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 with a video and then dive into the key questions and considerations. The most surprising piece of becoming a new home barista is that you will never have coffee better than the one you will make at home. There are no trade-offs here.
Five Key Questions
- What is your overall budget for a machine and grinder? We generally recommend 40% of your budget go to a grinder. Why? More on that below.
- What kinds of drinks do you prefer? Small cappuccinos? Big Lattes? Straight espressos or americanos? We are trying to ascertain what type of machine will be best: Single boiler, heat exchanger, or dual boiler.
- How many back to back drinks do you make at one time? This helps us understand the size of the brew and/or steam boiler you need.
- What are the dimensions of the space in which you will install your machines? Do you plan to plumb this machine directly into a water source now or in the future?
- What cafés do you like best? This will help us find a grinder that can replicate those flavors.
So, to summarize, the 5 key elements to consider when choosing an espresso machine are:
- Type of espresso drinks
- Frequency and quantity of drinks
- Kitchen space
- Grinder selection
In our experience, there are two common mistakes new espresso enthusiasts 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 high-end café performance at home while balancing aesthetics and space. For more help setting a budget, check out our home espresso calculator.
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.
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.
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.
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, or schedule a call to talk morning routine.