Which Espresso Machine? The Ultimate Buyers Guide-India Edition

The next time you’re ordering your cappuccino, latte or lungo in your favourite coffee shop, linger for a bit around the counter and observe how the barista assembles your drink. The first step she takes is to prepare espresso in an espresso machine.

Watch how she loads the portafilter with some freshly ground coffee powder from the coffee grinder. Then, the portafilter is twisted and locked in place onto the espresso machine and with the flick of a switch accompanied by a humming sound, a rich dark brew of coffee begins to fall into the cup followed by a crown of foamy golden crema on top, filling up the air with a heady aroma.

What is preheatingIt all begins with an espresso.

Add frothed milk or textured milk and you’ve got a cappuccino. Add steamed milk, that’s your latte. Add hot water and you’ve got your long black or lungo.

Espresso forms the basis of most coffee shop style drinks. This is what you need to get it right. And there is only one method to get a full-bodied espresso. And that is by brewing it in a pump-driven espresso machine or by any other mechanical method, as long as you brew the coffee with hot water under pressure of at least 9 to 10 bars.

Nothing else is going to cut it.

Consider this analogy- traditional Indian style tea is made by boiling fresh tea leaves rigorously in boiling water. You’re never going to get the same punch from a tea bag steeped in hot water. Here’s another one- French fries are made by deep-frying pre-cut finger-sized potatoes in oil. You cannot steam them. You’ve got to fry them to get the real thing.

Get it?

Okay, so to enjoy the same coffee shop style experience in your own home, you need to get an espresso machine for your home. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are several choices available to you to get a product that can make your favourite coffee shop style cappuccino or latte at the fraction of the cost of a coffee shop, in the comfort of your own home.

But what are your choices? What are the differences in the technology and price point? Which espresso machine is right for you?

The purpose of this article is to answer these questions. Read on-

Most espresso machines come with a steam wand so you can froth up your milk using the steam to aerate and heat up milk for a smooth, velvety like texture for your cappuccino.

For some capsule driven machines, you need to get another device. An electric milk frother as an addition to the main espresso unit if you must have your frothed milk. Some capsule driven machines come with a built-in steam wand as well.

Here is a rundown on your current choices:

There are essentially five broad categories of espresso machines.

  1. Steam Espresso Machines
  2. Semi-automatic Espresso Machines
  3. Fully-automatic Espresso Machines
  4. Super-automatic Espresso Machines
  5. Capsule fully automatic Espresso Machines.

Let’s look at each category.

Steam Espresso Machines

These are the most rudimentary and the cheapest espresso machines out there.

They’re not ‘true espresso’ machines. They are more like drip coffee makers with a weak pressure to gently nudge the hot water into the boiler through the coffee grounds to give you a brew devoid of any crema and having no resemblance in appearance or taste to the espresso shot you get in a commercial coffee shop.

It, however, does have a built-in steam wand to help you froth milk.

But, given the price, it is a popular option for people who go by the nomenclature given that it is listed as an ‘espresso machine’ and have not delved into doing further research on the product.

PROS:
  • This machine is a good option for people looking for a strong, almost over-brewed coffee.
  • The built-in steam wand can froth milk.
CONS:
  • Not true espresso
  • The clumsy operation makes it difficult to control the temperature between brew and steam modes.
PRICE RANGE: 

Inr 2000/- to 4000/-

BRANDS :

Black and Decker, Morphy Richards, Prestige, STok

 

Semi-Automatic Pump Driven Espresso Machines

These machines are true espresso machines meant to replicate the exact coffee experience you get in coffee shops.

In fact, they are miniature machines, working replicas of the machines you see in commercial coffee shops.

They have two main technological advantages. A precision thermoblock that can accurately maintain the brew and steam temperature the other feature is the inclusion of a 15-bar solenoid valve electric pump that forces the hot water at high pressure through the coffee grounds resulting in a perfect, elegant, rich espresso.

These machines have built-in steam wands as well for frothing up milk for your cappuccino.

Why are they called semi-automatic?

‘Automatic’ because of the introduction of an electric pump that automates the pressure applied to the hot water as it passes through the coffee grounds, replacing the manual piston-driven machines of the past. The electric pump ensures consistent pressure every time.

‘Semi’ because the timing of the pump is user-controlled. You have to flick the pump switch on and turn it off manually when you see the desired quantity of brew has collected in your cup.

Coffee lovers who insist on controlling their espresso shots, prefer semi-automatic machines.

Moving further into automation and electronics is the fully automatic espresso machine as described in the next section.

It’s recommended that you dig deeper into the difference between a semi-automatic and fully-automatic espresso machine and why it matters to your coffee experience.

PROS:
  • True Espresso technology delivers coffee shop style experience at your own home
  • Freedom to choose coffee from hundreds of artisan coffee roasters.
  • No need to rely on pre-packaged capsules which can be machine specific and may not taste as good as freshly sourced coffee from roasters.
CONS:
  • Takes a learning curve to understand the workings of the machine.
PRICE RANGE:

Inr 8495/- to 25265/-

BRANDS:

Tecnora, De’Longhi

Fully-automatic Espresso Machines

Add electronics and controls to a semi-automatic espresso machine and you have a fully automatic espresso machine.

A mini-computer and other controls like a flow meter allow you to program the quantity of your espresso shot. With the brew dosage programmed, all you need to do is to press the single shot or double shot button and you will have the exact preset quantity fall into your cup every single time.

No monitoring required. Perfect results every time.

PROS:
  • All the pros of semi-automatic espresso machines
  • Very convenient to use
CONS:
  • Can be an expensive proposition for some.
PRICE:
  • Inr 18750/- to 25699/-
BRANDS:
  • Tecnora, De’Longhi

 

Super-Automatic Pump Driven Espresso Machines

Add a bean grinder, some more complicated mechanisms and you have a one-touch-does-it-all coffee machine that has a menu on the control panel that allows you to choose your preferred coffee drink from an espresso to a latte.

These machines are also known as ‘Bean to Cup’ machines.

Just place your cup below the dispensing spout, press the button and a few whirrs and clacking sounds later, coffee begins to pour out and fills your cup with your choice of brew.

There’s a lot of sophisticated technology built into these machines and there is a lot going on inside.

These machines will grind the beans, portion the coffee grounds, tamp to make a puck, brew the coffee, release the used coffee into another chamber, froth milk, and also have a cleaning cycle at the end of the process.

If you have seen a large machine in an office with the coffee bean reservoir clearly visible, it’s a commercial super-automatic or a bean to cup machine. If the bean reservoir is not visible, then it’s a premix, instant coffee vending machine.

Smaller versions for homes are available and offer a fairly good coffee experience although not as good as the coffee shop experience.

Here’s some further reading on the coffee quality and the user experience of super-automatic machines-

Are Super Automatic Machines Worth Buying?

If speed and convenience are key to you and you’re willing to shell out some extra cash, these machines might be your fit.

 

PROS:
  • Very convenient one-touch button operation.

 

CONS:
  • Prohibitive prices
  • Prone to mechanical failure in Indian conditions
  • Requires a lot of maintenance.
PRICE RANGE:
  • INR 58,000 to INR 2,88,800
BRANDS:
  • Gaggia, De’Longhi, Jura

 

Capsule-Driven Fully-Automatic Espresso Machines

Originally developed and patented by Nestle, under the brand ‘Nespresso’, the capsule driven coffee machine is now available by several brands ever since Nestle’s patents expired.

It all started when in a board meeting, the top brass at Nestle decided that it was time they shook off their ‘cheap instant coffee’ producer image and move further up the food chain.

Lots of top dollars in research and development and an equal if not more amount in branding and marketing, the Nespresso Capsule system was born and its runaway success story is now taught in business schools the world over.

Coffee is roasted and processed under special parameters and the tamped and packed, nitrogen flushed for preserving freshness in small capsules or pods, either made of plastic or aluminium.

These capsules essentially become your coffee dosage vehicle.

Pop the capsule in the machine and press a button. Your espresso is ready in seconds.

Once you’re done, take the used capsule out and throw it in the bin(or recycle bin) to discard it.

Very convenient to use, these machines occupy a small piece of real estate on your kitchen worktop or even in your side table in your bedroom and there are several choices available now in India.

The capsules, however, are the main focus of this coffee system.

Your machine is only as good as the quality of coffee in the capsule.

And this is where most people get misled. You may get a good deal on the machine and even the price of the capsules may be acceptable to you. But,

Is the coffee in the capsule any good?

By far, the only brand that has got the coffee quality in their capsules right has been Nespresso. Do your own research on the net and check the reviews of other brands besides Nespresso as well. Also,

Capsules are definitely going to be more expensive than getting freshly roasted coffee from an artisan roaster.

Most brands sell their machines with an option to buy an additional device, an electric milk frother that can heat and froth milk for your cappuccino or latte.

Some machines also have a built-in steamer spout or even a fully automatic version of the capsule machine with a milk dispensing system built-in.

PROS:
  • Very convenient
  • Small footprint
  • Coffee experience can be as close to a coffee shop if the capsules are right.
  • Affordable machines

 

CONS:
  • Capsules are expensive (fresh coffee from artisan roasters is cheaper)
  • Not all brands have got their capsule technology right.
  • The used capsules are not environment-friendly to dispose
  • Relying on imported capsules is inconvenient
  • India manufactured capsules are not the best in terms of coffee experience.

 

PRICE RANGE:

for the machine: INR 11,000 to INR 36,000

for the capsules: INR 39/- to INR 56/-

 

BRANDS:

Nespresso, Vero, Coffeeza

 

The Final Conclusion:

Buy in haste, repent at leisure.

Your purchase should be reflective of your lifestyle.

Is flavour of the most concern to you? Or is it convenience?

Today, India is home to 16 unique varieties of coffee, and there are over 250,000 coffee growers in India selling their produce for consumption within the country and all over the world.

Artisan roasters are setting up shop in your neighbourhood and access to world-class coffee is also a click away as many roasters from across the country sell their artisan styled roasts online.

Your choices are plenty. From pump enabled espresso machines to capsule driven machines.

Which espresso-style are you?