This post has been inspired by my sister-in-law who is addicted to her $3.00+ sugary mess of a espresso drink. She came up to my house to visit last month and while there. she and her husband (an avid coffee drinker himself) asked my opinion on home espresso equipment. Instead of limiting my response to them, I think I'll share this with you all. I'm not saying I'm the ultimate resource for coffee related questions, but I do have a well developed opinion on most subjects, so here we go.
I have three different categories for home machines:
1. The Best of the Expensive
2. The Best of the Not Cheap
3. The Best of the Economical
There are a vast selection of these small home units. I am going to eliminate from my discussion espresso machines that are clearly commercial quality: any machine with more than one group (place where the portafilter is installed and shots are pulled). There are some one group machines that are nearly commercial grade, but are clearly more suited for residential use than any multi-group machines. These nearly commercial one group machines are the same machines that comprise my first category of home espresso preparation.
The La Marzocco GS/3 single group espresso machine is clearly in the front of the pack for the Best of the Expensive home espresso equipment. This monster machine can pull gourmet coffee shop quality shots every time. Smaller coffee shop operations can feasibly use this machine on a commercial scale, it's so professional. The price tag also proves this point: usually hovering around SIX GRAND! Another machine commonly viewed as world class is the Kees Van Der Westen "Speedster" which runs close to $8,000. Obviously, the average coffee drinker is not going to fork out this kind of dough. There are some cases though, where this machine is not completely ridiculous. Some coffee fanatics I know spend an average of $4.50 a day at my shop. This is not even counting the other half of the household who oftentimes spends a significant amount as well. So, over a year, this family spends around $1,500 on coffee related products. I don't need to explain the mathematics of such a situation to you any further. For those of us without such exorbitant spending patterns, there are other options.
The second category is the Best of the Not Cheap. This category is limited to those machines below $1,000, but above $500. In my opinion, you do not need to spend the maximum amount in this category to get maximum results. There is a clear front runner for me in the Rancilio Silvia. This machine provides exceptional espresso at a more realistic price of around $700. This is well within the reach of the average addicted espresso drink fanatic, like my sister-in-law. If you are like her, you make a stop by your coffee shop of choice (preferably local) and spend your average $3.50 for every working day. This habitual spending racks up a year-end total of around $850 before tax. So, clearly, a nice espresso machine is within reach. But, if you are like me and are skeptical of home espresso quality or unlike me (I'm a professional Barista, luckily), are unsure of your ability to recreate your beloved drink, you still have lower priced options.
My third category is where I landed. I am hanging out with professional coffee equipment all day anyway, so why spend huge cash of my own on home equipment? My personal choice came after much investigation. There were two components I needed: 1. A pump-driven water system and 2. a removable water tank for easy refilling. My final choice landed with the DeLonghi EC155. This machine cost me less than $100, around $80 at the time. I've had it for over a year now and it does a decent job (obviously not a $7,000 job, but definitely paid for itself). The steam wand is designed for the novice- instead of requiring you to inject air into the frothing milk yourself, the wand does it for you. Simply submerge the wand tip into the milk in your pitcher and turn on the steam.
These machines I've listed above may not be your final choice, but I would consider looking at them; perhaps use them as a starting point in your search for your perfect machine. There are many other products you will need as well for producing espresso in your home: a conical burr grinder, a tamping mat, a tamper, knock box, and a milk steaming pitcher to list a few.
Lord, thank you for the great coffee machines available to us. I pray that You bless the searches for the appropriate machines for the readers. Please keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.