Espresso used to be something people mostly enjoyed at coffee houses or at home with a little metal pot called a moka pot. But demand for different types of espresso machines for home has risen. Many companies are now producing versions of these machines for home users.
Home espresso machines are less bulky than industrial ones. They’re also easier to use. But they come with a variety of features, and you’ll have to decide which one you think is best for you. Take a look at the best espresso machines on a budget once you’ve decided what style you want.
What is Espresso?
It’s basically highly concentrated coffee that’s enjoyed in shots. It tastes like an extra dark, strong, and caffeinated version of coffee. It’s become a lot more popular in the US in the last 20 years.
Which is the espresso machine for you?
These machines can come in lots of different designs, styles and sizes. They can have different features, take up different amounts of counter space, and range in price from a few dollars to a few hundred.
It’s hard to choose which espresso machine is right for you.
The basic idea with any espresso machine is that it will push out steam by pumping water through grinds of coffee beans. This makes for a thick, rich, creamy drink that tastes great.
How do espresso machines work?
The basic components of any espresso machine, no matter how fancy or simple, are a water source and a heat source. As with coffee, that’s how the brewing happens.
In a coffee shop, espresso makers are plumbed so they always have water instantly. At home, your machine will more likely have a reservoir you pour water into.
Espresso machines also a place to put a “puck” of finely ground coffee beans. This is basically grinds pressed down until they pack into something like a hockey puck. Think of a French press and you’ve got the idea.
And finally, the machine needs some kind of reservoir to collect the finished espresso so you can pour it into your cup. It may have a nozzle to help with this.
It may also include a steam wand, which is used to turn espresso into a cappuccino. It steams milk, turning it into a froth you can layer on top of the drink.
The Moka Pot
These are those little silver machines you see that range from a few dollars to $50 or more. You use them to make coffee on a stovetop. The more affordable ones are mostly made of aluminum while more expensive ones are made of stainless steel.
The bad news is: what they produce is not actual espresso. That’s because they don’t generate the 9 bars of pressure required to make a “true” espresso. They manage 1-2 bars.
It creates an intense, bold, concentrated coffee. The output can tend to taste bitter or burned. It also lacks “crema” which is a reddish brown froth that rests on top of espresso. Some people love it, others don’t miss it.
The bottom line is that it may be trickier to learn how to make a great tasting drink with a moka pot. But it can be done.
To use a moka pot, you fill the bottom chamber with water and add the grinds to the top (the pot). Next, put it on the stove over medium heat. When water starts to boil in a bottom chamber, the grinds of coffee enter the upper chamber and the magic happens.
These work like the moka pot, but they’re more automated. Some of them can produce plenty of pressure to make a true espresso, complete with crema.
They take up less room than pump style machines, which we’re about to look at. They can be a little tricky to figure out how to get exactly the espresso you were hoping for, but they can do the job.
Pump-Driven Espresso Machine
- Semi-automatic: you grind the beans, tamp them down, and control the extraction. The machine does the rest.
- Automatic: they automatically stop the water flowing to produce the same volume for every shot.
- Super-Automatic: they do everything for you except get the cups out of the cupboard.
This type of machine tends to be more expensive, but it produces great tasting espresso. Some people find the pumps noisy. Think about how they sound in coffee shops to get an idea.
These machines will need maintenance – regular cleaning and descaling. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it, but something to be aware of.
Lever Espresso Machines
This type of espresso machines has a lever you have to manually push to extract the espresso. These machines allow you to get creative with the amount of force.
But they also require some physical strength, making them a poor choice for many people with muscle strength issues or arthritis. They are the harder to use than either a moka pot or a pump style machine.
And you may find there’s a learning curve to the extraction. So unless you used to be a barista, this machine probably doesn’t offer benefits over the pump style. It does have fewer parts to break down, and requires less maintenance.