Best Espresso Machines for Home Use.

Best Home Espresso Machines UK.

Best Home Espresso Machines UK.

Are you trawling the web trying to figure out which are the best home espresso machines in the UK, or which espresso machine is best for home use? If so, you’re not alone – and if not, then how the heck did you end up here?? ;-).

While the past couple of years seems like a strange dream, and thankfully we’re not still in that same situation of being trapped at home awaiting Bojo’s next perplexing statement, I don’t think we are or will ever be “back to normal”. It seems to me that we’ve stepped out of our partial captivity and into a brand new world, and this includes (but obviously isn’t limited to) home espresso machines, and office espresso machines too, which I’ll get to shortly although this post is mainly about espresso machines for home use.

There were two huge developments throughout this period (I’m sure there were more than that actually) that are proving to be permanent changes, which are the massive growth in Zoom (and other video conferencing platforms), and the massive and seemingly permanently increased popularity of home espresso machines.

Before March 2020 I’m fairly certain that most people were aware that they could buy an espresso machine and make their own espresso and espresso-based coffees, including latte, Americano, flat white, cappuccino, etc., from home. What I think people came to realize, however, is that home espresso is far more accessible than they previously thought, and that not only is it affordable, but it can lead to saving money!

This rise in popularity of espresso machines isn’t limited to home use, the number of home office and office espresso machines being purchased has gone through the proverbial roof, too.

The growth of home office coffee machines won’t come as a surprise to you given that so many people are continuing to work from home either partially or full time, but what you may be surprised by is the rise in companies opting to install high-end coffee machines for their staff.

While some businesses, in certain industries, have realized that keeping the majority of their team working from home most of the time just works for them, there are particular industries and types of companies that need/want their team back in the building, and installing a capable espresso machine has proven to be a great way to tempt people back into the office.

If you’ve ended up on this post because you’re searching for a machine for an office, and it’s a bigger office so you may be looking at something like 20-30 coffees per day or more, you’ll probably be looking for a commercial machine – drop me an email, and I’ll point you in the right direction.

What kind of espresso machine user are you?

I know you’re probably chomping at the bit, and you may be thinking “Kev, shut it, just show me the machines”, I will do shortly, but you’ll thank me for giving you this food for thought, first, about ensuring you know what kind of espresso machine user you are, so you can make sure you’re buying the right type of machine.

The thing is, there’s a heck of a lot of choices, as you’ll already be aware of – in fact you probably ended up here because you needed some help choosing, and you thought I may be the person to help you with this, and I am :-), but what many people don’t get (as it’s not obvious to the uninitiated) is that this isn’t just a choice in machines, it’s a choice in machine types.

If you were looking for a car, for example, you’d probably know what gearbox you want – manual or auto? Can you imagine searching for a car, and only finding out when it’s delivered that you’ve bought a manual but you drive auto, or vice versa? While this probably doesn’t happen often with cars, it happens fairly regularly with espresso machines, as I know from some of the emails I get.

So here’s a very quick way to make sure you’re going to end up with the right kind of espresso machine:

The bean to cup espresso machine user

If you want espresso and espresso-based cafe favourites (cappuccino, latte, etc) made from fresh coffee beans and convenience is high up on your list of requirements, but not to the degree that you’d want to go for a pod machine vs using fresh coffee beans, then you’re a bean to cup machine user.

Bean to cup machines have integrated grinders, and they produce the espresso with something called a brewing unit, vs traditional espresso machines which have a group and a portafilter (filter holder).

Removable Brew Unit on Gaggia Anima.
That’s a Brewing Unit. They’re not my fingernails!

The cup quality isn’t likely to be quite on par with that of a home barista machine in the hands of a seasoned home barista, but the average coffee drinker is usually more than happy with the cup quality of most bean to cup machines.

The good news is that you have a lot of choice, the entry-level is relatively low cost, and the machines towards the entry-level are usually just as good where espresso quality is concerned. The much more expensive options tend to be loaded with features but are usually no better for cup quality.

The home barista

The polar opposite of the bean to cup user is the home barista. Home baristas are people who want perfection where coffee is concerned, and being a home barista is a hobby, it’s not just a means to an end, it does require quite a bit of investment of time, effort, and money.

If you’re a home barista, you’ll either want an espresso machine with a stand-alone coffee grinder – or you’ll want an integrated grinder espresso machine, like the Sage Barista Express and Barista Pro, both of which feature below.

Just keep in mind that an integrated grinder espresso machine isn’t the same as a bean to cup espresso machine, because while they do have an integrated grinder, they don’t have a brewing unit, and the espresso side of things features the traditional group and portafilter.

The middle ground

If you don’t really see yourself as a home barista, you don’t fancy weighing your coffee beans, the thought of coffee as a hobby makes you pull a funny face (unless that’s your normal face, in which case, apologies) then there are other options in between bean to cup and traditional espresso machines. Which option you’d go for would depend on your palate and your budget.

Pressurized Basket Domestic Espresso Machines

If you’re on a tight budget, from around £80-£200, which would rule out bean to cup machines, then pressurized basket home espresso machines are a way to make home espresso and espresso based coffee shop favourites which will be very similar in quality to most domestic bean to cup machines.

These machines aren’t usually sold specifically as “pressurized basket” machines, but nearly all of the machines at this kind of price will be this kind of machine, and a tell-tale sign is that the phrase “15 bars of pressure” is used as a boast in the sales blurb.

This is nothing to boast about ;-), and I think in most cases this is actually a mistake. One of these brands (and I’m not sure who did it first) listed 15 bars of pressure as a pro in the blurb, and most of the others followed suit. The fact is, however, this is simply the capacity of the pump, and you wouldn’t usually want to create 15 bars of pressure in the basket.

Whether or not these machines actually lack an over-pressure valve so they are actually delivering 15 bars of pressure, I’m not sure. It would seem a strange thing to do, to want such high pressured water to blast the coffee to oblivion, but some of these machines do appear to blow craters in the centre of the puck of coffee, whether this is purely pressure related or a combination of this plus poor temperature regulation, I’m not sure.

Anyway, if you see an espresso machine selling for somewhere between £80-£200, and you see “15 bars of pressure” being used as if this is a selling point, then you’ll be looking at a pressurized basket domestic espresso machine. 

They are based on traditional espresso machines, but they’re cheaper, and they have pressurized baskets, vs the standard baskets that traditional home barista machines would have. This is a negative where cup quality is concerned, vs a traditional machine with a capable grinder in the hands of a skilled barista or home barista, but it’s a positive where ease of use and convenience are concerned, as using a machine like this really doesn’t require a lot of skill.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the entry-level home barista espresso machine below including the Sage Bambino Plus and the Gaggia Classic pro, comes with both standard baskets and pressurized baskets, so the user can decide which way to go.

I’m not going to include the cheaper domestic pressurized basket espresso machines in this post, but for the best of that type of espresso machine see:

Best Cheap Espresso Machines

The Sage Oracle Range

If you have the palate of a home barista but want the convenience of a bean to cup machine, then the Sage Oracle was made for you.

Home barista-quality with almost bean to cup convenience does sound like a marketing slogan, and marketing can usually be taken with a large pinch of salt, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s actually a fair assessment of these machines, and this comes from fairly extensive experience with the Oracle machines.

They’re just about as quick and convenient to use as pushing a button on a bean to cup machine, they’re based on the brilliant Sage Dual Boiler (which features below), and the cup quality is amazing given the convenience.

Sage Oracle & Sage Oracle Touch Review

They don’t give you the same kind of precision as you’d have with the Dual Boiler and a capable espresso specialist grinder, simply because integrated grinders don’t give you that same level of precision, but they’ll get you dialed in close enough for most people, to deliver cup quality that the majority of “normal” coffee drinkers would be over the moon with. 

I mainly use the Sage Dual Boiler as my home espresso machine, but I’ve had the Oracle & the Oracle Touch for a while, for review purposes, and while I won’t be all that sad to see the Oracle Touch go back (simply because I’m not a big fan of touch screen coffee machines, give me analogue buttons any day, it’s what I’m used to) I’ll definitely miss the Oracle. 

If I have time to dial in using either the Eureka Mignon Specialita or the Niche Zero, then yes I can get a much more precise extraction with the Dual Boiler, but when I don’t have the time for that and I opt to let the Oracle do it for me, the cup quality vs convenience is really quite something.

At times I’m not sure if I’d have actually noticed any difference in cup quality spending the time to dial in, especially when making flat white which is what I tend to drink most of the time. So if you have a fairly decent palate and you think a bean to cup machine won’t cut the mustard (weird saying, who wants to cut the mustard?) I’d have a look at the Oracle.

So with all that said, I’ll now introduce you to what I think are the best options within each category, if you know which kind of user you are, you can just focus on that particular category.

Best Home Espresso Machines – Bean to Cup

Just before I get into the individual machines, I want to make sure you’re aware of the different kinds of bean to cup machines, because understanding this can help you to avoid spending more than you really need to. There are three types of bean to cup machine, and they differ mainly where the milk is concerned.

Standard machines, usually referred to just as “auto” in the states, are one-touch as far as the espresso is concerned, but the milk steaming is done manually, via a steam wand. These machines are the cheapest type of bean to cup espresso machine.

On the other side of the price range, we have the one-touch milk, or “one-touch cappuccino” or “milk carafe” machines, which are usually known as super automatics in the States. You just press the cappuccino or latte button or icon, and the coffee and milk are delivered into your cup.

Somewhere towards the middle of the price range you’ll find cappuccinatore or “cap in cup” machines, these are similar to the one-touch machines, and some of them do have at least some one-touch milk options, but instead of having an integrated milk carafe, you just fit the milk frother onto the steam pipe, and you put the milk pipe into your milk bottle.

It’s important to keep in mind that while the one touch milk carafe machines are usually the most expensive, this doesn’t mean they’re the best where the espresso quality is concerned.

In fact, often if you were choosing between the cheapest standard machine or the most expensive carafe machine from the same brand, the grinder, and the brewing unit are the same, so there would be no difference in espresso quality.

I’ll explain a bit more about each time of machine as we go through the suggestions, but remember that the cheapest machines have a steam wand, and these actually give you the best control over milk temperature and milk texture.

Here are the machines I’d most recommend if you’ve decided on bean to cup.

Check Price - Amazon UK

Features:

Water Tank: 1.2L (front accessed)
Dimensions: 28cm Wide x 40cm Deep x 36cm Tall
Weight: 10Kg
Milk Texturing: Panarello steam wand
Controls: Simple buttons and dials
Coffees: Espresso one touch, all other coffees manually

My Observations:

The ESAM 4200 has been around for quite a while, it’s been one of the best selling bean to cup espresso machines on Amazon UK for years, not surprising given the price you can get it for!

I’ve used this machine a couple of times (once for a couple of weeks in the run-up to my blog post review, and again to reacquaint myself with it for my YouTube video review), and I’ve spoken to many people over the years who have one of these or have had one, and most people are usually very impressed with it.

So this is a standard bean to cup machine, with a steam wand. So while the coffee is just a case of slapping the cup on the drip tray and pressing a button, for the milk you have to pour milk into a jug, and stick the steam wand in it – to manually steam the milk.

As I’ve mentioned, while this may not be as sophisticated as the one touch milk carafe machines, it gives you a lot more control over the milk texture and the milk temperature. If you’ve had a milk carafe machine in the past and you weren’t happy with the temperature or the texture, you may want to try a standard version with a steam wand.

These, and most other bean to cup machines, come with what’s known as a Panarello wand, which means the air is automatically injected via holes on the side of the Panarello, which is a sheath on the steam pipe.

They don’t allow much control over texture, but they’re fine for what I call “old-school cappuccino” foam. If you want more modern “silky milky” microfoam, though, you can just slide the Panarello off and use the steam pipe as a pro steam wand, there’s a knack to it but once you’ve got it you’ll be able to create great milk texture this way.

There are slightly newer Delonghi machines which feature in this post, but this is usually the cheapest, and it’s such a robust and reliable machine, the newer versions have some slightly more modern features and so on, but when someone emails me to tell me they just want a reliable workhorse bean to cup machine on a budget, the Esam 4200 is the first machine that springs to mind.

The only things I don’t like about these machines, that I would class as “cons”, are the lack of a true double shot setting, and the strange “Aroma Strength” setting.

Where double shots are concerned, their 2 cup shot button (on all the Magnifica range as far as I’m aware) doesn’t deliver what I would call a double shot, as it uses only a couple of grams more coffee beans. It’s not a deal breaker, if you want a true double shot you can press the single cup button, let the shot finish pulling, and then press it a second time.

If you press the 2 cup button, though, you’ll get double the volume made from only a slightly higher dose of coffee, so it’s a bigger weaker shot, not a double shot in my opinion.

Also with this and the other Magnifica range, I’m not quite sure what the Aroma Strength setting is all about. I’ve heard from customers about this who have had replies from DeLonghi support telling them that the aroma strength button is not a way to change the dose, (dose: the amount of coffee ground) and that instead, it changes the contact time between the coffee and the water.

From the tests I’ve done, though, I’ve found that this knob does change the dose, but it’s very difficult to know how much you’re changing it by with the dial, and I much prefer the very simple bean icon settings on Gaggia and Melitta machines.

For my in-depth review on this machine, see:

De'Longhi ESAM 4200 Review

Check Price – Amazon UK

Features:

Water Tank: 1.8L (front accessed)
Dimensions: 24cm Wide x 44cm Deep x 36cm Tall
Weight: 9.2Kg
Milk Texturing: Panarello steam wand
Controls: Simple buttons and dials
Coffees: Espresso and Americano one touch. All other coffees manually

My Observations:

There are a few very similar models of this machine, including the Magnifica S 21 & the Magnifica S 22, it’s hard to keep up with all of DeLonghi’s various versions, but they mainly differ only aesthetically.

The “Smart” version, mainly differs due to the Panarello steam wand. While the S 21 & 22 have the standard steam wand, the S Smart features the clever (or Smart…) Panarello wand that only features on a few of the DeLonghi machines.

This is the best Panarello wand I’ve ever used, it allows you to close the steam holes, which means you have similar control over the texture that you’d have with a pro steam wand, it’s very clever.

Compared to the ESAM 4200, this is a newer and slightly more modern machine from DeLonghi, but it’s almost identical where performance is concerned. It has a bigger water tank while being in a 4cm slimmer footprint (although it is 4cm deeper, and the same height, so about the same overall footprint) and it has the aforementioned smart Panarello steam wand.

As with the 4200, all of the machines in the Magnifica range are the same where the double shot button is concerned, where you don’t get a double shot but instead, you get double the volume made from just slightly more ground coffee beans. They’re the same where the aroma strength setting, too.

Check Price – Amazon UK Check Price – Currys

Features:

Water Tank: 1.2L (top accessed)
Dimensions: 20cm Wide x 45.5cm Deep x 32.5cm Tall
Weight: 8.1 Kg
Milk Texturing: Cappuccinatore
Controls: Simple buttons and dials
Coffees: Espresso one touch. All other coffees manually

My Observations:

Melitta is a brand with a lot of history, their founder Mrs Melitta Bentz having invented the first coffee filter back in the early 1900s. They expanded into other brewing methods in the meantime, of course, including now having a number of bean to cup espresso machines on the market.

This is a very interesting machine for the price, it’s similarly priced to the De’Longhi machines, above, but it will deliver a true double shot if you press the shot button twice in quick succession (as with the Gaggia Brera, below) and it has simple dose settings for one bean, two beans, and three beans.

I do wish that they would tell you (as Gaggia does) how many grams of coffee each bean setting equates to, though, as this would give users the ability to aim for a particular ratio.

See also  Peaberry Coffee – Is It Really Worth the Price?

For example with the Gaggia machines, it’s easy to select an 11 gram dose for example, and then aim for about 30 ml of espresso for an approx 1:3 extraction if that’s what you like, and then to just press the button twice in quick succession for a double shot. With the Melitta machines, pressing the shot button twice in quick succession will deliver a double shot as with the Gaggia machines, it’s just a bit more difficult to know what dose you’re using.

I will get one of these machines at some point and I’ll try to work out the dose for each bean setting.

The only other thing I can say about it that you may see as a negative is the depth of the machine. It’s a very slim machine at 20cm wide, and it’s nice and short at under 33cm tall, but it’s quite deep at 45.5cm and will stand proud of most wall cupboards, for example.

This is a cappuccinatore machine, and I think it’s about the cheapest of this kind, most machines at this kind of price tend to be steam wand machines. You can slide the frother off and use the steam wand as a steam pipe if you like, for more control over the milk texture, but there is some level of control over froth so you may find you can get your perfect milk texture, if not just pull the frother off and use the steam pipe as a steam wand.

Steaming with a pro steam wand or using the steam pipe as such, does take a bit of learning, there’s a knack to it, but it’s possible with some practice to get great milk texture from most machines of this type by using the steam pipe as if it were a steam wand.

Best Bean to Cup Coffee Machine? Gaggia Brera.

Check Price – Gaggia Direct

 

Features:

Water Tank: 1.2L (front accessed)
Dimensions: 25.6cm Wide x 42.5cm Deep x 33cm Tall
Weight: 8.5 Kg
Milk Texturing: Panarello steam wand
Controls: Simple buttons and dials
Coffees: Espresso & lungo one touch. All other coffees manually

My Observations:

Gaggia needs little introduction, they invented espresso machines – well, modern espresso machines, anyway – steam powered espresso machines were already around, but modern espresso has its roots in patent number 365726 in 1938, for the “steam-free coffee machine”.

The Gaggia invention was also responsible for what we now know as crema, and this was a stroke of Genius by Gaggia given that this was initially seen as a negative “espresso scum” symptom of espresso made this way.

The Gaggia Brera is one of the most obvious machines for me to recommend whenever I get an email asking which bean to cup espresso machine they should go for under £500, in fact, I’d usually say the Brera if they need a short machine to push under wall cupboards, or the Anima below if that’s not an issue, simply because the Brera has a front accessed water tank while the Anima is top accessed.

It’s a great little machine for the money, it’s nice and short at just 33cm tall, so you have plenty of access to the bean hopper, and the water tank is front accessed too as I’ve mentioned, so this is a good machine for putting under kitchen wall cupboards.

As with the DeLonghi Esam 4200 above, this is a Panarello wand standard bean to cup machine as far as the milk goes, and this is the perfect example of what I was saying about machines lower down in the price range not necessarily being any different where cup quality is concerned.

If you look at the most expensive machines in Gaggia’s wide range, they have the same grinder, and virtually the same brewing unit. In fact, I think they’re exactly the same where quality is concerned, there are only minor differences from one to the other such as on what side the pump connects etc.

You get more features the further up the Gaggia range you go, and some of them are good features such as having five dose settings on the Anima vs three on the Brera, and the personalisation on the Cadorna. Plus they’ve recently brought out a couple of machines with proper pro steam wands, but still, this is an example of what I mean re the pricier machines not necessarily being better where espresso quality is concerned.

As far as bean to cup machines go, for around £400, I don’t think you can ask for much more than what the Brera delivers in terms of espresso quality right out of the box, which as I’ve said is just as good as the much more expensive machines in the range.

The Brera scores highly from me when it comes to ease of use, really simple machine to use – it also impressed me when it comes to size & easiness on the eye.

It’s not a particularly loud machine, and the drip tray is a good size, it doesn’t appear to be the case as it’s a low level drip tray (which is good in terms of up clearance) but the drip tray goes all the way to the back of the machine, which makes it a fairly decent size.

Warranty with the Brera if you buy it from Gaggia Direct (the UK distributor for Gaggia Milano) is 2 years as standard, but you can extend it to 3 years for just £20 – and it’s a solid warranty offered by a UK company with an in-house service department, which is quite rare for warranty on machines at this kind of value.

With the Brera, and all other Gaggia machines, I recommend going directly to Gaggia Direct – either order online from their website, or once things are back to normal, you can visit their showroom in Elland, near Halifax – or from one of their shops, they’ve got one at Junction 32 in Castleford & one at Freeport Outlet Village in Braintree, Essex.

I recommend this by the way because I know from experience that they’re a really good company when it comes to aftersales support, and I also know that if you buy a Gaggia machine online from Amazon & other websites, there’s a good chance you’re actually unknowingly buying directly from Italy, without a UK warranty.

There are firms selling the Brera and other espresso machines slightly cheaper, but if you look at the trust pilot reviews, etc., you’ll often find reviews from annoyed customers who realised they’d actually bought from Italy not from within the UK, and have to get the machine sent back there if it needs repairing under warranty.

Gaggia anima bean to cup espresso machine.

Gaggia anima bean to cup espresso machine.£75 off with discount code: COFBLAN22

Features:

Water Tank: 1.8L (Top accessed)
Dimensions: 22.1cm Wide x 43cm Deep x 34cm Tall
Weight: 8.5 Kg
Milk Texturing: Panarello steam wand (there’s a cappuccinatore version and a carafe version)

My Observations:

Gaggia Anima is one of Gaggia’s best bean to cup coffee machines when it comes to value for money, in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best among all brands at under £500 (the base level version, that is).

The base level isn’t much more money than the Brera, it has a bigger water tank, 5 strength settings vs 3 on the Brera, a bigger capacity dreg draw, and while the top filling water tank isn’t perfect if you need to slide it under wall cupboards, if you don’t it means that if you’re running out of water you can top the water up while your shot is pulling. Also, the Anima gives you the ability to input the water hardness for a personalised descale schedule.

Gaggia has released many newer models, but for me, the Anima and the Brera are two of the most tried and tested bean to cup machines on the market, which have continued to be manufactured for quite some time now with little or no changes simply because “don’t fix what ain’t broken”.

They have to keep releasing new models to keep up with the competition, delivery things like fancy displays, personalisation, and so on, but if you’re not bothered about that, and if like me you’re a fan of tactile buttons that move when you press them, I’d have a look at the Anima.

I think it’s one of the best bean to cup machines on the market, all things considered. If you like bells, whistles, and fancy-sounding features, then there are always newer models being released, but if you want simplicity, reliability, and value for money, the Anima may be for you.

See:

Gaggia Anima Review

Check Price – Amazon UK

Features:

Water Tank: 1.8L (front accessed)
Dimensions: 24 cm Wide x 44 cm Deep x 36 cm Tall
Weight: 9.6 Kg
Milk Texturing: Carafe milk frother (with this version)
Display: Colour touch screen
Coffees: 6 one-touch coffees. Latte, latte macchiato, cappuccino, espresso, coffee, long coffee + hot water.

My Observations:

This is one of the newest bean to cup machines from Delonghi in the UK, and it looks like they’ve got the mix of features right for this price point, as it’s selling incredibly well, and it’s an impressive-looking machine overall. The reason I say “with this version” re the milk option above, is that they have a Panarello steam wand version, too which is about a hundred quid cheaper at the time of writing.

I’m saying that this machine produces 6 one touch coffees, simply because I think the official “7” includes hot water, and I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think hot water counts as coffee…

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an espresso machine with quite so many Amazon reviews before, the number of ratings this machine has had so far is ridiculous, clearly, a heck of a lot of people have bought the Magnifica Evo. I don’t see a review from Brad Pitt though, which is a surprise ;-).

Gaggia Cadorna, bean to cup home espresso machine.

Gaggia Cadorna, bean to cup home espresso machine.

Check Price - Gaggia Direct

Features:

Water Tank: 1.5L (front accessed)
Dimensions: 26cm Wide x 44cm Deep x 38cm Tall
Weight: 9.5 Kg
Milk Texturing: Style & Plus – Panarello wand. Barista – pro steam wand. Milk – cappuccinatore. Prestige – milk carafe.
Controls: Colour display with simple buttons and dials
Coffees – Style, Plus & Barista: One-touch Espresso, lungo, coffee, Americano – all other drinks manually
Coffees – Milk:
One-touch ristretto, espresso, caffe, lungo, americano, cappuccino, latte macchiato, cafe’ Au Lait
Coffees – Prestige:
Above + flat white, cortado, cappuccino XL, latte macchiato XL.

My Observations:

The Cadorna is a very clever new range of bean to cup espresso machines from Gaggia, the main feature separating this from other Gaggia machines being the drinks personalisation with four programmable personalised user settings.

This means everyone using the machine (up to 4 users) can have their name set up as a user, with their coffees set up exactly how they like them, including strength, how much milk, and temperature.

So you can continually tweak the settings for your latte, for instance, and when you’re happy with that – it’ll be the same each time regardless of who else is using the machine, as long as they don’t prank you by messing with your settings ;-).

There are five versions of the Cadorna.

The newest version is the Cadorna Barista, which features a pro steam wand – one of only a couple of domestic bean to cup machines with a proper steam wand.

The “Milk” version has a cappuccinatore, while “style” and “plus” both have Panarello steam wands, and “prestige” is a milk carafe version. Both Milk and Prestige offer one-touch milkies.

All except style can take taller cups, and feature a cup tray that pulls out of the machine so you can pull the shot into a smaller cup if preferred. There may be some other subtle differences between the models, click here for a more thorough rundown of the different models.

I’m going to leave it there for bean to cup suggestions, simply because I’ve got another dedicated bean to cup coffee machines post, with a lot more suggestions, so if you haven’t found a bean to cup machine here that you think is perfect for you, see:

Best Bean to Cup Coffee Machines

Best Home Espresso Machines – Traditional

OK so now we’re on to traditional espresso machines, or if you know you’re looking for a machine of this type you might have saved yourself the time of reading the bean to cup section, which is fair enough, time is money so they say. Not sure who “they” are, but apparently they say that.

So I’m going to do this roughly in price order as I did with the bean to cup section, some machines are very similarly priced, and some machines will be priced differently at different times when a certain retailer or brand has a promotion, etc., so they’re not going to be in perfect order by price.

Sage Bambino

Sage Bambino

Check Price - Sage Appliances

Features:

Water Tank: 1.4L
Dimensions: 19 cm wide x 30.4 cm deep x 31 cm tall
Weight: 4.5 Kg
Boiler: ThermoJet (Sage’s new thermocoil)
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
No
Portafilter Size: 54mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars
Interface: Buttons
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set and manual

My Observations:

A relative newcomer to the Sage Appliances range, in the UK at least, the Bambino is the base level version of the Bambino Plus, below. It’s currently the lowest price machine offered by Sage, and it’s the lowest priced “true” traditional espresso machine on the market.

It’s one of the most compact espresso machines on the market, at under 20cm wide, it’s also not too deep at 32cm, and it’s 31cm tall so it’ll fit under any standard height kitchen cupboards. It’s also among the fastest espresso machines on the market, reaching steam temperature within just a few seconds, and dropping back down to espresso temperature equally quickly.

What I mean by “true” traditional espresso machine, is that this is an espresso machine that delivers 9 bars of pressure and comes with traditional baskets, it even features low-pressure preinfusion, which is amazing for a machine at this price!

There are cheaper espresso machines as I mentioned earlier, but these usually come only with pressurized baskets or with a pressurized portafilter (which means the pressurization is not done via the basket itself, but the portafilter), and as I mentioned earlier, whether they have over pressure valves or are delivering full pump pressure is a bit of a mystery.

The Bambino (all Sage machines, in fact) is a 9 bar machine, and I’ve had a few emails from people questioning this as it’s listed as having a 15 bar pump, but this is simply the pump capacity. 

Most entry and mid range espresso machines have vibration pumps, and most of these deliver up to 15 bars of pressure. Sage machines, however (and most of the other home barista espresso machines I’ll be talking about in this section of the post) have an over presssure valve, or OPV, which restricts the pressure, usually to 9 bars.

The Bambino Plus, which I’ll get to in a min, is one of the best-selling home espresso machines in the world (sold elsewhere under the Breville brand), they clearly got most things right with that little machine, hence the huge success.

The Bambino is the slightly cheaper version, and although there are a couple of steps down from the Plus to the base level bambino, there are a couple of steps up, too.

It has a PID, which is a fancy way of saying that it has temperature control, and this is an amazing thing for a machine of this cost to have, and it means that the brew temperature is stable, and this is very important, but it isn’t something that can be said of all espresso machines as we’ll discuss when we get to the Gaggia Classic Pro and the Rancilio Silvia.

Vs the Bambino plus, as I mentioned there are a few cons, one is that there’s no 3-way solenoid valve. What this means is that the puck of coffee will usually be slightly wetter when you knock it out.

People tend to make a big deal about the solenoid valve, but it’s not really a huge deal, there’s still a valve (a brew valve) it just doesn’t do quite as good of a job of releasing the pressure and moisture as quickly as a solenoid valve does. This is potentially a pro for the Bambino, though, as I’ll mention when I talk about the Bambino Plus, as the small drip tray is more practical with the Bambino, given that it’s not being constantly filled by a solenoid as is the case with the Plus.

The Bambino doesn’t have the auto steaming feature, and that’s a good feature for anyone who doesn’t want to texture their own milk.

The Bambino plus is very good for that, it surprised me the first time I used it as I wasn’t expecting it to be capable of such decent texture. The steam wand on the Bambino is capable of great milk texture, but manual only.

The other is that the water tank is slightly smaller, 1.5L vs 1.9L, so you’ll have to fill it slightly more often. Again probably not a huge deal.

On the plus side, the Bambino has a hot water button (which delivers water through the steam wand) which the Plus doesn’t have. You can get water through the steam wand on the Bambino Plus (on some versions, anyway) but through a series of button presses not a single button.

Also, the Bambino plus steam wand only moves up and down, while the Bambino wand is on a ball joint which gives you more flexibility over the steaming position.

Update: Sage Discount Codes
If you’re in the UK and you’re thinking of buying any Sage coffee machine or grinder (or any other product from Sage Appliances) you might want to drop me an email.

Click here to join my “Brew Time” mailing list, and then email me ([email protected]) to see if I have a current discount code to Share. Sage Appliances sometimes share codes with me, I can’t publish them – and there’s no point as they’re usually time-limited anyway, but they do allow me to share them with subscribers via email.

Which Grinder?

For the Bambino, the Sage Dose Control Pro is a popular option, they’re a great match in terms of looks, the same is true of the Smart Grinder Pro and they’re both a good pairing for the Bambino. If you wanted a future proof grinder that will pair well with other espresso machines if you catch the dreaded “upgraditis” then look at the Eureka Mignon, Sette 270 or Niche Zero.

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Features:

Water Tank: 1.9L
Dimensions: 19.4cm wide x 32cm deep x 31 cm tall
Weight: 5 Kg
Boiler: ThermoJet (Sage’s new thermocoil)
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 54mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars
Interface: Buttons
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set and manual

My Observations:

So this is the Plus version, the premium of the two Bambino machines, and I’ve already said quite a lot about this machine while talking about the Bambino, so I’ll keep this description relatively short.

The Bambino Plus has been around for a few years now, and it quickly became one of the most popular espresso machines in the UK, which I think was always going to happen when you look at what this machine does and what it costs. Before the Bambino was released in the UK, the Plus was about the cheapest machine in the UK, or maybe joint cheapest with the Duo Temp Pro, and where features and performance are concerned it’s such a lot of machine for the money.

As with the Bambino, this features Sage’s own version of a thermocoil, which they named “ThermoJet”. So instead of having a traditional boiler, most of the Sage machines (all the way up to the Sage Dual Boiler) have thermocoils (or thermojets) which are on-demand water heaters vs traditional brew boilers.

There are pros and cons to both, and this isn’t the right post to go deeply into this, all I’d say is that when you’re comparing a thermocoil or thermoblock machine to a single boiler machine, you have to look at the entire picture, not just the boiler or water heater.

Anyway, having the newer thermojet means it has the same super fast steam ready time, the same 3 second warm-up time, and also it cools down fast after steaming so it’s ready to pull another shot almost instantly.

As I’ve mentioned, the plus has the auto steaming option, and this has three texture settings and three temp settings. The plus also has a four hole steam tip vs the one hole tip on the Bambino, so this does give you a bit more steam power, making steaming milk slightly quicker, but there’s not a huge amount of difference in it.

See also  Are Coffee Filters Bad for the Environment? Surprising Facts!

The only slight niggle with the Bambino plus that I’ve noticed and that I’ve heard from readers is that the drip tray is very small. You do get used to it, so you won’t find it an issue after a while, but I do think this is actually an accidental plus for the Bambino having no solenoid.

As the Plus has a solenoid valve, it expels water into the drip tray after every shot, so it fills up quickly. The drip tray is just as small with the Bambino, maybe slightly smaller actually, but as there isn’t the constant ejection of water from the solenoid, you don’t have to empty the Bambino’s drip tray anywhere near as often.

If I was deciding between the two, I’d probably go for the Bambino if it was just me using it and there was no one in the home who needed to use the auto steam wand, but if I was sharing it with people who might benefit from the auto milk steaming then I’d go for the Plus.

Which Grinder?

Again, the Sage Dose Control Pro or the slightly more fancy (LCD controls and slightly bigger motor) Smart Grinder Pro is a popular pairing, and I used this pairing as my main setup for a couple of years and found it a great setup, I’ve used the smart grinder pro with various machines actually, it’s a versatile grinder which will pair well with most entry-level machines.

As I mentioned for the Bambino, though, if you’re wanting an espresso specialist grinder that you could pair with espresso machines quite a bit higher up the range as you end up contracting upgraditis, then the  Eureka Mignon, Sette 270 , Niche Zero or even the Baratza Vario would be worth considering.

If you’re wondering what I’m on about re upgraditis, by the way, this is a pandemic among home baristas for which there is yet no vaccine but Astra Zeneca are probably working on one. Pfizer too I’d suspect as they tend to give stiff competition. If you don’t get that joke, just look up some of Pfizer’s most well-known creations and you’ll get it ;-). 

New gaggia classic 2018 19

New gaggia classic 2018 19

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Ends at the end of July. Includes the Gaggia Classic pro (standard stainless steel version) and all of the Gaggia Classic Pro + Grinder bundles.

Features:

Water Tank: 2.1L
Dimensions: 21cm wide x 25cm deep x 35.6 cm tall
Weight: 7 Kg
Boiler: 130mm aluminium boiler
PID?:
No
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
12 bars (can be modded with a simple spring change)
Interface: Rocker switches & rotary steam dial
Preinfusion?: No
Adjustable brew temperature: No

My Observations:

The Gaggia Classic is one of the most popular home espresso machines in the world, the majority of home baristas during the 90s and early 00s started out with a Classic, many still have them. My classic is from 2003, and it is still absolutely fine.

The classic did go astray for a while (in the eyes of home baristas at least) when they were acquired by Philips in 2009, the final straw being the 2015 version which went down like a fart in a lift. Gaggia surprised everyone, though, with the Gaggia Classic Pro, which is pretty much the original classic but with a pro steam wand.

Among the most common questions I get via email, is Gaggia classic vs Bambino plus, and these machines couldn’t be more different if they tried, but they occupy a very similar position in terms of popularity and price point, so I do understand this question being so commonly asked.

The simple way to put it is that the Classic is for people who are looking for a very capable workhorse that will require some taming but will probably give them decades of use if well looked after, while the Bambino & Bambino Plus is all about user friendliness and ease of use.

The Gaggia Classic isn’t as user friendly, it has some temperature stability quirks that need taming either via workflow (temperature surfing) or by installing a PID (about £100-£130), but once that’s sorted, as these are machines made the way they used to make things, you’ll probably have the machine for many years as long as you maintain it.

It’s not 9 bars out of the box, and I must admit I’m not completely sure why they did that. They added a pro steam wand, so they seem to have aimed it at the home barista, so why they fitted a valve spring that limits the pressure to something like 12 bars instead of the standard 9, I don’t really know, but this is a very simple and cheap (about a tenner) mod to do.

It has a steam boiler, it’s a very small boiler but it’s also powered by a high powered element, and the element is external to the boiler so there’s no worries about letting the boiler run dry and potentially breaking it. It has the popular 3 way solenoid valve (which the 2015 model was missing, which is one of the reasons it didn’t go down well).

It doesn’t have bells and whistles, it certainly doesn’t have airs and graces, it’s retro in its looks, it’s good old-fashioned engineering, and if you like that kind of thing, you’ll love the Classic.

Which Grinder?

The Smart Grinder Pro pairs well with the Classic pro, but if you want to be able to up the potential shot quality, the Eureka mignon with its step-less grind adjustment just gives you a slight edge when it comes to dialing in, in particular the Mignon Specialita, which has the slightly bigger 55mm burrs and the two programmable doses. 

Gaggia is actually bundling the Mignon Specialita with their limited edition version of the classic at the moment: 

Gaggia Classic and Eureka Mignon La Specialita.

Gaggia Classic and Eureka Mignon La Specialita.

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For £75 off the Acrobat click on the link below:

Use Code COFBLACR for £75 EXTRA off The Gaggia Classic Acrobat Special Edition

The specialita will pair with many other single boiler espresso machines, and with heat exchanger and dual boiler espresso machines, too, so it’s not a bad option if you do end up upgrading your machine, or if you’re smart, putting the Classic pro (even more so if you have the Acrobat) away safely in its box to pass down as a family heirloom, if/when you decide to try a different espresso machine.

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Features:

Water Tank: 2L
Dimensions: 23.5 cm wide x 29 cm deep x 34 cm tall
Weight: 14 Kg
Boiler: 300ml stainless steel boiler
PID?:
No
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars
Interface: Rocker switches & rotary steam dial
Preinfusion?: No
Adjustable brew temperature: No

My Observations:

The Rancilio Silvia is a popular single boiler home Barista espresso machine. For quite some time there wasn’t a great deal of competition when it comes to single boiler machines, other than the Gaggia Classic.

Silvia has usually been regarded by those with experience of both, as having a bit more potential for espresso quality, if paired with a capable enough grinder.

The classic has been regarded, generally speaking, as the more reliable of the two over the long term, and with less potential for element burnout due to the fact that the boiler is externally heated, and the Silvia has an internal element, although it’s really not much of a task to keep it primed.

The main con for the Silvia vs the Classic, though, was cost. For a long time, the Silvia was roughly double the cost of the classic. This is no longer quite the case, the new Gaggia Classic pro and the new Rancilio Silvia (Silvia E V6 2020) are only about a hundred quid apart.

In many ways these machines are similar, same size water tank, same size portafilter, both have brass groups, both have a 3 way solenoid valve, neither have a PID (but both can be modded with a PID) and they’re both operated by simple switches.

They look similar too I think. Silvia is a bit more square, and the steam knob on the Silvia is on the front, and on the Classic it’s on the right hand side of the machine. The Silvia does look a little bit more like a commercial machine, which makes sense as Rancilio usually makes commercial espresso machines, they only made the Silvia initially as a thank you for their distributors, it wasn’t intended to be a domestic machine.

The biggest difference is the boilers. The Classic has a teeny externally heated Alu boiler with a 1300W element. The Silvia has a much bigger 300ml Brass/Chrome alloy boiler, internally heated with a 1100W element.

My personal opinion of the Silvia is that it’s a very powerful machine, it’s a bit harder to tame than the classic, personally I’d want a PID on this machine if I was going to use it as my home espresso machine, but the steam power (once you’ve got the knack of it) is immense, I love the portafilter, feels really high quality, and it does feel a bit more like using a commercial machine to me, than the classic, but as I’ve said, I did find it a bit harder to tame, out of the box without any modding.

Rancilio Silvia Review

Don’t forget, though, even the very best espresso machine will only produce decent espresso if you use decent coffee – and now for a shameless plug of my own coffee! 🙂

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Which Grinder?

If you want to keep the same brand, then the Rancilio Rocky is an option, but personally, for the Rancilio Silvia I’d be looking at the Eureka Mignon Specialita , Baratza Sette 270 or Niche Zero if you’ve got the budget for it.

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Features:

Water Tank: 2L
Dimensions: 32 cm wide x 35 cm deep x 41 cm tall
Weight: 10 Kg
Boiler: Thermocoil
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 54mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars
Interface: Buttons & steam dial
Grind settings: 18
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set (adjustable) & manual
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes

My Observations:

The Sage Barista Express is an integrated grinder espresso machine from Sage (or Breville, as they’re called everywhere except Europe, as the Breville brand name was sold in Europe in the 80s).

As I mentioned earlier, having an integrated grinder doesn’t make this a bean to cup espresso machine – it has a portafilter and a group, so it’s a traditional espresso machine, although using integrated grinder machines isn’t quite the same as using a stand alone espresso machine and grinder setup.

Integrated grinder machines tend to have less grind settings than the espresso specialist grinders, and bigger increments, which makes the dialing in what I refer to as “ball-park” dialing in, meaning that you’ll get somewhere close but it’s unlikely you’ll get perfect extraction. The Barista Express has 18 grind settings, its newer sibling the Barista Pro has 30, which is better but still not perfect.

There’s no problem with the grinding range with the Express or the pro, as I’ve seen some people suggesting there is. There are internal grind adjustments on the top burr, as well as the external adjustments, so you can go very fine with them, in fact, you can end up with the burrs touching each other (don’t do that) which you’ll know you’ve done as the grinder when running empty makes a slightly alarming metal on metal sound.

The Express features the original thermocoil, not the newer thermojet, so the Express isn’t quite as fast at steaming milk (it also has a single hole tip which doesn’t deliver quite as much power), and doesn’t reach steam temp or drop back down to shot temp quite as quickly, but there’s not a huge amount in it as you’ll see in my comparison video.

You have the same 9 bars of pressure, pre-set and adjustable pre-infusion, 3 temperature settings, and on the express, there’s a pressure gauge, while on the pro there’s no pressure gauge but there’s a digital display with a shot timer, which I would take any day vs a pressure gauge.

They’re a very popular machine, and it’s no wonder given the price and the features and performance. In my humble opinion, if you’re on a relatively tight budget (and this is a low price considering it includes the grinder), and you’re not too fussed about precisely dialed in, they’re a valid option.

The closest machine to the Barista express but without the integrated grinder, by the way, is the Duo Temp Pro, which I decided not to feature here simply because there would be too many Sage machines in this post. It’s more or less the same as the Barista Express but without the integrated grinder, and without shot buttons. For more on the Duo Temp Pro and all the other Sage machines, see:

Best Sage Coffee Machines

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Features:

Water Tank: 2L
Dimensions: 35 cm wide x 41 cm deep x 41 cm tall
Weight: 9.2 Kg
Boiler: ThermoJet
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 54mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars
Steam wand: Pro steam wand with single hole steam tip
Interface: Buttons & steam dial
Grind settings: 30
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set (adjustable) & manual
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes

My Observations:

I won’t spend too much time explaining the Barista pro, I’ll tell you how it differs from the express, above, and that should suffice. As discussed, the pro has the newer thermojet, so slightly faster warm up, faster steam ready time, slightly faster steaming, and faster to get back down to shot temp after steaming.

It has more grind settings, so you have slightly more ability to dial in, still not perfect though. I don’t think you’ll ever get perfect dialing in with integrated grinder machines. The best thing about the pro vs the express for me, is the digital display, as it makes it so much easier to do things like re-programming the shot buttons, changing the brew temp, and so on, and I really like the shot timer on the digital display.

There’s also the Barista touch which is the touch screen version, of course, but that’s not the only difference. The Barista Touch has the same touch screen & personalisation, and more or less the same auto steam wand that you get with the Oracle Touch.

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Features:

Water Tank: 2.8L
Dimensions: 21 cm wide x 37 cm deep x 38 cm tall
Weight: 14 Kg
Boiler: 400ml brass boiler
PID?:
No (but brew group type makes it very temp stable)
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars (adjustable)
Interface: Buttons & rotary steam dial
Grind settings: 30
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set (adjustable) & manual
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes

My Observations:

This is a very nice looking home barista espresso machine from the very well-known German espresso machine manufacturer, ECM (sister company of Profitec, by the way), who mainly produce heat exchanger and dual boiler espresso machines, but they do make a couple of single boiler options, with the Casa V being the most affordable.

Although this is a step up in terms of price from the other popular single boiler machines including the Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia, with its 2.8 L water tank, 400ml brass boiler (with a 1200W element), and its ring group which is (kind of) a saturated brew group, it’s a lot of machine for the money.

It doesn’t have a PID, but it has a group that I think to all intents and purposes can be regarded as a saturated group, and I know some will take issue with this as whenever anyone says “saturated group” some smart-arse will come out with a technical description of what is and what isn’t a saturated group.

Anyway, whether or not this group is technically a saturated group, it behaves in a very similar way and this gives it great temperature stability regardless of the lack of a PID.

If you were thinking of going for a Rancilio Silvia but you don’t want to do the temperature surfing routine so you think you’d want to fit a PID, but you’re thinking you’d rather just spend a bit more money on a machine that doesn’t need taming, then the Casa V is worth a look.

Which Grinder?

I’d be considering the Eureka Mignon (Specialita is my favourite, although the new Mignon Oro Zero is also very interesting, as it’s based on the Mignon XL with the big 65mm flat burrs), Baratza Sette 270, 270 wi, or Niche Zero .

ECM Classika PID Espresso Machine

ECM Classika PID Espresso Machine

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Features:

Water Tank: 2.8L
Dimensions: 25cm wide x 44.5cm deep x 39.5cm tall
Weight: 18.5 Kg
Boiler: 750ml stainless steel boiler
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars (adjustable)
Interface: Brew lever & rotary steam valve.
Grind settings: 30
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set (adjustable) & manual
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes

My Observations:

Another single boiler machine from ECM, the Classika PID I reckon is aimed at the people who want all of the features of ECM’s higher-end machines but on a single boiler basis.

While you tend to get some of the best features at the highest end, which are usually dual boiler machines, what if you’re fine with single boiler – for example, you mainly make espresso and will only occasionally be steaming milk, but you want a machine with similar specs and features you’d find on one of the higher-end ECM dual boiler machines? Well, you’d probably be looking at the Classika PID.

It has the same E61 group head as ECM’s flagship machines, it has a PID for temperature control (in one-degree increments), a shot timer, pressure gauge, a 750ml stainless steel boiler, shot lever vs having a shot button, and the same very simple process for tweaking the brew pressure as with the ECM Casa V.

The only negative of using this machine over a heat exchanger or dual boiler machine is where milk is concerned. It takes a few minutes for the steam boiler to be up to steam temp, so if you’re going to be doing a lot of milkies, this might not be the perfect machine for you, but then again if this is the case you’d probably be looking for a dual boiler.

Which Grinder?

As with the Casa V, I’d be thinking of the Eureka Mignon Specialita or Baratza Sette 270, or if you have the budget and want to go the single doser zero retention route, the Niche Zero or new Mignon Oro Zero.

The Baratza Forte is also worth a look, some would view it as a bit too much to spend on a grinder, but it’ll pair well with the majority of espresso machines, so if do get the aforementioned upgraditis where the espresso machine is concerned, you probably won’t need to worry about upgrading the grinder.

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Features:

Water Tank: 2.5L
Dimensions: 40.3 cm wide x 37.3 cm deep x 37.8cm tall
Weight: 15.5 Kg
Boiler: 950ml steam boiler + PID controlled 450ml brew boiler + heat exchanger
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars
Interface: Buttons & steam lever + digital display
Preinfusion?: Yes, pre-set (adjustable) & manual, control over power and length
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes from 86 – 96C in 1C increments

My Observations:

The Sage dual boiler is one of the most popular dual boiler espresso machines in the UK, and in many other countries, and from my experience with this machine, I’m really not surprised. This is an amazing espresso machine for the money.

You may be surprised by the “for the money” comment because if you’re not accustomed to the prices of dual boiler espresso machines the price of the Sage Dual Boiler might not seem low, but it really is for a machine of this quality.

In terms of performance, and particularly where temperature stability is concerned (obviously very important for espresso) the Dual Boiler punches way, way above its weight. As with the ECM casa V the group may not be saturated group (meaning it’s one with the boiler, internally) technically speaking, it performs as if it were due to the way it’s designed.

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You have control over preinfusion power and preinfusion time, which is a rare amount of preinfusion control. The control you have over the brew temperature is also rare, a range of 10 degrees (86-96C) in 1-degree increments, and these two things (preinfusion control and temp control) make the dual boiler an amazing machine for working with lighter roasts.

Many people spend somewhere between four thousand to ten thousand pounds for machines that give enough control in these areas to get great results with lighter roasts, with machines from the Decent Espresso machines, La Marzocco GS3, and Slayer, but even without any modding, the Sage Dual Boiler has the ability to work with light roasts, and with a very simple completely reversible (virtually free) mod, you can use the water knob to control the pressure, for manual flow profiling!

I could go on and on about the Dual Boiler, but I already have done in my review post ;-), so if you want to find out more about it, see:

Sage Dual Boiler Review

Which Grinder?

The Sage Dual Boiler is sold bundled with the Sage Smart Grinder Pro via the “Dynamic Duo” package. I would definitely buy that package vs just buying the Sage Dual Boiler, but I wouldn’t use the Smart Grinder Pro with the Dual Boiler.

The reason I’d buy that package is it gives you the (£210) Smart Grinder Pro for £50, and it’s a great grinder – for £50, I’d definitely want it, either as a backup grinder or as a grinder for manual brew methods, or if you’ve no interest in grinding for other brew methods I’d still buy this package, sell the grinder brand new in box for a couple of hundred quid when Sage are out of stock (it’ll sell fast when that happens) and put this money towards a more espresso specialist grinder.

The Smart Grinder Pro is a mega grinder as an all-rounder, and for use with more entry-level machines, but the Sage Dual Boiler is one of the best espresso machines on the planet, the shot capability is very high, so I’d pair it with as high level a grinder as possible.

At the minimum, I’d say Sette 270 or Eureka Mignon Specialita, but if you have the budget to go for something like the Mignon XL, Mignon Oro Zero, Niche Zero, Baratza Forte, I would do.

People don’t put enough thought into the grinder, generally speaking, but this is like buying a high-performance car and filling it with standard petrol, in fact, this analogy doesn’t quite do justice to the importance of the grinder, pairing the Dual Boiler with an entry-level grinder is really more like putting Deisel in a Mclaren.

For more options see:

25 Best Coffee Grinders

ECM Mechanica V Slim Espresso Machine

ECM Mechanica V Slim Espresso Machine

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Features:

Water Tank: 2.8L
Dimensions: 25 cm wide x 44.5 cm deep x 39.5 cm tall
Weight: 20.2 Kg
Boiler: 2.2L stainless steel steam boiler with heat exchanger
PID?:
No
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars (adjustable)
Steam wand: Pro steam wand with 4 hole steam tip
Interface: Brew lever & rotary steam & hot water knobs.
Preinfusion?: Yes
Adjustable brew temperature: No

My Observations

A good example of how the Sage Dual Boiler punches above its weight, the ECM Mechanica V Slim is also a good machine for the money, all things taken into account, but it’s a heat exchanger machine, and it costs significantly more money than the Sage Dual Boiler.

Heat exchanger machines perform similarly to dual boiler machines in that you can pull shots and steam milk at the same time, but they do this with one boiler, the heat exchanger is basically a pipe that draws water from the tank and heats it via the boiler to deliver the hot water for the group, so heat exchangers, having a single boiler, would usually be cheaper than dual boilers.

This is usually the case, to be fair, most heat exchangers cost less than Dual Boilers, but even the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II which is among the lowest priced heat exchanger machines costs about the same as you can usually get the Dual Boiler for.

Anyway, getting back to the ECM Mechanika V Slim, being an ECM machine we’re talking about serious quality, this would be an Audi or BMW if it were a car, and it packs some big features into a very small footprint.

This very nice looking machine has two pressure gauges, pump pressure and boiler pressure, an E61 group with commercial size 58mm portafilter, stainless steel brew lever, and a stainless steel finish. It comes with two (weight balanced, ergonomic) portafilters, and the pressure adjustment screw is very simple to locate and adjust.

Although this machine doesn’t have a PID, it’s known for its temperature stability – with a cooling flush you should be able to pull several back-to-back shots with very little deviation in shot temperature. It has a vibration pump, so it can’t be plumbed in, but the tank is almost 3 litres so this probably isn’t a deal breaker for most people.

While some people wish it had joysticks for water and steam vs the retro looking rotary valves, it is possible to swap the rotary out for joysticks.

For anyone looking for a powerful machine in a small footprint, I think the Mechanica V slim is very difficult to beat.

Which Grinder?

If you’re looking for a compact grinder to go with this slim espresso machine, the Eureka Mignon Specialita or the Niche Zero would be a good call in my humble opinion. If the size of the grinder isn’t of much concern, then I’d also think about the Baratza Sette 270, 270 wi, Mignon Oro Zero, Mignon XL, or Baratza Forte

La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi Espresso Machine.

La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi Espresso Machine.

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Features:

Water Tank: 3L
Dimensions: 42 cm wide x 42 cm deep x 39 cm tall
Weight: 28 Kg
Boiler: 450ml brew boiler & 1.2L steam boiler
PID?:
Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 53mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars (adjustable)
Interface: Buttons & steam lever
Preinfusion?: Yes, programmable
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes

My Observations

This is a serious looking, and serious performing single group espresso machine from commercial espresso manufacturer La Spaziale made as a compact single group professional espresso machine for commercial or domestic use. For me, this is the machine for baristas or ex-baristas who want a commercial machine at home but can’t afford (or justify) the cost of the LMLM, below.

This is the tank fed version, with a big 3 litre water tank. They also offer a plumbed in version of the S1.

This is a dual boiler espresso machine, with an 0.45 litre boiler for espresso, and a 1.2 litre steam boiler, and although it’s a commercial machine, it’s still relatively compact and is intended for use with a standard domestic electric supply, so don’t worry, you won’t need to mess about with three-phase ;-).

La Spaziali is a very well-known brand of commercial machines, and this isn’t a case of a commercial manufacturer making a machine for home use, it’s a compact commercial machine that is often used by home baristas due to the value for money it represents. You can easily spend more money than this on a prosumer machine, made for the home, which isn’t built to take the same kind of commercial use that the S1 mini Vivaldi is made for, so I can see why someone would go for this espresso machine.

If you’re a pro barista and you use a La Spaziali machine at work, or if you were in the past and you used a La Spaziali machine, then you’d probably gravitate towards this machine for that reason, in the same way that Baristas who use La Marzocco commercial machines might want the Linea Mini at home.

Which Grinder?

Any of the mid range espresso specialist grinders and upwards should pair well with the S1 Mini Vivaldi, including the Eureka Mignon Specialita, Baratza Sette 270, 270 wi, Mignon Oro Zero, Mignon XL or Baratza Forte, or commercial grinders including the Eureka Zenith or Eureka Atom.

La Marzocco Linea Mini.

La Marzocco Linea Mini.

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Features:

Water Tank: 2.1L (or get the plumbed option for £84 more)
Dimensions: 35.7 cm wide x 45.3 cm deep x 37.7 cm tall
Weight: 30 Kg
Boiler: 175ml brew boiler (filled via heat exchanger), 3L steam boiler
PID?: Yes
3 Way Solenoid?:
Yes
Portafilter Size: 58mm
Pump Pressure:
9 bars (adjustable)
Interface: Brew paddle & rotary valves
Preinfusion?: No (there’s pre-brewing at the full brew pressure, but it’s not preinfusion)
Adjustable brew temperature: Yes (via wheel or via app)

My Observations

So we’re finishing off this best espresso machines post with what is regarded by many home baristas as the very best “normal” home barista espresso machine. I say “normal” as this is really for straight espresso, using more traditional espresso roasts, it’s not a pressure profiling machine made for working with lighter roasts.

The brew paddle causes some confusion here, with people making the assumption that the brew paddle must give some control over the flow and therefore this must be a machine for giving great control over the pressure, while this isn’t the case, it’s a more “straight” espresso machine, and for this, it’s amazing, in my humble opinion.

But really, it should be for the money. This isn’t cheap!

This is really a user experience machine, it’ll produce great espresso of course, but I think the reason people want this machine is more about the experience of owning and using such an iconic machine.

If you’ve been a Pro Barista and you’ve used the La Marzocco Linea Classic or Linea Mini, or any other La Marzocco machine really, you’ll probably love the idea of having the “LMLM” in your home, if you’re not fussed about working with light roasts, and if you can justify the spend.

The only negative points I picked up when using the Linea Mini, was the app, the brew paddle, and the water tank.

The water tank is stated at a range of different sizes, depending on where you look, but I measured it and it’s 2.1L, it seems a bit on the tiddly size for such a beast of a machine, but that wouldn’t bother me as if I were buying one of these I’d definitely have it plumbed in.

Again, this wouldn’t bother me if I was using one of these as I’d plumb it in, but I did find the position of the water tank, being behind the drip tray, and the fact that you can’t fully remove it without disconnecting it from the machine to be a bit of a pain.

The brew paddle is something that seems to split opinions, some people love it, I’m in the “I’m not sure about the brew paddle” camp, to be honest. If actually performed any other purpose than just being a giant horizontal on/off switch, such as allowing pressure profiling, then great, but it’s literally just an on/off switch.

For me, a shot timer would be a very welcome addition, and if they had used standard shot buttons rather than the paddle, there would have been plenty of room for a shot timer, but that’s just me, you might love the brew paddle – and you can buy brew paddles (have a look on Etsy) which have a built-in shot timer.

The app, what can I say about the app?… Well, to be fair the app was pretty good once I could get it paired, and while the connection lasted, but the problem I had was getting connected. I use Samsung, so Android, and I don’t know if this is just an issue with the Android app, but it took me a lot of messing about to eventually get it paired, and when I did, it lost connection and I had to do it all over again. The connectivity does seem very hit and miss, but I’m sure that’s something they’re working on.

Being able to set an on/off schedule via the app is great, and being able to change the brew temp is great too, and being able to see the brew temperature and various other info is all very good, and I’m sure they’ll improve the range of features on the app over time too.

Shot quality I found to be stunning, and the steam power is immense – if you’re accustomed to using commercial machines then you’ll love the steam power, if you’re not (as I wasn’t) you may have to go through a slight learning curve, as the initial aeration phase takes a couple of seconds, and the entire steaming process (depending on how much milk you’re steaming) will take something like 15-20 seconds.

For more on the LMLM see:

La Marzocco Linea Mini Review

Which Grinder?

With an espresso machine of this level, I’d recommend going as high up the range as you can, as even small improvements in grind uniformity will potentially help you to raise the shot quality further.

Baratza Forte, Eureka Mignon XL, Eureka Zenith, Eureka Atom, Eureka Olympus, or even something like the Ceado E37S, or the single doser version Ceado E37SD, Mythos One, Mythos Two, Mahlkonig E80, or Ceado E37Z Hero.

If you don’t have the budget straight away to pair your LMLM with such a grinder, you’ll be fine with the likes of the Eureka Mignon Specialita or Baratza Sette 270, but I just think that with a machine of this caliber you’d benefit from going as premium as you can with the grinder.

Kev’s Best Home Espresso Machines What the FAQ

OK, so we’ve reached the end of the suggestions, if I’ve left you even more confused than you were when you started ;-), just drop me an email if you have any questions. Here are my answers to the most commonly asked questions, though:

What is the best espresso machine

As you’ll know if you’ve read this post, this may seem like a simple question, but it’s really not, in fact there is no answer to this question. What you need to be asking is what is the best espresso machine for you – and to answer that question, you need to know what type of espresso machine user you are, so you know what type of espresso machine would be best for you. If you’ve landed on this post and have scrolled straight down to the FAQ, I’d recommend reading at least the intro of the post, as it’ll point you in the right direction towards answering this question. 

How to choose the best espresso machine?

Again, this comes down to understanding what kind of espresso machine user you are, so you know what type of espresso machine is the right match, and from there you can narrow down the search based on budget and the kind of features you need.

For example, if you figure out that you’re a traditional espresso machine user, but you rarely make milkies, you probably wouldn’t be looking at a dual boiler, instead, you’d probably be looking for a single boiler machine or thermocoil espresso machine. 

If, on the other hand, you drink mainly cappuccino, latte, or flat white, and you want to be able to steam milk and make shots at the same time, then you’ll be looking at a heat exchanger or dual boiler espresso machine. 

What is a good home espresso machine?

A good home espresso machine is one that matches your needs, and this begins with understanding the different kinds of espresso machines and choosing the type that suits you. As I mentioned earlier, buying the wrong type of espresso machine is similar to buying a car and then discovering that you bought a manual yet you only drive auto, oops. While you probably wouldn’t make that mistake, it’s actually really easy to end up making such a mistake when buying home espresso machines, many people do, in fact. 

I’m only talking about espresso machines that I know a bit about, and as you’ll have seen if you’ve read the entire post, I’ve spent time with most of the machines I’m talking about within this post, so any of the machines I introduce via this post can be regarded as good home espresso machines, but just ensure that you’re getting the right type of espresso machine by reading the “what kind of espresso machine user are you” section at the beginning of this post.

What is a bean to cup espresso machine?

Bean to cup espresso machines are a more simple and accessible route for making espresso and espresso-based drinks at home, and in the office. They allow you to walk up to the machine, press a button, and walk off with your coffee, well, to a certain degree anyway. If you’re using a “one touch” or “super automatic” bean to cup, it’s a one touch affair for the coffee and for the milk, if you buy a more entry-level version, the cup quality will usually be more or less identical but you’ll have to use the steam wand to steam your milk, and then pour it into your cup. 

Bean to cup machines have what’s called a “Brewing unit” or “brew unit” which replaces the portafilter and group on traditional machines. You press the button, the coffee is ground, delivered into the basket in the brewing unit, tamped, the water is delivered into the basket via the pump, and the espresso lands in your cup and the used puck of coffee is expelled internally into the dreg draw, which you’ll be alerted of the need to empty once full.

Which are best for home use, bean to cup or traditional espresso machines?

Bean to cup machines are more hands off, quicker, and far more convenient – but the cup quality is different with bean to cup vs traditional espresso machines. The espresso is usually less intense, and the mouth feel is usually less full and viscous if comparing using the same coffee beans. People who mainly drink milkies and rarely drink neat espresso are less likely to find this a problem, while neat espresso drinkers are more likely to go for traditional espresso machines.

Is the grinder important for home espresso machines?

The grinder is probably the most important aspect of espresso quality, especially if you’re moving away from the entry-level and investing in a more capable espresso machine.

Buying a mid-range espresso machine and a high-end grinder could be seen as analogous to modifying a mid-range car while buying a mid to high-end espresso machine and pairing it with an entry-level espresso machine would be like buying a performance sports car and putting standard petrol in it instead of performance fuel.

How to make espresso without an espresso machine?

I know this question doesn’t appear to fit with this post, as it’s not a question relating to espresso machines, as such, it’s a question about making espresso without an espresso machine, but I think the answer to this question makes it a relevant question to answer here. 

The simple answer to this question is that you can’t.

If you want true espresso, you need an espresso machine, and even the very cheapest pressurized basket espresso machine that I discussed at the beginning of this post will deliver way better espresso than you will get using any alternative method for espresso without an espresso machine. 

The best way to make “espresso-style” coffee without an espresso machine is possible with Aeropress, and you can see me doing this in the video below – but I think you’ll find that even with an £80 cheap domestic pressurized basket espresso machine, you’ll get closer to true espresso than you would with the Aeropress, which does deliver concentrated espresso, but it’s just not quite espresso. 

I would say that espresso from a pressurized basket espresso machine, or from a bean to cup espresso machine also isn’t quite espresso when compared to the espresso made by a time-served home barista using a traditional espresso machine, but I’d also say that you’ll get closer to true espresso with any of these machines than with any “espresso style” alternative.

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This article firstly appeared at Coffee Blog – The UK Specialty Coffee Blog – For Lovers of REAL Coffee!

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