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Espresso machine advice

  • l

I have always wanted to own my own espresso machine, but never had the counter space in my kitchen to justify the purchase; until now! So, I am looking for advice on what to buy.

I anticipate using it primarily for lattes and cappuccinos. I already own a drip coffee maker and am not really a fan of Americanos. I mostly use caffeinated beans, but might want the option of decaf for guests or the occasional evening mocha.

I like the convenience of a semi-automatic where I don't have to measure and tamp the grinds, but not sure if I want to go the pod route. You are so locked into certain blends and the packaging seems wasteful. I have tried frothing milk on my own, but seem to get it foamier than I like for lattes with machines with the wand, so maybe a built in milk frother?

Please let me know what you all like/dislike and pros and cons of various machines and brands available. I look forward to your thoughts.

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  1. Avoid the pods. They are too expensive for most people.

    I have a Pasquini® Livia 90 and love it. It blows away the machines available at the shopping mall places. The commercial style brewing group is very nice. Great espresso is very easy with this machine and Illy coffee!

    10 Replies
    1. re: Sid Post

      I use a Melitta filter machine for coffee every day, and frequently have an espresso at my local Peet's. I have tried Nespresso machines, but am not thrilled with their coffee and am looking at other options for having an occasional espresso at home. Please do not take this wrong...i am being totally serious...but please tell me why I should even consider buying a Pasquini machine for $1,700 when probably >95% of espresso coffee consumed by Italians is made at home in a stovetop Bialetti Moka or other similar pot which retails for about 25 bucks. Is the stovetop coffee so inferior? Is it strictly a matter of convenience? I'm wanting to think that the quality of the ground beans may be more important that the machine, but I really don't know. Please tell me why buying a $25 stovetop Bialetti Moka is not a good option!

      1. re: josephnl

        BIALETTI and two or three other similar make great coffee."EXPRESS" Water under pressure up through the grounds.In the truest sense it is not espresso.The stove top coffee is not inferior,just different.Certainly good enough that small "espresso machines" haven't been a sales hit in Italian homes.

        Espresso is water pressured down through the grounds.This isn't a task well performed by scaled down machines.Good machines run $900.00 and up.Often,US, you can find the machines in every price range,with and with out bean grinders,dedicated water lines etc discounted by more than 40%.

        Would I recommend one method over the other? NO! Your taste and wallet decide.

        Our house in Italy has a small,dedicated water line restaurant,cafe machine purchased in 1989 ,used.Service is same day.All in all it has needed service twice.Oh and a BIALETTI on the range.
        In Maryland its hand pour CHEMEX and BIALETTI,and I have no desire for an espresso machine.CHEMEX & BIALETTI with my water and off the shelf beans or ground both make GREAT COFFEE.

        1. re: josephnl

          If economy is a priority, a moka pot is ok for coffee. But it's not espresso. Nowhere near.

          1. re: chuckl

            No, it's not espresso, but it gives a brew that is very satisfying without the crazy price tag. You are using the same roast and fine grind that you would use in an espresso maker, but under substantially less pressure. The flavor and consistency certainly is way closer to espresso than drip or press coffee, no not sure what you mean by "nowhere near".

            Here's the deal...sounds like you are usually not drinking shots of espresso, but taking the espresso and thinning it down with steamed milk. THAT'S OK...it's just that you might not need true espresso to give you the results that YOU are looking for.

            Give it a try for $20 for the pot + $10 for a can of illy espresso. Bialetti makes a fancy model that will steam and froth your milk, but I think that's overkill...just get the basic 3-cup model (6 oz). Bialetti makes the classic six-sided model in various sizes, Bodum makes one that is a little more stylish, but works on the same principle.

            1. re: MikeB3542

              never got blueberry juice out of a mokapot.
              Did get levitation, however.
              If you're afraid of levitating kitchen appliances, I suggest steering clear.

              1. re: Chowrin

                Not sure how a leviathan can fit in a moka pot...maybe with a little lecithin.

                Seriously though, moka pots shouldn't go airborne...if you set the flame low, don't tamp down the grounds, and keep the water level below the pressure-relief valve, there ought not be any drama.

          2. re: josephnl

            Coffee bean quality is an important factor but, I can tell you there is a world of difference between a Moka, Starbucks espresso, and my Pasquini espresso.

            It's not that different from buying beer at your local grocery store. Do you want the cheap swill, the mass produced swill, or the craft brews? They are all beer but, most people can certainly tell a difference in quality and flavor.

            1. re: Sid Post

              So, are you saying that the coffee most Italians drink from their Bialetti Moka (type) stovetop pot is " cheap swill"? Sounds like it!

              1. re: josephnl

                yes. I don't particularly like italian roast either.
                I pull shots of straight Kenyan espresso.

                1. re: josephnl

                  It's better then nothing. Life is too short for cheap beer and bad coffee though.

          3. Try using the wand without the frothing aid, it helps it not get so bubbly.

              1. I've never had a great shot of espresso from a pod machine and they seem really expensive to me. I have a Gaggia and a burr grinder (mid range, around $100). I've been very happy with both and both have lasted for years.

                2 Replies
                1. re: JeremyEG

                  I have the same set-up and, when you do things right, it can make fine espresso with crema. I've never tried making cappucino, though. Does the foaming work fine for you with the Gaggia? That's what the OP will need.

                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    Foaming works well but I don't use it often (I'm an espresso guy and sometimes have a machiato) but I don't do cappucinos every morning or anything like that. I have found that the wand itself sometimes needs to be taken apart for cleaning.

                2. how many do you drink a day?

                  If you like playing around with the grinding, tamping etc then there are many choices.

                  I have two nespresso units (a built in Miele and a small tabletop) and both make very good espresso. Are there better choices? absolutely, but i have little interest in all the alchemy of making one espresso

                  the pods do cost more (60 cents or so) but well worth the ease of use and quite frankly i think that most people couldnt tell the difference. Most retail and restaurant espresso is quite bad - no crema, just mud. The nespresso is quite good and consistant

                  1. Your instincts are correct in assuming a pod-only format can get somewhat limiting but even worse is the fact that you are clueless about when the coffee within the pod was roasted and ground and bagged for your pleasure. Taking that key act and back-dating it into the past brings nothing good to the table other than clean hands.

                    Different brew styles, different pots lend great variety and options for unique flavors and coffee textures. Pour overs, French presses, turkish pots, Mokas, drips, percolators, espresso machines, vacuum pots all take on virtually the same challenge where the overarching goal is to extract the water soluble flavors, oils, scents and essences from roasted coffee beans.

                    For the most part, the more recently the beans were roasted, and the more recently they were ground prior to extraction, the greater the presence of coffee flavors and probably the more complex the layering of those flavors.

                    Coffee drinker for 40 some years with a history of trying every one of those brew options along the way.

                    I enjoyed six years of graduate school with a cast aluminum Moka stovetop maker using finely ground cafe bustelo as the closest thing I could muster approximating an espresso roast and it was very very good. Then I found myself at the original cafe sant eustachio by the Pantheon enjoying one of those epiphanies when you realized your life had just changed over a not so simple espresso that led to several others in rapid succession contemplating the incredible pleasure brought about by great beans, roasted just 20' away, ground 5' away as soon as they cooled, and extracted under controlled steam and pressure that led to perhaps cremate cremaas mothering a thick rich liquid that tastePres intensely as it smelled.

                    There are hundreds of espresso machines on the market and all have some sort if learning curve to obtain optimal results. Some are readily affordable, others cost a king's ransome

                    Trying to judge what is right for anyone else is a complete crapshoot. How much do you love your java? Are you willing to walk a couple blocks to a better coffee shop? Maybe a couple extra miles? Or drive to another city? Those sort of insane passions, fed by a conviction that a perceptible qualitative difference exists is what drives some people to invest in Moka pots and others to pursue super automatic espresso machines.

                    What machine do I favor at the moment?....a ten year old Vibiemme for daily use that requires an insane 45 minutes to get fully heated and thermally stabilized, but once there I can rip off shot after shot until I run out of water.

                    1. If you're not going to be drinking straight espresso, then I would get a moka pot like others have suggested and more importantly, a good grinder.

                      Most coffee purists will tell you that the grinder is as important if not more so than your brewing method. A whirly blade grinder won't cut it for espresso. You need a conical burr grinder especially for high end machines like the Gaggia.

                      I've been using a moka pot for years and while it made decent coffee, it wasn't until I started grinding my own beans that my coffee dramatically improved dramaticall. I use a Japanese manual hand grinder, about $30 and it's made a HUGE difference in taste. Using freshly roasted coffee beans, I can honestly say this method produces a better latte than anything I can get at Starbucks.

                      So for a total investment of about $57...$25 for a moka pot, $30 for a hand grinder, and $2 for a milk frother - you can have a very economical alternative to a full blown espresso machine that makes a satisfying cup of coffee.

                      1. I love my Nespresso Pixie. I use the Ristretto capsule and the coffee is awesome. I froth whole milk NIDO milk powder and it's delicious and only 80 calories for a latte and less for a capp. It's the same to me as the frothed milk from their machines, and much less hassle. I use the Black & Decker hand frother. Just rinse it after use.

                        Is there better espresso? Probably, if you want to buy beans, grind them, fill the machine, tamp, dump the grinds and then clean the machine. This is pretty darned great espresso and without all that hassle. I've tried espresso from a $3,000 espresso machine that does all of the above, and I like this much better.