how to choose espresso machine
When you go looking for the best of something, no matter what it is, there is really only one way to separate the wheat from the chaff (so to speak). You want to know hear about other people’s experience with what you’re looking to buy, and what not to buy. When searching for an espresso machine, we want to be the place that you can trust.
what to look for when buying an espresso machine
Selecting an espresso machine should be considered an investment. The amount of money that you spend on the machine combined with the amount of time and enjoyment that you get out of using your machine is extremely important. Nobody wants to buy a machine that makes great espresso, but is hard to use or breaks easily. Also, no one wants to skimp on price and get a bad espresso, but how cheap is too cheap?
Below we look at the major factors that you should look for (and that we DO look for) with every machine that we review. The list is ordered from most important to least important, so you should focus the most on the first category and least on the last one.
This is by far the most important thing that you should pay attention to when selecting a machine because making good tasting espresso is what you’re buying the machine for.
This may make sense, but a lot of people tend to compromise on this aspect because the price of a particular unit is cheaper or it was easier to clean. Both of those are important factors, but if you’re paying a fair amount of money for something that you’re going to use on a regular basis if not every day, you want to make sure that what you’re making tastes good and gives you the most enjoyment out of your machine.
The ease of use of the machine is determined by two factors: how easy it is to make a good espresso, and how easy it is to clean and maintain.
A good espresso machine, regardless of price, should be easy to use. This factor is different for everyone though, as someone who is experienced with making espressos will find many more machines that are easy to use than a person who is buying their first machine. For that reason, the factor is entirely subjective, but for our reviews we will rate the machine for both novices and advanced users.
A quick way to determine how easy a machine is to use is to look at how many levers and buttons are on it. Generally, the fewer the buttons on the machine, the easier it is to make an espresso.
The other major aspect in the ease of use category is how easy the espresso machine is to clean. If you buy a machine that makes fantastic espresso, but it takes 20 minutes to clean every time, then this isn’t a machine that will get much use unless you’re ready to clear up some time in your schedule. The other problem with machines that are hard to clean is that once you finish making your espresso, you want to enjoy it, and having to clean every nook and cranny of an intricate machine is not something that helps you enjoy your coffee. We always take this factor into account when writing our espresso machine reviews.
The best way to figure out if an espresso machine has a lot of maintenance associated with it is to see how many removable parts are required to make the espresso. The more removable parts that touch the coffee, the more maintenance you will have to do. A second way you can tell is by comparing the user manuals of two different espresso machines, since all the information on cleaning and maintenance will be in there.
espresso machine tips
The third major category that all machines should be rated on is how well they’re built. The build quality comes down to two factors, the quality of the materials and the quality of the engineering. For the most part, all of these machines are engineered fairly well, since most of the companies are large and/or fairly well established.
The biggest factor then is the quality of the materials, and common sense is what wins out here. More expensive material generally signal a higher build quality (metal is stronger than plastic). This quality is especially important in an espresso machine, as you are working with high pressure to make quality cups of espresso, so the materials used in the machine need to be able to stand up to the stress on a repeated basis.
The best way to ensure a good build quality is to go with a trusted espresso machine manufacturer. Companies that have been around a long time have had the ability to get a reputation (good or bad), and those with good reputations will shy away from putting out low-quality products just to make a quick buck. They’re in it for the long haul.
So why is price all the way down here? This is for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that price should be more of a guideline than a set figure. Your goal isn’t to get the most expensive machine that you can afford, but to get the best one that you can afford. As with many things, the best one isn’t always the most expensive.
The best way to think about price is by looking at the espresso machine market in tiers. If you know that you have $250 to spend on an espresso machine, don’t immediately go look for machines that cost exactly that amount of money. Instead choose a band, in this example we would use $100-250, and compare some of the top machines that you find there, without considering the price.
The final reason that makes price less of a factor in our judging is because of the type of product you are purchasing. With espresso machines, we are looking for an appliance that will last you for 10 years if not more. The longer a machine lasts and is put to use, the lower cost per day of the machine. If you just focus on price, you may end up buying a cheap machine that lasts you for a year, but on a cost per day basis is ten times higher than the machine that was slightly cheaper but had a higher build quality.
Add-on machines are a very nice feature in a lot of mid-end espresso machines. Whether it’s a milk frother or a grinder, there is something nice about having a lot of different espresso equipment that goes together.
While it may be nice, a lot of times the companies that have a lot of add-on’s to their machine have compromised on build quality because they are trying to sell the total package. These are the same companies that revamp their products every year and introduce little to no features or improved function.
Accessories are similar to add-on’s in the sense that they are not required to make the machine work, but are sold separately. The difference is that these consist of things like scoops, cleaning fluid, cups, and other accouterments.
As with the add-on’s, this holds very little weighting in our espresso machine reviews, but if a company happens to develop a good machine with a strong lineup of accessories, we will definitely take that into account when scoring them.
Both add-on’s and accessories are both highly subjective, which is another reason that we don’t put much weight on them. While we might not like the look or design of one of machine’s extra products, it could be very interesting to someone else, so we won’t penalize a machine based on subjective tastes.
This is a rough summary of how we score espresso machines, so when looking at our reviews or machine hunting in a store, please keep these in mind, and focus on the first two factors the most when looking for an espresso machine.