Expecting cafe-quality shots from a home espresso machine is a bit unrealistic. Of course that doesn't mean you can't sling delicious espresso based drinks right from your kitchen counter. Better yet, you needn't drop an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege.
Compared with the thousands of dollars espresso purists might spend to get a truly capable machine, this group of household brewers is quite budget-friendly. Priced at $300 or less, all of these appliances enable you to pull single or double espresso shots, steam milk into sweet froth, and provide the tools for whipping up lattes, cappuccinos and other cafe standards at home.
Whether you plan to save money by going for a no-frills model with manual controls, or you value sheer performance and style above all, there's an espresso gadget here that'll serve your purposes.
Proof that spending a little extra yields real results, the $300 De'Longhi Dedica has more style, power and extras than cheaper products. The compact machine reliably pulls tasty straight espresso shots too, steams milk quickly, and even has its own warmer for glasses and cups. That said, the Dedica does get gummed up by very fine grounds.
As with cars, going the manual route is a smart way to save money on an espresso machine without sacrificing much in the way of performance. Priced at just $99, the De'Longhi EC155 requires you to time the brewing of espresso shots yourself and steam milk by hand. If you can master it though, the small appliance will reward you with tasty lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites. Keep in mind that the EC155's unstable brewing temperatures make it a challenge to pull shots of consistent quality.
With a sticker price of $200, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista costs as much as premium drip brewers, but for a home espresso machine it's a steal. That's especially true considering its almost robot-like operation. Fill it with water, coffee and milk, and the Cafe Barista can create satisfying cappuccinos and lattes at the touch of a button. Just don't expect the Barista to treat lightly roasted beans well, or handle ultrafine grounds.
If your budget is tight consider the $90 Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso Maker. The least expensive espresso machine we've reviewed so far, the device has sufficient chops to make drinkable cafe beverages by brewing concentrated coffee and steaming milk. Performance and control isn't this product's strength, however, since it's saddled with a weak pump and haphazard brewing temperatures.