Paul Berthelsen, founder of coffee delivery service Perk Coffee, demystifies espresso machines for us casual drinkers. Here’s what you need to know before splurging on a coffee machine – and how to avoid wasting money when you do.
1. Be Realistic
Before anything else, you need to know why you want an espresso machine in the first place. Are you buying one to take your barista skills to the next level, or do you simply want to impress your friends?
Pricey kitchen appliances are often purchased as status symbols, to imply expertise and sophistication around guests. However, you need to spend more than money to master complex coffee equipment.
“Your espresso journey will only give you as much as you’re willing to put into it,” Paul says.” I’m not necessarily talking about money, but more so, your willingness to learn your machine and perfect your barista skills.”
The good news is that you can still make heavenly espresso despite time and money constraints. “There’s a plethora of different machines out there, suitable for every budget and requirement,” Paul says. “But an espresso machine is undoubtedly going to be an investment compared to any other coffee brewing method.”
2. Do Your Research
Before talking about more affordable brew methods, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Which espresso machine should you buy, and how much will it cost?
Comparing your options is the first step to finding the right machine for your budget and commitment levels. Paul runs us through the four broad categories of espresso machines, from the least to most expensive:
Less than $1,000: Fully Manual Domestic Machines
– Also known as lever espresso machines
– Gives you full control over the entire brewing process, from the heating cycle to tamping the espresso.
– Unlike their automatic or semi-automatic counterparts, manual espresso machines won’t compensate for your mistakes. You need to know what you’re doing and how to control the variables that go into the brewing process.
“These take time to figure out, but if you’re willing to experiment, manual machines can make great espresso at an affordable price,” Paul explains. “Don’t look at anything other than Italian-made for this category as the Italians have mastered it, just like fast cars.”
Examples: Rancilio Silvia or the Saeco Via Vanezia
$500 – $1,500: Semi-Automatic Machines
Most espresso machines marketed to Singaporeans fall under the semi-automatic category.
– Comes with automated temperature controls and an automated pump
– All you need to do is grind the beans and tamp the espresso
– During the extraction process, all you need to do is to decide how long it takes by switching the pump on or off
“These machines basically produce espresso at a touch of button but milk is manually frothed. But they don’t make very good quality espresso,” Paul says. “If you’re after convenience, speed and a very average espresso, then this might work for you.”
Examples: DeLonghi machines (Some Nespresso machines also fall under this category) or Breville Infuser
Related: 8 Reasons Why Coffee is Good For You
$1,500 – $3,000 Super-Automatic Machines
– Take care of every single aspect of the brewing process
– Many of these machines even automate milk frothing, and can serve specialty drinks like cappuccinos and lattes at the touch of a button
– Designed for office use rather than home use
Paul explains, “For the price you pay, the quality of espresso is lousy, and you’re much better off buying a semi-commercial machine like a Rocket.”
Examples: Jura and high-end DeLonghis
$3,000 and above: Semi-Commercial Machines
A semi-commercial device, together with a semi-commercial grinder (which costs around S$600 upwards), brings true espresso excellence to your kitchen.
– Has built-in water tanks and sophisticated technology to ensure consistency in temperature and pressure
– Produces cafe-quality coffee
“My favourite is the Rocket – the Lamborghini of the home espresso world,” Paul says.
Examples: Rocket Giotto or Simonelli Musica
3. Manual Espresso Machines Deliver the Most Value For Money
If you’re after an espresso machine for home use, Paul recommends staying away from the semi- or fully-automatic machines.
“While convenient and pretty cheap, these machines don’t match up in terms of quality – considering you’re going through all that trouble to make espresso at home,” Paul explains. “In this case, I think you’re better off sticking to buying your daily cuppa from your local cafe.”
Truly dedicated espresso drinkers will find manual machines worthwhile, especially if they want to learn how to control every facet of the brewing process.
“In my opinion, the Rancilio Silvia is the best value-for-money machine in terms of quality versus price,” Paul says. “Couple it with a good burr grinder (grinders are a whole other story!), this will set you back about S$1,000 including, the grinder. Anything cheaper, and the trade off in espresso quality is drastic. However, if you’ve got the dosh and the desire, then I’d go the full hog and get that Rocket!”
Espresso machines can be found at appliances stores like Courts and Harvey Norman. If you want to go this route, we suggest using the right credit card so you can earn air miles, cashback, or split payments into an easy instalment plan.
The Rocket and Rancilio machines aren’t typically sold at malls, so Paul recommends going to their agents in Singapore, Papa Palheta and Spinelli Coffee.
“As for other coffee equipment, I’m a fan of Hario grinders,” Paul says. “You can get their equipment direct from their distributor, Heap Seng. Perk Coffee is also launching an online Brew Shop where we intend to sell a range of home brew equipment at very affordable and competitive prices.”
4. How To Make Espresso At Home For <$100
For casual coffee drinkers who have neither the money nor patience to use an espresso machine, cafe-quality coffee is still within reach.
Paul recommends the moka pot (pictured above) as an affordable alternative the espresso machine. “Every Italian has this in his kitchen,” he says. “The moka pot uses water pressure to push hot water from a lower chamber through a basket of coffee grounds into an upper chamber. If you get it right, the result is absolutely delicious! You’ll get something between an espresso shot and a filter coffee. It will be rich, full-bodied, and quite possibly contain a small layer of crema if your grind is fine enough.”
“I love brewing on my Bialetti moka pot when I’m in the mood for a rich and intense cup,” he adds. “A good moka pot will only set you back S$50 – S$80. That’s a lot cheaper than an espresso machine.”
Related: 10 Life Hacks To Save You More Money This Year
5. Choose the Right Coffee Machine For You
However you decide to prepare your coffee, consider your personality, budget, and lifestyle before making your decision. Are you in it to perfect the ancient art of making espresso from scratch? Or do you have cash to burn on a machine that does all the work for you?
By making the right choice, having cafe-quality espresso in your kitchen will enrich your mornings, and save you a bit of money.
Text: Lauren Dado/Additional Reporting: Elizabeth Liew
This article first appeared on Singsaver.com.sg, Singapore’s go-to personal finance comparison platform that guides consumers on the best money habits with its credit card comparison tool and allows real-time personal loans product comparison.