If you compare the prices of drip coffee makers to espresso machines you might get some sticker shock. Espresso machines range from pricey to very expensive. Why is that and can you brew espresso a cheaper way?
Espresso machines are expensive because they have to be constructed out of high quality materials with high quality standards to withstand the high pressures that are involved in making espresso. They also consist of more and higher quality parts than a normal drip coffee maker.
Let’s take a look at what goes into making an espresso machine and how that makes them cost so much.
What makes espresso machines so expensive?
If you’re shopping for an espresso machine, you might notice that they are pretty expensive. Especially compared to a normal coffee machine they cost quite a bit of money. What are the reasons for this?
There are a few big reasons why espresso machines can cost quite a bit of money.
- Parts: Espresso machines simply have more parts than most other types of coffee machines. There are pumps, seals, steam wands, filter baskets, etc. More parts means higher costs. Most of those parts are also of a higher quality and made from more expensive materials that a normal drip coffee maker.
- Pressure: Espresso is brewed at high pressure. 9 bar is normal but some machines can go up to 15 bar. To build something that can withstand such pressures and get coffee in the cup in a normal manner without exploding is quite difficult. Of course manufacturers have figured out how to do it safely but it still requires more care, more parts, higher quality parts and higher build quality than a coffee maker which just used gravity and atmospheric pressure.
- Pressure consistency: Just creating 9-15 bar of pressure and containing it isn’t super difficult. However, an espresso machine has to then also slowly release the pressure through while keeping it the same. So the machine has to build pressure at exactly the same rate as its release. This creates some complications that require some engineering solutions that add cost.
- Temperature consistency: Just like the pressure should be consistent, so should the temperature. On high end machines the temperature is controllable within tenths of a degree. And even on lower end models the temperature stays pretty consistent throughout the shot.
- Materials: Espresso machines are often nicer appliances that are made from nicer materials than a random $25 coffee maker. That’s because they are more expensive so people expect something to look nicer. But because there is high pressure in an espresso machine you need more solid parts that can handle that pressure. That means metal instead of plastic and rubber. All those parts have to stand up to high temperatures and high pressure which means tougher construction from stronger materials while everything also has to be food safe which adds extra cost.
- Design: Many espresso machines are very beautifully made appliances. Polished or brushed aluminum/stainless steel are common which is just more expensive than plastic. Designing something that looks nice in itself costs more than a simple appliance as well.
- Build quality: As a result of having to deal with high pressures, they have to build espresso machines to a pretty high quality standard. And since you have to make the pressurized parts higher quality, they are more expensive. You have to pay for that anyways. So it makes sense to upgrade the other parts a little as well to make the machine look and feel nicer so people feel better about spending their money.
- Production numbers: Normal drip coffee makers are simple to make, don’t have a lot of parts but maybe the biggest difference: They are made in huge numbers. The larger scale means that they become even cheaper. Espresso machines are not sold in numbers that large so the production numbers are lower which leads to higher prices.
- Production location: While it is common for all appliances to be made in China or similar low-wage countries, some of the higher end espresso machines are made in Italy. This especially goes for the Italian brands of course. Since Espresso originates from Italy there are quite a few Italian brands that make espresso machines.
- Buyers: People that buy espresso machines are more likely to be into coffee and willing to spend more money on a coffee maker than someone that just wants a mug of filter coffee in the morning but otherwise doesn’t care about it. There certainly are cheap espresso machines for the less discerning customer but often they are not capable of producing coffee shop quality espresso.
Because espresso machines generally have to deal with more pressure and higher requirements from customers but also the brewing method, it costs more to build them than regular drip coffee machines.
|Automatic Barista Machine||Jura||Z8||Buy on Amazon|
|Automatic Espresso Machine With Grinder||Breville||Barista Express||Buy on Amazon|
|Manual Espresso Machine||Gaggio||Classic Pro||Buy on Amazon|
|Lever Espresso Maker||Flair||PRO 2||Buy on Amazon|
|Electric Grinder||Baratza||Sette 270||Buy on Amazon|
|Hand Grinder||1Zpresso||JX-PRO||Buy on Amazon|
|Scale||TimeMore||Coffee Scale||Buy on Amazon|
Commercial vs. domestic
Also keep in mind that there are espresso machines that are made for commercial use while others are for domestic use. Of course both types are built in different ways with different prices as a result.
The typical espresso machine you see in a coffee shop is much larger than the one for domestic use. It’ll have two group heads (coffee outlets) or some even more. That alone means that all the parts have to be doubled up. So these commercial machines are more expensive because they are basically two espresso machines in one housing.
Of course the machines for commercial use are also generally built to a higher standard. Where machines for domestic use might use cheaper parts here and there to keep the price down and make it more attractive to normal consumers. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t get espresso machines meant for domestic use that’s just as good as a commercial one but the high quality ones will be at the upper end.
A coffee shop doesn’t care as much about the price and cares more about how many good espressos they can sell in a day. Something that’s reliable and does the best possible job consistently while also being big enough is more important for commercial use. The two markets are quite different.
Recommended Espresso Equipment
Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:
- Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
- Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
- Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
- Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
- Grinder: To make the best of your fresh beans, a good grinder is necessary. Espresso requires a good grinder to get the best results. The Baratza Sette 30 (Amazon) is a good espresso grinder that can also be used for other brewing methods and while not cheap, is good value for money. If you prefer hand grinders, the 1ZPresso JX-PRO is one of the best options (Amazon)
- Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.