Last Updated on November 15, 2021 by John Moretti
If you are the kind of person that enjoys drinking espresso, there are simply no other brewing methods that will completely satisfy your coffee cravings. Whether you drink espresso straight or use it to create drinks, espresso is notoriously difficult to brew without a good machine, leading many to wonder if there is such a thing as a good cheap espresso machine?
Very few cheap espresso machines are good. Most cheap espresso machines are bad and struggle to pull good espresso. However, there are models available that can brew good espresso and steam milk well for an affordable price if you are willing to put in the work.
Espresso and espresso-based drinks are favorites in the coffee community, but espresso is a very challenging brew method and requires specialized equipment to brew well. This equipment is often very expensive. However, getting good espresso from an affordable machine is possible if you buy the right machine and put in the proper effort to draw all the good things from the machine.
Are Cheap Espresso Machines Good?
Most good espresso machines, commercial or otherwise, are massively expensive. Even the home versions of espresso machines often boast exorbitant price tags. It is generally thought that brewing good espresso requires very expensive machines that offer the best brewing quality and efficiency.
This is true in part, but what if you simply do not have that type of budget? Can you buy a cheap or more affordable espresso machine and use it to brew good espresso and make pleasing espresso-based drinks?
Most cheap espresso machines are not able to produce what many would consider being good espresso. Most of these machines can produce mediocre espresso at best. This can be very disheartening for the espresso-lover on a budget.
However, having said that, there are a handful of cheap espresso machines that can pull very good espresso and create delicious espresso-based drinks if you are willing to put in the effort to draw out the best performance from the machine.
For the most part, cheap espresso machines are not good, but if you put in the time and effort to source the right machine, you may very well get hold of a cheap espresso machine that is good.
Let’s delve a little deeper into cheap, good espresso machines and look at what makes a cheap machine good, how to get the most out of a cheap machine, and which cheap espresso machine is best.
Good Features To Look Out For In Cheap Machines
While very few cheap espresso machines are good, there are a few that are, but how do you know when a cheap machine is a good machine? What should you look out for to identify a good cheap espresso machine in the sea of poor-quality home espresso makers?
Here is a short list outlining the features to look out for to give you the best chance possible of buying a cheap espresso machine that is also a good espresso machine:
- Brews at 9 bars of pressure – this is vital for espresso. The machine should be able to brew at 9 bars of pressure and should not produce more than 9 bars of pressure either. This will provide the best espresso, as 9 bars is the ideal brewing pressure for this brewing method.
- Short heating time – a good espresso machine will be able to get up to brewing temperature very quickly. If the heating time of the machine is anything longer than about 30 seconds, the machine will not be able to control its brew temperature well.
- A standard, non-pressurized portafilter – a machine that comes with a pressurized portafilter is probably not able to brew at sufficient pressures for true espresso and will not be able to brew with espresso-fine ground coffee.
- High-pressure steam wand – a high-pressure steam wand is essential for creating steamed and textured milk for espresso-based drinks such as a Cappuccino.
- Multiple control functions – the more controllable the machine is, the better. A machine that cannot be dialed in well is unlikely to produce good espresso.
- Gauges and dials – having gauges and dials to indicate pressure and temperature is a great bonus for controlling and dialing in the espresso machine.
- Weight – the heavier the machine is, the better. If the machine is light, it will be a challenge to mount the portafilter correctly, and the machine is unlikely to have a large water boiler for maintaining good brewing temperatures.
- Even water distribution – this is a vital aspect of a good espresso machine. If the water comes out too quickly or too sporadically from the group head, the coffee will be evenly extracted within the portafilter.
- Comes with a good tamper – a good tamper is a part of brewing good espresso. If the machine is not sold with a good tamper, the manufacturer is not one that cares about the quality of the espresso.
If you manage to find a cheap espresso machine that meets all of these criteria, it is most likely a very good cheap machine. If the machine lacks some features but has the most important features such as a good portafilter basket, 9 bars of pressure for brewing, and a good steam wand, it may still be a good machine for the money.
How To Get Good Espresso From A Cheap Machine
If you have a cheap espresso machine, there are things that you can do to get the best out of the machine.
The most obvious suggestion is to change out the portafilter basket if the machine comes with a pressurized portafilter. Switching to a better basket will drastically improve the coffee.
Some cheap machines need to be modified for better brewing. There are mod kits available online for most cheap machines that allow the barista to change out pressure springs or internal tubing in the machine to improve its performance.
The last and most realistic way to improve a cheap machine is to learn how to dial in your espresso. This will include using scales to weigh your ingredients and keeping a precise log of what you are doing so that you can make precise recipe adjustments in order to improve the coffee that you produce from the machine.
Using a scale that has a built-in timer is preferable, as this will further improve your ability to dial in your espresso.
Most cheap espresso machines are quite bad, but there are a few manufacturers that have managed to produce a good espresso machine for not a lot of money.
If the machine has all of the features on the above list, it is well worth the money.
If you are unable to find a new machine with these features, a good option is to buy a second-hand espresso machine at a significantly cheaper price than a new machine.
Another option is buying a Moka pot, which is much cheaper than an espresso machine. And still, brews a great espresso-like coffee with minimal skills required.
Whichever machine you end up getting, be sure to dial in your espresso for best results!