Espresso Machine Buyer’s Guide

So – you want to get started with espresso at home? Or, maybe you are looking for an upgrade? Either way, you have come to the right place.

Finding the right espresso machine depends on understanding your goals for the perfect drink routine, so we’ll need to ask a couple questions first.

    • What is your budget for a machine and grinder? Keep in mind, that we recommend spending at least 40% of your budget on a grinder. Why? Find out here.
    • Do you prefer traditional Italian styling, or something more modern?
    • Would you like to plumb your machine in now or in the future?
    • Do you drink milk drinks or straight espressos? If milk drinks, how many do you drink back to back?

We will approach each based on budget, with our most popular category first. If you fancy a good read prior, you may want to start with our article on How Espresso Machines Work.

$2,000 to $3,000

If your budget calls for a machine in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, all of the machines we offer in this class are dual-boiler. A dual-boiler espresso machine is one that can steam milk while simultaneously pulling a shot of espresso – as it has a dedicated boiler for each. We usually find that customers here will spend about $1,000 on a grinder such as the Eureka Zenith, all the way up to $1,899 on the flagship conical Macap M7D.

The consideration sets for espresso machines in this category are determined by the following four factors:

  • Will you plumb it in? Most E61 machines (and the La Marzocco Linea Mini) have the ability to run from a reservoir as well as directly plumbed. The La Spaziale machines are either direct plumb or reservoir. The key consideration with E61 espresso machines if you will be using a reservoir is cabinet height clearance. The machines in this class all feature a top-filling system which can be difficult with low cabinets.
  • Serviceability – This is one of the most important factors for us when recommending machines to our consumers. We love to feature machines that are as easy to use and service as possible, but some are definitely easier than others. For example, we find machines from ECM and Profitec far easier to service than similar counterparts at Rocket. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a Rocket, it should just be a consideration. Further, some parts require more maintenance than others. A vibratory pump is cheaper to replace than a rotary pump, but it will also likely have to be replaced at some point in the life of a machine, where a rotary pump may last much longer.
  • Looks – Since most of the machines in this class have the same basic parts (usually from the same suppliers), a lot of the decision will come down to looks. Do you love the look of the espresso machine and will it fit well in your kitchen? This could come down to the attractiveness (and functionality) of joystick controls versus knobs, wood panels versus stainless steel. The look of the gauges. Mid-century modern versus traditional Italian-styling. Cup rails or not. When you are spending this much money, you are allowed to be a little picky.
  • Espresso taste and performance – Almost all machines in this class will produce a similar taste in the cup, with some small variations. Some machines (any that are plumbed in, as well as the Lucca A53 Mini with Pre-infusion), will have active preinfusion. While this doesn’t necessarily change the taste in the cup, it can help you pull a more consistent shot – which will.The most difference you will see with espresso in this category will be your choice of a grinder. The other performance factor is a switchable 15 or 20 amp mode. With 20 amps, steam and coffee boilers can heat simultaneously which will speed up the warm-up and recovery times.

Here is a comparison of some of the most popular E61-style machines.  Here is a comparison of the La Spaziale versus La Marzocco Linea Mini. 

$1,000 to $2,000

This category is a little trickier, as there are tradeoffs that do not exist in the $2,000 to $3,000 category. For obvious reasons – it’s less money! However, as long as you understand what you value the most, we have a 100% success rate at matching individuals with an espresso machine that will accommodate their routine, coffee preference and style. All of the machines in this class are reservoir only. As for grinders, we usually find that folks in this category will buy anything from a Baratza Vario or Sette 270 up to a Profitec T64 or Eureka Atom.

The consideration sets for espresso machines in this category are determined by the following three factors:

  • Performance – In this class, you will be deciding between 3 types of espresso machines:
    • Single Boiler – One boiler for pulling shots as well as steaming milk. These machines are primarily suited for straight espresso drinkers or households that will make just a single drink at a time. Back to back lattes is a little more tricky. There will be a short heat-up time in between pulling a shot and steaming milk. This warm-up time is a key consideration.
    • Heat Exchanger – These espresso machines feature a single boiler as well as a heat exchanger. They can steam milk and pull shot simultaneously, and do so by passing the coffee water through the steam boiler. Obviously, steaming temperature is greater than coffee temperature, so all of these machines will utilize a brief cooling flush prior to pulling shots in order to get the temperature correct. With a little practice, these machines represent a great value.
    • Dual Boiler – As referenced above, these machines have a dedicated steam and coffee boiler. The key consideration here is boiler size in accommodating as many drinks as you would like back-to-back.
  • Looks – There is a wider variety of styles in this class. From saturated style groupheads like the Profitec Pro 300, to traditional E61 machines like the ECM Classika to the midcentury modern look of the Lucca A53 Mini. You can certainly dial in your preferred look a little easier in this class of espresso machine.
  • Serviceability – We want your new machine to last a long, long time. We only sell machines we are confident will do that for you. Some are easier to maintain than others. With each component you add, there is obviously complexity. Thermoblocks, Vibratory pumps, seals, etc. All of these will need maintenance at some point and it’s important to understand the demands of that. However, with proper preventative maintenance and good water quality, these major maintenance events will be 3-5 years away.

Over $4000

This category is fun, yet not for the faint of heart. Usually, these machines are upgrades for consumers who have had experience with espresso machines before. Except in the case of the La Marzocco Linea Mini, which is a very forgiving espresso machine for novices, we would expect anyone considering a Dalla Corte Mina, Slayer 1-Group or La Marzocca GS3 to have significant experience with espresso. The primary difference with these machines is that they all feature pressure profiling and a more commercial build orientation. Pressure profiling is a way of dialing up and down the grouphead pressure at various points of the shot in order to accentuate and reduce some flavors versus others.

These machines also usually have a digital feature set, such as an app or integrated controller that allows these machines to be fully controlled electronically.

Under $1,000

This category is really easy for us, as it only consists of 2 machines. The Rancillio Silvia versus the ECM Casa V. See our comparison here.