Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Barry Gray
I was in a new coffee shop recently. While waiting for my latte to be prepared, I found myself standing there staring at the espresso machine.
It was clearly expensive and brand new as it was sparkling and shiny. I thought about my miniature version at home, which got me thinking.
What’s the real difference between an expensive espresso machine and a cheap one?
It’s an important question to answer as so many of you will be sitting with your espresso machine, fully aware there are more expensive ones out there, and you feel you are missing out. So, is that the case?
Generally, more expensive espresso machines are better than cheaper machines as they include better quality parts that are far more consistent in the job they can perform. The features are better, offering you more control over the finished drink, so your espresso should be of a better quality.
But by giving that answer, I’m not saying you should never buy a cheaper espresso machine. They still have their place and are capable of delivering a decent coffee. However, you need to know how to get the most out of your espresso machine to achieve this.
So what if you are in the position of looking at purchasing an espresso machine? You could be in a tricky situation where you don’t know what to do, so let me try and make life that bit easier.
Looking at the Price
Even when just looking at espresso machines for the home, you will notice a huge variation in the price. Some espresso machines cost less than $500, and they are still very decent machines.
Other home espresso machines can be over $2000, and I know not everyone has the budget available to get one of those installed.
I would always suggest you try to push your budget as far as you can to get the best machine out there in your price range. I find that even going slightly higher on the price can result in a significant difference in the quality of the coffee you can produce, making it worth the extra cost for me.
But price isn’t everything. So, what do you expect to get with your espresso machine, depending on the price?
Are There Feature Differences Between Cheap and Expensive Espresso Machines?
I need to start with the place where you would expect there to be a huge difference, and that’s the features.
An espresso machine is pretty much like any other piece of kit. Often, if you pay more money for a particular model or item, then it will often come with additional features you just do not get with the less expensive models.
What I’ve found is that cheaper espresso machines look at covering the basics, and that’s pretty much all. There’s nothing wrong with that, as at least you do get an espresso at the end of it all.
What you should be looking for from a cheap espresso machine is the following:
- A steam wand
- Drip tray
- Water tank
- A basic pressure gauge
I really would not expect to generally see more than this with a cheap machine. However, it’s still entirely functional, so if this machine is within your budget, I wouldn’t be too disappointed.
Features with Expensive Espresso Machines
Things often change when it comes to expensive espresso machines. Sure, you still get things like the drip tray and all that basic stuff, but more costly machines come with a plethora of other things.
Now, not every expensive machine will have all of these features. Still, I would certainly expect to see several of them appear on any model.
- Bean grinder
- Touch screens to change temperature and pressure
- More than one dial
- Temperature control
- Automatic settings
- Better portafilter
- Feedback features
These additional features can make a huge difference. They allow you to fine-tune your espresso and get it up to barista levels.
But like I said, a cheaper machine can still perform the basics of producing an espresso. Don’t feel disappointed if you purchase from the lower end of the price range.
The Build Quality
Aside from the different features, I think the next difference I have to point out is the build quality. You really do get what you pay for in this instance, and expensive espresso machines will certainly be built to a higher standard.
For build quality, I’m talking about every single external and internal component. The materials used are superior in expensive machines, so they not only last longer but will also produce more consistent results.
That is why an espresso machine in a coffee shop will cost so much money. Of course, it’s significantly bigger than you would need at home. Still, they need that consistent number of bars to be produced to then pull the perfect espresso.
With a cheaper machine, you may get some variations in the coffee you produce. While the difference could be minimal, it’s still something you will avoid with an expensive espresso machine.
The Internal Components are Superior
I’ve spent time reading all about different espresso machines and their internal components, as that’s where the magic happens.
Well, it turns out that areas such as the internal pumps and the boilers are where all the action is at. They generally run smoother and function better, while they also won’t break down so easily.
Also, there’s that issue of consistency I spoke about earlier. The superior internal components make life so much easier in that respect.
The Portafilter is Better
Cheap espresso machines still come with a decent portafilter. Still, it’s more on the basic side compared to what you get with more expensive models. Also, the baskets just seem to work better, leading to that superior espresso.
People underestimate the role the portafilter plays in an espresso machine. I know cheaper machines do an adequate job, and let’s not mock them because they are inferior in some way. Still, I feel it adds to the consistency when all the components are of better quality.
Is the Coffee From an Expensive Espresso Machine Better?
An expensive espresso machine is clearly superior to a cheaper version, but how big a difference will there be with the actual coffee it produces?
Well, I see two areas that play an important role in the quality of the coffee: the quality of the beans used and also your skill as a barista.
If you don’t know what you are doing with your espresso machine, then the quality of the machine makes no difference.
The same applies to the beans. If you use the wrong grind or poor beans, there’s only so much an expensive espresso machine can do to counteract this.
But let’s say you have good beans and also have some concept of what to do to pull an espresso, will that expensive machine help?
I’m sorry to say this, but yes it will.
Actually, it will make a massive difference in some instances, and it’s thanks to the control aspect when pulling an espresso.
These expensive machines come with so many controls, allowing you to get the perfect temperature and pressure, leading to that perfect extraction of the coffee from the beans. There’s a consistency of pressure throughout the pulling process, and that leads to a more balanced espresso at the end.
Cheaper machines may have slight fluctuations in the pressure, which may not amount to much, but it can still slightly change the coffee.
Should You Buy a Cheap Espresso Machine?
I get that you may have read all of this and wondered if it’s worth purchasing a cheap espresso machine if it cannot produce the same quality of coffee. Well, I think it is worth it, but it depends on the machine.
You see, some inexpensive espresso machines are actually pretty good. It takes research on your part and checking out the individual machines to see if they come with good reviews.
It all comes down to the fact that some cheap machines still have decent individual components. I like to say that it’s better to have a cheap machine with good components than go for a slightly cheaper machine with bad parts that disintegrate.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you how much to spend. My first espresso machine was around $100, and it lasted me for years.
Also, look at things such as the space you have available and factor this into the equation. There’s no point spending a fortune on an espresso machine with all its fancy features only to find it takes up too much space in your kitchen.
My Recap Between a Cheap and Expensive Espresso Machine
Considering the potential price difference that exists between a cheap and expensive espresso machine, I think you could benefit from me quickly running over the key points mentioned above. I certainly don’t want you to short-change yourself and end up pulling the worst espresso shots you have ever experienced.
- Expensive espresso machines come with better components.
- Expensive machines are more consistent in the espresso they pull.
- The expensive machines are built to a better standard.
- Even the portafilter is better in an expensive machine.
- But the quality of the bean and your skill level determines the coffee.
- Some cheap machines have decent components – so do research.
- Buy the best machine you can for your budget; it makes a difference.
I love my espresso machine, and it’s not even that expensive. However, it pulls a decent shot, and I can then fire up the steam wand and make my finished drink.
I’d highly suggest getting an espresso machine if you love coffee and want to make different drinks at home.
Expensive espresso machines come with better components and offer more control over the actual making of your espresso. But don’t let that completely put you off purchasing a cheaper version if that’s in line with your budget.
All it means is you need to work a bit harder with understanding a cheaper espresso machine than an expensive one. Learn all about how to make the perfect espresso, and you will be amazed at what you can achieve even with a less expensive machine.