The 7 Best Small Espresso Machine Models For Your HomeShawn
Are we a nation of addicts? Well, if the addiction in question is caffeine, the answer is almost certainly a resounding YES. Americans drink a lot of coffee, and we love to mix it up every now and then with an espresso for an added punch. Who knows? Maybe we’re not so much a nation of addicts as we are a nation of overworked, under-rested people who are just trying to get any edge we can to keep going one more day. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt about one thing: Coffee and espresso consumption is not going down anytime soon.
Unfortunately, it can get rather expensive (as well as inconvenient) to head out to Starbucks or your favorite Italian restaurant every time you want a nice cup of coffee or a shot of espresso. It would be better to make it right at home. But is it really practical to make espresso at home? Hey, just what IS espresso in the first place?
Well, let’s explore that question.
The Major Differences Between Espresso and Coffee
If we want to get right into the heart of the matter, there is no direct difference between coffee and espresso. It would be more accurate to say that espresso is a specific kind, or subset, of coffee. They are both derived from the coffee bean – the difference all comes down to the way you prepare the final drink. Espresso came about in Italy when café owners were looking for a way to speed up service. With a stream of customers coming through the door, the five minutes each cup of coffee took was holding up the works. Espresso, on the other hand, could be brewed with enough pressure that the final result was less than a minute away. That’s progress!
If you were to ask most people, they would probably tell you that espresso has more caffeine than a typical cup of drip coffee. This is true…but also not true. If you drink an identical amount of both, the espresso will pack more caffeine into the experience, milligram by milligram. However, espresso is usually served in 1.5-ounce shots, whereas a full cup of coffee is 8 ounces or more. Even at this disparity, the strongest espresso can compete with the weakest coffee, but the latter is usually going to come out on top.
How Do You Make a Proper Shot of Espresso?
If the science behind dividing coffee from espresso lies in the brewing process, the drink really comes into its own when you serve it. There is only one proper way to create a shot of espresso, and it involves three factors: The heart (the deep brown bottom of the drink), the body (the caramel middle), and the crema (the sweet, light aromatic layer on the top). If you can get these three things in perfect harmony, you’ll have a shot of espresso that would make any Italian barista proud. Interestingly enough, you can use this shot for a variety of purposes. You can, of course, drink it on its own. You can also combine it with other ingredients to create more elaborate coffee drinks such as cappuccino, mocha, or latte! And we know just the mug to hold it.
Can I Get Professional Results With a Small Espresso Machine?
Good question. There are several significant differences between a large commercial espresso machine and the ones sold for home use. Most of these differences have more to do with durability and longevity than they do with quality. Retail cafes and restaurants need steel equipment that can handle hundreds (or more) brews every year. Your home espresso machine is unlikely to see that kind of action, even if you’re a caffeine fanatic! Therefore, it’s not unusual for home machines to be developed with parts that are…well, a bit more delicate than their commercial counterparts. But while that may prevent you from using your espresso machine for the rest of your life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t replicate (or even improve upon) the espresso you get from a commercial establishment.
What About Pod Machines? Are Those Any Good?
This question might not have made any sense a decade or two ago, but by now, every coffee lover has had their experience with a Keurig or a comparable pod machine. These machines use pre-packaged pods of coffee, alleviating the task of dumping in ground coffee from a nearby jar. The results are…well, you have to decide for yourself. Some people swear by their single-serving coffee machines; others swear that it’s a poorer way to make a cup. The same is true of the espresso machines that rely on pods to make their brew. Certainly, it is a more convenient way to make a shot of espresso – especially if you don’t have the time to invest in a grinding process.
What Kinds of Small Espresso Machines are Best?
As with the pod question above, the answer is: It depends. It depends on how invested you are in making a great shot of espresso, how often you plan on using it, and where your ideal budget is at. From there, the best idea is to compare some of the top brands and models and see which one you like – both from a functionality standpoint and from a view to aesthetics. To help you out, we’ve created this rundown of the top small espresso machines.
7 – IMUSA USA 4 Cup Espresso/Cappuccino Maker
With a 3-way select knob that switches the machine off and on and controls the steam output, a 4-cup-capacity carafe, and a very attractive price for budget-minded coffee lovers, IMUSA delivers an affordable small espresso machine that should impress the average shopper. In addition to delivering a rich espresso, the machine is capable of frothing milk for cappuccinos, macchiatos, and other espresso-based coffee drinks. Some customers have complained about splattering while preparing their drinks, but others say that the problem is somewhere between overblown and nonexistent. An espresso machine at this price point (under $40 at the time of this writing) won’t be perfect, but if you’re looking for a good entry-level model, IMUSA’s GAU-18202 is a well-placed bet.
6 – Nespresso Vertuo Coffee and Espresso Machine
Nespresso has become the dominant field leader in the world of home espresso brewing, and their products are consistently at the top of the bestseller lists. But are they any good? Well, a product like this isn’t going to be a perennial seller if people aren’t having fun with their machines, so we’d say the company’s endurance and popularity is a testament to its quality. This is the smallest machine currently out under the Nespresso brand, and the compact machine does an excellent job retaining the quality and performance that their larger appliances are known for. These machines retail for north of $150 at the time of writing, but if you’re looking for a sleekly-designed product with a light footprint, it makes for a good buy.
5 – Calphalon Temp iQ Espresso Machine
You can pick up this technological wonder for approximately $350, or you can get the advanced version with a built-in grinder for $200 more. It’s possible to find a pretty good grinder for less than $200, so we’d encourage you to go in that direction unless you’re attracted to the all-in-one package that Calphalon is offering here. The grinder is a good one, however, and that’s par for the course when it comes to this espresso machine. Of all the entries, this one is probably top of the heap when it comes to special features and advanced technology. The Thermoblock heating system is top-notch, and the stainless steel aesthetic of this machine is hard to match. If you want a beautiful espresso machine that also makes a heckuva cup, this one should be on your radar.
4 – SOWTECH Espresso and Cappuccino Machine w/Milk Frother
Available in both black and stainless steel varieties, this ultra-affordable espresso and cappuccino machine is a great buy at only $49.99 (at the time of this writing). It comes with a built-in frother which expands its capabilities to making great cappuccinos and other foamy drinks, and the 3.5 bar pressure system ensures an even heating process. This isn’t necessarily the machine of choice for someone who wants a lot of bells and whistles, but those who want a simple, low-fuss espresso machine at a bargain should take a hard look at this offering from Sowtech.
3 – De’Longhi Stilosa Manual Espresso Machine, Latte and Cappuccino Maker
This is one of the bestselling espresso machines on the market, and it’s not hard to figure out why. While it’s not the astounding bargain of the Sowtech machine above, it does stand at a very reasonable price point just north of $100 at the time of writing. That, combined with its positive reviews on social media, should make it a strong contender for your kitchen counter. Stilosa has packed a lot of features and capabilities into this machine, which makes its price even more attractive to those who don’t like the idea of spending $1,000 for espresso. It’s also a handsome machine that won’t require a great deal of space. Good buy.
2 – Gevi Espresso Machine (GECME022-U)
With a powerful Thermoblock heating system capable of producing a finished cup of espresso in only 45 seconds, this model from Gevi is a bestselling bargain for only $160. The folks at Gevi are known for their high standards in the home appliance arena, and they have done their reputation well with this espresso machine. It comes with a 20-bar high-pressure system, three size functions, and a manual steam wand – great for those who want to practice their latte artwork! It also includes an extraction system capable of getting the coffee out of those Nespresso capsules, so if you like those (or have a bunch of them lying around), you can use them – you only need to purchase a few accessories.
1 – Breville Barista Touch Espresso Machine
With a heart-stopping price point of over $1,000, this espresso machine from the folks at Breville ought to damn well be amazing. The good news is that it is. This is a coffee snob’s dream machine, with a built-in integrated conical burr grinder, a precision-based water pressure system, and an extraordinary heating element that reaches extraction temperature in a head-scratching three seconds. This machine also comes with an automatic steam wand capable of creating the kind of pillowy microfoam that is unheard of outside of fancy coffee shops. If you consider yourself a true connoisseur of coffee and espresso, this is the machine you want in your home. The only question is: Does your love of the game justify spending that kind of entry fee?