Ah espresso machines, the luxury items which make our mornings that much more delightful. If you are a coffee aficionado much like me, you will no doubt see yourself above the instant coffee masses and settle for at least reasonable quality coffee beans. An espresso machine is no doubt a sizeable investment, however with a few helpful tips and insights, you are sure to make every penny spent count, not to mention even save a few in the process.
Before buying an espresso machine you need to understand the different types of machines that are there. Espresso machines are available as manually operated, semi-automatic, fully-automatic and super-automatic. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Manual/Lever Espresso Machines
These are reminiscent of the bygone era. They look beautiful however are also very hard to use. Manual espresso machines were the first machines to achieve 8+ atmospheric pressure and were renowned for making some of the best brews when operated by skilled baristas; on the other end of the spectrum they were also notorious for frustrating first time users with their difficult to operate mechanics. With these machines, you are required to fill a porta-filter handle with the grounded coffee tamping it down and lock the coffee into the group. Finally you are required to pull down the handle; this part is a little tricky as you have to pull it down in the correct way because if you pull it down too fast or too slow, your espresso will not be as good tasting.
Lever based espresso machines are rare these days and only purists seem to opt for them.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Semi-automatic espresso machines were the product of combing an electric pump with a traditional lever espresso machine. These were the results of the work of Achilles Gaggia who developed the system in 1938. The pump created the optimal pressure which until recently only skilled baristas could execute and allowed everyone to make great tasting coffee without a tedious learning curve. Much like the manual machines, semi-automatics have a porta-filter which needs to be filled with coffee but after that has been locked in; it uses the pump to create the required pressure instead of your arm’s strength. As the pump is very consistent in implementing the right pressure, the resulting brew always ends up tasting more or less the way it should.
There are a large variety of semi-automatic espresso machines available in the market ranging in price from $60 to $1,500 per piece. The price difference is due to different functionalities that the machines offer, for instance the Asacado Steel Duo Espresso available at offers dual heating so that you can froth milk while making the espresso shots, this can really speed things up as there is no waiting involved.
Fully-Automatic Espresso Machines
Fully can help you make some of the best espressos ever and then some more. Besides the electric pump, these also
have an electronic system within them which allows the machine to deliver precisely measured amount of water through the coffee and also an automated temperature control for the boiler. All of these can be programmed to presets which is where their automation comes in.
Fully automatic espresso machines are available from $100 to $1000 per piece.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
These are the crème-de-la-crème of espresso machines, also known as bean to cup machines, they can ground the coffee, tamp it and finally extract and discharge the grounds. All you really need to do is fill the bean hopper and add water to the container. Some machines will also allow you to automatically froth the milk as well and can be program to make your morning coffee using timers.
Of course such impressive features come at a high price – most super automatics cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000.
So What Do You Need to Look Out For?
With so many choices at hand and then a plethora of brands, it becomes rather hard to make a pick. However all really boils down to how much you are willing to spend and just how interested you are in your caffeine fix.
Some of the more important and universal considerations include the pressure at which the water is pushed into the coffee which needs to be between 8 and 15 bar atmosphere, which is quite a lot. It is the quality of these high pressure components that largely decides the price of a machine. Know that quality of the pump which has been designed to be used for 2 – 3 cups a week is going to be very different from those which are built to withstand 1000s of cups per day. In fact domestic machines are clearly marked out and should not be used for a professional setup.
Another important consideration is temperature control for the boiler. This is so because espresso is brewed at a certain temperature, however milk froths at a much high temperature; maintaining a good balance between the two is crucial to a good brew; even a 1 degree offset can completely change the taste of your espresso.
Some other things you can keep an eye out for are – the water storage capacity for instance. Most espresso machines will allow enough water storage within them for a serving of 8 cups. Some of the larger espresso machines can be fitted to refrigerator with a water dispenser as well. Again you will need to determine how the water goes into the machine as you might not be willing to reroute water supplies to your coffee machine. Finally you might also be interested in a frother which can allow you to blend espresso based beverages such as Cappuccinos, Americanos and Macchiatos. In order to froth the milk correctly, the espresso needs to have a spout from which pressurized milk can flow from.
Whether you are buying a state of the art super automatic espresso made out of copper or just a simple $50 plastic machine, you need to review what’s under the hood before you make your call. Usually it is recommended you see and touch the machine in person before purchasing, however when you are buying online this will not be possible, in which case you will be required to do some research. Online review sites and web-boards are excellent resources to help you gain some insights and it is highly recommended that you become a part of a good coffee brewing community online.