Check the Technology
Espresso machine technology can generally be divided into three categories: electric pump machines, electric steam machines and stovetop espresso makers. Only the first kind can create that characteristic layer of reddish-brown foam at the top of the drink, also known as the schiuma or crema, which is one of the defining characteristics of true espresso. The second kind of machine doesn’t use enough pressure to create the foam, while the latter technology doesn’t heat the water enough, resulting in coffee that has a closer resemblance to drip coffee instead of espresso.
Pick Manual or Automatic
The decision between manual or automatic espresso machines can make all the difference in your brewing experience. Automatic espresso machines do everything for you, including the grinding of the coffee beans. This is ideal for those who want a hands-off experience, and simply want to enjoy the finished product. Manual machines let you tinker with every setting and mode, so you can customize factors like the brewing time to shape an espresso drink that is distinctly yours.
Save Time with Pods; Save Money with Beans
Some espresso machines take regular coffee beans, ground or whole — depending on if the machine is capable of grinding beans on its own — while others run off of pre-measured pods or capsules. You can save a lot of time by using a pod-enabled machine, since you don’t have to worry about buying, storing, grinding and emptying out coffee beans. Each pod or capsule contains the right amount of ground beans. However, what you gain in time you also lose in money, as such pod- or capsule-driven espresso machines generally have a higher cost per cup than machines that use traditional beans.
Consider Expansion Possibilities
If you think you might want to expand your barista duties to other exotic kinds of coffees, like lattes, make sure your espresso machine has the ability to run add-ons. This can make brewing other drinks easier. For example, some espresso machines have built-in tools like temperature needles and milk foaming devices, or at least the capability to attach such a device to the machine.
Sample the End Result
Every espresso machine has its own little whims and characteristics that affect how the final cup of espresso tastes. When it comes to a drink like this, many people are very picky about the final flavor. Because it’s such a personal subject, the best way to decide if you’ll like the espresso machine is by tasting its product. Some stores have open houses or showrooms where you can try high-end devices like the espresso machine, or special events where a company representative shows you how to use it.