Buying an espresso machine is probably the most nerve wracking

Buying an espresso machine is probably the most nerve wracking and expensive part of setting up a café. When fitting out a new venue there is so much to think about – interior features, furniture, and cooking equipment all jostle for your time and money. Strangely, people often manage to get all of this stuff right and then realise that the bit of kit that is making the biggest profit margin is the same one that they no longer have any cash for.

In a previous article we looked at buying grinders and in that I emphasised just how important it was not to scrimp on them. The same is true of espresso machines. I would always recommend to buy the machine first and then work everything else out around that, even if it means people sitting on packing crates. That is not to say you need the most expensive thing on the market to make good coffee, but certainly spending a bit more can have a big impact on your ability to make hassle-free, delicious coffees.

Brand new versus second-hand espresso machines

I wouldn’t even think of buying a second hand car without knowing a good mechanic, and the same is true of an espresso machine. There can be some seriously expensive problems lurking within an otherwise decent looking second hand machine, so unless you have access to reliable and trustworthy espresso engineers. Always get someone qualified to check your potential purchase is behaving itself. Remember also that although an engineer might tell you whether a machine was working ok, only a competent barista can tell you if it can make nice drinks.

If you can’t stump up for new then it pays to bear a few things in mind.

  • Avoid anything with too many bells and whistles. The more buttons there are, the more of the machine’s functionality is dependent on the circuit board and when these go it can be VERY expensive to replace.
  • Avoid unusual models that might be discontinued or hard to get spares for – La Spaziale, Cimbali, and Fracino are just a few of the main brands out there that should be able to offer quick and available parts.
  • Speculate as to the kind of use that the machine may have had in it’s lifetime and factor in whether it has been attached to a water filter in that time. I wouldn’t touch a machine that I thought had been run without one, as limescale damage can be hard to gauge and expensive to repair.

(Related post: How to buy a coffee maker or espresso machine)

Don’t get the cheapest machine you can find

It might seem obvious, but you really do get what you pay for. The La Spaziale s2 is a great example of an entry level machine that ticks all the boxes. It has a nice big boiler for a high drinks capacity and powerful steam wands for silky milk drinks.

Smaller machines will really struggle in busy venues and if you aim to be busy one day (and who doesn’t?!) then it pays to factor in how your machine might cope under pressure. We have put these out in some very high volume sites and they are real work-horses.

Absolutely fantastic Breville home espresso machine for the price

First and foremost, this is an absolutely fantastic home espresso machine for the price. It definitely takes some practice to learn how to get the most out of and find the sweet spot (which i've learned always differs depending on the type of beans & grinder you are using). But now after 3 months and a LOT of researching/learning/practice/more practice, I am now consistently making absolutely fantastic espresso drinks.

If you are new to the world of espresso, or have some knowledge, I wanted to write about my experience buying this machine 3 months ago knowing little to nothing about espresso, to now consistently pulling absolutely delicious espresso drinks on a daily basis with this Breville espresso machine. Here we go:

I waited 3 months after purchasing this unit to write a proper review, and I wanted to give a lot of information I have learned and discovered to help others looking into buying a home espresso setup. I honestly knew little to nothing about espresso before purchasing this machine, and have done A LOT of research, reading, testing, and barista questioning in order to learn how the art of making quality espresso is done. I now make 2-3 espresso drinks a day with the Infuser and am EXTREMELY satisfied with its performance. It's not easy to make a high quality espresso by any means, but once you figure out how to manage all the important espresso variables (type of beans, grind coarseness, dose, tamp pressure), this machine produces truly remarkable results that any professional barista will be highly impressed with (yes I did receive this feedback). (More: Different types of coffee beans)

The most important aspects of making this machine work well (and any espresso machine for that matter) are having a quality grinder and fresh, quality beans.

When I first got this machine, I was under the impression you wanted to grind as fine as possible for making espresso. I set my Infinity Burr Grinder to its finest setting, using some peet's espresso beans, and immediately the machine clogged up, not producing any espresso. I tried again, dialing the grind a little coarser, and again the machine clogged up. Same thing with the third time, although this time I was able to produce a few drops of espresso. After about 5 tries I was able to pull an actual shot of espresso which tasted incredibly strong to me but good (at this point in time I didnt really know what to look for in a quality shot of espresso).

Long story short I realized the beans I was using were INCREDIBLY oily and played a huge factor in easily clogging up my machine. Next I purchased some Blue Bottle espresso beans, which got along with my machine MUCH better. Now I was making some great progress, tasting more like espresso, but still not close to what the baristas at Blue Bottle were serving.

I went through a lot of beans & brands playing with the grind coarseness, and soon became familiar of the "sweet spot" settings on my grinder where the espresso came out tasting best. I was now becoming more familiar with what a good shot of espresso was supposed to taste like after spending a bunch of time at Four Barrel & Blue Bottle cafes in San Francisco. I also learned to start timing my shot times and that also helped me immensely improve the quality of my espresso (typically between 24-30 seconds depending on the type of beans you are using).

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