We love good coffee of all kinds, but there’s something extra special about the way a fresh-pulled shot of espresso goes down… that rich ambrosia scent, that nutty roasted goodness filling the morning air. It’s pure bean magic. Recreating that coffee shop magic at home has become a necessity for anyone working from home. Still, there’s a conflicting mess of information out there about which espresso machine is “the best.”
Fifteen unique espresso machines for fifteen unique situations!
We wanted to do something a little different and find just the right espresso machines for various homes and budgets. And so, here is the fruit of our passion for the high-tech world of the best espresso, our gift to all you fellow bean-lovers desperate for the perfect home pull—the fifteen unique espresso machines for fifteen unique situations.
True Espresso Machines vs. Pods
Note that all of the machines listed here are true espresso machines. We don’t like using pods because of the environmental downsides and the hassle, and we generally don’t think the taste is as good as a properly pulled shot (even from a cheaper espresso machine!).
There are many faux espresso machines on the market, too, which fail to provide the 15 bars of pressure needed to pull a true espresso. We include a couple of stovetop espresso makers because of their usefulness and novelty status, but be aware that you’re not getting a “true” espresso with anything that can’t produce a high level of pressure.
What is espresso?
True espresso has a rich tiger-striped crema on the top due to the high-pressure method of making the espresso.
Bars of pressure
Espresso is an Italian coffee brewing method that has gained international recognition as a staple for coffee aficionados and average drinkers alike. Espresso is made by forcing a small amount of near-boiling water through coffee grounds at a minimum of 9 bars of pressure (one “bar” is a measurement of pressure which is equal to the atmospheric pressure at sea level, so “9 bars” is nine times the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level).
True espresso also has a rich tiger-striped crema on the top due to the high-pressure method of making the espresso. The heat and pressure strip essential oils from the coffee grounds, and the aeration created by this process helps produce the foam. Many machines are equipped with a portafilter that increases this aeration effect and thereby creating the effect of a fuller crema. However, it must be noted that the use of a portafilter doesn’t create a true crema — one that is filled with the oils from the coffee beans — it only creates the appearance of one through pressure and aeration.
Espresso beans and pressure
The best way to get crema from an espresso machine is to select fresh beans from a region known for its espresso bean (which have a high oil content), ensure that the pressure and temperature are right, grind the beans fresh and finely, and tamp the espresso grounds down with around 30lbs of pressure, so the water is passed through them at the right speed.
Repair, warranties, and machine lifespan
Espresso machines work because they generate a lot of heat and pressure. This is great for your morning espresso but plays havoc with all but the most sturdily-built machines. Sometimes, defects in build quality that might not be otherwise apparent will end up emerging after a few uses due to that pressure and heat — plastic parts, especially, are vulnerable to this.
It’s vital to have a warranty in place to protect your investment!
Why do espresso machines break?
One of the many reasons why people become frustrated when buying an espresso machine, only to have it fail around six months in, is because they expect it to continue functioning without any maintenance. because of the high pressure and heat that these devices operate under, certain types of maintenance are absolutely required. A build-up of minerals on the inside of the espresso machine’s pipes will, for instance, increase the pressure of the water passing through those pipes (a smaller diameter within the pipe equals greater pressure), and over time this added pressure can exceed the limits of what certain parts of the machine can handle.
How long do espresso machines last?
Carefully cared for, an espresso machine should last years — even the cheapest espresso machines should last two years before needing a major servicing. Eventually, of course, certain interior elements like rubber hoses or gaskets will also need to be replaced — but this can usually be done by any capable DIYer, or by a local appliance repairman, or even a volunteer from a local Maker Space.
Our recommendation: extended appliance warranty
All of this said, we strongly recommend getting an extended appliance warranty on any expensive piece of machinery — on top of the at least one year of comprehensive warranty for parts and labor that any reputable company will provide. There’s always the chance when dealing with mass-produced machinery that your device has a random defect. In this case, it’s vital to have a warranty in place to protect your investment.
In the end, with proper maintenance and care, however, a good espresso machine will last years and provide you with multiple daily pulls of crema-topped goodness.