Making cafe quality espresso drinks on a home machine used to take a lot of practice, but the newer models have made it far easier. Better yet, you can get espresso machines at relatively reasonable prices.
If you enjoy the process of making an espresso coffee at home, take a look at our espresso guide below to determine which espresso machine is right for you.
What is an espresso machine?
An espresso machine is an appliance which is used to create the traditional Italian coffee drink, known as an espresso.
Espresso machines brew the coffee by forcing pressurised water through a puck of ground coffee and a filter, in order to produce a thick and intense coffee.
The end product is known as a “shot”, which can be consumed on its own or as a basis for other types of coffee, such as lattes and cappuccinos.
Due to the brewing process, espresso shots have a high level of caffeine.
Are coffee machines and espresso machines different?
Where espresso machines use pressurised water to produce your coffee, coffee machines rely on gravity to pull the water through the coffee grounds and the filter.
In coffee machines, the hot water is showered over the coffee grounds, where it absorbs the flavours and oils of the beans.
Coffee machines have the ability to produce larger volumes of coffee, with less caffeine compared to an espresso machine.
What should I look for in an espresso machine?
Whilst most espresso machines come with similar functions, some machines are more advanced than others.
The main thing you will want to look for in your coffee machine is ease of use, capacity, speed, the option for pods and aesthetics.
Ease of Use
Whilst espresso machines can be trickier to use compared to other coffee machines, you can find some which are relatively straightforward.
If you are looking for an espresso machine which is easy to use, consider looking for machines with a simple to use design. This can include a built-in coffee grinder and basic settings for brewing coffee and frothing milk.
Most espresso machines will easily cope with one or two coffees at once, but if you’re planning on making more than that in one go, you may want to bear this in mind when shopping for an espresso machine.
If you want to make more than two at once, consider looking for machines with more than one group head.
The speed of an espresso machine will depend on how much water passed through the group head, and this can vary between different machines and models.
In general, it will take around 23-29 seconds for a shot to pull through. This is also the amount of time it should take to pull a great tasting coffee.
Espresso Pod Availability
Some espresso coffee machines have the availability to use pods rather than ground coffee for a shot of espresso.
If you prefer the convenience of pods, rather than filling your portafilter with ground coffee, this may be a better option for you.
Espresso machines come in a variety of styles and colours, but they can be slightly clunky, meaning you may have to find a large enough space for them.
Price may vary depending on what style and colour you go for, but you will more than likely be able to find a reasonably priced one to match your kitchen.
What to consider when buying an espresso machine
What you want from your espresso machine and what you should consider are two different things, and should be treated as such. There are a few necessities to consider before purchasing an espresso machine.
How many espresso pods you will use
If you would rather use espresso pods than ground coffee in your espresso machine, you should be considering how many pods you expect to get through in a week.
If you love having more than one espresso a day, you may want to consider buying in bulk rather than purchasing smaller boxes that may last a few weeks.
How expensive the compatible espresso pods are
Generally, espresso pods are more expensive than coffee beans, which is something to take into consideration when you decide on the specifications of your espresso machine.
If you would still prefer the convenience of espresso pods, it may be worth buying your compatible pods in bulk.
How important coffee quality is to you
When it comes to the quality of your cup of coffee, this highly depends on what type of coffee grounds or pods you use. You are more likely to get a better selection of coffee to choose from by using ground coffee as there are endless brands out there to choose from.
If you decide to use pods, you may want to opt for branded options, such as Costa or Nespresso.
Types of Espresso Machines
There is a range of different espresso machines to choose from, and the one you choose will all depend on your personal preference.
Pour-over Espresso Machines
Pour-over espresso machines have reservoirs that hold a limited amount of water which is then dispersed onto the coffee grounds.
You will likely have to refill the water reservoir quite regularly to prevent it from running out. This can be a nuisance if you use it often, but it does mean you aren’t tied to having a dedicated water line to supply your machine.
Pour-over machines are great for people who like switching their decor up, as they can be easily moved around.
Pod Espresso Machines
Pod espresso machines have become fairly popular due to how easy they are to use. These machines use small pods filled with espresso grounds, and pump pressurised water through the pods to create a single serve espresso.
Many of these machines don’t include milk steaming wands, but they are much more convenient than regular espresso machines as they dont require you to grind or measure your coffee.
Automatic Espresso Machines
Automatic espresso machines work by shutting the water off for you once the espresso shot has been poured. This is great if you’re a beginner to espresso machines, but it does mean you have very little control over the temperature and brewing time of your espresso.
Many automatic machines can be set on timers too, making them ideal for those who want a fully automatic shot of espresso. You will however have to buy ground coffee, or grind the coffee beans at home.
Steam Driven Espresso Machine
Steam driven coffee machines work by heating the water to boiling temperatures and allowing steam pressure to build up. This pressure is then transferred into the coffee grounds for brewing.
These machines are intricate despite the fact they are under heavy stress, meaning they can be problematic for inexperienced users. They also tend to lean on the pricey side.
Pump Driven Espresso Machines
Pump driven espresso machines have become very popular, as they use a simple pump to create the pressure needed to make an espresso shot. They are great for creating consistent shots, but that does mean that they do not allow for much customisation.
However, they are cheaper than steam driven machines.
Plumbed-In Espresso Machines
Plumbed-in machines are mainly only used for commercial use, such as restaurants and cafes. They work by being attached to a dedicated water line running to it for a water supply, meaning they have an infinite supply of water.
They require professional installation, and cannot be relocated without a plumber capping the water supply line.
Top rated espresso machines
We compiled a list of our top espresso machines based on some of their stand out features.
Best for top specifications
The Sage Barista Pro Espresso Machine is one of the best espresso machines in the UK market due to its ease of use, and desirable features.
The aim of the machine is to give you as much control as possible. It has a coffee grinder with different grind options available and an adjustable time dial, allowing you to choose how long your coffee is being ground for.
You can also choose to pre-infuse your coffee, as well as adjusting the temperature to suit your espresso needs.
Best for price
The Cooks Professional 15 Bar Retro Espresso Machine is a great affordable choice for those who want an espresso machine, but don’t want to spend too much money.
Coming in at under £100, it has great steam power, a temperature gauge and it is visually appealing too.
It also has a reasonable water capacity of 1.2 litres, with a transparent and detachable water tank, meaning you have room for several cups of coffee.
Best for aesthetics
The Swan Retro Pump Coffee Machine is great for those who want a coffee machine that matches their kitchen decor. The coffee machine comes in a variety of colours, from more neutral tones to bright colours, so you’ll be able to find one which matches your aesthetic.
Aside from the appearance, it is simple to use and great for first time espresso machine users.
Best for espresso capsules
The Lavazza Jolie Coffee Pod Machine is a great choice for anyone who likes espresso or a slightly longer drink. It is one of the smallest coffee machines on the market, only a little bit longer than a 30cm ruler.
It also has a removable cup rest with two different height settings, allowing you to choose between a classic espresso or a cafe lungo.