Since the boom in espresso based drinks, our humble filters, percolators and even our French press’s are taking a back seat. Today it is all about lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. Many people want to re-create that café experience at home, and the good news is that with such a great range of machines to choose from, plus lots of boutique roasters popping up all over the high street and internet, there is something for every budget!
But how to choose?! Here are my top tips for choosing an espresso machine to suit YOU.
Sad, but budget has to come first. With an idea of what you’d like to spend, you then can enter the market at a realistic level. If you want to spend under £100, your choice is limited, but it is still possible. Spending over £500, and you can look at durable, long term bean to cup machines or even semi commercial machines.
Here is a rough guide of the best within each price range:
0-£100: Delonghi Treviso RRP £59.99
Good News: Cheap, makes excellent espresso when good quality coffee is used, and steams milk adequately to create a latte. Rapid heat up on newer models. Small footprint.
Bad News: Small water capacity (meaning you have to top up after two or three coffees). Milk frother tends to spit water into the milk unless you purge thoroughly, and it will not heat milk to more than about 65 degrees (although this is adequate for me). Quite plasticey, but hey, its sixty quid.
£101-£150: Delonghi EC330S RRP £119.00
Good News: Excellent value for money. Good size water capacity (over 1 litre). Rapid heat up. More efficient milk steamer which warms more thoroughly. Creates excellent espresso even with poorer quality coffee (thanks to the crema enhancer). Also takes pods.
Bad News: Inside of the machine feels quite lightweight as it is not all chrome inside. Extra £50-£60 for a different colour body (silver as standard).
£159-£200: Cuisinart EM200U RRP £179.99
Good News: Machine chrome and feels sturdy. Produces excellent espresso, either from a free flow button or a set shot button. Milk steamer efficient and traditional pipe wand. Easy to fill and clean.
Bad News: Steamer has to heat up separately which can take a minute or two, and can drip a little. Machine can get hot as all metal.
£201-£300: Gaggia Classic 74507BCN RRP £295.00
Good News: Quiet, solid and hardworking. Excellent steam wand and great espresso produced. Sturdy.
Bad News: Be careful! When Gaggias’ are good they are very good, but when they are bad they are horrid! There are currently some build quality issues and problems with getting spare parts due to the recent collapse of Gaggia UK. Saeco (Phillips) have bought them out, but spares and repairs still difficult. Proceed with caution!
Spending over £300 puts you in a good position – you can either stick to a traditional machine or plump for a bean to cup, which has a built in grinder. Here are the best of each in this price range.
£301-£599: Delonghi Magnifica Bean to Cup RRP £379.99
Good News: One of the cheapest bean to cups on the market which is quick, easy and reliable. Suitable for small offices as well as home use. Best used with manual steam wand which is fast and creates excellent foam. Strength and length of shot can be adjusted for extra versatility.
Bad News: Quite a large footprint for the average sized kitchen. Quite loud when making coffee.
£301-£599: Ascaso Dream Coffee Machine RRP £489.99
Good News: Excellent espresso produced. Well built and solid feel. Easy to access water filter. Simple to get excellent results.
Bad News: Temperature gage not entirely accurate. Quite pricey when compared to other machines on the market.
What do you want from your espresso machine? Do you mainly drink lattes, espresso or Americano? If you mainly drink coffee with steamed milk, when looking at models make sure the steam wand is as good as it can be for your budget. Take a milk jug with you and make sure you can easily access the wand – for example, some wands on small machines are low to the tabletop and will require a very small jug to be used.
If you mainly drink espresso, consider other types of espresso maker – for example the Presso (RRP £79.99) or the Handpresso (RRP £89.99), both of which create fantastic espresso and are non electric (so they are quicker to use than a machine and also cheaper to run).
How often are you going to use your machine? Once a week, once a day, once an hour?! If you will be using it fairly intensively (i.e. if you work from home) then I would suggest investing in a solid model with a larger water capacity (look for one with over 1 litre capacity), so you are not refilling every five minutes. Also, check if it is compatible to being left on for long periods of time – for example, lever machines such as La Pavoni or Elecktra will overheat very quickly if left on for hours at a time, but bean to cups are more durable to being switched on all day (mainly due to their power saving technology).
4. Something different...
If you are a seasoned espresso drinker and have used a variety of machines and want a change and even a challenge, consider something more unusual. Here are my top three “something differents”.
1. La Pavoni Europiccola Lever Machine RRP £435.00
A stylish, chrome and stainless steel lever machine, powered by steam pressure and manual effort… not for the fainthearted and definitely not for the amateur due to the skill required to pull off the perfect espresso! These machines are beasts, and when you get then hang of it, make perfect shots. They also come with either a manual steam wand or an “ auto cappuccino system” to make perfect foam.
2. Presso Espresso Maker RRP £89.99
This is a fully aluminium coffee maker which creates espresso using just hot water from the kettle and a corkscrew-type effect to create pressure. A nice precursor to the La Pavoni, a lever machine for beginners. Making a good shot is very straightforward, providing your coffee is freshly roasted and freshly ground. Stale coffee is no friend to this!
3. Aeropress RRP £30.00
A toughened Perspex tube which has suspicious looking intentions, this coffee maker is the latest coffee geek gadget! It works on the filter system, and is capable of producing “espresso” style shots and filter style coffee. I personally prefer this for filter coffees with lots of flavour, like Ethiopians, as it is great at picking out subtle flavours.
5. Coffee, coffee, coffee!
No matter how expensive your coffee machine, it will only be as good as the coffee you are using. ALWAYS use the freshest possible coffee you can (more on this in the next blog) and if possible buy direct from the roaster. If you haven’t got a grinder, invest in one, as espresso is incredibly sensitive to stale coffee. If your coffee is old, your shot will taste poor and weak, which will tarnish your opinion of the machine.
We will look at grinders in another blog soon, but if you have to get your coffee ground, ensure it is ground fresh in the shop, and use it within a few days. Never buy supermarket coffee which says “suitable for all coffee machines” as this is simply untrue. A cafetiere and an espresso machine require totally different grinds, and even Gaggia’s and Delonghis need slightly different grinds for optimum results.