Espresso machines

Thinking about getting an espresso machine. I know there has been a lot of discussion about coffee and such here, but was surprised that I could not find a thread with discussion about good machines for espresso (that is relatively current, at least).

I am looking for a consumer model. I can spend in the range of $500, but have no desire to be near $1,000. Does that leave me in the “don’t bother” category, or is there a robust machine in that price range that will produce good product (perhaps not coffee shop level, but close)?

Regardless of price point, keep in mind that any espresso machine is heavily dependent on being cleaned thoroughly after every use, and even so you’ll have some medium- and long-term maintenance to deal with.

Me, I just make stronger stuff in a French press or an Aeropress and live with it. When I really want a good espresso, well, I can always pick a direction and walk three blocks with my $3.

I have been looking at them myself, watching videos, reading reviews, etc. I think I am going with Breville, they have a good name, I have been using their toaster oven and tea maker for years (the tea maker is awesome), and have been very happy with them.

I already have a decent grinder, but I am worried it’s not good enough for espresso, so I was considering a machine with an included grinder. I am not sure I want to tie the grinder to the maker though, so I am probably going to get a grinder-less model.

I was set on the Infuser after a coworker told me that is what he has been using and it has worked great. Relatively simple, has a pressure gauge, and the reviews are good. A common complaint on Amazon is that if it breaks you have to send it in to Breville since they won’t sell the parts. If it breaks after a year it’s going to cost you $250 to get it fixed. Here is the Seattle Coffee Gear review.

Then lazy, but realistic, me saw the Bambino Plus, which is fully automatic. I kind of wonder if this might be better for me. I am really not sure I have the patience to try to dial in a machine (or the palate) so this seems like it might be perfect for a Saturday more latte or two.

Seattle Coffee Gear comparison of the two models.

I really can’t afford it right now, so I am giving it time to think about it. So please share any thing you discover.

I see a home espresso machine as a hobby, not a kitchen appliance. So far, as much as I want one, I don’t have the time+money to justify jumping in to that hobby. I also want a nice telescope, and a pony.

But, yeah, it would be awesome.

Some comments from a nerd who has been there:

The Breville machines are undoubtedly a good value but there are significant caveats:

  1. Breville hasn’t been making them for very long, so reliability and parts availability over the years or decades you could have the machine are unknown. I have a Breville toaster oven too & while it’s better than the competition, parts of the unnecessary electronic crap have started breaking & replacement cost is irrationally high. I’d be wary if that’s Breville’s mode of operation for espresso as well
  2. The integrated units will cost less up front but will leave you in a bind if they break or you want to upgrade grinder or machine and have already sunk money into the integrated piece

$500 is a bit on the low side for both a machine & grinder setup. If it were me, though, I’d consider a Gaggia Classic and Baratza Encore or similar. They are simple and reliable and the companies have been around for ages. Total cost would be close to $600ish

Cleaning isn’t too bad unless you have hard water. Basically rinse the shower head after each espresso and a water blackflush at the end of the day. Depending on use you’ll need a detergent back flush every few weeks or month. If your water is hard then you’ll need to descale & may need to treat the water to keep it from damaging the boiler and parts.

You’ll eventually need a passing familiarity with the machine’s internals since you’re likely to have to adjust something or replace a valve or something one day down the road. It’s not hard stuff though. We’re talking 60+ year old technology in most of these.

The super-automatics like the Breville can make a decent (but probably not excellent) cup reliably. The manual (semi automatic) machines can make very bad espresso very easily. But they can also make an excellent cup with practice and technique! I went the more manual route when I did it because I did want to learn & tinker with the process.

If you think you might like the manual route, I have a recently retired Gaggia in excellent condition with an added-on PID controller that I’d be happy to sell for cheap. I upgraded to a QuickMill Andreja heat-exchanger machine last summer after 7 years of learning with the Gaggia.

Hope that helps,

I have one of these. Maybe an older model. It’s fine. I dunno. I’m not much of an espresso guy. It’s like richer coffee with some foam? Whatever.

The foamer works pretty well but is such a pita to clean so we never use it.

I have a Nespresso at home and one at work. I like it, but I’m well aware of the difference between Nespresso and espresso. The biggest issue is that a Nespresso capsule contains only 5 grams of coffee, compared to the 18-20 grams most people put into the portafilter. If you try to make a shot the same size as an espresso, it will be weak and over extracted. I limit my Nespresso to about 25g total output (what Nespresso calls a ‘ristretto’-size shot), and am pretty happy with it. It is very consistent. Every shot of the same type of capsule tastes the same.

Wait, a “Nespresso” is a Keurig but for espresso? Of course that’s a thing.


I wouldn’t buy one, but everything I have heard about them is they are quite good for an espresso like drink.

Note about coffee pods - the compostable ones took 10 years to invent, and are not acceptable to municipal composting (really). The plastic pods are not recyclable either, or you could say they are, but they require people to remove the foil and coffee grinds, which few people bother with.

I have a friend with a nice espresso machine and it is quite enjoyable when we go over on a Saturday afternoon and he makes us all a round.

Posting Nespresso in a coffee aficionado thread will get you crucified and the aluminum pads are an ecological desaster, but the coffee they put out is usually better than what fully automated coffee machines for three times the price deliver.

There is still no comparison to what a portafilter will produce, but as was mentioned above, this is where it turns into a hobby. Why not get started with a stove top espresso maker? Certainly the best value by a mile and you can learn about blends and grinding and see if this whole Espresso thing is for you and warrants a larger investment.

A moka pot? That’s not really espresso either though.

I am leaning about coffee using the Aeropress, V60, etc. Seems like the next logical step is to get a machine. I figure coffee already is a hobby seeing the amount of money I have already poured into it.

The plastic Keurig pods are an ecological disaster. Nespresso aluminum pods can be recycled. If you don’t trust Nespresso to be doing what they say they are doing, you can empty out the grounds yourself (great compost) and put the aluminum pods in your local recycling.

To be clear - Nespresso is not real espresso. It is a small espresso-like coffee, and I happen to enjoy some of their pod blends.

I do enjoy my coffee (I don’t really drink frou-frou caps/lattes), and I drink it black. I also am lazy and after years of serving tables, I know what a PITA a “real” espresso machine can be. I can’t be

For convenience, I use a DeLonghi espresso machine. It’s got a handle, and will presumably make “proper” espresso from ground coffee. I use it for the ESE pod compatibility. ESE pods are a middle-ground between Nespresso and proper ground coffee. I get a nice crema, and I don’t have to futz with spent grounds and dirty handles.

Yeah, I’m doing more and more research, and I’m really coming to the conclusion that there isn’t anything reasonably affordable that would do what I want. Everything in the espresso world is apparently “okayish” at doing things, unless it costs $4,000.

I have a Barzata Encore already for example, but apparently it struggles to make true espresso grinds.

So I’ve kind of ended with fuck this, on to Cincinnati (e.g. I won’t be getting an espresso machine).

That’s a bit of a stretch IMO. You can make decent & real espresso for much less than that. But it will be a more manual and inconsistent process. Now if you’re talking about a no-work super-automatic that makes real express, then you’re closer to that mark.

The difference is Keurig coffee is mediocre while Nespresso is actually pretty, pretty good. Le Bernardin and the French Laundry both use Nespresso. It doesn’t compare to a properly pulled shot on a semi-automatic machine, but it’s consistent and like I said, pretty good. Of course the pods are disposable and quite expensive, so depending on how much coffee you drink it may not make sense.

The most important part here is really the grinder. Get a good burr grinder, which will cost well north of a hundred dollars. After that, read sites like coffeegeek to figure out which semiautomatic you want.

There are also manual lever machines which are uniformly gorgeous like the Flair but end up being a lot more work because you need to heat up all the elements with hot water.

I personally just use an aeropress, which doesn’t really make espresso as humans aren’t strong enough to produce 9 bars of pressure without the mechanical advantage of a lever, but it makes very good strong coffee.

I have a Baratza Encore, which is pretty uniformly referenced on coffee sites, etc. as probably the best burr grinder you can get that is still semi-affordable (and at that is north of a hundred dollars). But like I said, the espresso snob websites also effectively say even that is not good enough to actually make an espresso grind.

I think that is actually what finally tired me out about the whole thing. Where, in order to make a cup of coffee, I’m having to pay $500+ for an espresso machine (that is relatively low quality, because $500 is cheap for an espresso machine) and then hundreds of dollars more on top of that for a new grinder (when I already have a good burr grinder), it just starts to feel kind of ridiculous.

I have an earlier Baratza burr grinder myself. Like 15 years old now, still works perfectly fine.

Give the aeropress a shot. It’s fun to use and makes an excellent cup of coffee. No crema, but it’s very similar to espresso.

Main problem with the aeropress is that every time anyone visits me and sees it drying next to my kitchen sink, they assume it’s a penis pump, as it rather looks like one. I’ve come to immediately say “it makes coffee” to head this off.

Thing is, I have a very good Zojirushi coffee machine. Like the whole “water at 195 degrees consistency, etc.” thing.

It’s just not espresso. I mean I like the idea of the aeropress, but I don’t completely get why it is better than just using my coffee machine, since it doesn’t really have crema, etc.