Italian Coffee Machine Buying Guide
Italian coffee machines are the key to a great home barista experience. I start every day with an espresso and I just love the daily ritual. My goal is to bring this daily experience to your home.
With K Bean, Melbourne coffee machine customers get Free Training and Italian coffee machine customers, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Australia wide get Free Shipping, Online Guides, & First Class Support. Congratulations, you are now just a step away from magnificent coffee at home with your very own manual coffee machine.
Why Choose an Italian Coffee Machine?
Why choose a manual Italian coffee machine instead of an appliance? Firstly, very few appliances can make a decent espresso and even fewer can make a decent latte. Secondly, appliance domestic coffee machines are designed to fail to make sure that you end up back at a store for a replacement every 3-5 years. So appliances are bad for your palette, bad for your wallet and bad for the environment.
If you are chasing the very best coffee from a simple to use, easy to maintain espresso machine that will last many years, a manual Italian espresso machine is the best choice. Now that you know the case for Italian espresso machines, explore this Buying Guide, designed by me, Paul, to help you with choosing the best manual espresso machine for your own home.
Manual Espresso Machine Types
Single Boiler (SB) SB coffee machines 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 coffee machine ready to steam milk. Of course, if you can stretch a little further I always recommend moving to the true home professional level with an HX coffee machine.
Heat Exchanger (HX) HX coffee machines 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 so you can brew and steam at the same time. Most HX coffee machines come with an E61 group for thermal stability along with gentle brew pressure ramp up. HX espresso machines are an excellent choice.
Dual Boiler (DB) DB coffee machines have a small brew boiler and a large steam boiler. The main reason to look at DB coffee machines is if you are an espresso aficionado who feels the need to play with brew temperature. However. I generally recommend choosing a high end HX coffee machine, as these are just as effective at brewing, cheaper to buy and easier to maintain.
Best Domestic Coffee Machines
To help you with choosing the best espresso machine for home I have selected a handful at a number of price points. There’s a lot more to Italian espresso machines that what you see on the surface. I know what’s under the hood and that is what has helped me to put together this list of the very best manual espresso machines for home.
Best espresso machine under $1k: Gaggia Classic A legendary domestic Italian coffee machine and a common starter for the new home barista. A quality Italian espresso machine at an appliance price point.
Best espresso machine under $2k: Lelit Victoria A brilliant Italian coffee machine. It's just so well built, designed and most importantly, clever, with a PID to control brew temperature and programmed pre-infusion.
Best espresso machine under $2.5k: La Pavoni Cellini AU A thoroughbred Italian espresso machine from an Italian brand with over 100 years of heritage. Components, materials, build quality and performance are up with $3k machines, so in terms of raw value, the La Pavoni Professional is a great choice.
Best espresso machine under $3k: Profitec Pro 500 With German engineering and Italian prestige, Profitec sets the benchmark for coffee 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.
Best espresso machine under $5k: Lelit Bianca The ultimate in performance, experience and quality. The Lelit Bianca DB espresso machine is packed with innovative features such as manual paddle control, a group mounted manometer and a movable water tank. Wooden components, a commercial rotary pump and commercial steam pressure are cream on the cake.
Italian Coffee Machine FAQs
As a supplier of Italian coffee machines and home barista trainer I have a fair idea of the questions in the heads of new customers. Please flick through my manual coffee machine FAQs below as I’m sure that many of these will help you with choosing the best manual coffee machine for your home.
Are manual coffee machines easy to use ?
It's surprisingly easy to use a manual coffee machine, and many home baristas are self-taught. You can find all that you need to get started on my Training Page ...and if you are a Melbourne coffee machine customer you get Free Training with me, 1 on 1.
I have run hundreds of these training sessions and have no problem taking anyone from "pod novice" to home barista. I have even trained up my 10 year old son, and he really enjoys making an espresso for his Dad and a latte for his Mum on the weekends!
Why don't Italian coffee machines have buttons?
Most Italian coffee machines don’t have buttons because they are built for coffee enthusiasts and for great espresso you need to extract by colour, not by time. This may sound tricky but don't be concerned at all - you can read about extracting by colour on my Understanding Espresso page. A secondary reason is that buttons takes away that hands-on manual coffee machine feeling. Driving a rock solid and powerful manual espresso machine is a lot of fun - like driving a V8.
How much should I spend on a coffee machine?
How much do I need to spend? Let me change the question to "How much would I need to spend to get a setup I could honestly enjoy every single day?" The answer is $2k for an entry level Italian coffee machine, grinder and accessories. Ready for a surprise? Spending more that this won't get you better coffee. Give me a $2k setup and a $10k setup and you would never pick which coffee came from which setup.
So, why spend more? The reason for spending more is about quality of the espresso machine, grinder and the accessories. Higher quality equipment will last longer, cost you less to maintain and have higher re-sale value. High quality gear is also something you will be proud to own and something that you will really enjoy. There's something magical about making amazing coffee in your own home on quality equipment. Quality is the key reason to choose a high end Italian espresso machine.
So if I change the question from “how much do I need to spend?” to “how much would I like to spend?” my answer is $3k for a high end Italian coffee espresso machine, grinder and accessories.
The upfront cost may seem high but there is an excellent business case for a domestic Italian espresso machine. If you replace 4 coffee shop coffees per day with your own home coffees, a $3k setup will pay itself back in just 7 months and save you an amazing $50k over 10 years. You can read more about this in my blog
Are HX coffee machines a good choice?
Well, that depends. If you buy an HX Italian espresso machine with an Aus Spec thermosyphon (water circulation system) modification the answer is yes. However, if you buy an off-the-shelf HX Italian espresso machine set at Italian factory settings the answer is likely to be no.
The reason for this is that Italian coffee machines are setup at the factory to run near 96 deg C to suit dark roast Coffee Robusta coffee beans. In Australia most of our beans are 100% Coffee Arabica - the fruitier and brighter coffee bean varietal. Our roasts are also lighter than traditional Italian roasts. The ideal brew temperature for medium roast Coffee Arabica coffee beans is near 93 deg C.
If you are looking for an HX Italian coffee machine make sure that you find one that has been factory modified to deliver brew water near 93 deg C. The modification isn't as simple as just reducing the boiler pressure. The theromosyphon also needs to be modified as well to keep the brew temperature stable. These machines are referred to as Aus Spec.
Before committing to an HX Italian espresso machine ask your retailer "is the machine Aus Spec?" If the retailer doesn't know what this means then let the warning bells ring. The second question to ask is "what brew temperature is the machine set to?" Again, the retailer should know.
Is high steam pressure important at home?
Full commercial steam pressure is nice to have but certainly not necessary. It's easy to make great milky coffees at home with any quality Italian espresso machine and all machines I sell are more than capable of great steaming with typical steam pressures near 1.2 Bar.
However, if steaming like a barista is important to you take a look at the magnificent Profitec Pro 700. This machine has true commercial steam pressure at 2 Bar along with valve control for steam pressure adjustment on-the-run. To learn about milk steaming and latte art please take a look at my Milk Workflow
How long does it take to heat up an Italian machine?
I'm often asked about heat up time. Traditional HX and DB Italian espresso machines have an E61 group (the Star Trek looking thingy out front). The boilers in these machines heat right up in about 5 minutes, but allow another 20 minutes for the E61 group to reach thermal equilibrium before pulling your shot.
I use a $20 power point timer to switch the machine on just before wake up. Of course, if you are in a big rush you can run heating water through the E61 group, then pull a decent shot just 10 minutes after switching on. I often do this myself.
Never give up an E61 group on an Italian coffee machine for the sake of saving a few minutes during heat up. The E61 is legendary for good reasons including thermal stability and gentle pressure ramp up during brewing.
Should I choose a vibration pump or a rotary pump?
Italian espresso machines come with a choice of either vibration or rotary pumps.
Vibration pumps deliver a more gentle pressure ramp up. This means that espresso extraction starts with a gentle wetting of the coffee puck, followed by slow pressure ramping up to 9 Bar, over several seconds. Rotary pumps hit full pressure quickly so the coffee puck is hit harder and faster, increasing the risk of channeling and uneven espresso extraction.
Traditionally rotary pumps had the advantage of being quieter but some of the new Italian espresso machines have closed the noise gap with some clever engineering to eliminate the traditional "vibe rattle."
Because of the gentle pressure ramp up I prefer Italian coffee machines with vibration pumps and I recommended them to all fellow espresso enthusiasts looking for the very best in coffee extraction.
Are pressure profiling machines a better choice?
Some Italian espresso machines have levers or paddles to enable adjustment of brew pressure during extraction. This is known as pressure profiling capability. This capability is nice to have but unless you are a skilled barista with an amazing palatte you won’t get a noticeably better espresso.
Of course, if you think that you have an exceptional pallate and you are, or strive to be, a skilled home barista then you should certainly consider one. I'm a huge fan of the Profitec Pro 800 lever espresso machine. I had one of these at home for a year and enjoyed the lever experience and enjoyed many amazing espressos. Another great espresso machine with pressure profiling capability is the Lelit Bianca
Are PIDs effective on HX coffee machines?
A PID (electronic temperature controller) isn't necessary for stable brew temperature on a heat exchanger (HX) Italian espresso machine. Any HX espresso machine with a well engineered thermosyphon (water reticulation system) can be stable with either PID or with pressure stat control.
When PIDs first arrived on the scene for HX Italian coffee machines many manufacturers crudely replaced the pressure stats. In engineering terms these machines were a failure as without a thermosyphon modification water in the HX tube would super-heat. This mean't that before pulling a shot you need to flush the super-heated water through the group head. Obviously, the PID on these machines was ineffective for setting of brew temperature control on these Italian espresso machines machines.
This is all different with PID HX coffee machines that have been engineered for a PID from the ground up. With these Italian espresso machines you can get fantastic thermal stability as well as effective brew temperature control from PID adjustments.
Most people will set and forget, but espresso aficionados will love the ability to play with brew temperature. If you want a more chocolatey, bitter-sweet espresso you can set the temperature up into the high 90s. If you want something brighter and more acidic you can set the temperature down in the low 90s. Awesome!
Are Italian coffee machines difficult to maintain?
Not at all. Unlike the automatic machines and appliances, manual coffee machines are beautifully simple to use and very easy to maintain. There are just a few simple things that you need to do to keep your machine clean and healthy. To find out more take a look at my Italian coffee machine Maintenance Guide
Which coffee machine accessories do I need?
Great espresso machine accessories will keep your Italian coffee machine in great condition, help your Espresso Workflow and ensure that you get the most from every extraction. Most Italian espresso machines come with only very basic accessories to get you started so I highly recommend adding high end accessories. To find out more please read my Accessory Guide
Home Barista Guides
Choosing the Best Italian Coffee Machine for Home
What is the best coffee machine for your home? This is a tricky question to answer.
All manual coffee machines that 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. As I have written numerous times, the ease and simplicity of the manual coffee machine experience surprises almost everyone.
Back to “what is the best Italian espresso machine for home?” Answer - There is no best coffee machine as "best" means different things to different people. When choosing a manual Italian espresso machine for home there are 3 factors to consider.
Espresso Machine Performance
Black beverage performance (espresso, long black, etc)
Milky beverage performance (latte, cappuccino, etc)
Espresso Machine Experience
Aesthetics and kin-aesthetics
Joy of ownership and use
Espresso Machine Quality
Chassis, body and component quality
Espresso Machine performance is all about the results in your cup. For some this will be the key influencer for their manual espresso machine choice. For others, coffee espresso machine quality will be more important. And don’t forget about the manual espresso machine experience. Who wants a perfect cup of coffee every day from a poor quality espresso machine without a joyous 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 a great espresso machine experience.
Of course, there’s another critical factor here for your Italian espresso coffee machine choice and that’s your budget. If you want to spend $4k you can have it all, but you may not want to spend $4k and you 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 manual Italian espresso machine for your home and remember that you can contact me, Paul, at any time for guidance.
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