Pod-free espresso machine?
November 6, 2013 9:51 PM   Subscribe

I am looking around for an espresso machine with which I can use my own coffee, not the pre-packaged (and overpriced) pods that come with Nespressos and the like. I could always use a Moku pot, but I want something a bit less labor intensive.
posted by zardoz to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For labor-saving, it's hard to beat the AeroPress. It makes a good espresso-strength coffee and is incredibly quick and easy to set up and clean up. It also gives you a lot of flexibility and control if you want to experiment with different grinds, temperatures, or brewing times. It's only really good for a single serving though; I prefer the moka pot when I want to pour multiple cups.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:59 PM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

The thing about espresso is that it was designed for a commercial setting: the ability to crank out shot after shot of coffee for a crowd of people who are all in a hurry.

This is pretty much the opposite of what most home coffee makers are designed for. In that setting, it's just a few people and they presumably have a little bit of time.

The best at-home espresso that is neither a pod-related thing or a moka pot is an aeropress. It isn't exactly espresso, but then neither is moka pot coffee. However, it is quick and made from your own fresh-ground beans.

Either that, or you could shell out megabucks for an entry level espresso machine. If you're interested in going this route, I would look at a Breville or the cheaper Gaggia machines. I would not buy something under $100 from Mr. Coffee or the like.

The main thing about home espresso machines is that they rarely have a steam wand for steaming milk, and even if they do, it's rarely as powerful as the ones in coffee shops. For this reason, I would really only recommend espresso at home if you're more of an espresso drinker and not a latte or cappuccino drinker at all.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2013

I've had four automatic home espresso machines, ranging in price from 100-450 in price. They all failed quickly, due to failing seals and once a thermostat. Home machines just can't stand up to the pressure required to make a good shot. I also recommend the aeropress. I've had mine for nearly four years, and it still makes good coffee. Not really espresso, but really good strong coffee. It's also easy to clean, and at thirty dollars or so, a bargain. I also have a vintage stovetop machine and it makes decent coffee, sometimes. It's not consistent, and it's a pain to clean up. So, yes, thirding an Aeropress.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:08 PM on November 6, 2013

To provide a different view: I had what seemed like a lower-end Krups espresso machine that I bought in a thrift store and it was perfectly serviceable for the year or so that I had it. (I got rid of it in a move.) I was never able to get the milk steamer to work, but if you're comparing this to a Moka pot, presumably you're not looking for that functionality anyway.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:17 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: You can get refillable Nespresso pods like this. There's a sort of review here.

I would rather give up my Nespresso machine than the separate milk frother. That thing is awesome - pour in some cold milk from the fridge and less than a minute later, I get hot frothy milk for my coffee. It's not quite the same as steamed milk from a wand, but it's very close.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:25 PM on November 6, 2013

I'm going to make myself unpopular here. I have an aeropress and I don't like it. It makes good coffee, but I found it fiddly and time-consuming, at least at 6am without the benefit of caffeine to make me functional.

I bought myself a superautomatic espresso machine, which is basically a proper espresso machine - but automated so you don't have to manually pull the shots yourself. Its the very opposite of labor intensive. I pour whole beans in the hopper at the top, and press a button. That's it. Mine does have a milk-foaming wand, but I don't drink lattes or cappucinos, so I can't vouch for it. The downside is that it was $$$$ expensive, but totally worth it to me, because I use it and love it every day. The coffee is great from this machine. I am a minor coffee snob. I think that you can get slightly better espresso from a fully manual espresso machine, but I'm too lazy for that. I adore it.
posted by Joh at 10:26 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Barista here. I also say don't bother with a home espresso machine -- there's really no setup good enough to justify the cost as far as I'm concerned! An Aeropress will easily make you a better cup of coffee than an $800 Rancilio machine. As others have mentioned, steam wands on home machines are pretty much uniformly worthless too, but maybe that's not especially important to you.

I also really have to recommend pour-over cone filter brewers -- this is seriously all I use at home most days. It's not espresso, of course, but it's also delicious, dirt cheap and dead simple.

The refillable Nespresso/Keurig pods are also worth considering -- it's totally possible to get a really great cup out of them but, as always, the grind is key.

So my advice is to just drop a little bit of money on a decent burr grinder (like this one -- again, nothing too fancy) and stick to these methods at home.
posted by tealsocks at 10:45 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all for your comments. Had no idea about Aeropress, this thing looks great, will give that a shot.
posted by zardoz at 10:47 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always heard good things about Aeropress, though personally I don't like the amount of things involved. I do pourover in a porcelain #4 size cone, which is perfect for a good, simple, strong cup of coffee with the absolute minimum of apparatus. For espresso, however, the Aeropress is probably closer to what you're looking for. I also backed the Nomad on Kickstarter, which may be hitting retail... soonish.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:28 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Love my Aeropress. I'm basically useless before caffeine and still manage it fine now that I've got the grind/steep thing worked out to my liking. I make four cups before I leave for work and it's no big.
posted by rtha at 11:36 PM on November 6, 2013

Here's a fact which may spare you a lot of time:

When shopping around, you may see photos of clear AeroPresses and wonder where you can buy them, because they look nice. Unfortunately, the clear material contained PCBs and is no longer used in AeroPress production. Current models are all made of that translucent smoky brown plastic, reminiscent of 5-1/4" floppy storage boxes or the bubble windows in your dad's custom van. That's just the way it is.
posted by mumkin at 11:38 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well... for my taste, cain't beat a Pavoni machine. A classic. You can get em on fleabay - older ones - for less than $200. Mine was made in the mid-1970's, still works just fine!
how to use a Pavoni
posted by drhydro at 12:10 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Gonna chime in on Team Aeropress. We use it every single morning and love it. I have a low threshold for the Fiddly but I'm personally not at all bothered by the process, and the coffee is really amazing. I make life more difficult by using a Hario Skerton manual grinder, which is amazing. I don't think I'd like the Aeropress as much if we didn't use freshly ground coffee for each cup.
posted by nerdfish at 1:02 AM on November 7, 2013

i saw this article (maybe on metafilter?) that talked about one man's quest to make the best coffee. he talks about grinders - maybe it could help you decide between burr or, um, non-burr? http://www.drbunsen.org/coffee-experiments/
posted by andreapandrea at 4:28 AM on November 7, 2013

If you go the Aerpress route, look at some Youtube videos and other net sources to show the proper way to use the device. The Aeropress factory instructions are not the best. There are even Aeropress competitions. Search the web.

We use our Aeropress when our espresso machine needs repair or replacement . My wife and I don't like it as much as our long (Americano) espressos because the Aeropress makes an extremely smooth cup of coffee. We prefer a bit of a bite with the morning coffee.
posted by mbarryf at 6:05 AM on November 7, 2013

I have an Aeropress and a moka pot. The espresso is great (Moka pot is fine, Aeropress is excellent). But honestly what I really like about espresso is having a neat little treat prepared for me by an expert for a buck or two. At home, I find myself doing cold press, filter cone, or French press much more often since I just need the caffeine in the easiest way possible before work. All of those are miles better than your average home drip coffee maker and still easier than making espresso.
posted by miyabo at 7:09 AM on November 7, 2013

Oh also you can froth milk by shaking it in a small jar when it is still cold, then microwaving for a few seconds. It works way better than even the best steam wand.
posted by miyabo at 7:18 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been making espresso at home every morning for over 25 years. My set up now is a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine and Rancilio Rocky grinder, and I use beans from a local roaster -- not a cheap set-up. I don't use pods, and you can find many machines that don't require them. If you want really good espresso, you have to be prepared to drop some serious money and you can't cheap out on the grinder. Be prepared to spend upwards of a grand total for a grinder and espresso machine. Then again, I used to be less picky and was quite happy for many years with a much cheaper machine and grinder, which turned out okay espresso which was still better than drip coffee or pods. It certainly wouldn't be up to my standards now, it really depends on what you want.

I hear people claim all the time that you can't make good espresso at home. Whatever. Maybe it is a reflection on the quality of the local coffee houses or the baristas that work there, but even the so-called good ones (including where I buy my beans) can't match what I make at home. Making good espresso definitely requires practice. I turn on the machine when I get up and let it warm up for 20-30 minutes while I putz about getting the kids' breakfast ready and pre-heat the portafilter and cup before I make a shot. Except for waiting for the machine to warm up, it only takes a couple minutes, very little work at all.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:47 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

FYI (and apologies for the slight derail): the concern with the clear vs. smokey aeropress is over the presence of BPA, not PCBs, in the manufacturing of the clear aeropress plastic. (Brief discussion at Sweet Maria's here.) PCBs are an entirely different class of chemicals that have significant and extremely serious toxicities for humans.
posted by scalespace at 8:15 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

aeropress is great if you drink americanos and other water based drinks. it's latte and milk drink attempts are pretty.. subpar?

I had a starbucks barista espresso machine that was.. okay. the coffee was fine depending on my coffee and grinding abilities, but the steamer didn't work. it got lost in a flood, and I replaced it with a nespresso. (which I like a lot. sorry!)
posted by euphoria066 at 10:23 AM on November 7, 2013

Best answer: While not espresso, I can vouch for the ease and relative cost-savings of the fill-your-own pods for the Keurig coffee makers. I'm not a coffee connoisseur, but I enjoy the coffee made by the single-serving self-fill pods.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:58 AM on November 7, 2013

I like the manual Gaggia machines. They make good espresso and are capable of micro foaming milk. They've got a decent amount of power, specially the ones with "Baby" in the name, which confusingly are the more heavy duty models.
posted by w0mbat at 10:59 AM on November 7, 2013

The Aeropress is a nice brewer, but it does not make espresso. However some people prefer it, particularly with lighter roasted, single origins. It's not difficult to clean, but I don't think it's less difficult than an espresso maker, just different. However, if you find a macchinetta/moka pot fussy, I'm not certain that an espresso machine is the answer. Perhaps a super auto, but you'd still need to spend some time tuning it.

That said, my Miss Silvia makes an awesome shot of espresso. You have to be willing to play with beans, grind, tamp, and timing, though. Microfroth is no problem. Cleanup is easier than a macchinetta, what takes time and attention is the stuff I've mentioned above.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:31 PM on November 7, 2013

Best answer: I just saw this on Americas Test Kitchen ... they recommended the Rok ... Here is a link to their site with relevant info
posted by BoscosMom at 3:24 PM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would not buy something under $100 from Mr. Coffee or the like.

OTOH: we have the cheap-and-cheerful $40 Mr. Coffee espresso maker and it's perfectly OK. (Although yeah, the steam wand isn't worth the effort: it takes ages to steam enough milk and then it's a pain in the ass to clean.)

Getting -- and using! -- a good grinder made a huge difference. (Also: get a tamper, a cheap one seems perfectly fine to me, and experiment with grinding and tamping to find what works best.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:12 AM on November 10, 2013

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