According to a 2020 survey from the National Coffee Association, a staggering seven in 10 Americans drink coffee every week, and 62 percent drink coffee every single day. There are plenty of ways to consume the brewed beverage — hot, cold, over ice, blended — and many prefer it in the form of an espresso, which uses a pressurized brewing method to produce a small, concentrated shot of coffee. Espressos are a bit more complicated to make than a pot of coffee — while some consumers equate the espresso with a simple capsule that goes into their Nespresso, more experienced coffee connoisseurs typically know that making an espresso is an art (and leave it to their local barista).
The good news is that with the right espresso machine, you can learn how to perfect the art of the espresso from home and start dosing (grinding the proper amount of beans for your machine), tamping (compressing the coffee grinds) and extracting (turning your beans into beautiful liquid gold). If you’re in the market for an espresso maker, you’re in luck: We spoke to coffee experts about how to shop for the right one and the different types of espresso machines out there.
What to look for when shopping for an espresso machine
Espresso machines are composed of several parts, all of which determine the temperature, flavor profile, strength and consistency of your coffee. Here are some of the things the experts we consulted said to look for while shopping for your espresso maker:
How big is the portafilter?
The portafilter is the spoon-like device that holds the coffee grounds. Peeples said the size of the portafilter is “a big thing to consider” — the standard size for a portafilter is 58 millimeters, and this size “will make upgrading your portafilter and its basket and finding accessories like distribution tools and tamps a lot easier,” he said.
How many boilers does the machine have?
Most espresso machines are either powered by a single boiler or dual boilers. Peeples noted that “getting an espresso machine with dual boilers [where the steam wand and the group head have their own boilers] is very helpful because you won’t have to wait on the machine to catch up when pulling shots of espresso and steaming milk at the same time.” These dual boiler machines are typically more expensive. Single boiler machines, meanwhile, use the same boiler for the steam wand and the group head, so after you pull a shot of espresso, you’ll have to wait for the machine to build pressure before you can steam milk.
How is the temperature on the machine controlled?
All of the experts we spoke to said that a good machine will have a stable temperature. Many higher-end espresso machines use PIDs — or Proportional, Integral, Derivative controllers — to allow you to control the temperature of your espresso down to the degree. Peeples noted that this is a helpful feature, as it “keeps your water at a steady temperature instead of letting it fluctuate.” If you have this option, he suggested maintaining a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Does the machine come with a built-in grinder?
“Without a good grinder, an espresso machine is just a paperweight,” said Phillips. “The quality of your grinder will be the limiting factor for the quality of your espresso setup.” He said you should look for a grinder designed specifically for espresso with a “stepless” grind adjustment that allows you to make “very tiny adjustments” to your grind size. Some machines come with built-in grinders — while these are convenient, Phillips warned that “they [often] break down or get to the point of performing poorly relatively quickly.”
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