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Espresso drinks at your favorite coffee shop or chain, such as Starbucks, can become an expensive habit, starting at around $4 per drink for a basic tall or grande cafe latte. If you drink at one of these per workday, that's as much as a $1,200 per year habit based on 300 drinks a year! It may be time to consider your own espresso machine so you can save money and have more control over the quality and variety of your beans.
If you are on a super tight budget, the Stilosa by De'Longhi is one of the best cheap espresso machines we have used, and it has a 2-year manufacturers' warranty. You will need some practice grinding your coffee and tamping your shots, and it takes some time for the steam wand to ramp up (so don't be in a hurry), but the results we got were pretty good.
Pros: Inexpensive, 2-year warranty
Cons: Plasticky build, fine coffee grind needed
At $300 street, this is one of the best priced and best performing entry-level automatic espresso makers, with a 51mm portafilter. It has programmable shot time, and if you can get your coffee ground to a good powder level, it will produce nice crema in your shots. And as with the Stilosa, it also has a 2-year warranty.
Pros: Good performance at price point, solid portafilter design, good warranty
Cons: Practice needed tamping shots, find powder grind needed
If you can find the previous model of the Bambino prior to the introduction of the Bambino Plus ($400 on sale) you might be able to snag the original version for $299. We happen to like Breville's build quality and industrial design a lot, and like the DeLonghi Dedica, it pulls great shots and froths milk well.
Pros: Similar to the Delonghi Dedica, can pull some nice shots with practice.
Cons: This model is not current and stock may be low at retailers.
At a $400 base (often on discount for under $350), the Calphalon Temp iQ is one of the best performing and least expensive consumer espresso machines on the market. In addition to an intelligent boiler temperature regulation system, integrated PID has a built-in warming tray to serve drinks at the proper temperature and an enlarged portafilter to wet the coffee grounds to extract the best flavor adequately. The machine also has a built-in milk frother for making lattes and other specialty coffee drinks.
For a $200 upgrade, you can get a version of the machine with an integrated conical burr coffee grinder with 30 adjustable settings.
Pros: One of the least expensive home espresso machines able to produce a high-quality extraction with an integrated PID in the base model.
Cons: The base model doesn't have a coffee grinder, which is really needed to produce a proper extraction. Some users have also noted that the portafilter can be difficult to access compared to other models.
At under $200, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is the least expensive espresso machine on our list with semi-automatic capabilities. It features a powerful 15-bar pump and integrated milk dispenser/frother with one-touch controls that make it very easy to make your morning drink.
Pros: Produces nice espresso drinks at a budget price.
Cons: Requires a separate grinder, and to get the most out of this machine, you'll want to read the manual to learn how to prime the system properly and clean the frothing unit after each use.
Which espresso machine is right for you?
There are several things to consider with an espresso machine. A proper espresso machine requires the coffee to be finely ground fresh, per shot, so you will want to either buy a machine with an integrated grinder or buy a separate grinder. A true espresso machine, rather than a coffee maker (such as a Keurig or a Nespresso, or a traditional drip coffee maker), uses high-pressure (9 bar and higher) boiling water to extract coffee and produce crema, the emulsified coffee bean oils that float to the top of the shot. An espresso machine will typically include a separate milk frother function using a wand to make popular drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes.
The cost of these machines is separate from the cost of a burr coffee grinder which starts at around $200 and is needed to produce the fine, powdery, tightly packed grinds needed for proper espresso extraction. Because of the high costs of these prosumer setups, and the large variety and price points of machines and grinders in this category, we won't be covering these here. If you are inclined to purchase a machine of this type, I suggest starting with specialist commerce sites such as Seattle Coffee Gear or Whole Latte Love.
Less-expensive consumer machines listed in this guide have improved at making espresso drinks and have become more reliable in recent years. However, they use smaller, nonstandardized group heads and portafilters than more prosumer-style machines, and in all of the cases listed above, you will need a separate grinder.
What kind of water is best for espresso machines?
With all espresso machines, be sure to use filtered water rather than tap, as mineral deposits will reduce the lifetime of your machine or accelerate the need for maintenance. You should also de-scale your machine periodically if your water is especially hard, even after filtration.