A friend of mine asked my opinion on buying an espresso maker for his personal use at home. Here’s the email that I sent back to him.
Well, there are lots of things to consider when buying an espresso machine.
Price – you can literally find espresso machines from ten dollars to ten thousand dollars, and everything in between. You also have to consider if you are going to buy new, refurbished, used or antique.
Style – you have cold filtering, stovetop, manual, semi-automatic, automatic, and super automatic.
Looks – believe it or not, some people actually need to have the espresso machine match the kitchen… I say match the kitchen to the espresso maker…
Features – there is a direct correlation to how much you spend as to how many bells and whistles you are going to get. However, you need to remember that the flavor of the espresso is rarely determined by what features there are on the espresso machine.
Now, normally, I would say that there is another component to the mix, and that would be maintenance. Just like cars, depending on the manufacturer, if something goes wrong with your machine, it could end up costing as much as a new machine. Imagine the cost of a tuneup on a chevy vs a BMW, and you’ll get the picture… I’m not going to go into that because you’ve probably got 3 or 4 espresso machine repair shops within walking distance, so they’re pretty competitively priced. (And that doesn’t include SteamWorks, which does restorations, and they do FABULOUS work… and I happen to own the same make/model of Astoria that they have on their website, http://steamworksespresso.com/ if you’re considering buying an antique machine, they would be the place that I would go to.)
Price: these are all going to be “new” machine prices, you might want to consider finding a “new” machine that is out of your price range but has all of the features, looks, and style of espresso making that you want, and then try to find the same thing in the “refurbished” or “used” market.
Under 30 bucks:
This is going to be limited to basically the stovetop variety. Simple and never break down. (Mainly because there are no moving parts… you put the water in, you put the coffee in the portafilter, and put it on the stove.) This makes half-decent espresso, however you have to steam the milk separately.
Another under thirty option is the cold filter method, or “toddy” method. This makes the coffee concentrate that I take to D*Con every year. On a side note, it makes excellent Kahlua…
Under 100 bucks:
At this price point, you’re looking at basically semi-autos.
A good option is De’Longhi EC155… De’Longhi is a respected name in the espresso world, and you can pick one up on Amazon for 80 bucks. This is their basic “starter” espresso machine. The best thing about this machine is that it is pretty much the lowest end “pump” driven machine. (The difference is pump driven machines get higher pressures than just steam driven machines, and they have a better flavor in the end product.)
Pretty much any of the Saeco, Gaggia, or De’Longhi espresso machines in this price point are worth it. (As long as they are still considered “semi-automatic.” Any automatic or super-automatic at this price point is more than likely going to be a piece of crap and will break down more than you will use it.
I happened to check out amazon and there was a nice De’Longhi EC702 on there for about two hundred bucks.
As far as semi-autos go, there is a Rancillo Silva that is 700 bucks. I have to say that this is one of the best built machines on the market. It’s about as plain-jane as they come, but they’re bulletproof. This machine will be something that your grandkids will love to use while they are off to college.
At this price point, there are Lever-action espresso makers. Yes, believe it or not, you pay more to get less. In the other machines, the pump is mechanically driven, whereas in Lever actions, you create the pressure by pulling down on a piston. These are for the uber-coffee geek. They can produce the best espresso of any espresso machines, but only in the hands of a maestro. You really have to know what you are doing to use one of these machines. For your first machine, I would recommend pretty much anything else.
For Automatics, I would go for the Saeco Syntia Stainless Steel Automatic, it’s about 880 bucks, and they have pretty good reviews. (And Saeco is pretty easy to get fixed if it ever breaks down on you.)
For Super-automatics, I would recommend the Jura Impressa C5. I have owned a Capresso coffee maker and it was hands down the best machine I have ever gotten. (It was rather expensive though, about 1k for a coffee maker is steep…) Plus, they had a place to ship them in the states if anything ever went wrong, and it would be refurbished for 50 bucks and shipping. (I have a backup that I bought off of ebay that was broken for 25 bucks, then sent it in to them for 50+shipping, and got back a new machine.)
This is the realm of the Super-Automatics and high end lever action machines. Pretty much anything that you pay this much for will give you all of the features you could ever want, and then some. Want to program how much espresso comes out? check. Want to have a line-in for water? check. Want it to make a cup of espresso at five am every weekday? check.
Also, this is the bottom end of the commercial grade espresso machines. The only time that you need to think about these machines is if you plan on pouring yourself 500 espressos a day.
Buying an antique machine is something that I wouldn’t really recommend for your first machine, but it’s kind of like buying an antique car, they look great, they will get the job done, but they can be temperamental, you may have to know more about the individual machine than a new car, and the restoration costs can be more than buying a new one.
Ok, this is going to take longer than anticipated. I’m going to take a break here and let you mull this over, and then I’ll come back to the other things to consider at another time. Maybe I should have started with style or some other category, since right now you don’t know the differences between the semi-autos and the super-autos, but price is the first thing that you need to figure out and then you can make the style choices later.
Talk to you later… (Part 2)