Please help me buy a fancy espresso machine for my husband!
November 23, 2011 6:45 AM   Subscribe

What's the best automatic espresso machine under $500?

My husband has wanted a really nice espresso machine for over ten years, and this is his year to get it. He sent me a link to this one, mainly because he likes the features and it is available from Costco (the only place he ever shops). He doesn't actually care where it comes from or what brand it is.

Research and comparison is usually my department, but I know absolutely nothing about espresso machines! The reviews for that model don't inspire total confidence, and it's a lot of money to spend... Can any of you recommend similar machines? Better machines? Under $500 if possible? I am so very lost on this one!

Thank you SO MUCH for any recommendations or advice you can offer, I really want to make this happen for him!
posted by FuzzyVerde to Shopping (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Nespresso, for ease of use and the added milk frother. Its really simple to use- basically just turn it on, wait a few moments and your espresso is ready. Only downside is that the capsules are sold exclusively through Nespresso, but they come in a wide variety of flavors, styles, and are not too expensive.
posted by mhaw at 6:51 AM on November 23, 2011

How much does he like coffee? Does he brew with beans currently, or do you think that he'd be happy with some pod / capsule system? The capsule / pod systems really take away a lot of the flexibility, although they do provide convenience. But, as noted, the consumables do cost more, you're locked into the system of whichever company you choose, and they are wasteful (although I think the Nespresso pods can be recycled, unlike K-Cups).

My wife has wanted an espresso maker for a long time, and a few months ago found this one (DeLonghi ESAM5500M Perfecta) for $600 when the normal price is 2 or 3X that. She's been super happy with it, although there is a bit of a learning curve, as you can tweak it to brew to your specifications. So, I would recommend that one, for that price, if you can find it. It's fully automatic; you just dump some beans in the top and it does the rest.

I don't drink coffee; she does, and she's quite particular about it, and I trust her judgement.
posted by reddot at 6:57 AM on November 23, 2011

BTW, the brand does make cheaper models, such as the DeLonghi ESAM3300 Magnifica. Obviously, I can't comment on how they might differ or perform.
posted by reddot at 6:58 AM on November 23, 2011

The Saeco in your link is great for what you want, and another option is the lower-end model they make: the Vienna Plus. I really like buying from Whole Latte Love, too. They know their equipment and back it up if you have questions or problems.

Please don't buy a capsule machine. It's not flexible, the quality is not good in general, and it's pricey as well as being terrible for the environment.
posted by kcm at 6:58 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Must be for whole beans, sorry, I didn't even know there were capsules! Validation that the Saeco is reputable is helpful too.
posted by FuzzyVerde at 7:06 AM on November 23, 2011

If you want a drink of water from the firehose of, try their how to buy an espresso machine pages. Be prepared to spend hours and get nowhere, but learn a ton about coffee making.

I've always liked for summarizing other people's reviews. They don't seem to be pushing a particular product, just telling you how things were rated. In this case, they like the Rancilio Silvia, Gaggia Classic, and DeLonghi EC155.
posted by blob at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2011

I'd like to second the Nespresso machine. I am a bit of a coffee snob, and always regarded capsule machines as less-than. However, I recently stayed in a flat with a Nespresso machine, and was incredibly impressed. Afterwards, I visited the Nespresso Boutique on the Champs Elysees, and was blown away by the quality of the operation, products, and service. It was like an Apple Store for coffee.

Shortly after, I bought a Nespresso Pixie by Krupps, and I couldn't be more thrilled. The espresso is rich, the crema is perfect every time, and the machine is incredibly easy to use. Each espresso I pull is better than any I've made the "real" way. I know I sound like a Nespresso shill, but I promise you I just get excited about products that have really turned out to be great.
posted by jordanv at 7:23 AM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: At that price point you're going to be making a fair number of sacrifices to get what you want -- since it's Costco and they'll take it back if you don't like it, I'd start with that machine and see if the shortcomings it has are ok with you. The Saeco super auto has a mediocre grinder so shot-to-shot consistency won't be great and it needs to be switched from brew to steam and back again if you're making multiple milk drinks. Neither is a deal breaker and it's way better than a pod machine can produce.
posted by foodgeek at 7:27 AM on November 23, 2011

That page you link to has another link to what appears to be the same machine with an $80 discount, making the cost $400.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:29 AM on November 23, 2011

The answer you will get on 90% of serious coffee forums for close to your price is the Rancilio Silvia. However, it is NOT a super automatic machine; does not grind and dose for you. I'm not sure if your husband definitely wants that feature but you're probably not going to get it in a good machine for $500. However, keep an eye out for sales and you can get a Silvia for that price. Serious coffee people will almost always recommend a separate grinder, not an all-in-one. Good electric grinders start around $200 but manual burr grinders can be had for $50, but they're quite an arm workout if you grind coffee for more than two shots at once.

Back when I was getting serious about my coffee years ago, I got the Rancilio Rocky grinder used on craigslist. I've been through several other brewing devices, gone back and forth between drip and espresso, but the grinder was money extremely well spent and it worked whatever my latest coffee whim was, and runs like a tank still. It's hard to convince someone to spend the money on a grinder first, but it's a smart call.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:48 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

My wife bought me that same Saeco machine back in March based on a recommendation from her friends. So far it's holding up well.

Quality of the output: I don't typically make espressos I make long coffees--maybe I should try an espresso tomorrow morning. I am a bit of a coffee snob or at least I have high expectations (lived over a decade in Italy) but I'm happy with the coffee it produces. I never use the steamer but my wife has.

Operation: It's very simple to use--turn the knob to the required setting, push the button and that's it. It's finicky about switching types of beans though. Find a brand and stick with it otherwise with a change in beans it takes a couple of brews for it to settle down and stop giving you watery coffee. The first few weeks this was really annoying and we nearly took it back but it's fine now and I'm glad we didn't. (Maybe it was partly the machine having to settled down too.)

It's not maintenance free but it's not that much hassle either:

* You have to fill the water every 4 or 5 mugs (since that's what I drink). It's a bit annoying in that while it does have a warning light that water is out, if I brew a full mug it might run out part way through (still ok to drink) since the warning seems to kick in when it only has enough water for one espresso.

* The grinds need to be disposed of every ten cups or so. Not inconvenient in the slightest.

* The internal mechanism needs to be rinsed once a week: plastic section slides out, rinse under a tap and you're good to go. Not much trouble at all. I don't always remember but it seems to work fine. Every 6 months or so you're supposed to grease a couple of items in that mechanism with the grease they provide. I did that too and it took me two minutes.

So all in all I am very happy with it. On another note, my wife also considered an Nespresso / other brand capsule machine. I rejected that though since I think they generate too much unnecessary, unrecyclable waste: the capsules. And I don't really like the notion of being locked into a manufacturer's proprietary capsules either.
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:58 AM on November 23, 2011

I've had two saeco's (one at work, and one in the family) and they are damn fine beasts.
posted by jannw at 9:04 AM on November 23, 2011

My wife loved the Saeco Vienna I bought her during richer times for about $700. However, when it died and I sent it to the regional repair facility they pointed us to, the quote for repairing it was greater than $700 and we let go of it. They admitted to shorting something out during diagnosis, so the repairs grew more costly in the hands of the people who were supposed to fix it. I protested, but there wasn't really much to do ultimately. Maybe that repair center was just crooked, but that matters if that's who they send you to.

It was truly great while it worked. Very good coffee, very easy to use, basically easy to maintain, secretly pleasing to show off, but if we were going to need a total replacement every couple years, that felt way too rich for us. Maybe the next one we bought would have lasted forever.

This was in the mid 2000s, and a quick Google search shows that their current marketing often includes phrases like "now more reliable." Before our first one, that would have sounded like good news. After owning one, it reads more like a red flag. YMMV.
posted by mullicious at 9:13 AM on November 23, 2011

I love my Pavoni !!!
It caters nicely to my control-freak nature-
they ARE expensive, though... new, around $750. You can find them readily, though, on that fleabay place- if you shop wisely, you can probably find a good one for less than $300.
posted by drhydro at 10:28 AM on November 23, 2011

I love my Pavoni !!!

Nice! I love my gs3! The OP would need to purchase a grinder and presumably wants a superauto because it makes less of an epic mess in the kitchen. Regardless, your setup (or mine) won't be happening with a $500 budget.
posted by foodgeek at 11:56 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

(for the record I also have a 1974 Pavoni and wooo fully analog espresso snob club, but I think that's the exact opposite of what her husband wants)
posted by slow graffiti at 1:36 PM on November 23, 2011

Why are people recommending non-automatic machines when the poster's husband sent her a link to a super automatic? My Silvia is great, but it is nothing like owning a fully automatic machine. It takes fussing, it requires owning a grinder, proper tamp, &c. Sometimes it is a royal pain in the ass, even though I have worked as a barista and messing with an espresso machine was my bread and butter. I would not point it out to someone interested in a superauto.

FuzzyVerde, I think it is worth looking at Seattle Coffee's pages of machines even if you don't end up buying from them. They give a nice pro and con breakdown (among other information) of the machines they sell. They also price match and shipping is free. Their refurbs are backed by their own 1 year warranty or manufacturer's warranty, so you might be able to level up without spending much more.

Aside: I would never buy a surprise capsule/pod machine for anyone who hadn't actually asked for one. The costs of capsules compared to bulk beans are higher for lesser quality- the spendy BlueBottle beans we buy end up costing less than 50 cents for a double shot. If we accidentally run out of beans we can get them anywhere in a pinch, which is not true of capsules or pods. The coffee is mass produced, warehoused beans of indeterminate quality, no matter how you slice it. They are good when convenience trumps the issues of cost, bean selection, lack of freshness, and of packaging waste. If you want to examine beans for quality and roasting deficiencies, use beans that were roasted the day before, make your own blends, capsules are not applicable.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:39 PM on November 23, 2011

ANY capsule or pod-based setup is going to be more expensive than a machine costing two or even three times your $500 ceiling in the long run. Whole-bean coffees from the best roasters on the continent (I'm in Alberta so am partial to Phil&Sebastian, Transcend, Fratello, and 49th Parallel) will cost you maybe, as oneirodynia says, abouto 50 cents a cup. My setup is around $1500 (Baratza Vario grinder and Simonelli Oscar espresso machine) and it's paid for itself more than once. Using four pods a day would cost me something like $1600 a year- insane.

Also the capsules contain pre-ground crap. Don't get them please.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:09 PM on November 23, 2011

Now on my second Saeco. I am not crazy about the "BMW Design America" (or whatever, can't be arsed to look up what they're called) design decisions, which are stupid and Germanic, on my new machine but it makes better coffee than the old in-house-designed one and hasn't quit in a couple years' daily use. The first one lasted me ten years and was an unalloyed pleasure to own and use. My take: buy the Saeco or the Spidem (which is owned by Saeco). If you can stretch the budget a bit you can have the same machine I bought here. It really does make excellent coffee.
posted by jet_silver at 5:40 PM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: We ended up buying a slightly nicer Saeco from Costco that was also on sale around Christmas for the same price (it has an OptiDose adjustable coffee strength feature that we really haven't tried). One month in and we are very happy with the machine so far - I say "we" now as I am genuinely surprised how much I use it (um, everyday). I always drank tea before!

All the answers were helpful in giving me an understanding that this really is an entry-level superautomatic, i.e. what I was and wasn't buying. I even enjoyed the links to the totally analog ones - so pretty, so shiny! Before my question I didn't have any understanding of the various types of espresso makers or what I was getting into at all.

Ultimately the Saeco won out just because of Costco and their return policy, although I can definitely say that if/when this baby needs replacing, we would definitely consider a major upgrade as we are really enjoying the coffee and the convenience. The spent coffee ground "pucks" dump oh-so-neatly into my compost too.

Thank you all for your help!
posted by FuzzyVerde at 8:38 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older I said I'd never and now I have   |   Trouble updating Netflix Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.