Cheap Espresso Machines
We all know how quickly the cost of a daily shot of espresso at your favorite coffee bar adds up. But if espresso is the brew that gets you going, it's a luxury you don't need to sacrifice to save money. With the right ingredients -- i.e., filtered water and superior coffee freshly ground to the right consistency -- the best cheap espresso machines can supply your fix at home. We found several semi-automatic espresso machines that produce more than decent espresso and cost less than $250.
Cheap Espresso Machines Buying Guide
|Espresso Maker Reviews|
There are five types of espresso makers: stovetop pots of the type found in every Italian household; steam espresso makers that typically don't generate enough pressure to brew true espresso; very high-end automatic machines that grind, tamp, and brew (and sometimes clean themselves); manual machines, which are costly and challenging to use; and semi-automatic espresso makers, by far the most popular choice for the average consumer. Semi-automatic machines require you to activate the pump and turn it off, which means you control the amount of water and the brewing time.
Our picks for best cheap espresso machine are semiautomatic and led by the DeLonghi EC155 (starting at $82), a perennial favorite with espresso devotees for its speed, durability, and consistent delivery of a good shot.
Espresso is made by forcing hot, pressurized water through tightly packed, very finely ground coffee. The result is a highly concentrated, small cup with a layer of marbleized, caramel-colored foam on top called "crema" (a mark of a well-made espresso). Pump pressure, measured in bars, affects the rate at which water is pushed through the grinds, which in turn is a key factor in determining how strong or watery the espresso is.
There is some disagreement about the number of bars needed to brew the best espresso. One expert at Coffee Geek argues that anything above nine bars of pressure is superfluous. Other experts say they would rather the machine automatically regulate down to nine bars of pressure than struggle to reach that level, and note that a higher number of bars means a shorter wait between shots. Regardless, all the cheap espresso machines on our list of top picks feature at least 15 bars of maximum brewing pressure, although brewing typically occurs at a lower level.
Cheap espresso machines have a single boiler, so they can't steam milk and brew espresso at the same time. Some models feature dual sieves for making double shots or a programmable function that regulates the delivery of one or two shots, and most have warming trays to take the chill off little ceramic cups. A cheap espresso machine typically comes with a pressurized portafilter (the long-handled attachment that holds the coffee and through which pressurized water flows), but on some models you can switch to a non-pressurized filter, which skilled baristas prefer.
While single-serve pods with ground beans sealed inside are the new in thing, espresso tradition calls for freshly ground, high quality beans. With many cheap espresso machines -- including all but one of those we researched -- you can go either way. If you plan to brew your fix from ground beans, it's worth investing in a good burr grinder. Experts at Coffee Geek recommend taking half the money you've budgeted for an espresso machine and using it for a grinder instead. (Less costly blade grinders generate more heat and static, which can damage the flavor, and some don't crush beans evenly.) Alternatively, find the best source for a weekly supply of freshly ground beans or turn to beans in a can that have been specifically ground for use in an espresso machine; brands such as Cafe Bustelo, Illy, and Lavazzo offer high quality ground beans for what amounts to pennies a shot.
Espresso Maker Reviews
There's no going back to the costly coffee bar routine, according to scores of espresso maker reviews. Consumers who have made the switch to the home brew using one of our top picks are well pleased with the results: They get a satisfying espresso drink in a matter of minutes and can put the pennies saved toward other small indulgences. There are a few grumbles about shots that aren't hot enough or strong enough, but for the most part, espresso maker reviews crow about the overall value of these entry-level machines.
Legions of espresso maker reviews prime the pump for the DeLonghi EC155 (starting at $82), particularly given its low price. Users rave about the crema and the drink itself on sites such as Newegg, where some assert that the resulting brew from this starter model is superior to what you get at many coffeehouses. Even the milk frother gets a shout-out. A European-born and -bred spouse is perfectly happy with the output, according to an espresso maker review on QVC. That sentiment is not universal, however, and some espresso maker reviews consider the brew weak.
The Nespresso Citiz C110 (starting at $230) also earns accolades from espresso drinkers who crave the consistent -- some espresso maker reviews say, perfect -- results each time you pull a shot through the brand's custom capsules. Consumers who have commented on Williams-Sonoma laud the uniformity and dependability of the brew; one even crows about converting a tea-drinking spouse to the espresso life. Although users of this machine are obliged to buy the single-serve coffee capsules from Nespresso, they don't seem fazed by the limited choice of 16 beans and roasts. Several espresso maker reviews at Amazon approvingly note the range of options. There's no milk frother on this model, so reviews suggest the microwave as an alternative if latte and cappuccino are your thing.
With the Saeco Aroma 00347 (starting at $219), espresso maker reviews assert that even loose grinds can produce a uniform cup after cup if you follow the directions. At Seattle Coffee Gear, consumers report that the machine compensates for less-than-perfect grinds, and a fast recovery time ensures that making additional shots is a quick affair. On other sites, however, some espresso maker reviews say the espresso is only so-so and, given the small boiler, heat is hard to maintain after the first shot. A few consumers find the steam wand hard to adjust and one gripes that frothed milk is too bubbly. Generally, though, reviewers consider this model a step up from starter espresso machines in terms of results and overall quality.
Another budget contender, the Capresso EC100 (starting at $135), produces a good-tasting brew, according to espresso maker reviews. The consensus on this model isn't as strong as for our other top picks, however. Reviews posted on Amazon say the key to a luscious end product is a very fine grind made from beans that are not over-roasted (i.e., not burnt) and strict adherence to the directions. Some consumers report that the brew comes out hot -- scalding, says one -- but others say, not so much. Still, they like being able to choose between steamed and frothed milk, depending on the position of the wand.
Although the espresso and crema produced by the Cuisinart EM-200 (starting at $179) pass muster with many consumers, lukewarm temperatures mar the experience. Espresso maker reviews on Amazon say that steaming milk and brewing espresso as the base for a latte or cappuccino are incompatible unless you're willing to wait several minutes between each activity so the boiler can recover and ramp up the heat level.