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Should you buy a home espresso machine?

Getting your daily coffee from your local cafe is a little trickier these days. Is it time you invested in your own manual espresso machine?

at home espresso machine
Last updated: 07 April 2020

Need to know

  • Buying a manual espresso machine so you can make your coffee at home will work out cheaper than buying coffee from a cafe
  • If you're going to outlay big bucks on a home espresso machine, it's worth buying a good-quality grinder and coffee beans, and learning how to use your new machine properly
  • Our experts review a wide range of coffee machines, from pod and capsule machines to semi-automatic, automatic and manual machines, to help you choose the one that's right for you

There's no denying that we love our coffee here in Australia. In 2018, the Australian coffee market generated more than $8 billion in revenue, with the majority of us drinking at least one cup of coffee in an average week. 

But heading to the local coffee shop for your caffeine fix can also be an expensive habit, with the average cup costing $4.13. And in these days of social distancing due to coronavirus, it's also likely to be a safer option if you just make your brew at home. If you're considering investing in an at-home coffee machine, here are some things to consider.

1. The cost to your pocket

Given that a cup of coffee costs around $4 at a cafe, and as high as $5 in some areas (both regional and metro – it's not just the cosmopolitan cafes charging big bucks for their coffee), you could be spending upwards of $1500 per year if you have one cup of cafe coffee per day. 

And that number just increases if you sometimes sneak in an extra brew or two, or grab a muffin as well. 

So, would you be better off taking that cash and investing it in your own coffee machine?

The cost of the machine

At CHOICE, we review a wide range of coffee machines – pod, manual, automatic and semi-automatic – and they vary drastically in price, ranging from $27 to $3999. 

Pod or capsule coffee machines are usually cheaper than manual espresso machines (you can pick up a capsule coffee machine for under $100 or splurge up to $699 on a Nespresso) but our expert taste testers agree that if you're fussy about flavour, a manual espresso machine will almost always give you the best results. This is because it gives you the most control over the brewing process. 

If you're fussy about flavour, a manual espresso machine will almost always give you the best results

And while they're more expensive to buy (from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars), a good machine should last you around eight years. 

Just remember, though, that price isn't always an indicator of performance. Many cheaper models outperform more expensive ones in our test – check out our coffee machine reviews to see if you can pick up a bargain model that rates well. 

We also give each machine a brand reliability and brand satisfaction score, based on responses from CHOICE members, so you can assess how brands have performed over time for other coffee lovers.

The cost of the coffee: pods vs ground

Then, you need to take into account the cost of pods and capsules if you have a pod or capsule machine, or ground coffee or beans if you have a manual or automatic. This is where your cash outlay will vary wildly.

While you can pick up a bag of ground coffee from the supermarket for as little as $12 per kilogram, coffee aficionados will argue the best results will come from barista beans which could cost you around $50 or more per kilogram. Depending on the size of your grind, a kilogram of beans should give you about 120–140 single shots of coffee or 60–70 double shots (although this can of course vary). 

You may outlay less cash initially for a pod or capsule coffee machine, but the pods themselves can be much more expensive 

Even though you may outlay less cash initially for a pod or capsule coffee machine, the pods and capsules themselves can be much more expensive (not to mention the cost to the environment if you don't recycle them) – they're around $100 a kilogram on average. 

If you settle on a more expensive manual machine that costs, say, $1200, it works out at just $150 a year over an eight-year lifespan. Add to that the cost of coffee for one cup a day and milk, your at-home espresso machine will still cost you less than a daily cafe coffee habit. (You should make allowances for occasional maintenance and replacement of parts as well.)

2. The cost to the environment

Unless you fastidiously use a BYO cup every time you pick up a coffee from your local cafe, you're contributing to the approximately one billion takeaway coffee cups that Australians send to landfill every year, each cup taking thousands of years to decompose. 

Of course if you make your coffee at home, you're more likely to use a mug or reusable cup. And if you use it everyday, that's at least 365 cups per year you're saving from the trash. 

An added bonus of making your coffee at home is that you can use your leftover coffee grounds to make an excellent compost for the garden. The grounds are too acidic to use on their own, so mix with organic garden waste before you spread over your plants.

3. Convenience

Some might say that picking up a takeaway coffee is the ultimate convenience: you don't have to spend time buying beans, grinding them at home, frothing milk or cleaning a machine. It's all happily done for you, by a smiling barista who'll probably wish you a pleasant start to your day. 

Another pro of cafe coffee is the social factor: sharing your coffee experience with a friend or colleague. Even the ritual of the morning walk to pick up your flat white can often be a highlight of your day.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has messed up a lot of our daily routines and limited the possibility of social outings to grab a cuppa. Although many of us may want to continue supporting local cafes and businesses where we can, you may decide it's safer to stay at home.

It might also be miserable and raining outside or you physically can't get to the local cafe (or you just don't have one nearby)? Or perhaps you just really enjoy padding to the kitchen in your PJs to treat yourself immediately with a hot cup of caffeinated goodness… being able to take care of your coffee needs in the comfort of your own home has its benefits, too.

4. Your level of skill

CHOICE coffee machine expert Mit Lalich says it's important to buy a coffee machine that suits your skill level as well as how much you're going to use it: "Some people spend thousands on a coffee machine, but there's not much point if either you don't really know how to use it, or you don't use it enough to warrant the money you've spent on it." 

Whichever machine you buy, it's worth taking the time to learn how to use it properly, from buying the right kind of coffee grinder and good-quality coffee, to tamping the coffee correctly, frothing the milk and getting the perfect pour. 

Baristas charge $4 to $5 per cup for a reason – it's because they're (usually) specially trained and using the best beans. If you can't replicate that at home, you might find yourself heading back to the coffee shop and your coffee machine becoming another piece of furniture. 

Some people spend thousands on a coffee machine, but there's not much point if you don't really know how to use it

CHOICE coffee machine expert Mit Lalich

Mit also says: "Our tests have found that the type of coffee machine you're using really makes all the difference. Our blind taste tests show that, even when using the same type of coffee, there are surprisingly different results from machine to machine."

"Ease of use and the skills of the person using it also have an impact, particularly when it comes to manual or semi-automatic espresso machines. Results will really depend on the skill of the person using it, as you have a lot of control over the process." 

When we review coffee machines, we assess things such as ease of use, how they perform on tasks such as frothing milk and achieving consistency of temperature, and the resulting coffee taste.

How to use a manual espresso machine

5. Being able to experiment and make your coffee how you like it

Making your own coffee at home means you're not bound by the brand of coffee sold at your local cafe, and you can experiment with lots of different blends to find one you really love. 

You can also avoid that awkward situation when your favourite barista is not rostered on and someone else makes a coffee that's not exactly to your taste (that's four or five bucks down the drain!)

Can you use regular pre-ground coffee in an espresso machine?

CHOICE expert Mit Lalich says, yes, but you'll get best results from coffee that's been ground specifically for use in an espresso machine, either by yourself or from a barista (rather then a pre-ground coffee from the supermarket). 

"Using freshly ground beans to make your coffee on an automatic, semi-automatic or manual machine will produce a coffee closer in flavour and quality to a barista-made coffee from a cafe," he says. 

He says your grinder will make a difference, too: "You'll get best results from a burred coffee grinder (flat or conical), as opposed to a grinder with blades, like a blender. This allows for greater precision and consistency with your grind." 

Still not sure what we're talking about? We break down all these terms in our article about how to buy the best coffee grinder.