May 2, 2012 at 11:46 AM ET
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
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.
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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