How to Choose an Espresso Machine


Great espresso is not exclusive to a coffee shop. Those who love a good shot of espresso or latte want to be able to make it themselves. Selecting the right espresso machine is the first step toward achieving that goal. 

Espresso machines are generally no small purchase; they can cost upwards of $1,000 or more.  There are a host of different features and functions across espresso machines that aren’t obvious to beginners.  

There are good options across different price points, and the exact choice depends on what you want and your budget.  However, there are some things to consider before buying an espresso machine that anyone should know and consider. 

Type of Machine

First, think about what kind of espresso machine you want.  Three machines are available for at-home use: manual, semi-automatic, and super-automatic. Each has a different amount of effort required and price.

Super Automatic

Super-automatic espresso machines are the Ferraris of the coffee world. These machines will grind your coffee, load and tamp your shot, and pull your espresso. Many machines have customizable settings allowing you to choose specific drinks at specific temperatures.  

Some super-automatics even have fully automated steam wands as well to make lattes and cappuccinos with one button.

Super-automatic espresso machines are an investment initially, but for serious coffee drinkers, it pays off. It makes pulling a shot very easy in the morning. Add up what you spend on coffee in a month at Starbucks or other similar locations, and the odds are that you are already paying the same amount of money to someone else. 


Semi-automatic machines have the most variation in features. Some include grinders, while others will require you to purchase one or buy your beans already ground.  Either way, you have to do the work of loading and tamping the portafilter and measuring the shot volume.  The espresso machine generates the hot water and pressure to pull the shot.  

Semi-automatic machines are more work but can lead to a better shot with effort.  Almost every coffee shop barista uses a semi-automatic because it allows them to better control the flavor.

Milk frothing is done separately, either with a steam wand or in a carafe, and then added to your espresso. 


Manual machines give you the power and responsibility to control every aspect of your coffee. You will need to grind your beans before placing them in the grouper. You need to heat the water, warm up the brewing chamber, load and tamp down the grounds and ultimately pull the lever down to create your espresso. 

You have ultimate control over the finished product with added time and work. Fully manual machines are classic but less common because of the extra effort involved. Most people need coffee to help get them going in the morning, and a manual machine will feel even more challenging if your brain isn’t running at full speed. 

Manual machines were the first used and required baristas to pull a lever when making espresso. This is why we still use the term “pull a shot” of espresso today. 

Pressure and Temperature

Pressure and temperature are vital factors in great espresso. Machines must build up to at least 9 bar of pressure and generate close to 100 degrees Celsius water to produce quality coffee. 

Pressure is needed to push the water through finely-ground espresso, extract the ideal amount of flavor and oil, and create beautiful, smooth crema. 

One factor to consider is whether the machine has one or two heating chambers (also known as a dual boiler). One chamber machine can either make espresso or steam milk, but not both at the same time. After performing one task, the machine needs time to build heat and pressure to fulfill the second. 

Dual boiler machines let you pull a shot of espresso and steam your milk simultaneously. Doing both is not a huge time saver, but combining warm milk with hot espresso is nice rather than letting either one cool off too much. 

Milk Frothing

Many people prefer to add milk to their espresso to make a latte or other espresso drink. Everything from an espresso macchiato to a cappuccino requires steamed milk. 

Machines offer two options, a steam wand or a carafe. Steam wands give you manual control over the process and require you to be on hand the whole time. 

The machine will heat the milk in a jug to the specified temperature and allow you to pour in however much you need. The remaining milk can be stored in a refrigerator for the next time. 

Special and Other Features

Other features to consider include timers to automatically brew at specific times or the ability to preset drinks for different individuals. The closer you get to super-automatic machines, the more likely you will find these features available. 

Warm-up times and water capacity are worth thinking about as well. A machine that can be ready to brew within a minute versus one that requires ten may be worth the extra investment if you plan to be with it for a long time. 

Questions to ask before purchasing an espresso machine.

What types of drinks do you want to make?

If all you want to make is espresso, you don’t need to worry too much about the milk frother. The most important factor is the ability to get consistently high pressure. 

What is your budget?

Espresso machines can run from about $150 for a basic Nespresso set up to over $5,000 for top-of-the-line super-automatic equipment. Most people will not be able to spend that money, but it’s not necessary either. 

How much control do you want?

Do you want to push a button and get your perfect latte, or do you want to be able to grind your beans and steam your milk? Creating a great cappuccino takes some practice but once learned, it can be better than a coffee shop.

Consider the answers to these three questions to find the right machine for you. 


Great espresso doesn’t have to be expensive, but you must do some homework to find the right machine. Consider your needs and budget, then go out and get what you need to enjoy great lattes daily in the comfort of your home.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here