If you spend way too much money a week on espresso like I do, you may have already considered purchasing an espresso machine. There is nothing better to get you through the day like a cup (or three) of quality espresso, be it a double ristretto, macchiato or even a cappuccino. An espresso machine can add a touch style to your home. A warm, rustic silver machine sitting in your kitchen ready to churn out beautiful little cups of velvety espresso.
My appreciation and love of coffee started many years ago when my father bought an espresso machine, an ECM Giotto. It cost a fair amount of money for the machine and grinder, as well as handles and glasses. He gradually taught me how it worked and how to produce perfect 30ml espresso shots. Eventually I did a course to assist me further and from then I have been refining my technique day in, day out to create the perfect cup of espresso.
The machine isn’t just for making espresso; it becomes a very important learning tool for your coffee appreciation. You learn how the fresh beans are extracted, how long should it be extracted for, how grind influences extraction and how the taste of coffee can vary greatly with the slightest changes.
There is a massive range of espresso machines available for consumer use; it is just a matter of choosing the correct one. There are 4 main types of machine: super-automatic, pod, semi-automatic or manual.
Super-automatic (as the name suggests) essentially revolves around pressing a button and coffee pouring out – along with milk. The quality of the coffee is reasonably low to average depending on the coffee used; common brands include generic appliance brands such as Saeco, DeLonghi and Sunbeam with prices ranging from $300- $1600.
Pod machines like Nespresso consist of placing a ground coffee pod into the machine. Coffee made by these machines is often inferior in quality to a super-automatic due to the length of time that the ground coffee in the pods is left out for. Even thought they are freeze dried and sealed to ensure freshness, with time the flavour vanishes. You can often find these for $800 and below.
While these machines are convenient, this article is not about buying an automatic machine. If these machines could make café quality espresso, there would no need for baristas churning away in cafes.
Two things are required to make good coffee; approximately nine bars of pressure and 95’C water. Without one or the other, you will struggle to make a good espresso. This is why semi-automatics are often a better choice over a manual machine, as with a manual machine you have to apply the pressure yourself making it difficult to get constant pressure, let alone the nine bars required. Nevertheless, manual machines still make excellent espresso when you put the effort in.
Manual machines, also known as lever machines, are about as hands-on as you can get. They can frustrate you to the ends of the earth, or they can produce the best espresso you have tasted. They can be divided into either spring piston lever or direct lever. Spring-piston machines operate on the idea that there is a calibrated spring, which pushes the espresso through at an even rate with you doing only some of the work. With this machine, you can determine how long you want the espresso to be extracted for and how much water you want flowing through.
A direct lever machine operates on the basis that you do all the work. You have complete control over the shot of espresso. While the degree of control can be so surprising and experimental, sometimes getting a good shot out can take a lot of practice.
Both these machines start at about $800 with the average price coming in at about $1800/2000
These are the types of machines found in cafes which baristas work on. With these machines, you have the best control over your extraction including the flavour of the espresso. When selecting a semi-automatic machine, you have the choice between a single boiler, heat exchanger or dual boiler. A heat exchanger and a dual boiler can simultaneously steam milk and create espresso; whereas a single boiler can only do one function at a time. Therefore if you are only making one coffee at a time or drink black coffee predominately, a single boiler would be ideal. These fetch at under $1000. Espresso machines with levers are still considered semi-automatic, as the lever, in turn, will press an actuator. However several coffees consecutively will require a dual boiler or a heat exchanger. Heat exchange and dual boiler machines are quite similar; though some prefer a dual boiler because you have more control over the temperature. These fetch at about >$800 with good machines coming in around $2000-$3500.
A good coffee grinder is possibly the most important part of your whole set up, making Fresh coffee paramount. If I had the choice between a coffee grinder and an espresso machine, I would choose the grinder as you can still make good coffee (not necessarily espresso) with fresh ground coffee and either a plunger or Moka Pot. Ground coffee goes stale within minutes, which is why pre-ground coffee does not make good espresso. A quality burr coffee grinder is essential to make coffee anywhere, not only with an espresso machine as with a blade grinder you will find significant inconsistency in the granularity of the ground coffee. A good quality burr coffee grinder for home will start at about $300 and go upwards of $1000.
Most machines will come with a handle and sometimes a milk foaming jug, however not all. Most jugs will cost about $25-25 with handles coming in for $60-120. A set of 6 glasses will set you back around $15-25. A tamper is also essential to pack the coffee into the handle. These run for minimum $70 to upwards of $250 depending on the quality. Cleaning supplies consisting descaler, machine cleaning powder and a blind filter will be about $35 total.
When looking for a machine, it is best to go into a shop and have a look around as well as talk to the staff. Even have a go on some of the machines and test the quality of the espresso produced, as the proof is in the cup. When buying a machine, ask about a barista course. A barista course will increase your espresso production skills by ten-fold as well as learning a thing or two about the art of being a barista.
Try these retailers:
Jet Black Espresso is nested on Military road in Cremorne, Sydney. They offer a huge array of machines, parts and accessories. They also run their barista courses
9Bar Coffee can be found in Balgowlah, Sydney. They are predominately a service and repairs store, however, do stock major espresso machine brands as well as parts and accessories. They also roast their beans, consisting of 6 unique origins which can be purchased at a very reasonable price of $9 per $250g.
Di Bartoli in North Bondi offers a comprehensive range of machines as well as offering their barista courses. With all machines purchased, they offer a barista course absolutely free.