I saw a beauty of an espresso machine the other day.
It was one of those metallic beasts with four group heads, and can probably do a hundred shots an hour. Anyway, it was $18,000. How expensive is that? And that’s rounding down.
Even if we’re talking personal espresso machines, it’s still a lot. I know folks who swear you shouldn’t spend less than $500 on an espresso machine, however small.
So why are espresso machines so expensive? Read on to find out.
You’ll also discover whether the really expensive machines do make better espresso. And also whether it’s worth you buying one (along with my recommendation for what to do if you get one AND if you don’t).
Why Are Espresso Machines So Expensive?
Espresso machines are expensive because of they require intricate equipment, they aren’t mass produced, and they need to be reliable. Let’s explore those three reasons in a little more detail.
Reason 1: Intricate equipment
An espresso machine makes coffee by shooting extremely hot water at high pressure through a tightly packed “puck” of ground coffee. It takes only like 10-15 seconds. Mess anything up and your espresso will taste like you scooped it out the gutter.
The temperate needs to be within the right range, for one. And the pressure is important, too. These things are regulated by something called a “pressurestat” inside the machine. And that can cost a hundred big ones alone.
Reason 2: Not mass-produced
As far as I know, most if not all espresso machines are hand-made. There just isn’t enough demand to have a factory line pumping out espresso machine after espresso machine.
So what that means is the economies of scale you get, where something is cheap because you make millions on a production line, doesn’t happen with espresso machines. Makes ’em cost more.
Reason 3: Reliability
Espresso machines need to be reliable, especially those used in a commercial setting. So imagine a coffee shop, or a cafe or something. You can’t have your espresso machine down or you’ll lose all your business. You need one that can rattle off espresso after espresso, day in and day out.
And on top of that, you typical high street coffee chain can do mega business. We’re talking hundred of espresso shots every hour. Having a machine that’s reliable is key to the business, and that’s where these $20,000 monster espresso machines come in.
Do more expensive machines make better espresso?
More expensive espresso machines do make better espresso, but only up to a point. After around the $2,000 mark, you’re paying for size, capacity and reliability more than quality espresso.
But on the other end, espresso machines cheaper than $100-200 or so make bad espresso. This is because the equipment isn’t good enough to regulate things like temperature or pressure.
And worst of all, the cheap machines can’t do it consistently. Let’s say you’ve forked out a hundred simoleans on a shiny new espresso rig. You pull your first shot and it’s a dream. You’re in god shot territory. Nice one.
But the second pull isn’t as good. And the third is a horrorshow. What the christ happened?
Well, your cheapo espresso machine doesn’t have good enough insides to regulate temperature and pressure reliably and consistently.
Is it worth it to get an espresso machine?
It is definitely worth it to get an espresso machine, as you can make beautiful coffee from the comfort of your own home. It gives you the ability to knock together Cappuccinos, Lattes, or Flat Whites without leaving your kitchen. But there is a catch.
The espresso game is not for the faint of heart. It will take a lot of time, practice and research to start using your espresso machine well.
How would you feel if you made a lousy shot? Would you be happy to figure out what went wrong? That could be half an hour Googling, making a record of the the different variables, trying something different on the next one.
It’s a lot of work, making espresso. So yea, I think it’s worth it to get an espresso machine, but only if you see it as a hobby, not as an idiot-proof shortcut to great coffee.
Can you make good espresso with a cheap machine?
Yes, you can make good espresso with a cheap machine. You can even get started with as little as $20, however there is a very (VERY) important qualifier to this.
So you wanna get a started with just a couple of frayed notes in your bank pocket? Well, at this price point, you’re not getting an espresso machine. No chance. But that doesn’t mean you’re out the game entirely.
With less than $20, I’d get either an Aeropress (which is a weird-looking modern brewer that uses a vacuum and a filter), or a Moka Pot (which brews on a stovetop and is absolutely beautiful). Both these little devices make cool espresso-like coffee. More important, they are cheap and an easy way in to making coffee at home.
If you haven’t tried brewing at home before, don’t shell out hundreds of bucks on an espresso machine. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen so many people give up because they can’t be bothered with the hassle.
With a couple of benjis, you can afford an espresso machine. The thing is it won’t be a good one. So can you make good espresso?
I would say that a machine like the this one is usable as a starter espresso machine. You’ll learn the basics, and you’ll make espresso. And if you’re only after drinks like Lattes where you use a lot of milk or whatever, you won’t notice a massive difference. Once you gain more experience though, you will want (need) to upgrade.
This is the range where you can really start cooking. With a thousand big ones, you can get a quality espresso machine. One that is capable of making espresso as good as in a coffee shop, and will last you for years, too. You’ll have a bit of money left over for a decent grinder — a must for making top notch espresso.
What would I go for? Let’s assume you’re buying this stuff for the first time. In that case, a Gaggia Classic Pro or Rancilio Silva are both excellent choices to get going. And for the grinder, it’s hard to look past the Baratza range.
What does 15 bar espresso mean? (And is it more expensive?)
The phrase “15 bar espresso” is a marketing gimmick. It doesn’t mean anything when it comes to espresso machines, and you should give a wide berth to anything that uses it.
Espresso machines need around 9 bar of pressure to create espresso. One bar of pressure is the amount of pressure we feel at sea level. So 9 bars is quite high, and you need it to get real espresso.
Above that though, it doesn’t make any difference. I’ve seen espresso machines try to show off their 15 or 18 bars of pressure. Just ignore it. It doesn’t help make better espresso.
So now you know. Hopefully those three reasons are cemented in your head already. They’ll come in useful as a guide to understanding the price of espresso machines.
As I mentioned, if I was starting all over again, this is the espresso machine I’d buy. It might get a few snobs to turn their nose up at it, but it’s a pretty little thing with a reasonable price point. And you can make espresso with it. Can’t say fairer than that.