These espresso machines lack the venti price tag

May 2, 2012 at 11:46 AM ET

The DeLonghi EC155 is an entry-level espresso machine that costs around $80.

By Kara Reinhardt,

Home espresso machines perch haughtily on store shelves, attachments gleaming, seemingly out of reach for anyone not wielding a gift registry gun. Look more closely, however, and you’ll see that models bearing respected Italian brand names may also bear price tags of less than $250. Even a top espresso maker under $100 is capable of yielding a robust cup topped with a rich crema.

Below are Cheapism’s picks for frugal espresso drinkers.

  • The DeLonghi EC155 (starting at $80) turns out espresso shots quickly and reliably, according to online reviews by consumers and experts. It features a stainless-steel boiler and a swiveling milk frother for making lattes or cappuccinos. (Where to buy)
  • The Nespresso Citiz C110 (starting at $230) can brew both a regular espresso shot and a lungo or larger shot made with more water, although it has no steamer wand for other espresso drinks. Reviewers marvel at how easy it is to use and clean this machine. (Where to buy)
  • The Capresso EC100 (starting at $135) features a dual frother that can be positioned to produce either steamed milk for a latte or frothed milk for a cappuccino. Reviewers appreciate that this espresso maker can brew two tasty shots at the same time. (Where to buy)
  • The Saeco Aroma 00347 (starting at $219) has a stainless-steel boiler and earns kudos in online reviews for its quality. It boasts an 85-ounce water tank for making multiple shots in succession and offers the option to upgrade the portafilter (which holds the coffee grounds) as you establish your barista bona fides. (Where to buy)

These are semi-automatic machines, the most popular type for at-home brewing. They require a bit more skill to operate than fully automatic espresso makers that grind the beans, tamp down the grounds, and force a preset amount of water through the tightly packed coffee. However, they have a gentle learning curve and certainly outstrip expensive and demanding manual machines.

Many espresso makers accept either loose coffee grounds or standard E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pods. Nespresso machines use only the brand’s proprietary capsules, which come in 16 varieties. Capsules or pods promise unparalleled consistency and ease of use, but plenty of espresso lovers insist that the best -- and cheapest -- brew comes from loose grounds. By one estimate, Nespresso capsules cost about 20 cents more per serving than a good specialty blend of ground beans. You also can’t go out and buy them just anywhere; they’re available from only a few select retailers and generally must be ordered online or by phone through the company’s Nespresso Club.

While manufacturers tend to ballyhoo the maximum pressure of a given espresso maker, all the models on our list generate at least 15 bars -- more than enough for optimum brewing, experts say. The DeLonghi, Capresso, and Saeco machines each feature a warming tray to temper the chill of those tiny ceramic cups and keep them from subduing piping-hot shots.

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