We often get asked 'which is the best coffee machine to buy for home?' It's a tough question to answer. Quite simply, one could spend $200 or $2000. One could spend $6k too but for your Saturday morning coffee, I'm not sure why you would.
We hear it all the time. People who have spent $300 and then wonder why the coffee doesn't taste anything like the coffee they purchase from their local cafe. There are so many reasons why. The major decision that needs to be made is this... Are you looking to purchase an 'appliance' or are you looking to purchase an 'espresso machine'?
These are 2 very different things.
An appliance is simply that. It's a household machine designed to make life easier. These are usually found at Harvey Norman or The Good Guys and most often are designed and manufactured by companies that produce washing machines, microwave ovens and toasters. These appliances have a water reservoir that heats via some sort of heating element and releases water at the touch of a button. The ever popular 'pod' style machines are also an appliance that work a similar way and no matter how much one attempts to convince themselves that pods are the way to go, they simply don't resemble espresso in any way.
An espresso machine is designed and manufactured by companies who specialise in building machines to extract espresso. To understand the difference between an 'appliance' and an espresso machine means understanding the process to extract espresso and what is required to do so.
Espresso is the oil extracted from finely ground coffee with water and heat and done so under pressure. Lots of pressure. Without pressure it simply doesn't work. Household coffee appliances are missing the most critical part of the equation - pressure. Without it, one is simply running hot water through ground coffee which in simple terms is providing coffee coloured water in the cup. It looks pale in colour, has an almost 'watery' mouthfeel and quite frankly tastes awful.
The reason why you'll never replicate the same flavour as the local coffee house is because they use an espresso machine that is equipped with a water boiler and 'heat exchanger'. The heat exchange is probably the single most important feature that one should look for in a domestic 'espresso machine' and has many advantages.
The boiler of a heat exchanger machine is filled to about two thirds with water, allowing space for steam. As the water heats, steam pressure builds and you are able to extract your espresso as well as steam milk at the same time. One can also use the hot water spout (tea) at the same time. Water used for your coffee extraction always comes from your clean water supply while tea water comes directly from the boiler.
Further to this, there are also twin boiler machines but unless you're experimenting with different coffees brewed at different temperatures it's complete overkill for home use.
Without boring you with detail, let's just say this. If you're looking at an espresso machine for home and don't want to spend a small fortune I'd look at something like the Breville Barista Express. It has a built in adjustable grinder and really is about as good as you're going to get. This machine will set you back around $700 or so. Just be mindful that it won't ever give you the commercial espresso taste. It's also an 'appliance' so it won't last forever.
If you want to spend around $2000 - $2500 you might want to look at the Simonelli Musica. It's stylish, can be plumbed in, is fully adjustable and programmable, has a commercial group head and handle and with maintenance will last a lifetime. Great machine.
If you really want to go crazy and want a machine that will give you an unbelievable espresso then check out the La Marzocco GS3. This is a serious machine and it's absolutely stunning. You'll love the design and you'll love the espresso it produces. You're looking at around $6500 but it will last a lifetime and beyond and with a few tips from a good barista, you'll be making better coffee than your local cafe. Trust me...this is worth every cent.
If you're unhappy with any of this advice then you're better off with an Aeropress. Check them out at blackvelvetcoffee.com.au. For around $50 it's so much better than any 'coffee appliance'.