Upgrade from cheap steam-driven espresso machine?
February 1, 2022 11:53 AM   Subscribe

My partner was given a cheap steam-driven espresso machine a number of years ago. Is there a budget-friendly upgrade that makes sense?

My partner has fine-tuned his morning espresso routine using a cheap steam-driven espresso machine, using a tiny amount of water and spending 40 minutes to extract a double shot of espresso. He has a very particular taste preference and this suits his needs well enough, but I feel like there must be a reasonable upgrade from this, and I wouldn't mind being able to make a latte for myself from time to time, but the consensus seems to be that a home espresso machine is not worth it until you get into the $1000+ range which does not make sense to me right now if this current setup is working OK. Neither of us buys coffee outside the home (except maybe once a week as a treat) unless we're out and about, so this would not be saving us money on espresso drinks.

Please note:
- Not really upgrading to improve the quality of the espresso, just the time it takes and to get a milk steamer, so please don't suggest different upgrades (grinder?) which would improve espresso quality; main reason for the upgrade is to free up counter space by getting rid of our microwave whose only purpose is heating up my coffee in the mornings after I add milk. If you want to just suggest a milk steamer that is an option also but not looking forward to another thing to clean and store
- We have a moka pot and a chemex and he's not happy with either of those options for coffee.
- Please don't suggest nespresso/keurig setups, he hates those also
- Don't have a particular budget in mind, less is better but probably at $300 I would consider upgrading now, at $700+ I might just let this machine keep going until it dies.
posted by matcha action to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Perhaps outside your budget, but we've been really pleased with our Breville Bambino Plus. We have little counter space, so the slim design is perfect for our needs. You mentioned letting your current machine die. When our current machine died (the original one), Breville immediately sent a new one and had us ship the old one back in the same box. Their customer support has been fantastic over the years.
posted by emelenjr at 12:03 PM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I’m not sure what the 40-minute process incorporates, but my hunch would be that even a basic pump-driven machine could improve on the results from one of those cheap steam-driven ones. (The one I had long ago could barely even produce a crema that lasted through to the end of the brewing process.)

If “the consensus” you’re referring to came off of Reddit or some similar gathering of coffee snobs / connoisseurs, I would take that with many grains of salt (or sugar, perhaps). It may be true that there’s not much difference in say the $200-$700 range and so if you want to spend a decent amount for amazing results you have to get to the $1000 range. But if you want to spend a little for not-amazing-but-probably-way-better-than-steam-driven results, that $200 range (or less!) might be worth a look.

My own experience is with this Breville from a number of years back. Other than a steam wand that will release some water while the steam is building up, I’ve had no problems with it, and it’s given some quite good espresso over the years (though biggest driver there is the quality of the coffee itself).
posted by sesquipedalia at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Breville Bambino, but you can save money by not getting the Plus - just get the regular model.

The Plus adds automatic milk steaming via timer - set it and go. If it's worth saving those minutes for multi-tasking, then great, but I found I was OK with manual steaming.

The Bambino uses a pump to get pressure, and heats very quickly - a few seconds.
posted by jpeacock at 12:27 PM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Breville Bambino is definitely worth an upgrade from that for steaming power. Worth the upgrade for your espresso too, versus just adding something like this to your current setup.

Check out James Hoffmann's rundown under 500 GBP, including the Bambino. He touches on steaming.
posted by supercres at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Bellman has a line of stovetop espresso machines/streamers that might work out for you. I've been researching this a bunch myself and this is your best option for standalone steam (and cafune.ca has the best prices I've seen - and you want the pressure gauge).
posted by kdar at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work as a barista with the fancy-expensive-many-thousands-of-dollars machine at a local coffee shop.

I have the Breville Bambino (the cheaper one) at home. I paid $300 for the machine, less than an additional $100 for upgrades to the tamper and basket.

I like the Bambino a LOT. Very, very fast to get to temperature for pulling shots and steaming milk. The shots are reliable and consistent. My one complaint is that the steam wand isn't as awesome as the one at work, so my cappucinos aren't great yet, but that's also due to me pulling hundreds of cappucinos at work and maybe 50 at home since I've had the machine.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:48 PM on February 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The Plus adds automatic milk steaming via timer - set it and go

It's better than that-- it has a sensor to monitor milk temperature. Feels very worth it if you tend to drink milk drinks
posted by supercres at 12:49 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Early in lockdown, I got fed up with my stovetop coffee makes and, missing the good espresso machines at work, bought a Sage (Breville) Barista Express. It’s about £600 here in the UK, and I haven’t regretted the purchase for a moment - it’s very good. Also, it is not far off being a Bambino with a built-in grinder and pressure gauge, so I would expect that to be decent too.

Be warned that the world of espresso can be a slippery slope - I remember someone (possibly James Hoffman, mentioned upthread) once saying “Buy a filter machine to brew coffee. Buy an espresso machine if you want a new hobby.” and it’s very true: if you’re not careful, you can spend more time tweaking your brew than you do enjoying the coffee.

But ultimately, having had a steam-powered machine in the past (which I having got rid of it decent espresso became more readily and locally available, before then buying the Barista Express), the step up from a steam-powered machine to basically any half-decent pump machine will be like night and day in terms of quality, convenience and consistency.
posted by parm at 1:16 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry, just noticing this:

main reason for the upgrade is to free up counter space by getting rid of our microwave whose only purpose is heating up my coffee in the mornings after I add milk

Check this guy out. I have one in addition to espresso machine and it's completely complementary, I use it for totally different stuff, like cold foam and hot chocolate.

(I still think you'll be super happy with the improved workflow of a pump-driven espresso machine like a Bambino or GCP though.)
posted by supercres at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2022

The Mr. Coffee ECMP-50 is a dandy deal for a 15-bar pump machine. And does a fine job, to boot.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Breville Bambino would be what I would recommend. We went with the Barista, but had more counter space to play with and got it on a weird sale. Were I doing it today, I'd probably just do the Bambino.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:44 PM on February 1, 2022

I’m confused. I have multiple steam espresso machines and they take less than 5 minutes to make espresso, and you can steam milk while they pull shots.

I’ve never noticed a difference between a machine using steam and an inexpensive pump one.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:23 PM on February 1, 2022

Best answer: Coming to chime in for a small Breville. I inherited mine a decade ago from an old roommate, and it is like a member of the family now. Used 4x a day, always makes a great cup, the milk steamer is awesome, and it never needed anything beyond basic decalcifying maintenance.
posted by Freyja at 8:24 AM on February 2, 2022

Well, neither of my two espresso machines , does steamed milk, though you can buy a separate frother, that would. I currently have an original Nespresso that I got for $10 on facebook market. It makes a decent cup and Nespresso, does free pod recycling. They also sell machines with onboard milk frothers. So there's that. Probably more expensive on FB market than my little guy. I also have a completely manual ROK lever machine. I got it at a thrift store, probably less than $20. Why 2? The Nespresso is loud for a small apartment when people are sleeping. Both make decent coffee, and with setup (fill portafilter, tamp heat water, etc) on the ROK, I'd say it takes about the same amount of time to make a cup. Good luck, I hope you find something you like.
posted by evilDoug at 11:37 AM on February 2, 2022

Best answer: Another vote for Breville. We have the Infuser rather than the Bambino, but the Bambino sounds like a better match for your needs.
posted by february at 1:18 PM on February 2, 2022

The maker of your steam-driven espresso machine, DeLonghi, also has pump-driven machines for about what the steam-driven unit you have now cost. You might try one of those; you should see a decent improvement just making that change. I had this one as my first machine (chosen because it was the cheapest one that had decent reviews) and it made fine espresso; the issue is that the cheap models like that one aren't particularly durable. Still, it'll probably do you for a couple years at which point you can decide whether you want to take that next step up.
posted by kindall at 5:25 PM on February 3, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks all! It's rare that AskMe is so unanimous so I'm going to take a chance on the Breville Bambino.
posted by matcha action at 3:21 PM on February 4, 2022

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