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Breaking Down Home Versus Professional Espresso Machines

Unless you're making 12 lattes in a row, you can stick to the basics.

by Amanda Abene | April 14, 2021

This past year, many of us have become more accustomed to making coffee at home, including trying new beans, tinkering with our recipes, and experimenting with different brew methods — some have even purchased espresso machines. What an exciting way to get more hands-on with the coffee brewing process! It’s important to keep in mind that many at-home espresso machines do run slightly differently than the machines baristas use at your local coffee shop. While different, at-homes espresso machines are a great opportunity to brew espresso just how you like it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind with your espresso machine.

Number of boilers

Commercial espresso machines typically have two boilers within the machine. One boiler is just for making espresso shots and the other is for the steam wand. Having these two boilers allows the machine to handle pulling espresso shots and steaming milk at the same time. This is why commercial espresso machines are so expensive. At-home espresso machines almost always have only one boiler, which is why it’s very important to not brew espresso and steam milk at the same time; most machines are set up to not even allow for that to occur.

Material of the body

Home espresso machines typically have plastic bodies that are built to provide a pleasing look to fit into a home's decor as opposed to commercial machines that have stainless steel bodies. Because commercial machines have to keep up with a busy coffee shop or restaurant, a material like stainless steel provides an easy-to-clean and far less breakable machine. This also makes them way more expensive — commercial espresso machines can range from $2,000 to over $15,000.

While plastic may not be as strong, home brewers are (hopefully!) not trying to make 12 lattes in a row and so they don’t need to have as strong of a frame to still produce delicious beverages. Plastic bodies and a single boiler system help keep costs down when brewing espresso from home. Home espresso machines have a wide price range, some starting as low as $45 or less. Though there is a benefit to spending a bit more money so you have a more consistent, delicious espresso. Not to say you should go out there and purchase the $2,000 espresso machine — unless you want to! With some experimenting and understanding of the machine, delicious espresso can be made on a $150 home machine.

Type of portafilter

The majority of at-home espresso machines have pressurized portafilters. A portafilter is the part of the espresso machine where hot water is run through the grounds and the espresso is extracted from the grounds. The extracted espresso continues on its journey down to the bottom of the portafilter, through a hole and/or chute at the bottom, into the cup below.

A pressurized portafilter distinguishes itself from a non-pressurized portafilter by adding extra pressure immediately after coffee extraction. It does this through a design that features a basket with a two-layer bottom. For this reason, it’s sometimes called a “double-wall” portafilter. The pressurized portafilter’s second bottom contains only a single hole for the coffee to pass through, thus increasing the pressure.

Pressurized portafilters are one of the best features on at-home espresso machines. They offer an easy-to-use experience, especially if you have little prior experience. Should you make a brewing mistake like poor tamping, a pressurized portafilter will alleviate that issue and pressure will continue to build and properly pull your espresso shots! If you’re looking to step-up your espresso game, many home espresso machines offer the option to get single-wall portafilters as well. It is important to keep in mind that espresso machines with pressurized portafilters don’t require as fine of a grind size compared to non-pressurized portafilters. What size are we talking about? Somewhere coarser than powdered sugar but a little finer than table salt.

Our Home Espresso Machine Picks

Budget-Friendly DeLonghi EC155 15 Bar Espresso and Cappuccino Machine ($125.78)

Best Value Breville the Bambino™ Stainless Steel Espresso Maker ($299.99)

Splurge De'Longhi La Specialista Dual Heating Espresso Machine ($1,104.95)