If you're like me, you've found yourself staring down the list of impressively (and intimidatingly)…
Before we look at some budget machines, let’s see what we need
This is a controversial one. What type of coffee you use and consider the best, that’s the best espresso you want to use. Espresso is a way of extracting, squeezing out the good flavors of coffee. Traditionally, dark and strong. My best buddy and I like our coffee black. But I like an organic single origin from Malawi, very pricey, and he likes the cheapest blend you could buy. Who’s drinking the best? We both are.
About 97 percent of coffee is water. So we need our water to be the “right” temperature. In a budget espresso machine, we’ll aim to reach at least 180 degrees. Why is this so important? Because we want to “squeeze” out the good flavors out of our coffee. There are other flavors in those beans that are not that tasty. But if our water is too cold…. I’m sure you get it.
Technically we don’t need milk to drink espresso. But milk is in all those tasty and sweet drinks we like. So we need to be able to heat and foam milk to the perfectly. Our bubbles also should be the right size. Not too big but not too small.
Those were the most basic details. But there are others: coffee grind size and the bars. Bars? Pressure when extracting espresso is measured in bars. Ideally you want to do this at 9 bars. One bar equals 14.5 lbs. It’s just the force that’s applied to the water through the coffee grounds. That’s why you see the baristas timing their coffee when pressure, is applied. When buying an affordable espresso machine, that’s something you want to look at.
When buying store-bought espresso you have no control over the size of your grind. Sometimes it’s labeled as fine or extra-fine. Unless you have a grinder this would have to do.
Choosing the right budget espresso machine it’s important. You have a few choices: pump-driven, steam-driven, and hand-driven. Hand-driven? You’ll see it soon.
If using very fine espresso you’ll want a budget machine with a pump. With a steam-driven machine, you must be careful to only use a coarser fine grind. 3.5 bars are not great, but, you’ll extract espresso at a higher temperature than any other model, so that’s a plus (or a minus).
Let’s take a look at 7 budget espresso machines for your home. Most under $100.
This model is the best affordable machine from our list. Its greatest feature is that froths milk by itself. Imagine getting up in the morning, heading to make your perfect morning cappuccino, and realizing you need froth the milk. Anyone can learn (don’t tell my barista friends), but, who wants to learn half asleep? This machine does it for you. It’s a favorite with home baristas. It’s a well-known and reliable brand. The 15 bar automatic pump makes an excellent espresso. That feature is not automatic. You still have to put the coffee in the basket, but it’s deep enough for you to enjoy a strong cup.
If the silver finish is not for you, you have a choice of colors. The machine is mostly plastic. But the boiler is stainless steel. Even like that, it weighs a little over 10 lbs. I think it’s the best affordable espresso machine.
Don’t worry too much about the plastic. Even fancy, high-end home espresso machines, use a lot of plastic. A plastic piece of equipment doing something useful is a good thing. A landfill full of plastic, that’s another thing, a bad thing.
The EC155 from De’Longhi is another great machine from another well-known company. It also has a 15 bar pump and compact option. If you want to have full control of your milk frothing this is the one. All you have to do is fill a milk pitcher or cup, halfway, set the steam wand in the right angle, and submerge it. Don’t let it touch the bottom. That swirl will do the trick. No need to go up and down. Save the energy for your workout.
One downer for this machine is that it is a bit noisy. They all are. But this one shakes a bit and you might have to keep an eye on your cup. I like it and maybe it is the #2 best affordable espresso machine.
With this next machine, we enter a different category, the steam-driven espresso machine. Instead of having a pump to push water through the coffee, it uses steam at 3.5 steam pressure. It works pretty much like a Moka pot with the advantage that it has a steam wand. It’s very easy to take to the office or class. You have to move quickly, though, after it’s ready for steam. You’re sharing your steam for milk and coffee.
I would go with a lighter roast of coffee with this type of machine because the flavor of the espresso might taste a bit burnt. You have to learn to use it safely. But overall, it’s a good budget espresso machine.
Our next budget machine at almost $100 is the Nespresso built by De’Longhi. It takes N capsules. So you’ll be able to enjoy the whole catalog of Nespresso’s blends and flavors. This model is exclusively an espresso maker. You can’t froth milk. I think for those of us who simply like coffee by itself, it’s perfect. It’s super easy to use. Pop in the capsule, and press a button.
You don’t have to use Nespresso capsules. (Sorry Nespresso!) You could find refillable capsules from many vendors online and put any coffee you like in there. I think this is the best espresso machine under $100.
Now we come to the point when espresso sounds like it’s hard work: the hand-pump. But in reality the Staresso makes it simple. You need to boil water, fill the chamber, and pump. It claims to extract at 15 bars. It’s very light to carry and take anywhere. Technically you could froth milk with the pump but your best results would be with cold milk. Even if you pumped hot milk, your milk won’t be hotter. Hey, Fredo cappuccinos are delicious! You can also use a capsule. They recommend the original Nespresso capsules because any other might damage the housing on the machine.
The Wacaco Nanopresso is similar in concept to the Staresso. You pump, but from the side. Extraction, is excellent also, at 18 bar pressure. One feature I like over the Staresso is that the coffee is kept inside an insulated compartment. A degree here and there make a big difference. Remember you are pumping air and creating pressure. That will lower the temperature of the water a few degrees. It weighs a little over 11 ounces. Ideal for backpackers and anyone on the go. I consider it the best cheap espresso machine of the bunch, although not the cheapest.
These two machines focus on the simplicity of making a cup of espresso. You can use capsules also, but you need to buy an additional adapter. Just like the Staresso, you need to heat up water.
Before we move on to our last budget machine, let me tell you that both of these units claim to make cold brew. If you think, that pumping cold water through coffee is making cold brew, then we’ll have to agree to disagree. Cold brewing is for another day.
The Mr. Coffee steam espresso machine comes in last because it’s maybe the best cheap espresso machine of the 7.
It’s #2 in sales at Amazon. I already explained the pros and cons of the steam-driven machines. This unit is more basic than the Sowtech. Some people make wonders with this machine.
I don’t want to pick a winner. All seven have their great features. And yes, you could, with attention to detail, make a nice espresso with a budget machine. I have to say that the De’Longhi with the 15 bar automatic pump will help anyone make an espresso drink pretty close to a cafe’s.
You can pay attention to the details. You would have control over the water temperature, your coffee extraction, and your milk frothing. I know it shakes a little, but that’s something you’ll get used to. If keeping an eye on a cup for twenty-seven seconds is the price to pay to get a decent cup of espresso, then that’s not so bad.