What to Look for When Buying an Espresso Machine

What to Look for When Buying an Espresso Machine


Before we jump into how to choose an espresso machine, note that there are four main types of machines, which range from the highest effort to brew an espresso (manual espresso machines) to touching a single button and watching your latte get brewed for you (super-automatic espresso machines).

The four main types of espresso machines are manual, semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic. There is a fine line between a semi-automatic and an automatic espresso machine; our recommendations for the best espresso machines will always fall within this range. Though some interesting espresso machines are in the super-automatic range, we will not recommend any of those machines as the price to beverage quality doesn't add up. You can read more about why we do not recommend super-automatic machines here.

Automatic machines, like many of the Breville’s on the market, may have built-in grinders, tamping functionality, and even stored recipes where you touch a button and your drink is brewed for you; It sounds great, but the increase of automation or parts of the process that you can’t control or adjust leaves you with a narrow window of what types of coffees work best for that machine (this is much the case with super-automatic machines).

Semi-automatic espresso machines are the types we prefer, recommend, and brew with. In almost all cases, you have complete control over brew temperature, length, volumetrics, dose, and pre-infusion times. While semi-automatic machines are great for beginners, skill, and understanding of espresso brewing are required to pull a fantastic shot. Semi-automatic machines can produce some of the worst-tasting espresso shots you have ever had or café quality or even above café quality, which the automatic and super-automatic machines cannot come close to.

Now that you have somewhat of a base concerning the machine type let’s dive into what you should look for when buying an espresso machine.


What to look out for when choosing an espresso machine

  1. Machine Type: We push users toward semi-automatic machines as they are the perfect blend of convenience and control, somewhat lacking with automatic and super-automatic machines.
  2. Price to components: Carefully compare machines side-by-side to ensure you are getting the most for the price.
  3. Temperature control (PID): You will always brew better espresso when you can alter temperatures; look for a machine with a PID controller.
  4. Boiler configuration: Depending on your price range, heat exchangers will be the optimal single-boiler setup, while dual boilers are ideal for those without budget concerns.
  5. Boiler Material Type: Look for boilers that are stainless steel at minimum, but lean toward ones built with copper and brass components like the Rocket Espresso Machines. If you are looking at a machine with aluminum boilers, ensure they are stainless steel lined to improve corrosion resistance.
  6. Brew group type: E61 brew groups are always a great and reliable choice, but electronically heated and saturated group heads can be more efficient and versatile.
  7. Portafilter size: 58mm portafilters are the ideal size.
  8. External material: This is purely for aesthetics, and models under $1,000 tend to have more plastic elements and brushed steel. If you find a machine that fits everything you need, don’t worry too much about the external housing.
  9. Internal material: The internal build quality matters regarding the machine's longevity and the overall efficiency and consistency of all aspects of the brewing process. Look for brass and copper components if you want a machine that can withstand time.
  10. Pressure profiling and flow control: If you are upgrading your machine and see yourself as a more advanced home espresso enthusiast, having the capability to control pressure and/or flow will take your espresso game to the next level.
  11. Parts and servicing: Ensure the espresso machine you purchase has an adequate warranty and parts and servicing network. That beautiful one-of-a-kind espresso machine may look nice in your kitchen, but if it breaks down and you have no one to repair it, you’ll wish you went with a more common brand.
  12. Resell value: Again, go with the common and desirable brands; you’ll find it quite easy to sell your machine once you are looking for an upgrade.
  13. Milk-steaming capabilities: If your dream machine has it, you are pretty much set. If you are doing higher volumes at home or in a small shop, you may want to look into dedicating more research to steaming power, accessories, and no-burn insulated wands.
  14. Reservoir capacity: No one wants to refill a machine every few days, but if your machine is a small-footprint single boiler machine, you might have to be okay with doing so. When looking at upgrades, some heat exchanger machines, like the Rocket Espresso line, will have upward of 98 ounces of capacity, and many dual boiler machines will offer well over 100 ounces of capacity.
  15. Water filtration: Most modern espresso machines will have built-in filtration in the reservoir, so all you need to know is the type and how often to change it. If you are looking to direct plumb your espresso machine, there are a lot of great filtration options that exist outside of your machine, which is something of a larger discussion not covered here.

The Top 15 Features to Look Out for When Buying an Espresso Machine

Machine Type

If you read the previous few paragraphs, you know that manual espresso machines require a lot of effort and don’t have temperature stability or control, and many of the brew functionalities (like milk-steaming) of the machines above it and we also know that automatic and super-automatic machines while extremely easy to use, lack the control needed to fine-tune your shot of espresso or home in on the perfect recipe for that expensive micro-lot you just purchased. So, with all that said, a blend of some effort and minimal automation leaves us with a machine that gives us complete control over our espresso-brewing destiny: the semi-automatic machine.

Look for the machine type, and depending on how in-depth you want to get with espresso brewing, pick the machine that fits your brew style, but note the positives and negatives of each type (manual, semi-automatic, automatic, super-automatic).





Price to Components

You’ll find very similar espresso machines that range in price in terms of components, functionality, and durability. It is always wise to use an espresso machine comparison tool like the one we created here to understand better the ins and outs of the espresso machine you want to buy versus others at or below your target price range. Some phenomenal machines have all sorts of functionality, so it is always wise to measure them up against others in their price range, both below and above.

Note that what you are often paying for comes down to the physical components of the machine. How many boilers does that machine have, boiler type, materials used for the boiler, internal components, and external components? While functionality like PID temperature control or pressure profiling capabilities comes at a cost, the bulk of what you are paying for is building material boiler and pump design.

Brew Group Temperature

PID Temperature Control

Pressure Profiling

Flow Control

Temperature Control (PID)

You can’t brew great espresso without controlling the three most important aspects of brewing: time, temperature, and recipe/volumetrics. A PID controller is essential for maintaining and adjusting temperature, which is vital for brewing espresso. The biggest impact the PID will have on your espresso brewing is temperature control, stability, and accuracy.

PID, short for Proportional-Integral-Derivative, plays a key role in stabilizing the temperature in an espresso machine. This controller utilizes the PID algorithm to manage the machine's temperature effectively, offering more precision than traditional thermostat-based systems. Additionally, it can directly adjust the machine's temperature, typically through control buttons that allow you to raise or lower the brewing temperature. This functionality is especially beneficial for home baristas keen on experimenting with various roast levels, from light to dark.

Boiler Configuration

There are several boiler designs and configurations for espresso machines, and knowing the differences will steer you in the right direction. In short, there are single-boilers, heat exchangers, and dual or double-boiler espresso machines, each with pros and cons.

Single boiler machines are, you guessed it, ones with one boiler that must handle both brewing and steaming (though not simultaneously). Single boiler machines are more compact (think the Breville Bambino Plus), more inexpensive than other boiler designs, and great for those who do not need to push out back-to-back drinks.

Heat exchanger machines are also single-boiler designs but crafted in a way to handle both brewing and steaming at the same time. While they can also be slightly more compact and inexpensive than dual boiler machines, they have some flaws.

While heat exchangers offer good consistency and cost-effectiveness, they may struggle in high-volume scenarios, potentially leading to temperature fluctuations and less consistent espresso flavor. However, they are certainly a slight upgrade from single-boiler machines.

Dual boiler machines are equipped with two separate boilers, one for brewing and one for steaming, ensuring consistent temperature control for both processes. This design eliminates the risk of temperature fluctuations during shot preparation. It's especially advantageous in high-volume cafés, where quick recovery is essential. While they offer excellent performance, dual boiler machines are more costly due to the additional materials and components.

Boiler Materials

You finally wrapped your head around some of the basics of espresso machines, and now we are tossing in build materials to the mix… unfortunately, yes. While we won’t bore you with every metal type's conductivity and retention properties, note that there are considerable differences.

Look for boilers that are stainless steel at minimum, but lean toward ones built with copper and brass components like the Rocket Espresso Machines. If you are looking at a machine with aluminum boilers, ensure they are stainless steel lined to improve corrosion resistance.

Brew Group Type

There are several main types of group heads on the market, each with unique features and benefits: E61, Saturated, and Electronically Heated.

The E61 group head, named for its 1961 inception during a solar eclipse, is revered for its classic design and reliable performance. Despite being over 61 years old, it's been refined. It's known for its simple, durable design, mechanical 3-way valve, and compatibility with various upgrades and accessories. However, more modern designs like saturated groups have surpassed their temperature stability and thermal efficiency. The E61 is still a favorite in home espresso machines due to its ease of maintenance, availability of parts, and aesthetics. Machines like the Rocket Appartamento and Lelit Bianca are popular E61 models.

Saturated group heads, introduced by La Marzocco in 1970, feature excellent thermal stability by integrating the group head as an extension of the coffee boiler. This design ensures consistent water temperature and quick heating. Saturated group heads are prevalent in commercial machines for their reliability and efficiency, but they are more expensive to maintain and repair. La Marzocco's GB5 and Linea Classic are machines with saturated group heads.

Electronically heated group heads represent the latest espresso technology, offering precise temperature control and the ability to change temperatures on the fly during a shot. This design is seen in newer commercial and high-end home machines like the LM Micra and Decent. These machines provide unparalleled precision, but distinguishing high-quality models from lesser ones can be challenging.

In summary, while the E61 group head is an old but reliable technology favored for home use, saturated and electronically heated group heads offer superior temperature control and efficiency, marking the direction of future developments in espresso machine technology.

Portafilter Size

While you have all sorts of portafilter sizes across home and commercial machines, the most common portafilter size falls within the 58mm range. Most higher-end espresso machines have 58mm portafilters, and some of the more inexpensive home espresso machines will likely have 54mm portafilters. Why does this matter? For one, brew groups with better tech or overall better (in most cases) tend to be designed for 58mm.

Furthermore, many of the best espresso machine accessories are designed for 58mm. That means that fancy WDT tool or espresso basket you have been eyeing on Instagram may only work for a 58mm basket. It is certainly not the end of the world if your machine has a 54mm basket like that on the Breville Bambino Plus; you have to search a bit more for the accessories for your machine.

External Material

The external material of the machine is another component that can drastically drive-up costs. For the most part, the external housing is nothing more than aesthetic and won’t impact the machine's longevity (unless you drop it!) or brew capability. Machines below the $1,000 price point often use a mix of plastics, brushed stainless steel, and aluminum components. As you move up in price range, you’ll see higher-grade 304 stainless steel (chromium-nickel) often used across the entire exterior.

Internal Material

While the external material of an espresso machine primarily influences its price and aesthetic, the internal build material significantly affects its brewing performance, particularly in terms of temperature stability and accuracy. Lower-cost machines frequently utilize plastic and silicone components as substitutes for brass and copper. This reduces heat retention and leads to earlier failures and more frequent replacements compared to their metal counterparts. Therefore, opting for machines with internal brass or copper components is a better choice for enhanced durability and brewing efficiency.

Pressure Profiling/Flow Control

As home espresso enthusiasts continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the home environment, their desire for better control over the entire brew process has become quite evident. Most espresso machines tend to run a very standard pressure profile where brew pressure gradually increases during a preinfusion stage and then increases to 9 bars of pressure, which the machine holds until the shot is complete. While that pressure profile is time-tested, it may not always be the best option for every cup of coffee.

Lever machines have proved that a slowly declining pressure profile at the end of the brewing process can improve not only flow rates but also the overall taste of the shot. Home espresso enthusiasts now want the ability to alter pressure and flow rates to craft unique profiles for different coffees. The thought is (and certainly true) that not every coffee tastes optimally at the time-tested 9-bar recipe. Altering all aspects of the brewing process, from time, temperature, pressure, and flow rates, will lead to divine espresso shots.

You can add flow control to E61 group head machines as an accessory or an upgrade so your machine does not have to come with its stock. That said, pressure profiling is mostly reserved for machines like the Decent Espresso and Rocket R Nine One.

Parts and Servicing

The value of an espresso machine lies not only in its quality but also in the availability of local repair and servicing support. This is a key reason behind the widespread popularity of E61 group machines, known for their readily available parts and service options. Larger manufacturers like Breville, Rocket, La Marzocco, and Lelit offer robust warranties and extensive service networks, ensuring that any issues with your machine can be promptly addressed. In contrast, less common machines may lack this extensive support, making repairs and parts replacement more challenging. When choosing an espresso machine, prioritize one that meets your needs and comes with a strong warranty and accessible servicing in your area. This ensures a great brewing experience and peace of mind over the machine's lifespan.

Resell Value

Having meticulously maintained and serviced your machine according to the manufacturer's guidelines, you're now ready to sell. At this point, it's worth noting that popular machine models generally perform better in the resale market compared to less common ones. However, remember that more affordable machines, like a $499.00 Breville, may not retain their value as much as higher-end, sought-after models. Nevertheless, it's reassuring to know that platforms like usedcoffeegear.com are available for selling your well-maintained machine. Successfully selling it can provide you with funds to invest in a newer, more premium espresso machine, making the maintenance effort worthwhile.

Milk Steaming Capabilities

Regarding steaming milk, semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic espresso machines typically offer this feature. As you ascend towards higher-end models, you'll notice a marked improvement in steam pressure and consistency. Just as brewing pressure is crucial for espresso, the pressure involved in milk steaming is equally important. Lower-priced machines may require around a minute to froth milk for a single latte or cappuccino, but more advanced machines with robust steam power can achieve this in less than 20 seconds. Premium espresso machines usually generate superior steam that is drier, more uniform, and ideal for creating latte art. Interestingly, while many high-end machines lack steam temperature control, some budget-friendly models, like the Breville Bambino Plus, do offer this feature.

Ultimately, the machine you choose will likely have milk-steaming capabilities. Still, the efficiency and quality of the steam depend on factors like boiler configuration (with independent dual boilers for steaming being the optimal choice) and steam pressure. Additionally, consider simple enhancements like a one-hole steam tip, which can increase pressure, aiding the milk's frothing, spinning, and overall consistency.

Reservoir Capacity

Smaller, single-boiler espresso machines typically feature relatively modest water reservoirs, often holding 70 ounces or less. Depending on your daily beverage brewing frequency, you might refill these reservoirs every 2 to 3 days. In contrast, dual-boiler and some heat exchanger models, such as Rocket Espresso Machines, boast larger reservoirs, with capacities starting at 98 ounces. Machines like the Bezzera Matrix and Duo impressively offer up to 135 ounces. While the size of the reservoir is mainly a matter of convenience, many enthusiasts eventually consider plumbing their espresso machines directly to a water source. However, this is a more complex setup and warrants a separate discussion and guide, especially considering that most machines priced under $1,000 don’t offer this feature.

Water Filtration

Much like the considerations for reservoir capacity and plumbing, opting for direct plumbing in your espresso machine opens up a detailed discussion about water testing and filtration, which many home espresso enthusiasts might not delve into. However, direct plumbing is optimal, especially for those progressing to higher-end espresso machines. Exploring direct plumbing and external filtration is advisable, as this can lead to both cost savings and enhanced machine performance.
Moreover, it's important to note that espresso machines ranging from the more budget-friendly Breville models to the higher-end Rocket, Profitec, and Lelit, typically include filters in their water reservoirs. To maintain optimal machine performance, follow the manufacturer's guidelines on filter replacement, as outlined in the user manual. For the best results, always use high-quality spring water in your machine and avoid filling the reservoir with tap water to ensure the longevity and functionality of your espresso machine.


When considering the purchase of an espresso machine, it's essential to focus on several key aspects to ensure you get the best value and performance for your needs. Firstly, the type of machine is crucial: semi-automatic machines are recommended for their balance of control and convenience, allowing you to fine-tune your espresso brewing experience.

Pay attention to the price in relation to the components and functionalities of the machine. Higher prices often reflect better quality materials and more advanced features, like PID temperature control, which is vital for brewing consistency. The boiler configuration and material are also important, with dual boilers offering the best performance in temperature stability and steaming power.

The brew group type, particularly the E61, is notable for its reliability and compatibility with various accessories. Additionally, a 58mm portafilter size is generally preferred for its compatibility with high-quality accessories.

The machine's external and internal build materials affect its aesthetic and functional longevity, with higher-grade materials ensuring better performance and durability. Features like pressure profiling and flow control are increasingly popular among home espresso enthusiasts for crafting unique brew profiles.

Also, consider the availability of parts and servicing and the machine's resale value. Machines from well-known brands often have better support networks and retain their value better in the resale market.

Milk steaming capabilities vary across machines, with higher-end models providing better steam power and consistency, crucial for latte art. The water reservoir capacity is convenient, with larger reservoirs requiring less frequent refilling.

Lastly, water filtration is important, especially if considering direct plumbing. High-quality spring water is recommended for your machine's best performance and longevity.

In summary, when selecting an espresso machine, balance your brewing style preferences with the machine's functionality, material quality, and support features to find the best fit for your espresso journey.

Our Favorite Espresso Machines

Machine Price Great For Boiler Type Group Head Key Feature Our Rating


Novce - Experts

Heat Exchange


Extremely well-built inside and out with PID



Novce - Experts

Heat Exchange


Extremely well-built inside and out





Breville Group/53mm

Built-in grinder and PID



Beginners - Novice

Single Boiler

LELIT58 commercial group/58mm

PID, digital temperature display



Novce - Experts



Well-built and travel ready





Breville patented group design/54mm

Slim design, quick start times and easy to use



Novice - Expert

Proprietary system (no boiler)

Decente Espresso's design/58mm

Pressure, temperature, and flow profiling


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