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Serious Espresso At Home: Finding the Right Machine

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A Rancilio Silvia home espresso machine. [Photograph: kadluba on Flickr]

Tired of having to get out of your pajamas in order to get your morning macchiato? (Well, without attracting sideways glances, anyway.) If you have a daily double-espresso habit, you might consider bringing it into your kitchen, on account of both the convenience and the cash: A home unit can pay for itself relatively quickly—depending on your dependence.

Cheap, quick, and easy

Looking for an on-the-fly and off-the-cuff solution to your at-home espresso needs? Several hand-powered models of CO2-charged makers have hit the market in the past year or so. We like the funky mypressi TWIST: Especially ideal when kitchen real estate is scarce, these simple little portable jobbies are also good for traveling, and can also be a relatively subtle way to avoid the sludge sitting in the office break room. And, topping off at around $200, they'll cut through that caffeine headache without cutting a swath through your bank account.

Mid-priced performance

One of the most frequently Internet-message-board recommended home-espresso machines on the market is the sturdy, reliable, looks-aren't-everything Silvia by Rancilio. A boxy little unit, the Silvia is incredibly user-friendly, and even offers the option for geek-leaning coffee people to tweak them to the next level by adding features like temperature controlling PID technology. With the right maintenance and semiregular use, these models have been known to enjoy somewhat remarkably long lifespans—but unlike your hairball-hacking 15-year-old cat, Silvia could be spitting out delicious little cups of coffee after as much as a decade, and for under a thousand bucks (and no vet bills).

A more substantial investment

Ready for something with a bit more oomph but not prepared to take out a second mortgage to finance it? Expobar's impressive Brewtus is somewhere between the Volvo and Mercedes of home espresso machines with its $2k price tag: With its dedicated-boiler system—designed to consistently and simultaneously maintain coffee-brewing water and steam pressure within their respective right parameters—Brewtus is a step up in the consistency department, allowing the user to whip up cappuccinos in no time with very little "temperature surfing."

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The 40-foot yacht of home espresso machines: La Marzocco's GS/3. [Photograph: CoffeeGeek on Flickr]

Go big or go home

Handcrafted espresso machines from Florence, Italy's La Marzocco have long been the mark of the super-serious coffee bar: Bean heads know to seek out the brand name when trying to track down new worthwhile cafes around town. And for those folks who would subsist on cappuccinos alone, La Marzocco introduced its home-user-friendly, "commercial lite" GS/3 model a few years back. Quality of this level definitely comes at a price—the sleek little hot-rod-like appliance will set you back about $6,500—but if your blood runs caffeinated brown and you calculate how much dough you drop at your local cafe in the average year, you may find this little beauty would pay for itself in no time. (And then you should feel free to invite me over for a shot.)

Of course, if you don't have the up-front cash for setting up your own countertop cafe, you've got other options. Visiting your local coffee shop instead of brewing your own is kind of the caffeinated equivalent of renting versus buying, which definitely has its benefits—like the option to spice it up occasionally by cheating on your local barista by stopping somewhere new.

Or you could sit tight 'till next week, when we'll tackle an even more wallet-conscious espresso alternative: the moka pot.

Do you have a home espresso machine? If so, do you use it every day, or do you miss those opportunities to flirt with the barista down the street?

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook. She also whips up fresh content—of the inquisitive variety—at the blog Inquiry Diary.

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