Best Espresso Machine, Grinder, and Accessories for Beginners
Espresso is a type of coffee that holds a special place in many connoisseurs’ hearts, and as such, preparation of a single brew of the same is not a matter that should be taken lightly. Having a great setup is crucial in the journey towards creating the perfect setup, and the importance of having the best espresso grinder is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
An imperfect grind quite simply cannot produce a good espresso, because even the a simple increase in the fine grain control of an espresso machine can elevate the outcome of even the most mediocre ones of them.
Beyond the basic machine and grinder, the more dedicated of you lot will want to have a paraphernalia of items, each with a varying degree of necessity. Some of these are mentioned below:
It’s nearly impossible to have coffee without some sort of drinking mechanism to pull your shots into and drink out of. Duralex Picardie cups are a great choice for filling out this position because they both look great and are much cheaper than most porcelain cups.
These are meant for disposing spent grinds. We’d recommend the Cafelat because of its unique design and how easy it is to clean.
This one is pretty necessary if you want to prepare a latte or other similar milk drink. Our top pick, the Breville BES840XL, comes with a good milk-frothing pitcher. However, it has a small capacity and is more suitable for cappuccinos rather than lattes. A good pitcher for lattes would be the Rattleware 20-Ounce Latte Art Milk Frothing Pitcher.
If you’re an espresso lover, then you can understand the significance of an impeccable shot. Several things come to mind when trying to make good espresso, but having a good machine should always be a priority. It is only plausible, then, to invest in a high quality espresso machine.
The Breville Infuser is the best of all the machines we could lay our hands on because of its great performance both in terms of preparing espresso and steaming milk. It’s also pretty easy to use and comes with a whole lot of accessories that would help you get started in your espresso journey.
The Infuser is what many would call ‘satisfaction in a box.’ The package itself comes loaded with well-marked components and documentation that’s easy to follow. If you’ve ever bought an Italian-made espresso machine before, this will come as a perfect change of pace, because these machines usually come with unclear instructions – most of the time just a few diagrams that are nearly impossible to interpret. If you’ve never made an espresso before, fret not, because it even comes with a ‘how to get started making espresso’ guide.
The next beautiful quirk about this machine is the usability. Even if you’ve never touched an espresso machine in your life, using the Infuser will be a breeze. It comes with a removable water reservoir so you can take it to the sink to wash or empty and just pop it back in.
All you need to turn it on is press a button, and once it’s on, it will start beeping less than a minute later when the water gets to brewing temperature. Once you’re ready, fill coffee grounds into the portafilter then using a tamper, press them in. When you’re done with this step, attach the portafilter back to the machine and press a button. It also features a timer or you can turn it off manually if you prefer.
It produces a very consistent taste, with a great mouthfeel and a fair amount of crema at the top, just like you’d get at a high-end cafe. This consistency can be attributed to the fact that it’s one of the few machines to feature a PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) temperature controller, which is perfect for keeping the coffee’s temperature to within an adjustable narrow range – the exact thing that’s needed for making consistently good coffee.
Another highlight of this machine would be its pump. Unlike other machines like the Gaggia Classic that experiences some fluctuations that led to an uneven, unsteady flow rate, it’s able to keep a consistent pressure throughout the brewing process – maintaining a steady stream of espresso from the portafilter. It’s also strong enough to pull great shots using even finely ground coffee (cheaper machines usually produce a dull, sour espresso).
If you’re planning on making milk drinks, we’d be happy to let you know that the Breville Infuser features the best steaming mechanism of any machine on this list, and perhaps than you’ll get anywhere. The steam wand takes a bit of time to fully steam and heat the milk as compared to more expensive machines, but it’s quite capable of producing café-quality microfoam that you can use for latte art.
You’d think all these factors made the Infuser great enough as it is, but we’ll toot its horn for a bit longer. It’s packaging is pretty great, that much we already established, and it comes with a tamper that works surprisingly well.
There’s little chance you’ll lose it, too, because it has a magnetic end that fits perfectly into a compartment next to the portafilter. If you remember to replace it every time after you’ve used it, it should last you quite a while. Some other neat features it comes with is a 16-ounce milk frothing pitcher that is build solidly. A large drip-catcher tray and a helpful ‘Empty Me’ sign that appears if it gets too full. It even has a manual calendar that you can use to check the next time it needs changing and a light that lets you know it needs cleaning.
The Infuser isn’t perfect, of course, and we have a bone to pick with it in one or two places. When it comes to taste, it doesn’t produce the absolute best cup of espresso – that would go to to the Rancilio Silvia. However, it features a much better consistency than its rival, so that redeems it of at least one sin.
Furthermore, it’s a bit more harder to customise, coming with a 54mm portafilter, a feature which may get to some coffee geeks, since that size is a bit more proprietary. Lastly, the tamper that comes included with the Infuser is perfectly good, it works fine, but it would be better if it were fully metallic instead of plastic.
There’s no doubt having a quality espresso machine is pivotal to assembling the machine’s body. However, many coffee connoisseurs will argue that the most salient is the grinder. Putting money into a superior grinder will produce fine grind, and even uplift ordinary machines. Standard grinders majorly have a price ranging from 180 dollars to 500 dollars.
The Rancilio Rocky is well within this range and affirms the top position of grinders. Way back in the 1980’s, it was a paradigm that earned it an incontestable reputation that has since been carried on to this day. Attesting to its status is its reliability and consistent produce of quality grind. For this reason, the Gaggia Classic is well suited for beginners. Needless to say, it pulls impressive, if not excellent, shots regularly. Unlike other grinders, the Gaggia Classic lives up to its name and goes for a fairly reasonable price.
Nevertheless, it has some of its own downsides. The pump frequently malfunctioned during grinding, resulting in pressure variations. This in turn affected the steam produced, as it hardly reached the standard set by the Infuser. The Gaggia Classic, just like the Breville Infuser, demonstrates easy handling.
After filling coffee into the portafilter, secure it onto the machine and subsequently press the start button. The machine pulled decent shots though the pressure variance affected their quality afterwards.
The drastic change in pressure is linked to its steam wand, and this is probably the biggest letdown of this grinder. The steam wand is responsible for producing huge bubbles we often see on foam in cappuccino. However, it isn’t quite as tasty as the coffee you normally drink. Having tried several methods to improve the quality, it was nearly impractical to produce smaller bubbles. When compared to the Breville Infusers steam wand, the Gaggia Classic is within no state to compete with the timeless champion.
Moreover, the Gaggia Classic isn’t as well polished as the Breville Infuser. It has a very small, leak vulnerable drip catch tray. It also doesn’t come with either water tank or water filter. Topping it off, the instructions are difficult to follow. These are some of the showstoppers that drag the Gaggia Classic down. Given its setbacks, it is less expensive than the Breville Infuser. In general, if you have skilled hands and you are good at what you do, the Gaggia Classic is a level machine that will do the job just fine.
A warning on all-in-one machines.
We caution against all-in-one machines because you’re combining the failure rates of two machines, and if one breaks, the other does too. But if you must, the Breville Barista Express is the way to go. It’s basically an Infuser with a built-in Dose Control Pro.
While Breville’s grinders aren’t the very best on the market, they do perform well enough. Since its machines pull great shots, this all-in-one setup is a good bet. Mark Hellweg agrees with this, calling it one of the best “feature-packed consumer machines.” And CNET gave it rave reviews as well as its Editors’ Choice award.
Best Espresso grinder
Getting a good grinder is just as important as buying a good espresso machine. If the coffee beans aren’t ground to a consistent, uniform size, then it doesn’t matter how good your other equipment is, the coffee will be sour, to say the least. Finding a machine that can grind your beans to the right size is pretty hard, not to mention expensive, but finding a machine that will accurately grind coffee beans into espresso-worthy size is even harder. You’ll need a machine with specially-made burrs that can pulverize the beans to the perfect size – not smaller nor larger.
The Rancilio Rocky is a formidable opponent, and brought out quite a fight when we were trying to decide what would be the best pick for our favorite grinder. It’s a solid machine on its own, but definitely not the best. That would go to the Vario for its consistent and accurate grinding. It ideal for more advanced users, and is thus more costly. It’s what the pros call a ‘stepless’ machine, essentially implying that you have to make little adjustments between grind settings, giving the regular user more options when dialling in the espresso.
The one place the Rocky does beat it is the general user interface. Unlike the Rocky, which has just one dial from coarse to fine that you use to adjust the grind, the Vario brings with it two levers – one for larger changes in grind size and the other for small adjustments. However, it’s the most expensive grinder you’ll come across, but considering the phenomenal results it produces, you can easily overlook this if you have money weighing you down.
The Rancilio Rocky Grinder is a pretty intuitive machine to use. All you need is to flip a switch and beans are automatically sucked through a chute into the open. Ease-of-use is the Rocky’s greatest winning point – making small adjustments is a breeze as compared to machines like the Vario that consists of a two-tiered adjustment system labeled with both numbers and letters.
This makes it easier to flip between big grinds for French press and smaller sizes for espresso. The rocky is relatively small in size, and thus operates far less quietly than machines like the Mazzer, making it perfect for home use.
The Rocky is also available with an optional doser mechanism, but you’ll have to cough up a little more cash for it. It supposedly makes it easier to measure out grinds into the portafilter, but there have been complaints that coffee gets trapped in the basin it comes with and gets stale. It’s also a big pain to clean. The rubber grip on the dosing lever also occasionally falls off, but these are minor flaws you can overlook for the bigger picture.
The Baratza’s Virtuoso wasn’t exactly intended for espresso. Howoever, it comes in handy when you’re tight on finances and it will finish the job as good as any other grinder. As a matter of choice, you can buy an accessory that has the capability of measuring straight from the grinder to the portafilter.
What causes such a huge complication with the Baratza Virtuoso are the sizes of the grind. You can control them using the settings but have a narrow range of sizes. Therefore, attaining a fine grind may prove to be particularly difficult. Simply put, you will be able to pull a nice shot, but it won’t be as perfect as it should.
In such a scenario, you have the alternative of hacking it to get finer grind size. All the same, there will still be an issue with the adjustment.
Best Espresso Accessories
First on our list of nice-to-haves is a knock box. This is essentially a small receptacle you use to put used coffee grinds in. Think of it as a countertop trash bin. It has a bar that goes across the top for you to hit your portafilter against, in the process allowing you to eject spent grinds from the portafilter and into the waste box.
There are several competing designs in the market but theCafelat Knock Box stands out for its sleek style and removable bar for easier cleaning.
The main competing design is the Breville BES001XL Knock Box. It also features a removable bar, but it’s a bit tougher to remove. Actually, you need to unscrew it as opposed to just popping it out. The over caveat is the higher tendency for gunk to collect in the Breville’s seams as compared to the Cafelat’s smooth rubber design.
The whole point of espresso is getting to drink it in the end, so naturally enough, you’re going to need some cups.
The Duralex Picardie makes a 3.1-ounce glass that’s just perfect for espresso sipping and is big enough to accommodate even a macchiato or cortado.
If you prefer to use ceramic cups over glass, Ancap Verona espresso cups is a perfect pick for the purpose. It’s Italian-made porcelain and is known for being able to keep coffee warm and for the great aesthetic it features. Keep in mind that they cost a pretty penny more than the Duralex though.
The necessity of tamping during espresso preparation is a greatly talk about issue, with some arguing that it’s not even necessary. Regardless of what school of thought you’ve subscribed to, though, being consistent in your tamping ritual for every cup of coffee you make is a pretty important step.
Every machine comes with a different tamper, some better than others, but it’s essential that you get a tamper you like and are comfortable using. Rancilio and Gaggia’s, for instance aren’t too impressive, but the one that comes with the Breville is pretty handy.
Before you get a tamper, there are a few things you need to figure out: how wide your portafilter is, the weight and shape you like and the last and more subjective bit is the aesthetic and ergonomics i.e. what feels good in your hands.
Rattlleware’s tampers are pretty good quality – they’re comfortable to handle and not too heavy, either, making it comfortable to press the grounds into the portafilter. If the $50 price tag is more than you’re willing to sacrifice, there’s a more affordable $25 version that’s almost just as good.
If you’re going to be preparing milk drinks, you will need a frothing pitcher. They may all look alike, but some are definitely nicer than others. The Infuser is comes with its own pitcher, which was really nice of them, but Rattleware’s products are still superior in this regard, Rattleware Pitcher, for instance, is sturdier and has a much better finish. It’s a bit heavier than most generic brand models you’ll find out there, and more comfortable to handle, which somewhat justifies the few extra dollars it costs.
If you’re a beginner, the Milk to Perfection pitcher would be a nice addition to the package, since it adds an internal tube to help guide the steam wand to a better position. This makes it easier to learn how to correctly steam milk if you don’t know how to do it. Once again, though, it’s fairly subjective, and you may have to try a pitcher or two and find something you’re more comfortable using.
Care and maintenance
The last part of owning an espresso machine is knowing how to keep it clean. If you don’t follow this last step, the quality will definitely suffer. Or worst you’ll end up damaging the machine more easily upon use.
Also, you need to clean the portafilter together with the group head after every use. Why? To ensure buildup does not form on its inside.
However, if you happen to forget and buildup does form, there are several brands of biodegradable tablets and powders you can buy and mix them with water to clean it out.
Another reason to love Breville is that is comes with a few in the box, or if you prefer other brands, Cafiza is a popular option. After use, remember to wipe down the steam wand with a wet rag after use to preserve it for longer.