Tired of spending $3 every morning for your espresso coffee half decaf, low fat, extra foam latte? I was, although I was in between machines as my 10 year old espresso machine died and it took me a while to figure out my upgrade path. My wife speculates that I did about 12 hours of research into finding the perfect espresso machine to buy. I also spent a couple of months testing out the various morning coffee locations and was getting embarrassed by what was coming out of my mouth when I ordered what I thought was a simple drink, but was hard work spitting out without any caffeine.

I'll walk you through the basics of espresso coffee and my personal favorite espresso+steamed milk variation, the latte. I will share my hard earned research and tell you the best espresso machine to buy and how I came to that conclusion.

Why make your own espresso?

For me the main reason was that I couldn't order exactly what I wanted. I needed more control over the amount of caffeine and the espresso to milk/foam ratio.

The experience and benefits of making something yourself, no matter how small or trivial, is also something I crave. Starting off the day crafting my drink of choice makes my day that much better.

So let's get started.

Step 1: Espresso Machines

Before getting started on your path to espresso perfection, you're going to need to decide what kind of espresso machine you want to buy.

How much should you spend?

Let's do the math. My wife and I typically have one latte a day, so at $3, that's $2,190 a year. I expect a quality espresso machine to last at least 10 years and probably more if it's properly maintained. I probably would have spent up to $2-3k if I thought the machine was worth it. I ended up spending about $1,200 for the espresso machine and grinder.

There are too many espresso machines to choose from and it's hard to figure out which is the best one. I stayed away from the pod only machines, since I wanted to have control over where I bought my coffee and what kind of coffee I wanted to use. For example the Nespresso machines don't have an option to buy a half decaf pod and each pod costs $.50. Most of these machines won't do much for steaming milk either. I don't like twist off beer caps or screw-off wine caps, so where's the art is throwing in a pod and pressing a button. Not for me thanks.

The best espresso machine for your money

Through my hours of research on forums, reviews, in store investigations, this is what I bought.


The Silvia is a great machine and the most popular. It's in the ~$600 price range without a temp. control modification. The temperature control is an custom modification to control the temperature of the water. Without the temp. control, the boiler can fluctuate ~40 degrees. You typically need to spend $2000+ for temperature control in an espresso machine, but you can get the Sylvia for less than half of that . You can also buy kits to do this yourself and there are a number of instructions on how to do this, just google Silvia PID.

Now you'll need a grinder

I thought I could get away without buying a grinder, but I was wrong, very wrong. You'll need a burr grinder that you can adjust to match your coffee beans. I'll explain this more in the next step, but trust me, don't skimp on the grinder or you'll never be happy with your results.
<p>It obviously a good suggestion to make espresso at home and save some bucks and it's pretty simple to make a basic cup of espresso at home if you have a nice machine. For $1200, you can get a pretty much good machine like Rancilio, Breville or even a Jura (Super Espresso). Here is a list of <a href="http://www.friedcoffee.com/the-5-best-espresso-machines-for-home/" rel="nofollow">top espresso machines</a> that are worth to look for.</p>
Any guides on building an espresso maker? I can't seem to find any.
<a href="http://www.engadget.com/2005/02/15/how-to-make-a-cheap-portable-espresso-machine/" rel="nofollow">Here</a> i found one...
I would actually discourage most people from getting their own home espresso machine. For most consumers, home espresso machines are the home exercise treadmills of the new millennium. People think they want it and that it will save them money, but in the long term they're just too lazy to really get much out of it and the purchase sits gathering dust in the corner -- while they succumb to the convenience of having someone else make your coffee. Evil green mermaid or otherwise. And as for the machine, that's only one element. Some consumers buy some ridiculous $1,000 machine and yet use a $50 grinder -- which is like buying a $30,000 stereo system to play 64kb mp3s. @ pyro13: if there's no point to coffee without caffeine, then skip the coffee and look for a drug delivery mechanism. Like a syringe for instance. If the coffee is just a formality, you're a user of coffee, not an enjoyer of the stuff.
This sounds like a comment from a coffee-business owner :) I make really delicious coffee at home every day with my stove-top stainless steel espresso maker and locally-roasted organic beans. And I also support the local roasteries and espresso shops. I live just outside a small town of 10,000 people - I pass 4 roadside (think fruitstand-style) espresso shops on my way to town, and have my choice of at least 10 espresso-dedicated cafes once I get there. My favourite smell in the world is walking in town in with the crisp fall air enriched by the aroma of the local roastery roasting beans in the early morning...
you dont need to spend to mutch money on equiptment <br/>my second setup cost about $500 dol austrailian worth every cent<br/><br/> <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.sunbeam.com.au/Pages/Browse/ProductDetail.aspx?pcid=8079&pid=1120">* Caf&eacute; Series&reg; Conical Burr Coffee Grinder</a><br/><br/>
SERIESCAFEyou don't need to spend to mutch money on equipment <br/>my second setup cost about $500 doll Australian worth every cent<br/><br/> <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.sunbeam.com.au/Pages/Browse/ProductDetail.aspx?acid=8079&paid=1120">* Caf&eacute; Series&reg; Conical Burr Coffee Grinder</a><br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.sunbeam.com.au/Pages/Browse/ProductDetail.aspx?acid=8079&pid=1124">my machine Caf&eacute; Espresso&#8482;</a><br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.sunbeam.com.au/Pages/Browse/ProductDetail.aspx?pcid=8079&pid=1114">* Barista Pack</a><br/><br/>the secret is good coffee here in austrailia i use vitoria oro gold but if you have trouble finding good coffee ask the shop you get a nice cup from they get coffee deliverd fresh 1-2 times a week and will usurally sell it at cost<br/><br/>WARNING once you get set up you will ruin the expirience of buying a cup of coffee as 90per cent of the cups you buy will not meat your standards for a good/drinkable cup one of the moast common mistakes you will notice is a coffe shot should be one ounce 30mls about 1/3 of a cup after that the cremer turns whte and the coffee come out biter i call it creek water or 2nd hand coffee (when you forget to refill your espresso handle another is to hot you burn your toung<br/><br/>
re:you don't need to spend to much money on equipment<br/>my second setup cost about $500 doll Australian worth every cent<br/><br/>nice choice on your upgrade how many years is the warranty<br/>check out<br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.myitalia.com.au/products.html">http://www.myitalia.com.au/products.html</a><br/>
Unfortunately, it looks like your shots are over-extracted (tighten your grind!). They shouldn't be that light tan color. Espresso should have a "tiger striping" pattern in the crema that varies in color from an caramel color to a deep dark chocolate. The crema should be light and fluffy, and feel like a cloud in your mouth. A properly extracted shot is 1/3 crema! A great shot of espresso is like a fine wine; flavors can include baker's chocolate, oak, peat, etc. There are over 13 independent variables that go into making a good shot, including (but not limited to) your beans, grind, pressure of tamping, freshness of beans, accuracy of burr grinder, water temp, and barometric pressure. You should consider switching beans. Peet's is considered to be the McDonalds of coffee to us career baristas. Try Vivace, Danesi, Stumptown, Intelligentsia, or Broadway Cafe. They may cost a tad more and you may have to get them shipped, depending on where you live, but the difference is dramatic. If you are interested in learning more, read David Schomer's "Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques." It's the barista's bible. Schomer, owner of Vivace coffee, not only wrote the book on espresso, but had a big hand in introducing Italian coffee to the US and the subsequent specialty coffee boom. In Italy, it takes seven years to earn the title "barista." Keep workin' on it!
I agree with almost all of what you said, but I would add that a good shot should be judged on taste, not on the amount of crema. Some blends have very little crema, some shots of some other blends will be all crema. <br/>Tightening the grind may not be the answer - from his description of his technique it sounds like he is getting a lot of channelling. To solve this, he can change the dose, change the grind, or simply not tap the portafilter. Sometimes channelling is actually caused by a grind that is <em>too</em> fine - the water is offered too much resistance so it will force a channel to release the pressure.<br/>Lasty, I agree that the author should read, but he should not consider Schomer's book to be a bible any more than the Illy books. One of the greatest thing about espresso is it is deeply personal - if your technique produces results that you (and your boss/customers, if applicable) like, then your technique is good.<br/>
Where in Italy does it take 7 years to earn the title <em>barista</em>? Do you think all the <em>baristi</em> at AutoGrill spent seven years in training? <br/><br/>I have lived in Portland and Milan, now I currently live in Florence. Italian coffee culture is incredibly simplified compared to that of the Pacific Northwest. It's not a bad thing, but it stopped being Italian when the customer was able to order more than 2 variations (with or without steamed milk). As Daniele pointed out, the stove-top espresso maker is queen and pre-ground espresso from Lavazza, or some such, is king. <br/>
The seven year was something I have been hearing in specialty coffee for years. It may be a bit exaggerated, but in Italy (as you surely know) being a barista wasn't a summer job for teens, it was a career. I use the past-tense because once specialty coffee made it big in the 90's, it opened the door for big multi-national corporations like Starbucks and AutoGrill to churn out crap and call it specialty coffee (comparing these places to true northern-Italian style espresso is the moral equivalent to comparing Fazoli's to great Italian homestyle cooking) . Obviously, these people train their employees for closer to 5 minutes, but there are still some coffee shops around (in the US and abroad) that still care about espresso and consider it a career. It must be nice to live in Italy, but seeing as how sub-standard coffee is everywhere, it doesn't necessarily make you an expert. And, yes, the Italians love their Moka pots. Bialetti makes a nice one:) Keep in mind that those of us who love coffee and choose it as our career get looked down upon and scoffed at on a daily basis by people who don't consider it a "real" job.
Wow, that is very interesting: perpetuating the connection to Italian espresso has more to do with the American struggle against scoffing than following traditional Italian <em>bar</em> practices. For example, Americans serve quality espresso drinks in to-go cups, <em>with a lid</em>, and don't charge extra for sitting at a cafe's table. So consider ourselves fortunate that authenticity is not the first priority!<br/><br/>Yes, being a barista is considered a career and does not carry the connotations of a &quot;summer job for teens.&quot; That is because the concept of a summer (or after-school, or weekend) job for teens is not at all diffused. Working as a waiter, a supermarket cashier, and as a shop clerk are also considered careers in the same way, but this is due to some rather serious economic and political reasons rather than cultural respect for the ability to scan the barcode on a package of canned tuna. (Just to clarify: there aren't enough jobs for teenagers, because there aren't enough jobs for anybody, so people find the job they can, and stick with it, because it is very difficult to change jobs, because there aren't enough jobs!)<br/><br/>Americans should be proud of the coffee advancements that they have made. If you are serious about your craft and you are serving a good product, then it is unnecessary to link into some glorified foreign tradition, especially when the reality is so divergent, as I was pointing out.<br/><br/>It is nice to live in Italy, but it is also nice to go to the grocery store at ten o'clock at night. On a Sunday. Thanks, America.<br/><br/>
You speak of authenticity like it's an all-or-nothing choice. We (American espresso enthusiasts) take the authenticity of the actual act of making coffee and making it really good, but without the sitting down charge (that would really work as a business model in the states). I don't see the harm in that. If you want to glorify an old tradition, because it's nice and makes you a part of a community, well I don't see the problem with that either. Some cafes, like mine, don't serve espresso or macchiatos to go because paper can't hold the heat of espresso. We are very proud of the advancements we've made in espresso, but a little tip of the hat (so to speak) to the country of origin shouldn't give cause for one's proverbial panties to get in a bunch. I bet that Francesco Illy wouldn't tell you he got into coffee because he "found the job he could and stuck with it." Some people actually really do enjoy making espresso and really do spend a lot of time learning about it. And there really is more to it than the average person (no matter what country they live in) knows. But we digress! Surely you went to this thread to help lebowski with his espresso technique, so what advice to you have for him?
To quote lebowski, &quot;It's always great to hear how others enjoy their coffee and understand the Italian perspective.&quot;<br/><br/>For authentic espresso that is enjoyed by the average person everyday, in his or her home in whatever country he or she might live in, whatever his or her occupation might be, and costs only <em>centessimi</em> a cup--<br/><br/>Don't rush out and buy a new Bialetti (or any brand) moka, (those octagonal shaped, stove top espresso makers). The best moka is the one that your family has been using for years and has a nice coffee patina already built up. <br/><br/>Replacement rubber rings and handles (stove accidents!) can be purchased at the supermarket.<br/><br/>Soap should never, ever touch your moka, just disassemble, rinse with hot water, and allow to air dry.<br/><br/>Daniele already covered the other steps, including how to please a crowd. Now you can even have hot, fresh espresso, while camping, without having to bring the generator and your $1000+ coffee machine.<br/><br/>Enjoy!<br/>
Oy vey, I'm getting nowhere with this one:) Lebowski, if your family doesn't have a Moka pot that they've been using for years and you still want to play with your very nice Sylvia that you bought (and love, no doubt) private message me, and I'll give you some help. Also, tell me what city you live in; I could recommend some good coffee close by!
Can you post a picture of what the espresso should look like? I think the Sylvia has a tendency to be a bit on the light side in color. I'll have a look at David Schomer's book and give some other beans a try. It looks like both Danesi and Intelligentsia offer a decaf espresso blend. Would you recommend one over the other? I think I need to get some glass shot glasses so I can see the amount of crema getting produced. I'll keep working at it....
I found this photo on the <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.broadwaycafeandroastery.com/">Broadway Cafe</a> website, although that looks like almost all crema. My shots aren't quite there yet!<br/>
also, from Vivace<br/><br/>[IMG]<a rel="nofollow" href="http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j204/bethikus/main.jpg">http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j204/bethikus/main.jpg</a>[/IMG]<br/>
Yes, that's a great shot on the Broadway website. Espresso drank by itself should be pulled straight into a demitasse cup (a 4 oz. porcelain cup no thicker than .25 in). Here is a great shot being pulled with a naked portafilter (a regular portafilter with the bottom cut off)<br/>[IMG]<a rel="nofollow" href="http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j204/bethikus/IMG_2276-crp.jpg">http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j204/bethikus/IMG_2276-crp.jpg</a>[/IMG]<br/><br/>a couple of good shots, hard to see<br/><br/>[IMG]<a rel="nofollow" href="http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j204/bethikus/main-1.jpg">http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j204/bethikus/main-1.jpg</a>[/IMG]<br/><br/>Also, for decaf, make sure you get coffee that is decaffinated by the Swiss Water process, a natural way of decaffinating coffee. The other stuff is decaffed with chemicals, and it breaks down the cell walls of the molecules and destroys the coffee.<br/>
Don't tap the portafilter with the tamper at all. "Air bubbles" is not the reason that is done - baristi do that to remove loose coffee from around the inside walls of the filter basket. These loose grounds are purported to cause "ashiness" in the espresso (they don't). Tapping the side will break the seal between the puck of ground coffee and the filter basket. This will cause channelling and will ruin the shot. Try it next time you pull a shot, you'll notice a difference in taste. The amount of coffee that you "dose" into the portafilter also varies from coffee to coffee. Simply levelling the grounds may be right for one coffee but not right for another. Coffees also change as they age, which necessitates changes in dose, grind, temperature, etc etc etc.
I just had my first espresso a few hours ago and loved it! I had to thoroughly clean my espresso machine because as a little kid I put milk through it thinking that's how you steam milk. 2 parts bleach to 8 parts water got rid of the rancid smell and the crap in the water reservoir, afterwards, I washed it out like 10 times and it works great! It wasn't as bitter or as caffeinated as I thought it would be. 2 shots had me bouncing off the walls and for some reason I went into a cleaning frenzy. your tips greatly helped me in brewing my espresso! I cant wait to try it with the frothed milk!
I can't wait to get a real career and can afford these things. Right now I'm using a $100 espresso machine with preground coffee, and it's not bad, but I'm sure once I can afford a good grinder it'll be tons better. I make better foam than most cafes around my area. My latte art is very slowly getting better. I use skim milk so I think I'm doing pretty well.
Nice article! One extra tip with the Silvia. The drip tray is very shallow and gets filled quickly. I keep a sturdy small plastic tub on hand so that all the dripping and flushing goes into the tub instead of the tray. This is far easier to then take to sink and flush away and I now very rarely need to wash out the Silvia tray.
Hi, we also have a Rancilio Silvia here at work, and it's been pumpin out great drinks for a while. Being lazy and not wanting to wash all the dishes, I try and do it all in 1 cup and 1 paper towel: Start the steam. Pack Portafilter. Put your milk in your mug. Add thermometer. Steam it in the mug. Flip water switch. Allow it to fill up tank. Open water valve. Purge steam into paper towel. Use paper towel to clean wand. Place mug under portafilter . Flip coffee switch. Wait 20 seconds. Remove portafilter. Wipe remaining grounds with paper towel. Wash thermometer and portafilter. Done. Ever tried scrambling eggs with it? Works pretty good! Now if I could only use the warmer to heat bacon, it would be perfect!
Yes, you are lazy :) How does the milk turn out? I didn't think milk frothing worked very well outside of stainless steel.
A stereotypical curved latte cup works pretty good for frothin. Usually I get a few oohs and aahs from coworkers that see the results. I was on a breve kick for a few years, but I usually stick to soy milk now.
I loved your instructable. Just a few clarifications: An espresso is made with 6 grams of coffee, extracted under highly pressurized water heated at 93 to 96 celsius (sorry for the international units!) and gives 5 cc of coffee. The combo machine and grinding should be such that it takes 15 to 20s for 4 cc of espresso. In general, one full tea spoon will approximate 2.5 grams of coffee. I have always been under the impression that pressure was key when buying a home espresso machine. Most model don't provide enough pressure to prevent the water from boiling. And a boiled espresso, is a ruined cup of coffee.
Nice job. My wife gave me an espresso machine a few years ago and I could never figure out how to make a really good espresso with it, despite hours of web noodling. Now you've given me the inspiration to get right back in the ring with Rocky.
What machine did she get you?
The Silvia, but no temperature gauge. I think I will try timing for a while before adding it. I also bought a Rocky grinder because I thought it was my grind but the instructions for both are laughable. ("Press this button to make steam." Well duh.)
It took me a at least a dozen attempts to get the grind right. One click either way seems to make a difference. Make sure you get a good tamper, this is the one I got:&lt;br/&gt;&lt;br/&gt;&lt;a rel=&quot;nofollow&quot; href=&quot;http://www.chriscoffee.com/products/home/espressoaccs/bumbertamper&quot;&gt;http://www.chriscoffee.com/products/home/espressoaccs/bumbertamper&lt;/a&gt;&lt;br/&gt;&lt;br/&gt;Also, if you ever want to add a temperature control, but don't want to do it yourself, you can send if off to get one installed.&lt;br/&gt;<br/>
Good job. I considered the Sylvia before finding a sweet deal on an Isomac Tea. I've still got Sylvia in mind for a machine at work though. The Rocky is an awesome grinder though I sometimes wish I had a doser for entertaining. If you want to take your coffee a step further start roasting at home. It is really easy and cheap!! If you're serious about espresso you'll want at *least* this machine if not something better. Rancilio with a PID is probably THE best buy under $1000. <br/>
Half espresso and half decaf? interesting... health reason, or just taste? Personally I like the full caffeine version. And I make it like the Cubans in South Florida, with a stove top espresso maker and vacuum-packed pre-ground espresso. No steamed milk, if I want it with hot milk it goes through the microwave, but usually I just have the espresso shot. I don't have the funds for a proper espresso machine, but this setup works for me.
chow.com has some great videos about coffee. Check their &quot;obsessives&quot; series under the videos section. The guy knows a good deal about the art.<br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.chow.com/">www.chow.com</a><br/>
Turkish coffee!?! <strong>That's</strong> Trukish coffee? My family has been drinking Cowboy coffee for generations -- literally. The description you link to sounds just like the way we make it on the ranch. Absolutely nothing beats a hot cup of cowboy coffee on a frosty morning. <br/>
I went into a Savers and found an expresso machine in the small appliances section for only $5. I bought it and it works great and is easy to use. It makes a lot of foam though.
Thank You - but what type of coffee beans are you using - there are so many and sometimes hard to find the right one - I found a little family owned shop, they roast the beans every day fresh...unfortunately there are based in Germany
I'm using a 50/50 blend of Espresso Forte and Decaf Major Dickensen's from <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.peets.com/">Peets Coffee</a> in California.<br/>
Hi all. Talking about home made expresso, that's italian style coffee, and since I am italian, I ask you: do you really know how italians usually prepare coffee at home? In Italy we have big choice of coffee machines for home use but the most used at home, after a good meal, is the old and loved "caffettiera". Google for it and you'll find what I am talking about. Remember that coffee (at least for italians) is used to close the meal and is to be drunk together so, the main weakness of automatic coffee machines is that they prepare, at most, 2 cups of coffee while you would have at least 6 for 6 people at the same time. Drinking coffee "two by two" disaggregates people while waiting to be all served imply that the first will have cold coffee (that's no good at all). Caffettiere (that's plural for caffettiera) are in different sizes so you have the freedom to choose between 1 cup to 12 cups caffettieres. To prepare coffee using a caffettiera, you pour water into the lower half, than insert a filter (made by metal) and coffee in it. You then complete with the upper part and place everything to cook just like a normal pot. Your coffee will be ready in minutes for everyone. The coffee is your choice as usual (grinded or to be grinded by yourself) decaf or not (I like Illy caffé or Lavazza Qualità oro). Bye Daniele
A great insight, thank you :)
This sounds a lot like a percolator coffee pot.
Thanks for sharing! It's always great to hear how others enjoy their coffee and understand the Italian perspective.
If your going to go this far, why not go all the way and roast your own beans too! Roasting the beans yourself dramatically changes the taste. You'll believe me if you try it!
I believe you, but with two little kids and a demanding job, I'll have to leave roasting to another time in my life :)
Great instructable. I also went through the long process of selecting a good machine. ended up with a Gaggia. Very satisfied!
Gaggia seems to have a great reputation as well.
Cool machine. From what I have read also, it stays nice for a long time. I found the <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.ishopcoffeeequipment.com/product/Rancilio-Silvia-Espresso-Machine">espresso machine</a> at <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.ishopcoffeeequipment.com">iShopCoffeeEquipment</a>. $699. Good price?<br/>
I would strongly recommend getting one with a PID as the temperature of the water is one of the most critical elements of making espresso. It seems $699 is pretty much the price everywhere online, so look for somewhere with free shipping/tax. You can can also get a Silvia+PID+Grinder for about $1200, which is what I got and I'm very happy with it. <br/><br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://stores.ebay.com/HITECHESPRESSO-COM-since-1991">http://stores.ebay.com/HITECHESPRESSO-COM-since-1991</a> <br/>
great advice! i want to add, that with a regular, or any coffeemachine or pot, CAFE BUSTELO , A LATIN ESPRESSO COFFEE, is great

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