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Jun 17, 2008 03:08 PM

Should I buy an espresso maker?

I’m wondering if I should buy an espresso maker. I am spending incredible amounts on my almost-daily mochas, but I wonder if I’d actually use the espresso maker if I got it. It’s possible that the reason I love my mochas so much is that someone else is making them for me. Would they taste the same if I made them myself?

Any of you who have an espresso maker—do you actually use it? Is it as good as your fave espresso stand? Is it worth the money?

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  1. when you say espresso maker, do you mean one of those machines which looks like a mini-version of the espresso machines in coffee shops? Because those are really expensive.

    I use a stovetop bialetti - the little metal jugs you put directly on the stove.Mine makes two shots at a go, and it works brilliantly (well, so long as you buy good coffee to put in it!), is easy to clean, and you can get cheap Chinese copies for about $12 (they work perfectly well - I've been giving them as gifts with a bag of decent beans for the last year. Very well received). I think they taste as good as the coffee made at my local coffee place, but the main reason we make our own at home is we usually like to have a latte in the evenings, when we're relaxing at home.

    My mother loves cappuccino, has probably two a day, but has no interest in buying her own machine (bialetti or otherwise) - she enjoys going out for a coffee, meeting up with friends, etc. For her, that's just as important as how the coffee tastes. Which is something worth considering if you're a social drinker.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Gooseberry

      Good question.I've never heard of the stovetop thingy. What I'm picturing is the small machine w/ a couple spouts/nozzles that costs between $50-$150 at Target.

      1. re: Petrichor

        Real short answer, save your money and do much more research.

        1. re: Petrichor

          not only is the stovetop maker one of the most common ways to make espresso at home -- there is an electric version of the stovetop model -- my local pharmacy, Navaroo, has those on sale this week for $16.99. The stovetop models are around $10 in stainless steel, less in aluminum.

          Here is what the electric one looks like:

          You should be able to find an inexpensive model at latino or italian grocery stores.

        2. re: Gooseberry

          A coworker gave me one of those small stovetop metal pots and a bag of espresso from some country she visited. The stove at work is an old gas range and the pot is super tiny perched over that flame and gets incredibly HOT. It's got a plastic handle for cryin outloud!! I hate to use it but it makes a great afternoon treat. If you get one of these, just get a well made one that has a handle that stays cool enough to touch (or the handle big enough to grab with a pot holder- this one is midget-ized.)

          I got a cheapy mini espresso maker from BBand Beyond- on sale for $30 one after Christmas season bargain. It was a no-name brand, and it blew up in my face (we think it was our fault, it wasn't coming on and my husband reached over and checked the top-said "It's on wrong" and before I could say a word he opened it- the pressure had already started to build up and when he opened it- well... it blew. I was fine (I grabbed my face and ducked) - but we ended up throwing it out because it never really seemed to work right.

          1. re: Gooseberry

            Gotta say that after having $$ (but worth it) Gaggia machines and having them take up counter space/require preheating/steaming etc. That I have since moved on to a nice Bialetti stainless 6 cup moka pot (I love Cafe du Monde) and am super happy with it. Is there crema? No but for $50 on the high end it makes great coffee (and is what is in every coffee drinking Italian home) - If you need a proper espresso then get a Gaggia or Rancilio. But know that the cheap machines just lead to wailing and gnashing of teeth.

          2. that's not an easy question to answer. A lot depends on what your standards are and how much you are willing to invest in terms of money and time and energy. I'm sorry, but those moka pots do not make espresso. they don't produce the pressure necessary to make the extraction. Those sub $200 machines dont make espresso either, they make dark coffee.
            To really make true espresso, with crema and the goodness you've come to appreciate, you're going to have to ratchet up your budget at least to $350-$400, but more likely more if you're serious about it. I have a Rancilio Silvia, and you're talking about $500 easy. And if you go this route, you're going to have to sink money into a real burr grinder, not one of those whirly blade bean chewers. A good grinder, you're in the $250-$300 range easy. So you're getting up there in money. Also, it will take you some time to use it properly. Silvia in particular is pretty finicky about fresh bean, roasted within the past week, and the proper grind. You're in the research phase now, go to whole latte love or home barista to learn more.

            2 Replies
            1. re: chuckl

              Well, if the bialetti's don't make espresso, please don't tell the Italians - I've never met one that didn't use a bialetti for their daily, life-giving caffe'.

              The truth is, the sort of monetary outlay you're talking about here puts espresso at home well out of the reach of the average coffee drinker, and based on the OP's comments, I don't think he was looking to become the world's best coffee maker at any price - he just wants to make a mocha like he gets in coffee shops.

              When I have the money, I'm going to invest in a burr grinder. You talk about a 'good burr grinder', whereas I'll only be able to afford an entry level Krupps on my budget. Do you think it's not worth it? Bearing in mind that I'm not drinking 'real' espresso... ;)

              1. re: Gooseberry

                FWIW, the cheap burr grinders I've owned jammed and/or overheated, didn't deliver an even grind, and were difficult to clean (rancid oil is not something you want to add to your coffee's flavor profile). Read the reviews of the Krups grinder and save your money.

                For about the same price as the Krups you can get a Zassenhaus hand-cranked mill. It's extremely high-quality, but requires a little manual effort on the part of the user. Otherwise save up your money for at least a Breville or a Baratza. $50 for a grinder that doesn't work well is no bargain.

            2. If all you're doing is making mochas, halfway decent espresso will probably do the trick. You can accomplish this with a mid-grade grinder and espresso maker, but the question is whether you will. In my experience there are only two types of home baristas who actually use their machines--fanatics and superautomatic owners. Most everybody else leaves their machine on the shelf.

              Fanatics roast their own beans, measure out coffee using a scale that's accurate to 0.1 grams, practice tamping their portafilters on the bathroom scale to see how consistently they can apply pressure, fantasize about buying a Mazzer Mini grinder, and talk wistfully about the "God shot" they pulled two years ago Thanksgiving. Coffee for them is a lifestyle, not a beverage. Visit to see them in their native habitat. "Mocha" is not in their vocabulary.

              The other end of the spectrum is occupied by the superautomatic crowd. These machines make consistently decent--but never great--espresso. You push a button and the machine grinds the beans, dumps them into the brew group, tamps, shoots pressurized water through, and ejects the spent puck into a dump box. Espresso in 30 seconds with no coffee grounds on the counter, no portafilters to clean up, and no risk of premature superheated discharge from a still-pressurized machine.

              Unfortunately neither great quality nor great convenience comes without a signfiicant price. Think in terms of your annual mocha budget. And speaking of mochas, be sure to get a model with two boilers: one to brew coffee (190F) and another to steam milk (220F). Trust me, you don't want to wait while a single boiler heats up or cools down.

              I've been using a Saeco superautomatic for about 8 years now. Dump the beans in the hopper, fill the reservoir with filtered water, and push the button. It only hurt until the credit card bill got paid off.

              1. Some how I get the impression that you are really not into espresso but like the mochas you get in the stores. Guess what? Most of the coffee shops with their 5 digit $ machines don't make good espresso either. There is a lot of technical skill in making good espresso. Milk and sugar can hide a multitude of sins so they get by with their poor quality espresso. The least you can spend on a home espresso combo of machine and grinder would be about $600 to get something that is capable of making good quality espresso if YOU are up to task.

                So what can you use to make decent mochas that may resemble what you get in the coffee shops.
                Since many of the coffee/espresso bars in this country start with lousy espresso you can start with good strong coffee made in a moka pot or a new press method that uses total immersion is the Aeropress Note this doesn't make espresso but you can get some great strong full flavored coffee that will go well with the milk, sugar and foam. The next step is how to get milk to foam. You can use a something like a small stick blender called an Aerolatte or this press pot type of frother or just whip milk and sugar in a blender. If you are doing iced mochas this is the best way. If you want to froth and heat milk a Capresso frother like this would work or even that cheap espresso machine at Target will work to froth milk but it will not make true espresso.

                1. Me think you don't need a machine.

                  One day, you will run out of coffee beans or milk or something else and just go to your usual place and get coffee and the next morning, you will still forget it, and the morning after, you will find that what you missed was the fact that you liked having someone making it for you, and you liked being around other people having the same "thing".

                  I don't have an espresso machine, first, I would only make some on the week-end, and probably not every week-end either because I like going to a good coffee place and order one latte (caffee italia in Montreal) and just be happy about it and be around other people.