In a market dominated by old-school Italian machinery, Breville is a breeze of fresh air. The Aussie company has shaken up the coffee world in recent years with a lot of innovative products at an attractive price.
The Breville Bambino Plus is particularly interesting as it’s packed with new technology. It has a PID for consistent temperature and a built-in preinfusion.
You can make amazing shots with this machine. I’m not joking here. I have had espresso that beat shots from a national barista champion.
This espresso machine does look a bit more like a basic kitchen appliance compared to some of the Italian brands, but don’t underestimate it. In real life, it’s a lot more consistent than the single boiler semi-automatics such as the Gaggia Classic.
The Bambino is also great at handling milk-based drinks.
It’s a shame that temperature is not adjustable on this machine. Also, the stock portafilter/basket are pretty bad, but you can upgrade them cheaply.
If you get this machine, there’s still room in your budget for a quality grinder. I think that’s the right way to about it.
Miss Silvia as she is affectionately called among espresso geeks doesn’t need an introduction. At least not if you know your coffee.
For the rest of you, this semi-automatic home espresso machine is a classic for a good reason. It’s a sturdy little powerhouse that will serve you well for years. It makes excellent espressos and beautiful lattes.
The design hasn’t changed in decades, which is a testament to its quality. The Rancilio Silvia comes with a 58mm commercial style portafilter and group head, which isn’t necessarily the case in this price range.
The only slightly negative thing about the Silvia is that it does take a little time and effort to make the best possible coffee. You’ll need to dial in the grind, get the tamping right, and learn how to find the right temperature.
Were you looking to find the best espresso machine under 1000 and then suddenly realized that you also need to get a grinder within that budget? Well, if that’s the case, let me introduce you to another classic – the Gaggia Classic.
This machines in many ways resemble the Rancilio Silvia. It’s an old-school Italian model that hasn’t changed much since 1991. That’s a lot of years – and that means that the company is probably doing something right!
The Gaggia is a straightforward device, but in spite of its small size, it has a legit commercial style 58 mm portafilter. It’s solidly built weighing in at 20 lbs.
However, this is a single boiler machine. And it’s a small boiler. So Iif you dream about being a cool home barista making a bunch of lattes for your friends and family, then I’d say that’s unrealistic. There’s not that much steam power available.
But if you just want to make great espresso for one or two persons, it’s a solid pick.
This is a manual espresso machine – also known as a lever machine. For most people, this isn’t the ideal choice – since it requires a lot from the user.
But if you are the kind of person who’s into vintage cars and old Swiss watches, then you should have La Pavoni on your radar.
Personally, I think this machine destroys most other espresso makers when it comes to style. When it comes to substance, it’s also not far off.
If you have the skills, you can get great espresso out of the Europiccola. Instead of using a pump, this machine relies on you pressing the lever down and that way forcing the water through the grounds. This gives you a lot more options when it comes to extraction.
There is a steam wand so you can make lattes, too.
Just looking at this machines makes me want to exclaim “Bellissimo” with my fist lifted the Mediterranean way.
Today espresso machines come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. And while there are a lot of overlaps among many models, the easiest way is to distinguish between three types of machines:
The lever machine manual espresso maker: This kind of device is very old-school and resembles the first industrial models. Only for true coffee geeks and vintage fanatics! You both have electric ones with boilers here or non-electric ones. If you want to treat espresso as a hobby, this type of machine makes a lot of sense.
The semi-automatic: This is closer to the platonic espresso ideal. When you think about espresso, this is most likely the machine that comes to mind. I suggest that you get a semi-automatic if you like the ritual of coffee brewing and also want to make milk-based drinks.
The full-automatic: This one usually looks like a square black plastic box. It also has the charm and finesse of a rectangular plastic box. But if you like comfort and want to get a latte from the press of a single button, this is one of the ways to go about it. But you might as well just use a capsule machine.
What about the grinder?
With most espresso machines (except super-automatics and a few Breville models), you’ll need a dedicated standalone grinder suitable for espresso to get the most out of your machine.
Preground coffee just won’t work very well:
Even though the coffee has been vacuum packed, the flavor will be lacking.
Because you can’t adjust the grind size, you will not be able to alter the extraction time.
The second point might sound like a small thing, but when it comes to espresso, it’s crucial to have that level of control.
Having a perfectly dialed-in grinder is essential to achieve a perfect espresso.
So when you’re looking at a new home espresso maker, you should also factor in the grinder in the budget – that is, unless you go for a super-automatic, which I would advise against.
A lot of people will say that your grinder should cost the same or more than your espresso machine. I’m not sure it has to be like that, but keep in mind that it will be difficult to find a decent espresso grinder for less than $300-400 USD unless you go for a manual espresso maker (but that does get old quite fast).
If you spend $550 on the machine and $450 on the grinder, I’d say you’re making a sensible, future-proof decision.
If you get into espresso, you might want to upgrade either the grinder or the espresso maker one day. For that reason, it’s advisable to buy two separate units, instead of a machine with a built-in grinder.
If you try to save money on the grinder, you’ll quickly realize that it’s limiting your potential.
The “buy once, cry once,” saying fits here.
When choosing a new espresso machine, it’s essential to think about the use cases and the level of involvement you’re ready for. Do you want a new hobby? One that requires some effort from you? Or do want to get a good cappuccino without learning any real barista skills?
That is the crucial question that should determine whether you go semi or super.
That being said there a few other things, you might consider before taking the plunge.
Some entry-level espresso machines come with a pressurized portafilter as well as a normal one. The pressurized portafilter is more forgiving when it comes to grind-size and consistency.
In ordinary everyday language, this means that you can get away with having a worse grinder. If your budget doesn’t allow a proper espresso grinder such as the Rocky or Sette this might be worth considering.
I know there are many people out there who claim they’re coffee lovers, but in fact are ‘frothy-milk-with-coffee-flavor-lovers’. Does that apply to you? Are you going to be making a lot of lattes, cortados, macchiatos and flat whites?
Do you want to experiment with latte art and coffee hearts? Well, then you want to look specifically for a semi-automatic espresso machine with an efficient boiler system and a good steam wand.
I assume that you already know this, but a standard espresso machine is not compatible with the proprietary Nespresso capsules. But in fact, there are the so-called ESE pods which can be a great alternative to grinding and tamping yourself. These are small compressed coffee pucks packaged in a thin fabric that allows you to make good espresso quite easily.
You’ve got to be honest with yourself here. If you are a little bit lazy when it comes to coffee brewing, you might want to get a device that can handle these pods. ESE pods require a specially designed small basket that you insert in your portafilter but from there on it’s a breeze.
Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site. I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra. My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.
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