Best Espresso Makers for Every Budget
Most of us coffee drinkers wake up with a craving for caffeine from our favorite cafés, but so many of our favorite drinks start with a shot of espresso. Espresso is typically made from a notoriously expensive machine. And yet, according to experts, it is possible to purchase a high-quality espresso maker without dropping thousands of dollars. We chatted with certified Q-grader (someone who is credentialed in scoring coffees) and founder of the Coffee Project NY, Chi Sum Ngai, about what to look for when shopping for a budget espresso maker as well as rounded up our top five for you to shop.
Best Espresso Makers at a Glance:
- Best Beginner Budget: Sowtech Espresso Machine
- Best Budget Italian: De'Longhi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
- Best Overall: Capresso Ultima Pro Programmable Pump Espresso Machine
- Barista's Choice: Calphalon Temp iQ Espresso Machine with Steam Wand
- Best Splurge: Breville Bambino Plus
What to Look for in an Espresso Maker
Creating the optimal espresso is all about combining the appropriate amount of pressure at the ideal temperature using the right amount of water. Adjusting those ratios can be the difference between a burnt drink and a beautiful one. For example, Chi notes, "It would be great if the machine has a reading of the water temperature, better still if you can adjust it." She suggests looking for readings on pressure, temperature, and water settings. For home brewers who just want to hit a button and indulge in a delicious cup with as little effort as possible, a semi-automatic machine is the right choice. Chi recommends consumers adjust their expectations accordingly, "Depending on if you want to have more control or less control over your espresso extraction and milk steaming, check if the machine is super-automatic or semi-automatic. If you want to learn how to dial espresso and froth milk like a barista, you might want to consider a semi-automatic one instead. If you are usually in a hurry, then maybe a super automatic machine will suit your lifestyle better. It's all about meeting expectations."
Best Beginner Budget: Sowtech Espresso Machine
Forget the bells and whistles, the Sowtech Espresso Machine simplifies the process with a single knob to turn the machine on and off and switch from steam to coffee. Ideal for espresso making newbies, this streamlined machine indicates when the temperature has reached the correct setting for the perfect cup. The frothing arm allows for milk and non-dairy alternatives to be added to your drink and the small compact body makes it ideal to fit into any space.
One pleased reviewer raved," I don't find any difference in taste between coffee made from my friend's machine (which is much more expensive than mine) and one made from my machine. Would recommend it!"
Buy it: $66; walmart.com
Best Budget Italian: De'Longhi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
With a self-priming function, the De'Longhi Pump Espresso Maker eliminates the lengthy wait of heating the water, enabling espresso to be made even faster. Two separate thermostats control the water and steam functions, ensuring the perfect temp for frothing and brewing. These details stand out in the Italian crafted maker that is still well within budgets. Use pods or ground coffee, whichever is your preference.
One happy reviewer gushed, "Well there is nothing I dislike about this machine… Now for this machine, I had a Mr. Coffee it lasted about three years of daily use when it quit, I purchased this Delonghi espresso machine back in June of 2012 and it has made well over 2,200+ double shots of great expresso. Not bad for a machine that cost $89.99 six and a half years ago."
Buy it: $100; amazon.com
Best Overall: Capresso Ultima Pro Programmable Pump Espresso Machine
With the option to choose single or double shot programmable options, the Capresso Ultima provides more control and flexibility when producing all your espresso-based beverages. The self-tamping feature allows for ease of use and a convenient hot water button allows for the creation of teas and Americanos without hauling out a kettle or pot. A warming tray above the body of the machine provides another nice feature, heating mugs to preserve the warmth of your drink as well as a perfect place to stow between uses.
One pleased reviewer shared, "Easy to use. You have to read the directions carefully, but once you have it down, it's a piece of cake. Makes tasty espresso. I like what I make as well as or better than what I get at coffee shops. Works quickly. It has a short warm-up time and brews quickly."
Buy it: $200; amazon.com
Barista's Choice: Calphalon Temp iQ Espresso Machine with Steam Wand
Boasting a 58 mm portafilter, the Calaphon Temp iQ, holds more coffee grounds, which can provide better water dispersion, equaling optimal flavor. A convenient dial allows for switching between steam and hot water, and single or double shots. Water stays hot, heats up quickly with thermoblock technology, and the steam wand is ideal for frothing any beverage.
One reviewer shared their insights, "The Calphalon Temp IQ espresso machine is a nice basic model espresso machine for making a variety of espresso drinks. Overall, the machine was simple to setup and operate, and it makes really good espresso drinks with great crema."
Buy it: $300; amazon.com
Best Splurge: Breville Bambino Plus
Expert espresso makers may be tempted by the Breville Bambino, a machine that boasts more of the complexities typically found in the much more costly models. The machine automatically pre-infuses coffee grounds during a low-pressure process, slowly increasing the pressure in order to extract the maximum amount of flavor from the beans. A steam wand can be adjusted to create foam and froth for latte art.
One reviewer raved, "The Bambino indeed has a super-fast start-up time for both making espresso and steaming milk. A machine that starts up quickly is much less harmful for the environment than one that you need to leave powered up overnight, which most of the higher-end machines do."
Buy it: $500; williams-sonoma.com