I cannot face the day without first having a cup of coffee in the morning, and it needs to be decent coffee made with an espresso machine, not some instant crap sold using a catchy jingle. In fact, my wife refuses to speak to me until I have had at least two cups.
I make my coffee with an Italian espresso maker – it is the best way to make coffee as far as I am concerned. There is a reason Italian coffee is the best in the world and it is the Italian espresso machines. Say what you like about the Italians – they make a decent cup of coffee, and this is a review of the best Italian espresso makers on the market.
And if you came here looking for an automatic espresso machine that involves using a single over-packaged container of coffee grounds you are going to be sadly disappointed. Call me a left-wing, radical, liberal, dolphin-loving, atheist tree-hugger if you will, but the very thought of making a single cup of coffee using an automatic machine that takes single containers of coffee that have been then individually packaged, re packaged in another wrapper, placed in a box which is then re-boxed in another, larger box, heavily advertised using good looking movie stars and then shipped thousands of miles is enough to make me want to go out and buy a gun. And yes – I am talking to you George Clooney (Mr. Nespresso.) Just kidding about the gun – not the sentiments.
Anyway, back to the substance of this article – home espresso makers. I have tried all these, and they are all affordable, the best in their various price ranges and do not actively waste the planet’s resources. Most importantly, they make an excellent shot of espresso, although George Clooney won’t sleep with you if you buy one. Sorry ladies 🙂
Best budget espresso machine – DeLonghi EC 155 Espresso Maker
This is about as cheap as you can go and still get a decent shot of espresso, but for well under $100 you will be buying a decent, inexpensive machine that makes an excellent cup. This is about the best which is pump driven rather than steam driven, meaning it builds up a head of pressure faster, so you don’t have to wait too long between uses which is useful if you are making a cappuccino. Anything less expensive will be steam driven only or not as good.
It is small, reasonably well built and sturdy. I will say that because the capacity is not very big, and there is a tendency for coffee grounds to work themselves into all the nooks and crannies, it needs cleaning more regularly than the bigger machines. Only ever use distilled water though. In hard water areas they will clog up faster than you might imagine. Great budget machine and made in Italy.
Best low price/budget espresso machine – Lello 1375 Ariete Café Prestige Coffee Maker
I know, I said the best machines were Italian, but this is actually a really good machine for the price. Good Crema, noticeably better tasting and textured coffee than the DeLonghi, and almost, but not quite, good enough to compete with the larger, more expensive machines.
One of the advantages over the cheaper models is that it is quite heavy, being made from stainless steel. This means it doesn’t squirrel around as much when you are tamping down the coffee and trying to tighten the coffee holder in place. It actually looks quite nice, but still needs cleaning more often than some of the larger machines, especially as the drip tray has a tendency to leak. Still, it is excellent value for money, makes a great tasting shot and the best of the sub-$300 machines.
Seriously, there is nothing less than $300 that is worth spending the extra money on.
Best budget/mid-price espresso machine – Saeco 00126 Gran Crema Espresso Machine
Now we are getting into the price range where you will buy the best machines. Although these are more expensive, they will last a lot longer. I owned one of these for some years and found it to be fantastic – for several reasons, mostly the smooth, creamy shots it produces, but also the overall design. It is solid, looks good, and is Italian. I heartily recommend this machine and am still disappointed I had to sell it when I moved to Europe. The cheaper models in the Saeco range will fall to pieces in very short order though – avoid them.
I have heard horror stories from people about the service from the makers, but I owned one for years and never had a problem. If you clean it regularly, use only distilled water and change the gaskets occasionally, I don’t see why one of these would not last you ten years.
Best mid-price espresso maker – Espressione 1387 Caffe Novecento Espresso/Cappuccino Machine, Chrome
I have two friends that own these and we are in a constant argument over whose machine makes the best coffee (we will get to mine next). Not that I would ever admit it to them, but these make as good a shot as you can get, regardless of how much money you spend.
These are superb, and there is no other word for it They look excellent, are very adjustable and the frother is so fast, it is almost instant. The water tank comes out for cleaning, it is solidly built and if you buy one of these you will probably never need to buy another espresso maker – ever.
I can certainly recommend these for anything between $300- $1000, and I have tried a lot of them. Anything more expensive will not make a better shot. A more expensive espresso machine might have more features and bells and whistles, or perhaps do a better job in some other way, but for the perfect shot – you would not go wrong buying this.
Don’t tell my pals I said so.
The best espresso maker – La Pavoni EPBB-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine
I will be up front – this machine requires more work on your part than the previous espressione. If you want absolutely perfect results and are prepared to put some work in, this is the best espresso machine.
But – you will need to grind your own beans, because commercially ground coffee is too fine. You will also need to spend some time learning exactly how much pressure to apply to get the results you want, because this one drives the water through by lever pressure rather than a pump. The previous model is absolutely less work, and if you are not keen on getting into the guts of the machine and doing the extra work, makes “almost” as good a shot.
I love this beast and would not part with it unless I could afford a commercial grade barista espresso maker., which can run to tens of thousands of dollars. As far as I am concerned, this is without a doubt the best espresso machine ever – and I am prepared to put the extra work in to discover quite the best way of making espresso. I will get to that in a moment.
Quite apart from that, it is a work of art. I know it is “only” an espresso machine, but just look at the simple, beautiful functionality of her. When you look at one of these, there is no question what she does. “That is an Italian espresso maker,” is the first thing that pops into your head. You are not faced with a load of automatic dials and wondering of you are looking at some new radio transmission equipment. This makes coffee and looks good doing it.
They also sell a range of different colors, including a gold plated version and a 16 cup model, but this is mine and I ain’t selling.
The best machine for making espresso without spending much money – Bialetti Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Maker
You hardly ever see these around, but I have several for emergencies, and they still make excellent espresso – without breaking the bank. They do tend to allow a few grounds through the filter into the coffee, especially of you are using ready ground coffee, but that just adds to the flavor. I have also found them to make a stronger-than-average shot. Perfect for hangover mornings when the La Pavoni seems like too much work (official definition of an emergency). Well worth the money and they really do make excellent coffee.
This one is aluminium, and will make 6 shots in one go. Basically what they do is – you add water to the base and coffee in a metal filter above. When the water boils it is forced through the filter were it catches in the top. This is the traditional coffee maker found all over Italy, and wherever you go you will see them for sale. For around $20, I would absolutely recommend one of these against an awful lot of the machines on the market. If Starbucks made coffee this good, without all the hoopla, they would be a decent coffee shop.
Over packaging and our consumption habits
How can it make sense to buy a single cup of coffee in an individual container that is then repackaged multiple times? Now I do not think stopping this will solve the world’s ills, but it is a start. I am not suggesting we all stop buying anything, but I am suggesting we look at some of the ways in which we do so.
I know, I know – we have an economic crisis (or at least some of us do) but I am sick and tired of listening to the politicians bleat on about combating climate change and at the same time pouring billions into encouraging us to buy plastic crap from China to save the economy. The two goals are diametrically opposed to each other, and unless we change our consumption habits, either we are going to destroy the resources we have and start fighting over what is left, or the planet is going to destroy us.
I am not worried about the planet. The planet will take care of itself – and I am pretty sure it makes zero difference to Mother Earth which is the dominant species – the Dinosaurs, us, or whatever arises after we have gone. The business with Nespresso is just a clear example of the society and values we have created for ourselves. I don’t really blame George Clooney for doing this – I am pretty sure that if Nespresso offered me a few million bucks to sell their over-packaged coffee, I would have a tough time saying, “no.” We need to change our consumption habits and reject this stuff by refusing to buy it. Then maybe things can change.