Purchasing an espresso machine is an intimidating affair. Ever-escalating price tags and added mechanical flourishes require hours of research in order to find a machine that works for you and your shop or personal needs. Don’t get overwhelmed—the right machine is out there. This guide should help steer you in the right direction for the type of machine you want to buy. 

Espresso machines come in four categories: manual, semi-automatic, full automatic, and super automatic. Before making a purchase, as yourself what exactly you want. Here is a list of questions you should ask before making any decisions: 

  • Do you need additional bells and whistles, or are you interested in just straight espresso-making? 
  • How many drinks do you want to churn out in a pull? 
  • How often will you make drinks? 
  • Will you need to manually fill the machine’s water reservoir? 
  • What type of power supply do you have? 

So, what can you get for your money? There are often three price points to consider, and each is separated by a different boiler configuration and accompanying mechanicals:  

Machines under $1,000 are often single-boiler, dual-use setups. They use a single thermostat to control water temperature, and they can’t brew and steam milk simultaneously.  

Machines above the $1,000 mark are mostly single-boiler, heat-exchanger machines. They feature a larger boiler that keeps water at or around 240 degrees Fahrenheit, making is possible to both brew and steam simultaneously. 

Machines at or over the $2,000 mark often feature two separate boilers for simultaneous brewing and steaming. Though this may seem like the best way to go if you’re making an investment, keep in mind that most North American 110V power outlets can’t always handle the needs of these machines. 

When making your decision, pay attention to the intricacies of the machine. How easy will it be to clean and maintain it? What is the maximum pump pressure, and if it’s self-priming, what type of boiler setup does it have? These variables will determine the effort and time necessary to make single drinks.