Should You Choose an Espresso Machine for Home?

If you love espresso, there’s no substitute for a perfectly-pulled shot. Whether you like your espresso straight up or in a latte or cappuccino, getting it right is a complex process. A home espresso maker can be a big ticket item, so it’s a good idea to put some thought into whether or not you really want one before you buy. Here are some factors to think about when you’re trying to predict whether your home espresso maker will get a lot of use or just sit on the counter once the novelty wears off.

The Ritual

A big part of the pleasure of coffee comes from our associations with where and when we drink it. For many of us, our favorite cafe or espresso bar gives us a welcome retreat from our workplaces and homes where we can soak up the atmosphere while we sip our coffee. Sometimes you enjoy something just because it’s a treat or a luxury, in which case having it available every day at home may not be the best option.

Then again, you may already be brewing high-quality coffee in your own kitchen. People who buy freshly-roasted beans and grind them at home, and who have already experimented with a few different brewing methods, are probably going to get a lot of use out of a home espresso machine. If you enjoy cooking gourmet foods for yourself or for your family and friends, being able to make espresso in your own kitchen will appeal to you.

The Learning Curve

Unless you buy a super-automatic machine (more about that later), it’s going to take you some time to learn to pull a good shot. There are a lot of factors that go into making good espresso: you need to choose the right beans, grind them properly, and tamp them evenly and with the right pressure. A good barista can juggle these variables. For example, they can change the tamp to compensate for a less than optimal grind. The first few shots of espresso you make probably aren’t going to taste like what the professional barista at your favorite cafe produces. Steaming milk for lattes and cappuccinos takes some practice, too.

To a foodie and coffee aficionado, this all sounds like great news! Learning a new culinary skill and putting your own personal stamp on your espresso shots can be a fascinating process. You can even take a barista course and develop a new job skill.

The Cost

A new semi-automatic espresso maker can cost under $100 or more than $2000, depending on which model you buy. Realistically, you should look at paying $150 to $400 for a decent starter machine. This may be more than you want to pay for something that won’t get a lot of use, but it’s not much more than some of the better automatic drip machines cost. Keep in mind that you will also need a decent grinder, since grinding right before brewing is one of the biggest factors in making great espresso.

Super-Automatic Espresso Makers

Maybe you would love to have access to delicious espresso-based drinks at home but you’re not interested in developing your barista skills. In this case a super-automatic machine may be the way to go. These machines grind, tamp and brew, taking you from beans to a cup of espresso at the touch of a button. The higher-end machines will steam milk and add it to the cup automatically, while others have a steam wand that you can use manually. Some super-automatics don’t deal with oily, dark-roasted beans very well, and some don’t make the milk as hot as you might like, but on the whole these produce very good drinks. The machines need to be cleaned regularly (especially if they have a built-in milk tank) but you don’t need any special skills to get good results.

These machines can cost a few hundred to several thousand dollars, but if you’re stopping at the Starbucks drive-through every morning for a latte, a super-automatic machine at home could still save you money in the long run.

To Summarize

If you:

  • Already grind beans at home
  • Have experimented with different brewing methods
  • Like gourmet cooking and/or entertaining at home
  • Enjoy home luxuries as much as going out
  • Spend a lot on take-out espresso-based drinks

You probably won’t regret investing in an espresso machine for your home. Enjoy!

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