A Guide to Selecting an Espresso Machine
Perhaps you’re looking to partake in coffee-based drinks that go beyond just pouring boiling water on instant coffee, or using a drip percolator. Once you consider the options, you’ll see that an espresso machine can widen your horizons considerably! Besides preparing a shot of espresso, with its distinctive creamy consistency and frothy head, there are also numerous espresso-based drinks, with different proportions of milk to espresso: cappuccino, flat white, macchiato, and much more!
Coffee connoisseurs speak of four stages in preparing espresso, where you vary the 1) quality of the grind, 2) the temperature of the water, 3) the pressure at which you drive the water through the grains, and 4) the particulars of frothing milk and adding it to the espresso. There are espresso machines that allow you to experiment with all four of these stages. And there’s also the subject of latte art, in how you add milk. Or, if you want something easier to use, there are automatic espresso machines that use capsules and will prepare a shot for you at the press of a button!
We’ll go through some of the varieties of espresso machines in the Best Reviews Guide list. With a little practice, you’ll be able to enjoy gourmet espresso drinks in your home or office!
Types of Espresso Machine
You’ll notice a few models of espresso machines, including machines that use Nespresso capsules, and the types that require that you tamper down the coffee grinds yourself:
Machines that accept capsules: A number of manufacturers make an espresso machine that accepts single-serving espresso capsules. For example, Nestle Nespresso makes the Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine. You have the option of buying a separate milk frother as well. You simply insert a Nespresso capsule, press the power button, wait for the machine to heat up, and then press the single-serve or double-serve button, depending on the amount of water that you want to run through the coffee grinds.
Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine with separate milk frother
Fully-manual espresso maker: At the other end of the spectrum, there is a fully-manual espresso machine. You measure out the 12-18 grams of coffee grinds in the portafilter and tamp the grinds down with a tamper device. You then pour the desired quantity of boiling water into the reservoir. You then push down with the lever which presses the hot water through the grinds. An example is the Flair All-Manual Lever Espresso Maker. It also collapses down into a neat portable case!
Flair All-Manual Lever Espresso Maker
Semi-automatic Espresso Machine: There are also espresso machines that require you to grind the coffee and tamper the grinds down in a portafilter. But the pressure at which the water is driven through the coffee grinds is set automatically. An example of such a machine is the Casabrews 20-Bar Espresso Machine. It has a pressure gauge on the front, indicating the pre-infusion pressure that you should apply, gradually moving up to the “espresso range” of pressure. There is an attached milk frothing wand, which injects steam into the milk to give a frothy texture.
Casabrews 20-Bar Espresso Machine
Another espresso machine option lets you select 4 different variables when making a cup of espresso that we mentioned in the introduction (the correct dose of beans, the optimal water pressure, the correct water temperature, and the perfect frothing of the milk to produce latte art). Those are the features of the Breville Infuser Espresso Machine (Model No. BES840XL). It has a precise digital temperature control that you can set in 4-degree increments, as well as a pressure gauge and milk frothing wand.
Breville Infuser Espresso Machine
There are also espresso machines that will take fresh ground coffee as well as Nespresso pods. An example is the Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine, which is considered a great entry-level model because of how easy it is to master.
Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine
What reviewers say
Here are some impressions of people who bought the espresso machines featured in the Best Reviews Guide list:
Advantage of the Nespresso capsules: Customers who use Nespresso capsules say that they love the fact that there is such a wide variety of coffee flavors and specialty coffees. Also, the aluminum packaging ensures that the coffee inside remains fresh. A typical Nespresso capsule will average out to about $1 per cup of coffee. If you compare that to going to a coffee shop, it comes out a lot cheaper! (There are those who are concerned about the waste involved in disposable capsules. However, there also are options to recycle the capsules.)
Save space and time: Customers are pleased with the fact that many espresso machines offer a number of features in such a small package. For example, the Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine is only 8” deep x 9.5” wide, so countertop space shouldn’t be an issue. Also, people who tried a manual espresso machine felt that it was too time-consuming if they wanted a quick shot in the morning. The semi-automatic and automatic versions gave good results in record time!
Here are some features and pieces of advice when using an espresso machine:
Pressure applied: As we saw, there are espresso machines that allow you to get up to 20 bars of pressure. However, experts say that a gourmet espresso can be produced at 9 bars of pressure. They also advise a pre-infusion at low pressure at the beginning, increasing to 9 bars of pressure towards the middle, and then decreasing pressure towards the end. All told, it takes around 25 seconds for the water to properly go through 12-18 grams of tamped-down coffee.
Prefer a burr grinder: If you’re going to prepare espresso from scratch, you have to grind the coffee beans to the right consistency. Experts say that you should use a burr grinder to grind the coffee. They will produce a more uniform grind size and yield a better flavor espresso overall. Blade grinders and pre-ground coffee will not yield the optimal espresso results!
The programmable feature on Nespresso machines: Some machines that accept Nespresso capsules also have a programmable option: if you press the double-serving button, you can press the button a second time to stop it in the middle when it has filled your cup to the desired amount. It will save that setting for subsequent times when you prepare a large-size espresso.
Frothing a nondairy milk alternative: Let’s say you want to use a milk alternative in your milk frother instead of real milk, such as coconut or almond milk. You should make sure that the milk alternative has gellan gum in the ingredients. This is a thickening agent that will allow the nondairy milk to create a froth.
We studied some of the properties of the espresso machines available in the Best Reviews Guide list. Machines that accept Nespresso capsules are a big favorite because they’re so convenient and quick, both when preparing coffee and cleaning up. On the other hand, more sophisticated machines will allow more control over the preparation. Look over the range of options among espresso machines. With some experimenting and know-how, you’ll be amazed at the types of coffee drinks these little machines can prepare!