an "espresso & coffee center"). The advantage to a super automatic espresso machine is that you will only have one machine on your counter, and not two. (There are also ultra automatic espresso machines, which are even fancier.)
But the drawback is that most of the super automatic espresso machines that make coffee are well over $1,000, and are tailored more toward espresso drinks than plain coffee. If you are not really a big espresso drinker, and mostly drink coffee, you are probably better off getting a top quality drip coffee maker, and a simple inexpensive espresso machine.
But if you have the money, and you like to entertain and serve after-dinner espresso or cappuccino, you should consider a super automatic espresso machine, or an ultra automatic espresso machine. By the way, what makes these espresso machines " super automatic espresso machines" is that they take whole roasted coffee beans. When you push a (preprogrammed) button for the type of brew that you want, these machines grind the right amount of beans freshly and automatically immediately before brewing your drink. The result is the freshest tasting coffee. But this is why they are so expensive. ( Ultra automatic espresso machines also have a milk reservoir, and will automatically froth or steam milk as they make coffee or espresso.)
Then frankly, you cannot afford a serious espresso machine at this time. That's OK. You can make espresso with stovetop espresso pots (also called " moka pots") for $20-$40, and can buy portable, low-end electric espresso machines for under $100. Both of these use steam pressure to extract the espresso.
For several reasons, this is not the best way to make espresso, and will result in brews that are somewhat bitter and over extracted. But the moka pots are very inexpensive and will not take up counter space. And ironically, this slightly bitter (and over extracted) flavor is what many people think espresso should taste like. This is because many of us had our first exposure to espresso at the houses of our (European immigrant) grandparents, who used moka pots.
And for students, you should know that because of the high temperature of steam extraction, your espresso, although slightly bitter will have a higher caffeine content than the espresso made by espresso machines. Espresso machines use water at a lower temperature and use a pump to generate much higher pressure. This results in a smoother brew, but with less caffeine extracted.
And if you buy a real espresso machine later in life, the moka pot will make a nice decoration in your kitchen. We sell moka pots in a variety of sizes and finishes. They are actually quite beautiful when displayed on kitchen shelves or on the bar in the dining room, and many of our customers buy sets of moka pots purely for decor.
You can buy a high-quality espresso machine for $200 to $400 dollars. These are simple " semiautomatic espresso machines" that make espresso and froth milk, but have none of the "whistles and bells" of the fully automatic espresso machines, super automatic espresso machines, or ultra automatic espresso machines.
All of these espresso machines (the semiautomatic espresso machine, the fully automatic espresso machine, the super automatic espresso machine, and the ultra automatic espresso machine) are pump-driven espresso machines. All of these espresso machines have a pump that provides the high pressure required to do an espresso extraction using hot water. For the best results, espresso should be extracted at 9 bars or more using hot, but not boiling water (about 200 degrees). Many espresso machines today use 15 bars of pressure, or even higher.
All of these espresso machines have a pump and a boiler. In addition, all of these espresso machines have a steam wand which operates off of the steam in the boiler, and which is used to froth milk for cappuccino, or to steam it for latte. (An ultra automatic espresso machine will do this for you.) If you will be frothing or steaming milk, you should also get a frothing pitcher. These are stainless steel, and are shaped specifically for this purpose.
In semiautomatic espresso machines, there is a single button on the front panel that you push to start the espresso extraction, and that you push again to stop the extraction. Basically, you control the pump directly with this switch. This is why these machines are "no frills." They are "bare-bones" pump-driven espresso machines. But they will deliver professional quality espresso at minimal price for your personal (meaning low-volume) usage.
There are two dimensions to simplicity in espresso machines. The first is to let a microprocessor operate the espresso machine for you. The second is to use " coffee pods" instead of ground coffee.
The difference between a semiautomatic espresso machine (as described above) and a "fully automatic espresso machine" (sometimes just called an " automatic espresso machine") is that the fully automatic espresso machine has a microprocessor in it that will control the amount of water pumped for different kinds of drinks. Instead of having an "on/off" switch for the pump, the automatic espresso machine will have several keys (usually with icons depicting different drinks) on the front panel.
In a fully automatic espresso machine, you still need to load in (and tamp) the coffee grounds, but then you just push a button. The espresso machine will extract the selected drink using the correct amount of water. The advantage here is that you get uniform reproducible results. Of course for the microprocessor and the programmable features, you will pay more. You can get good automatic espresso machines in the range of $500-$1000.
Note that with a fully automatic espresso machine, you still need to grind the coffee and deal with the coffee grounds afterwards (both tamping them into the portafilter, and disposing of them when the brew is done). There are two ways around this.
The next step up in function and price is the " super automatic espresso machine." Super automatic espresso machines are basically fully automatic espresso machines with coffee grinders integrated into them. You simply keep the reservoir in the espresso machine full of water, and the coffee hopper full of roasted coffee beans. When you want a particular drink, all you need to do is to push the appropriate button.
The super automatic espresso machine will grind the coffee beans to order, tamp them into the (internal) portafilter, do the extraction with the appropriate amount of water, and then discard the used coffee grounds into an internal knock box, which you will need to empty periodically. You don't need to touch anything during the entire process.
Another way to avoid dealing with messy coffee grounds, and for sheer simplicity in making espresso, consider buying an automatic espresso machine that uses prepackaged " coffee pods." Coffee pods are pre-measured, self-contained packets that you simply place into the espresso machine, and press a button. There is no measuring, and no mess to clean up. When you are done, simply take the coffee pod out of the espresso machine, and discard it.
Some espresso machines are built for coffee pod use only. You cannot use loose coffee grounds in these espresso machines. These espresso machines are especially good in an office environment where you don't want a messy countertop. Some espresso machines will take either coffee pods or coffee grounds. You need to read the details of the espresso machine that you are interested in to find out. You cannot use coffee pods in most espresso machines. Do not buy coffee pods unless you know that your espresso machine will accommodate them.
The La Pavoni Cellini espresso machine uses either coffee pods or ground coffee. Several of the automatic espresso machines can take either coffee pods or ground coffee; you will need to read the details.
Expect to pay at least $1000 for a good-quality "coffee & espresso center" (which is another term for a super automatic espresso machine). Generally speaking, the more you pay for your espresso machine, the more features your espresso machine will have. The top of this line offers the most features and is suitable for catering informal family or church functions.
However, if you intend to use your espresso machine in a commercial food-service business (like a coffee shop), your local Board of Health will probably require that your espresso machine carry NSF certification. We carry several top brands of commercial espresso machines in our " Commercial Espresso Machine" category. All of the commercial espresso machines are NSF certified, and are built to make hundreds of espresso drinks per day, every day. The commercial espresso machines are throusand of dollars.
The only espresso machines that are NSF certified in our " Espresso Machines" section are the Pasquini Livia 90 espresso machines. (There is a Pasquini Livia 90 semiautomatic espresso machine, and a Pasquini Livia 90 fully automatic espresso machine.) The Pasquini espresso machines are certified for commercial use, but are not suited to high volumes. These are ideal for commercial businesses in which espresso is not the primary business (upscale clothing boutiques, beauty spas, pastry shops, etc.), but in which the Board of Health will impose codes.
If you are not a commercial business, but want to be able to make lots of espresso drinks on certain occasions, and you do not sell those drinks to the general public, then you are likely not subject to the same codes. This might describe a social organization or church parish. In this case, you probably don't need NSF certification, and might find that a high-end super automatic espresso machine is ideal.
But keep in mind that the espresso machines in our " Espresso Machines" section are built primarily for home use. While you can certainly make lots of drinks on occasion with a high-end espresso machine in this category, they are not built for making hundreds of drinks every day. If you try to use them this way, you will wear them out quickly. For some very nice high-end super automatic espresso machines, consider the Saeco Incanto Sirius or the Saeco Royal Professional, each for $1500.
While these super automatic espresso machines are great in settings like this, keep in mind that a super automatic espresso machine will take up lots of counter space. Be sure to check the dimensions of the espresso machine that you are interested in, and make sure that it will fit comfortably where you intend to put it before you buy it.
On the opposite end of this spectrum are customers who do not have a space problem. A new trend that we are seeing is that some customers having very large homes are installing commercial espresso machines in their home pantries or bar areas. While commercial espresso machines are overkill in a home (unless you do lots of entertaining), they look very impressive in the right home if you have the space. For a classic beauty having some interesting history, check out the FAEMA E61 commercial espresso machines if this describes you.
There are several different "looks" in espresso machines. For a beautiful space-age design by Carlo Gallizi, one of Italy's premier industrial designers, take a look at the La Pavoni Cellini espresso machine for about $630. For ultramodern shapes in espresso machines done in striking "retro" colors see the Espressione Cafe Retro espresso machines for $400. And for a really classic look in espresso machines, reminiscent of the old-world European coffee shops, you should consider the La Pavoni lever espresso machines. These are in the $570-$1200 range, depending n the size and the finish that you choose.
There is a big "but" that goes with lever espresso machines. They are not pump-driven espresso machines. Lever espresso machines will require some trouble and practice to learn to use them. Once you learn to use a lever espresso machine (and an instructional video comes with it), it will make the best espresso - in the opinion of many espresso purists. But if you are looking for simple push-button operation in an espresso machine, then lever espresso machines are not for you.
Then you must get a lever espresso machine. As we mentioned above, these are in the $570-$1200 range, depending on the size and the finish, and the styling that you choose. As we've already said, you will need some practice to learn to operate a lever espresso machine, but once you do, they will produce outstanding espresso. The La Pavoni lever espresso machines come with a free instructional video. If you buy a lever espresso machine, make sure to watch the video before attempting to use it.
First of all, you will get a much better result in your espresso and in your coffee, since you will get the freshest and fullest flavor from freshly ground coffee beans. But there are two ways to go here. You can either buy a super automatic espresso machine (which contains a coffee grinder), or you can just buy a coffee grinder to use with any espresso machine.
If you intend to use flavored coffees, you should get a separate coffee grinder to be used for flavored coffees even if you have a super automatic espresso machine. Otherwise those flavors will be imparted to the coffee grinder in your espresso machine, and will tend to flavor your pure espresso blends as well.
Most super automatic espresso machines (which use whole coffee beans) have a separate chute into which you can also pour ground coffee. While this is a useful feature when entertaining - so that you can make a decaf for a guest requiring it - it should also be used for flavored coffees.
For more versatility and less counter-space than a super automatic espresso machine, you should probably purchase a separate electric coffee grinder. While we used to sell hand-cranked coffee grinders, these are not for serious coffee grinding. They are more for decoration and decor, and we have stopped selling them.
We do carry some inexpensive electric coffee grinders in the $50 price range. These are not "workhorse" coffee grinders. These are for grinding small amounts of coffee for personal use.
If you will be grinding larger amounts of coffee, and want a more durable coffee grinder, expect to spend over $200. And for really good results, you will want a coffee grinder that grinds at low-RPM, so that the beans do not get overly heated. A coffee grinder that heats up the beans will not only give the coffee an unpleasant "burned" taste, but the heat will destroy some of the coffee flavor.
Heavy weight is usually an indication of a high quality, low-RPM coffee grinder. This is because it takes a large (hence, heavy) motor to produce enough torque to grind the beans slowly. In a heavy coffee grinder, the grinding will put less strain on the motor, and the coffee grinder will have a much longer lifetime.
For some real heavyweight coffee grinders, see the two Rancilio Rocky coffee grinders (named after the Italian Stallion himself, because of their durability), and also the two Pasquini coffee grinders. While these are very expensive, they are all industrial-strength coffee grinders, and will not disappoint you.
If you are grinding coffee just for personal use, we recommend that you get a "doserless" coffee grinder. The "doser" feature in coffee grinders is a mechanism that ejects a single dose of ground coffee with the pull of a lever. While this is an indispensable feature in a coffee shop where there are high volumes during the day, for the doser to work correctly, you must grind enough coffee for many doses to keep the dosing chamber full. This is not appropriate for personal use. Since your goal here is to have freshly ground coffee, if you only need a few doses in the morning, you are much better off with a doserless coffee grinder. It will also save you a few bucks (both in the cost of the coffee grinder, and in the cost of the coffee that you will not waste).
If you intend to make Turkish coffee, your coffee grinder must specifically say that it can do this kind of a fine grind. For durable coffee grinders that do low-temperature grinds over all granularities, expect to spend over $300. If you intend to make Turkish coffee, (and you really should try it if you haven't), you should make sure that your coffee grinder leaves you this option. You will also need to purchase Turkish coffee pots, called " ibriks," which are beautiful decor items for your kitchen or dining room, even if you don't use them for brewing anything.
Note that most coffee grinders (and especially commercial coffee grinders) are specifically designed to NOT allow you to grind coffee this finely. This is because if you grind coffee too finely for espresso, this can create problems for your espresso machine. So if you purchase a coffee grinder that can grind coffee for Turkish coffee, be careful to not use this fine a grind for anything other than Turkish coffee.
If you are going to make espresso correctly, and do not have a super automatic espresso machine (which will tamp the coffee for you), and you are not using coffee pods, then you will need a coffee tamper. If you are going to make cappuccino and/or latte, then you will need to froth and/or steam milk. For this, you will need one or more frothing pitchers. If you want to froth your milk very carefully, you should also get a frothing thermometer with a clip (so that it will clip to the inside of the frothing pitcher). And if you want to pour the froth correctly, a pastry spatula is a big help.
Finally, to maintain your espresso machine and coffee grinder, and to get long lifetimes out of them, you will need to clean them periodically as per the manufacturer's directions. It would not hurt to pick up some espresso machine cleaner and coffee grinder cleaner. See our " Cleaning Supplies" section.
We hope that you can identify which of the categories above best describes you, and that this will help you to narrow the field. For more on the differences in the various types of espresso machines, see our various articles. If you have any questions, please drop us a note or give us a call. We'd be delighted to help you. And again, if you want us to inform you of any specials and receive our newsletter, then please register with us.
...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers