Difference between cheap espresso machines and expensive ones?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
ryanbraley

#1: Post by ryanbraley »

Hey everyone! I am a new latte addict and my wife bought me an inexpensive DeLonghi E.S.E. (around $100) last year and it is decent. However, I realize that there are much more expensive machines out there, and my guess is (on some levels) you get what you pay for with certain machines. Could someone explain the differences to me so I can decide if it is worth it to upgrade? Thanks!

Ryan

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Spitz.me

#2: Post by Spitz.me »

I'm sure if you searched the site you'd find 1000s of posts with answers. Everyday someone is asking about upgrading.
LMWDP #670

mitch236

#3: Post by mitch236 »

Here's a little light reading to get you up to speed: Espresso Machines 101

But the "You get what you pay for" only goes so far. Once you reach a certain level of quality, the return on investment gets smaller and smaller.

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Peppersass
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#4: Post by Peppersass »

ryanbraley wrote:Hey everyone! I am a new latte addict and my wife bought me an inexpensive DeLonghi E.S.E. (around $100) last year and it is decent. However, I realize that there are much more expensive machines out there, and my guess is (on some levels) you get what you pay for with certain machines. Could someone explain the differences to me so I can decide if it is worth it to upgrade? Thanks!

Ryan
The biggest issue with your machine is the use of ESE pods. It really comes down to this: the most important factor in espresso quality is the coffee. You simply can't get the best-tasting espresso from pre-ground coffee that's way past the roast date. Even if your machine allows you to use coffee that's not packaged in pods, if it's low-quality, and/or grocery-store coffee and/or way past the roast date (i.e., stale) it's not going to taste very good.

So the first order of business is to obtain the equipment needed to utilize high-quality coffee from specialty roasters (yes, this coffee is relatively expensive, but worth it.) It may surprise you to learn that the espresso machine isn't the most important piece of equipment. It's the grinder. Even with great beans, it's extremely difficult to dial-in and prepare great espresso with most of the inexpensive grinders on the market because they can't produce the same grind consistently. You will need to spend $500-$1000 just to get a decent entry-level grinder for preparing great espresso.

Once you've made the investment in a quality grinder, the selection criteria for the espresso machine usually come down to temperature stability (or repeatibility) and convenience. The better, more expensive machines either are more stable in temperature or more able to produce the target temperature consistently if you follow the correct procedure (e.g., flushing an HX machine.) Beyond that, the machine features usually come down to convenience. For example, double boiler machines can produce espresso and steamed milk at the same time, which some single-boiler machines require waiting for the boiler to come to steaming temperature after pulling the shot. This doesn't have all that much to do with how the coffee tastes, but convenience is certainly an important factor for most owners.

As the previous posters said, there's a lot to learn and this site has all of the information you'll need to make equipment purchasing decisions.

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HB
Admin

#5: Post by HB »

ryanbraley wrote:Could someone explain the differences to me so I can decide if it is worth it to upgrade?
Since you haven't mentioned a specific budget, here's my boiler plate response: Search on "budget espresso machine". If you haven't done so already, read How to choose an espresso machine and grinder at the "right" price; it briefly answers your question. CoffeeGeek's How to buy an espresso machine adds details to the same answer.
Dan Kehn

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jfrescki

#6: Post by jfrescki »

Ryan, it's tough to give you an answer because there's so much that goes into good coffee in general and espresso in particular. I find when I try to talk about a subject like the machine to the newcomer, there's three "foundation" discussions I need to backtrack to just to get to the topic at hand. Having said that, start reading this site. Look under the "resources" tab.

At the end of the day, we're all committed to the best espresso (and coffee) you can make, which often = expensive, but doesn't necessarily have to. Price has just as much to do with how easy you want the journey to be. If you can live with some inconveniences, then you can bring the price down.

As mentioned earlier, the coffee is the most important part. Freshly roasted.....roasted withing two, maybe three weeks. And preferably roasted by someone who cares and has experience. You can't go wrong with any of the roasters on this list.

The grinder is also really important. You can't pull a good espresso, which is a short and intense extraction, with coffee that's badly ground, having particles of many different sizes.

Finally, the more expensive the machine, the more ease and temperature stability it offers the user. Also as mentioned earlier, there is thread upon thread with people asking this exact question.
Write to your Congressman. Even if he can’t read, write to him.
- Will Rogers

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drgary
Team HB

#7: Post by drgary »

Peppersass wrote:You will need to spend $500-$1000 just to get a decent entry-level grinder for preparing great espresso.
Great advice from all except the above. A Le'Lit PL53 grinder from 1st-Line Equipment runs $269 last I looked. It's for espresso only and is an excellent entry-level grinder. The Pharos from Orphan Espresso is a hand grinder that produces top notch grind quality and costs $245. Both of these grinders are a little inconvenient for grind retention but there are posts here on how to deal with that with the Pharos.

Also a lot of expensive gear is way less expensive if you buy used and know how to assess what needs repair or servicing and roll up your sleeves. Plus beginners generally don't check out the hand lever machines (spring loaded and fully manual) and these are capable of excellent espresso while being easier to service at home than machines with electric pumps.
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

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peacecup

#8: Post by peacecup »

Yes, and even $50 2nd hand hand grinders are capable of great espresso. Not everyone likes the effort and additional time it takes to grind by hand, so that is something to consider. Paired with a decent 2nd hand machine you can get in for even less than $500.

On the other hand, if you have a $1000 or more budgeted, I'm sure there are many more options.
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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boar_d_laze

#9: Post by boar_d_laze »

With a few exceptions espresso machine and grinder manufacturers and retailers are very competitive, source their components from the same makers, and the machines tend to be very much like one another at various price levels. So performance follows along hitting plateaus rather than along a sliding scale.

You want a machine and grinder combination which allows you to control the espresso making process consistently to the point where you can taste the varietal nuances of the beans and roast and make whatever adjustments are necessary to give the most from each.

Considering what's on the market these days, this starts to happen meaningfully at around $1000 for the machine and around $350 - $500 for the grinder; give or take. But for more money, if you choose wisely, you get improved machinery quality, and either improved consistency, greater insight, or both. The type of machine matters as well. For instance, you'll likely have to spend more on a DBPID (electronically controlled double boiler) than an HX (heat exchanger) machine to get the same quality of machine; and the same is true of conical grinders as compared to flats; conicals cost more.

BDL

PS. Because home espresso making is an aesthetic pursuit, the "law of diminishing returns" does not really apply.
Drop a nickel in the pot Joe. Takin' it slow. Waiter, waiter, percolator

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drgary
Team HB

#10: Post by drgary »

boar_d_laze wrote:With a few exceptions espresso machine and grinder manufacturers and retailers are very competitive, source their components from the same makers, and the machines tend to be very much like one another at various price levels. So performance follows along hitting plateaus rather than along a sliding scale.

You want a machine and grinder combination which allows you to control the espresso making process consistently to the point where you can taste the varietal nuances of the beans and roast and make whatever adjustments are necessary to give the most from each.

Considering what's on the market these days, this starts to happen meaningfully at around $1000 for the machine and around $350 - $500 for the grinder; give or take.
When I started out less than three years ago I was intimidated by the prices. Jack and I are saying that for grinders the price point to be able to do this has come down. I purposefully cited the Orphan Espresso Pharos because it provides gold standard titan conical grind quality for $245 if you are willing to accommodate the form factor and grind retention issues. The Le'Lit PL53 is an excellent electric home espresso grinder with grind quality comparable to a Mazzer Super Jolly that retails for over $600. I know this because I have all of those grinders. I am also saying that if you are willing and able to buy an espresso machine that is not new or if you consider a lever machine, you need not be thwarted by a $1000 price. Even if you buy a new La Pavoni Europiccola or Ponte Vecchio Export like Jack's these are well below $1000. If you want a price break you can also ask reputable dealers what they have available in refurbished or display machines. Added: And you will find used gear offered by espresso hobbyists in good shape on the Buy/Sell forums here and on CoffeeGeek.
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!