Espresso Machines - Buying Guide

Welcome. Let's start off with the burning question. "Why choose an Italian espresso machine instead of an appliance?" Sure, some appliance coffee machines look good but few can make a decent espresso and even fewer can make a decent latte. Also, appliances are "designed-to-fail" and expensive to fix. 

If you are chasing the very best coffee from a simple to use, easy to maintain coffee machine that will last 20+ years, a manual Italian espresso machine is the only way to go. The upfront cost of an Italian espresso machine may be high, but for many, it will pay itself back within several months. You can read all about this in my blog 

Now that you know the case for traditional Italian espresso machines, please enjoy this Buying Guide, designed by me, Paul, to help you with choosing the best Italian espresso machine for your home.    

   

Espresso Machine Types

Single Boiler (SB) These have one small boiler that is set to brew temperature for pulling shots, then with a flick of the switch the boiler temperature increases to get the machine ready to steam milk. I don't recommend traditional SB coffee machines but I do like the innovative Lelit Victoria with it's new tech. Of course, if you can stretch a little further I always recommend moving to the next level - an HX espresso machine.  

 single boiler coffee machine schematic for espresso coffee machine buyers buying guide and choosing a coffee machine

Heat Exchanger (HX) These have one large boiler that is set to steam temperature. For brewing, water is pumped through a tube in the boiler to pick up heat on-the-run. Most HX coffee machines come with the legendary E61 group to deliver thermal stability as well as gentle brew pressure build up. HX machines are an excellent choice but it's important to choose one with great thermal stability. You can read about HX espresso machine stability here

 heat exchanger coffee machine schematic

Dual Boiler (DB) These have a small brew boiler and a large steam boiler. The main reason to look at DB coffee machines is if you are seeking commercial steam pressure, as with some DB machines you can get up to 2 Bar. However, for most, 1.3 Bar is more than adequate. I generally recommend choosing an HX espresso machine with a PID, as these are just as effective at brewing, cheaper to buy and easier to maintain.  

 dual boiler coffee machine schematic

Choosing the Best Espresso Machine for Home

What is the best espresso machine for home? This is a tricky question to answer.

All Italian espresso machines I sell are very capable of producing magnificent coffee in the hands of a trained operator. By trained I mean “attended my free training session” or “read my online home barista guides and workflows” then followed the steps. I don’t mean a professional. As I have written numerous times on numerous pages, the ease and simplicity of the manual espresso experience surprises almost everyone.

Back to “what is the best machine for home?” Answer - There is no best espresso machine as "best" means different things to different people. When choosing an Italian espresso machines for home there are 3 critical factors to consider. I call these 3 factors the Triple Constraints of espresso machine selection. 

  1. Espresso Machine Performance

    • Black beverage performance (espresso, long black, etc)

    • Milky beverage performance (latte, cappuccino, etc)

  2. Espresso Machine Quality

    • Chassis, body and component quality

    • Engineering precision

  3. Espresso Machine Experience

    • Functionality and joy of use

 The Triple Constraints for Espresso Machine Selection

The Triple Constraints for Espresso Machine Selection

Espresso Machine performance is all about the results in your cup. To some this will be the key influencer for their manual espresso machine choice. For others, coffee espresso machine quality will be more important and then don’t forget about the Italian espresso machine experience.

Who wants a perfect cup of coffee every day from a quality machine without a joyous coffee making experience? Not me, and hopefully not you either. In reality, this example isn’t even possible as there's a high correlation between espresso machine performance, espresso machine quality and the Italian espresso machine experience.

Of course, there’s another critical factor here for your espresso machine choice and that’s your budget. If you want to spend $4k you can have it all. But we don’t all want to spend $4k and also, we really don’t need to. There are plenty of Italian espresso machines to choose from at a range of price points.

If you’re reading this now you are on the right track as this means that you are taking some time to do a little research. Well Done. With a little knowledge and guidance, you will soon find the very best Italian espresso machine for your home.  

Italian Espresso Machine Recommendations

Over many years I have experienced dozens of manual Italian coffee machines. When recommending a manual coffee machine in this Buying Guide I consider espresso machine Performance, Experience and Quality and ask myself "What espresso machine would I choose given a budget of x?"

  • In the low $2ks the Lelit Mara PL62S espresso HX machine is the undisputed champion. Build quality is fantastic and it features electronic temperature control, sprung valves and a stainless steel chassis. The Lelit Mara is also ultra-compact at just 22cm wide.

  • In the mid $2ks the La Pavoni Cellini AU is brilliant. This is a thoroughbred Italian HX espresso machine from an Italian brand with over 100 years of heritage. Components, materials, build quality and performance are all first class, up with $3k machines, so in terms of raw value, the La Pavoni Cellini AU is a giant killer.    

  • Near $3k my recommended machine is the Profitec Pro 500 PID. With German engineering and Italian prestige, Profitec sets the benchmark for espresso machines in terms of engineering, build quality and performance. The recent addition of PID control has taken it to a new level. For most there is no reason to spend more.      

  • At the high end take a look at the Profitec Pro 600 espresso machine with its accurate temperature control, integrated shot timer and true commercial espresso machine steam pressure (2 Bar) controlled by sprung valves. This is a brilliant machine and unless you intend to plumb in, I see no point in spending any more.     

     

                        

         

FAQs

  • Are PIDs effective on HX manual espresso machines?

  • Are manual coffee machines easy to use and maintain?

  • Are Italian HX espresso machines a good choice?

  • Is true commercial steam pressure important?

  • How long does it take to heat a manual espresso machine?

  • Should I choose a vibration pump or a rotary pump?

  • Why don't these Italian espresso machines have buttons?

  • Are lever machines better than traditional machines?

  • Are Italian espresso machines difficult to maintain?

  • Do I need an expensive coffee grinder?

  • Should I get a step-less coffee grinder?

  • Which espresso machine accessories should I get?