How do you decide which espresso machine is right for you?
My first espresso machine was a Breville Dual Boiler (BDB) which I bought with almost no research or consideration of how I like to enjoy my coffee, how much space I had, how capable the machine was or even how durable it might be. I bought the BDB because it was recommended to me by David Seng who operated The Espresso School in Melbourne and who I have great respect for. I knew David used this machine at home and given his standing in the coffee industry I thought that told me what I needed to know about my first machine, it can make great coffee.
If you spend 10 minutes searching espresso machines online you will likely end up going down a rabbit hole you never knew existed. The reality is making good espresso is a very simple process which can be done to the highest standard on hundreds of different machines. What I suggest to people who ask my advice is to answer the following questions as honestly as you can before really looking in detail at a machine.
- What is my budget?
This is not quite as simple as it may seem. If you are investing in an espresso machine then you will need an espresso grinder and at least some basic accessories such as a tamper, milk pitchers, water filter and perhaps a good quality scale.
- Where am I going to put the espresso machine?
The footprint of espresso machines varies a great deal. There are compact machines made for an apartment environment all the way to commercial grade machines with huge boilers that just won’t fit into a standard kitchen. Know where you want to put the espresso machine, accounting for a grinder as well before hitting ‘buy now’.
- What kind of coffee do I like and how many a day will I make?
Now if I exclusively drink milk based espresso drinks and make 8 a day for multiple people then I would be looking at a dual boiler which allows me to make espresso and steam milk at the same time. Conversely, if I was a black coffee drinker, loved espresso and long blacks I might look at a smaller single boiler heat exchange machine because steaming milk is not something I do frequently.
- What are my aesthetic preferences?
Do you want an ultra modern look that fits into your knew kitchen? Perhaps you want something that’s less invasive with a small footprint that does not dominate the room, or like me you might want the espresso bar to be the feature of your kitchen. If you want a machine that won’t age you may consider buying a classic Italian style machine with an E61 grouphead and lots of chrome. Everyone has different tastes, and the look is important if you want to keep this thing for a long time.
Dual Boiler Vs Heat Exchange/Single Boiler
The Dual Boiler allows you to do more at the same time, effectively meaning you can make more drinks in a shorter timeframe as it has the capacity to both brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. They do cost significantly more, are generally much larger and require you to gain some knowledge to use it effectively. The two machines below show the price variation between dual boiler machines with the Breville being the most affordable on the market currently. The Breville does not have the solid build or feel of some hihger end machines such as the he Profictec Pro 600 which gives you a commercial quality machine that will last a lifetime but at a significant cost.
Profitec Pro 600 DB - $4000
Breville Dual Boiler - $1300
The Single Boiler machine has to manage fluctuating water temperature requirements between that required for brewing and that required for steaming milk. If you are brewing espresso at 93C the tempreature then needs to increase to around 120C before you can steam milk effectively. This means you may be waiting for the boiler temperature to come up or go down to the appropriate temperature which significantly slows down your ability to make coffee. Now if you only make a couple of milk based drinks a day this is more than manageable, however if you are trying to make 6 or 8 drinks for friends on a regular basis the single boiler or heat exchange machine may not work for you. These machines can be very small in size but are very capable of making amazing quality drinks. There are a number of modern Heat Exchange machines available that use a very large boiler so that you can brew and steam at the same time (look at Wega, Expobar, ECM, Profitec, Lelit or Isomac). Note – some have built in grinders like the Barista Express. The two below are what I consider the most popular smaller single boiler macines in the world. The Breville Barista Express is a budget entry espresso machine that incorporates a grinder and is a brilliant way to get into making coffeee at home without a huge cost. The Rancilio Silvia is a very compact machine and may be the most purchased espresso machine worldwide due to its simplicity and reliability.
Rancilio Silvia V6 - $1100
Breville Barista Express - $750
Budget – Is a more expensive machine better? The answer is categorically no. Price is not an indicator of a machine being better as better is a relative term. What you need to do is answer the questions above honestly then use that information to narrow down your search for a machine. Be aware that although some machines are very expensive they in fact can have fewer of the functions you may desire for your own home coffee experience.
Do your research and reach out to someone you trust that can talk you through the maze of machines and sale gimmicks out there so you can get the right espresso machine for you.