How to Choose a Home Espresso Machine

How to Choose a Home Espresso Machine

Every year, we walk thousands of people through their first home espresso machine purchase. After 9 years of advice, here is a distillation of that expertise to help you choose the best first espresso machine for your budget. We'll start off with a video and then dive into the key questions and considerations. 

Five Key Questions

  1. What is your overall budget for a machine and grinder? We generally recommend 40% of your budget go into a grinder. More about that below.
  2. What kinds of drinks do you prefer? Small cappuccinos? Big Lattes? Straight espressos or americanos? What we are trying to ascertain is what type of machine will be best. Single boiler, heat exchanger or dual boiler.
  3. How many back to back drinks do you make at one time? This helps us understand how big of a brew and/or steam boiler you need.
  4. What are the dimensions of the space in which you will install your machines? Do you plan to plumb this machine in now or in the future?
  5. What cafes do you like best? This will help us find a grinder that can replicate those flavors.

So, to summarize, the 5 key elements are budget, drinks, frequencyspace, and grinder selection.

Budget

In our experience, there are two common mistakes folks make with their budget. They under-allocate money to a grinder and often overbuy on the espresso machine side. We get it. Some of the most beautiful machines are large dual boiler machines and we understand that this purchase is part form and part function. There is certainly a degree of kitchen art in these handcrafted beauties. Our goal is to replicate café performance at home while balancing aesthetics and space. For more help setting a budget, check out our home espresso calculator. 

Drinks

One of our promises to our customers is that we will not sell something that we wouldn't buy with our own money. Everything we offer can make exceptional espresso. However, not all can properly steam 16 oz. lattes. We want to make sure your machine matches your morning routine. 

If you prefer large milk drinks, you will most likely need a dual boiler or heat exchanger machine, unless you are only making one drink at a time. If you like straight espressos or Americanos, a single boiler machine will do the trick. Read more on espresso machines types by boiler here. 

Frequency

How often will you use your machine? Is this for a single morning cup, or will you use it throughout the day for multiple drinks? Will you entertain friends and family and need to make back to back drinks? 

For single morning drinks, a single boiler or small dual boiler will be adequate. If you make multiple back to back drinks during the day (for example, two 12 oz cappuccinos in the morning and 2 cortados in the afternoon) a larger dual boiler machine will likely be preferable. 

Space

Quick!! Run over to your ideal space and grab a tape measure. If you don't want to run or don't have a tape measure, you can estimate. The real questions here are whether you have cabinet clearance constraints for either your espresso machine (most non-plumbed machines have top-filling reservoirs) or your grinder (hoppers also fill from the top). While most customers work around this, it is a key consideration. Whether you plan to plumb this machine in now or in the future is also important.

Grinder Selection

The most important part of the selection is choosing the right grinder. First, read this. OK, now that you know the basic terms, you will need to do some research. The most frequent misconception we hear is "which grinder would go well with this machine"? It's not the machine it needs to pair well with - it's you. Go to your favorite cafe and ask what type of grinder they have. Brands are not as important as the burr size and type (conical versus flat). That will give you an indication of what home grinder will be able to replicate those flavors for you. As we all taste things a bit differently, this is a very personal part of the process. Alternatively, just schedule a call with us and we can do the research for you. We love to help.

If you think a single boiler is for you, watch our How to Choose a Single Boiler video in this series. 

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6 comments

  • Looking for entry level – these comments have me a bit scared at the level of commitment and number of variables. I just want to make my coffee at home. My morning order is 2 quad espressos and another 5 shot beverage, and only occasionally would there be a latte or cappuccino or anything requiring steam.
    I love espresso, but I’m not interested in anything overly fussy or complicated. What are my best options?

    Elizabeth on

  • If you want to make decent coffee and enjoy the experience, avoid the Europiccola. That was my first machine and its quirks got old fast. After three months I replaced it with a Livia 90. Twenty years later it’s time to upgrade— haven’t decided on a Profitec 800 or a double boiler in that price range.

    Clive sold me a Eureka Silenzio grinder— miles ahead of my Moka. Might just keep sweet Livia going for awhile longer.

    So many choices…

    Jeff on

  • Another interesting post. And interesting the lead photo is a LaSpaziale. I have an S1 Mini, (recommended at the time by James Hoffman) but I wouldn’t buy it again, although it does make good coffee. The timer is diabolical. There’s a reason Italy doesn’t have a space program…

    I’d rather recommend “stock” E61 grouphead HX machines, since there are just more parts available. Often unmentioned is that under the skin, many different “brands” of machines are much the same – sometimes identical. My Profitec (for example) shares parts with ECM machines (unfortunately, since the $200 Italian controller is a problem area).

    The saying goes that “espresso is a grind, not a roast” and I agree 100% that you start with a good burr grinder and only then move on to a machine. There is just so much grind tuning required to get the best out a machine that you are just shooting in the dark trying to use commercial espresso (Illy, etc.)

    One possibility is to start with a good grinder and a used LaPavoni Europiccola. They can be had for $200 or so. The great thing about a Pavoni is the tactile feedback. You can feel the resistance of the grounds to the lever pressure and it forces you to understand that relationship between grind, pressure and time that you can never really “get” with a pumped machine. Then, once you can pull a great shot on a Pavoni, you can move on to an E61 machine and keep the Pavoni as counter art and a spare for when the E61 machine inevitably breaks (they all break, eventually). I’ve never had a pumped machine make better espresso than a Pavoni Europiccola – it really is the “god shot” machine.

    As far as grinders go, the Rocky Rancilio is often suggested as the best bang for the buck, and it works fine. However, convenience is important once you master the technique. The Rocky requires both hands to operate – one to hold the portafilter and one to operate the switch. Other grinders have a push switch that you can operate by pushing the PF into place – a lot simpler. There are also grinders with timers you can set and PF rests so you can be pouring milk while the grind is happening. Yes, it’s only 30 seconds, but it might matter (does to me).

    Those timers can be easy to set (touchscreen or simple screen and buttons) or rather laborious (screwdriver and setpoint). Don’t underestimate the PITA factor. The Niche grinder is highly rated by many, but not much fun to use. You need to premeasure the beans, probably on a scale. Then you need both hands, BUT the switch is on the right – the hand 80% of people will be holding the PF in. Then, it’s a mess. There is no way to grind neatly with a Niche. So decide if you want good coffee as your #1 priority, or if you want to be a Coffee Geek. It’s a slippery slope

    SteveP on

  • @Hussain: There are a number of awesome setups that fit your criteria. I’ve passed your email along to our experts so they can help you choose the perfect setup. The immediate combo that springs to mind is the Profitec Pro 300 and Baratza Sette 270. A capable dual boiler with enough power to make a few back-to-back drinks and a reliable conical burr grinder with simple adjustments. It’s one of our mostly popular entry-level setups. That said, if you can reach for the Eureka Mignon Silenzio or Specialita you certainly won’t regret it!

    Let me know what you end up going with!

    Charles with Clive Coffee on

  • 1- My budget $2000

    2- In morning take only one drink sometime i drink espresso, Americano, or Latte and in Evening i drink Latte

    3- Drink one or two drinks maximum and the machine for me and my wife

    4- I have enough space for any machine

    5- I do not have experience in cafes But if I see Starbucks or caribou, I prefer to buy from caribou

    Hussain on

  • This comment is just to let you know of a tiny little “typo” on your
    https://clivecoffee.com/blogs/learn/how-to-choose-a-home-espresso-machine
    web page. In the 5th item of the Five Key Questions, there is an extraneous apostrophe: “What cafe’s do you…”
    Lovely web site!

    tom on

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