Exploring the fascinating world of espresso at home can be difficult, but also rewarding. There’s so much to learn about how shots pull, there are so many flavors to explore via espresso that you can’t with other brewers, and you can make so many different espresso-based drinks.
The confusing part is deciding on which equipment to buy.
There are hundreds of beginner home espresso machines and grinders, and choosing the right ones can be stressful (because these aren’t just $30 french presses).
Allow me to help. We’ll talk about a few things…
- Which beginner home espresso machines are worth your money
- Which espresso grinders will serve you well
- The pros/cons of beginner-level gear
Let’s jump in with the gear that makes it all happen: the espresso machine.
Finding The Perfect Beginner Home Espresso Machine
This is perhaps the hardest part. These machines are an investment, even at the beginner level, so it’s important you know all the facts, options, and limitations.
What To Look For / What To Avoid
Let’s start off by saying we’re not going to cover every espresso machine type. Superautomatic machines do everything for you, from grinding to brewing, so we’ll skip those. We’re also going to avoid steam-powered machines—they don’t produce real espresso.
We’re going to focus on automatic and semi-automatic machines. These give you complete or mostly-complete control over your brew. And in our minds, if you’re going to invest money into espresso, you may as well make sure you get to control the process.
Limitations Of Beginner Espresso Machines
As a relative beginner, you’re probably not looking for a machine with a ton of power. And you don’t need to. But entry-level machines do have some limitations to be considered.
- They usually have a built-in water tank and can’t be ‘plumbed in’ to your water line
- They often need 1-2 minutes to warm up new water between shots
- They typically can’t steam milk for more than 3-5 drinks before needing a rest
- They sometimes have smaller portafilters (and produce smaller shots)
- They usually require 5-15 minutes to warm up when you turn them on
In the end, these probably aren’t dealbreakers—just things to know going in.
Recommendations For A Beginner Home Espresso Machine
Here are some of the best entry-level espresso machines you’ll want to consider. These aren’t your typical $79 pieces of garbage from Walmart. These are real, effective espresso machines that are pro-approved.
- The Flair ($160) — This full-manual lever machine is more than meets the eye. It doesn’t steam, doesn’t require electricity, but pulls shots that are exceptionally better than any other manual espresso makers. The shots can even rival those of the machines below. If you need a super-budget option but still want real, rich shots, this is the way to go.
- Gaggia Classic ($350) — An old classic, this espresso machine pull shots and steams consistently. It’s a no-frills, reliable device that’ll give you tasty, balanced espresso and great steamed milk, but it’s pretty limited when it comes to additional features.
- Breville Infuser ($500) — This is perhaps the most incredible espresso machine for under $500 and is considered by most to be capable of outperforming machines priced closer to $1,000. The pressure and steam are consistent, you have a PID that tells you the water temperature, and even allows you to pre-infuse the shots.
Mark Prince of CoffeeGeek.com is a coffee industry expert and known snob—like one of the annoying ones. And yet, he loves the Breville Infuser. It’s his machine of choice for under $1,000. If you have the budget, it’s the one to buy.
Pairing Your Machine With An Espresso Grinder
Not any old grinder will do the trick when it comes to espresso. You need incredible precision and consistency, otherwise your shots will be all over the place—which is terribly frustrating.
Here are the best espresso grinders you can buy on a budget.
- Breville Dose Control Pro ($179) — Designed as an all-around grinder for espresso to french press brewing, this grinder allows you to set the dosing time in 1s increments. But more importantly, it has a fantastic grind quality.
- Breville Smart Grinder Pro ($200) — Also designed for making coffee with any brew method, this grinder features the consistency of the Dose Control Pro, but upgrades it with an LCD screen and dosing increments of 0.2s. Spend the extra $20 if you can afford it.
- Baratza Sette 270 ($380) — By spinning the outer burr (rather than the inner burr), this grinder’s easily the fastest grinder under $500, and that’s true for espresso settings all the way to french press. Many consider this the best entry-level grinder for espresso at the moment since it has a stepless grind adjuster (unlimited settings), but it’s hard to say whether it’s worth the extra $180 from the Smart Grinder Pro.
Here’s the thing: you really can’t go wrong with any of these. The best bang for your buck is the Dose Control Pro, the more powerful model is the slightly more pricey Smart Grinder Pro, but the winner for power and speed is the Baratza Sette 270.
Other Gear And Accessories You’ll Need
Chances are your espresso machine will give you all the basic accessories you’ll need, but we’ll cover them here just in case.
- Espresso/cappuccino/latte cups
- Steaming pitcher
- Portafilter (+ blank screen for cleaning)
- Espresso machine cleaning tablets
- 1-2 microfiber cloths
And that’s all you need! With your espresso machine, grinder, and these accessories in place, you’re ready to start pulling shots.
Don’t forget that espresso is complex and complicated. It’ll take some time to learn how it works and get the hang of pulling consistently great shots. But here’s something that’ll really help you pull better shots overnight…
Start with amazing coffee beans.
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