You are sick and tired of paying upwards of £3 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks or Costa Coffee or Café Nero.
However, you really like the coffee that you get there but you don’t want to pay a fortune to make your favourite cappuccino or latte at home.
In this article, we will show you how to get started with making a coffee shop coffee at home and how, if you choose carefully, the best cheap espresso machine can deliver a great coffee at a fraction of the price you will pay at one of the high street chains.
To give you a ballpark figure (it depends on how much you spend on coffee beans or ground coffee) you should be able to make a double espresso and add milk for a cappuccino or latte for about £0.25p which is about 10% of the price you will pay in a coffee shop.
If you choose wisely then you will very quickly recover the purchase price of your espresso machine and as well as giving you some recommendations of what we believe are the best cheap espresso machines, we will also show you how you can make a better coffee than you get at Costa and only pay 10% of the price.
The first thing we need to do is define “cheap”. It’s a very subjective phrase as cheap to some people could be expensive to others and vice versa so from the perspective of an espresso machine you should definitely avoid anything that is priced below £70 because most importantly you will not be able to make a good coffee but you also open yourself up to poor manufacturing and are likely to get something that stops working quicker than you would like.
You can easily go into the thousands for a professional espresso machine so we will cap the price for “cheap” at about £150 and explain what you get as you go up through the pricing from around £70 to approximately £150.
If you want to take a look at all of the espresso machines that we have singled out as being the best of the bunch across the whole market then you can jump straight to the best pump espresso machines
In order to make the most of a cheap espresso machine, you need to combine it with good coffee and a good technique for getting the coffee into the machine before drawing out a lovely double espresso.
The cheapest option for making espresso if you don’t want to plug a machine into the mains is a stovetop espresso maker
Long before the first electrical coffee machine was invented, Bialetti was producing stovetop espresso machines. The concept is extremely simple yet very effective. You have a water reservoir at the bottom and on top of that you have a basket of coffee and you screw a jug or pot on top of that. As the water boils it gets forced up through the coffee and into the pot and you have yourself an espresso made the traditional way.
The most impressive thing about this method of making espresso is that it is still widely used today and the very same design that Bialetti put into production in 1933 is still available for sale today.
Cheaper Chinese rip-offs (sorry alternatives) are available but the price of the Bialetti espresso maker is so cheap anyway, in our opinion, there is no point in saving a few pounds when you can buy something that has stood the test of time over decades and is a proven winner.
The original design from 1933 is very popular but if it is a little too traditional for you they also have a more modern design in the Bialetti Venus espresso maker so whatever you taste in design the original makers of the stovetop espresso have something that will work for you.
This particular model comes in 4 sizes. 2 cup, 4 cup, 6 cup and 10 cup. Always go for a bigger one than you think you need because the “cup” sizes are always on the low side and you are likely to get less than the stated cup size out of it. So if you want to brew 4 cups of coffee, go for the 6 cup and if you want 6 cups go for the 9 cup.
If you are looking to get closer to the quality of coffee that you find in Starbucks or Costa then you need to consider an espresso machine that you plug into the wall.
The coffee shops will make you believe that you need to have all of the kit that they have if you want to reproduce what they produce but it simply is not true. By implementing a few tips, after a short time you will be crafting a cup of coffee to compare to anything that you pay £3 for in a coffee shop.
What are the best cheap espresso machines?
Below is a brief summary of what we believe are the four best cheap espresso machines. If you want to see an in-depth, detailed review then just click on any of the links to take you to the full review for each individual product.
As long as you avoid the rubbish cheap coffee machines (there are a lot of really rubbish machines) then you can make a surprisingly good coffee for a relatively small outlay.
A very important thing to take into consideration when you are looking at spending less than £150 on an espresso machine is to set your expectations correctly. Do not expect to get the same quality of coffee machine or coffee from a product that costs less than £100 as you would from one that costs £500. I know it sounds obvious but the reason we mention it is that you may see some negative reviews but these tend to be from people that want a top of the range machine but they only want to pay £100 so when they don’t get that then they are not happy.
The 5 machines we mention below can and will produce a decent cup of coffee but it won’t be as good as something that costs five times more. It’s like ordering a mini and expecting a Ferrari to arrive. It’s all about getting good value for money and that is exactly what you will get with these coffee machines.
It is difficult to get anything half decent below the price of the Swan Retro pump espresso machine. It may be tempting to go for something cheaper but the quality of the components will be poor and the machine won’t last long and the pressure on the pump which is a crucial part of good coffee will not work as well over time.
This is about the minimum you need to spend if you want to produce a coffee that is going to taste close to what you get in a high street coffee shop. You may see some negative reviews but you should look past those because unless you are prepared to pay more then this is about as good as it gets at this price. You can often pay a tenner or so less if you are not bothered about the colour which adds up to a decent amount percentage wise at this price.
A well known British brand for many decades, Swan are more well known for their kettles and toasters but if you want the reassurance of a trusted brand then this is worth a look.
What we really like about this espresso machine is that you get a pressure gage which is not just a gimmick but allows you to get a visual check on whether you have the right pressure pushing through the coffee grounds. Too little pressure and you need to grind the coffee a little finer and too much pressure the coffee can be ground more coarse and the gage will tell you when you have it just right. The steam pressure is good so you will be able to heat and froth your milk for milk-based drinks such as cappuccino and latte.
It may look a little plasticky but that’s completely normal at this price. The main thing is that it will produce a decent coffee.
One of the best selling espresso machines in the UK is the Delonghi Dedica style EC658BK. Delonghi is No.1 when it comes to coffee machines by a mile over Nespresso who sit in second place. They have proven for years that they know how to make a machine that produces good coffee. The beauty of this machine is in its simplicity. Just three buttons control coffee delivery just how you like it and the steam nozzle will froth up the milk so you can enjoy your favourite milk-based drink. The internal component parts will also be of a better quality than the cheapest espresso machines.
This may look similar from the outside to some of the cheaper espresso machines on the market but Delonghi is the market leader for a reason, they know how to make coffee machines that work well and last. They would not have a great reputation if they did not deliver a great cup of coffee. This is at the top end of a “cheap” espresso machine but in our opinion, it is worth it for the peace of mind that the Delonghi brand brings to the table.
Another machine from Delonghi at a similar price to the Dedica style is the ECP31.21 espresso machine. It’s a little more manual than the EC685BK but it does normally come in a bit cheaper and is actually really good value for money for a top brand espresso machine.
It has the same 15 bar pump which is required to push the water through the ground coffee for maximum flavour, the only real difference is that you need to stop the flow of coffee yourself as opposed to it being automated. This probably represents the best value of all our cheap espresso machine recommendations because you are getting high-quality components and for a small amount of manual intervention you will get a great coffee at a very reasonable price.
Simply turn the dial to the right to start coffee delivery and back to the middle again to stop. If its simplicity that you are looking for then it doesn’t get any easier than this.
This is a great example of an espresso machine that delivers quality coffee at a great price. The 15 bar pump delivers coffee at the right pressure and is the same pump that other manufacturers use but charge a lot more money for.
It looks good and is really easy to use. there is one button to turn it on and a dial in the middle that controls the water delivery if you turn it to the left.
If you like milky coffee drinks just turn the dial to the right to activate the steam nozzle to froth up your milk for a latte or cappuccino.
And it doesn’t just deliver good coffee, with a stainless steel and black finish, Klarstein has produced a coffee machine that will look good in any kitchen.
This is a simple to use but really effective way to recreate a coffee shop experience
Another option from Delonghi is the ECZ351W which is priced in a similar way to our previous recommendation, the ECP31.21. The design is very different so if you prefer a more traditional look then this is likely to appeal to you more.
This also has a slightly bigger water tank at 1.4 litres but has the same pump at 15 bar of pressure and also operates manually where you need to press one button to start the coffee delivery and the same button to stop. Both are really good value for money from the market leader so its really just a matter of personal preference as to which design you prefer.
These five espresso machines are in our opinion the best value for money at the budget end of the market.
How to make a good espresso at home
If you take control of a small number of variables then it goes a long way to ensuring you get a great tasting coffee.
Grind the coffee beans yourself
You always want the coffee to be as fresh as possible and it starts to lose that freshness the minute the beans are ground. So buy coffee beans not ground coffee if you can.
Grinding the beans yourself is super easy and it can cost less than a tenner for a blade coffee grinder. The Kabalo budget blade coffee grinder is a good example of an ultra low-cost grinder that can make a big difference to the overall quality of your coffee experience.
Buy good coffee
If you can afford it then avoid the cheap supermarket ground coffee and invest in some coffee beans. If you buy it in 1kg bags it’s cheaper than you think and miles cheaper than buying a cappuccino or latte in a coffee shop. Here is an example of some good coffee beans
Coffee tastes best when brewed at 92-95 degrees and an espresso machine should reach that temperature before it delivers the water through the coffee and into the cup. The issue can be the consistency of temperature over time so the more you can afford to spend on an espresso machine the more consistent the water temperature will be.
Tamp the coffee
Once you have the ground coffee in the filter basket ready to go into the machine you need to press down on the coffee with just the right amount of pressure to so that it not to loosely packed but not too firmly packed either. The best way to do this is to use a coffee tamper to ensure you get done the right way every time.
By simply applying the 4 tips above you will make a big difference to the end result and if you combine these tips with even a cheap espresso machine you will be well on your way to replicating the coffee shop experience at home.