The Best Starter Espresso Machine For Beginners In 2024

BY BORIS POVOLOTSKY - 2 Jan 2024

Hi there fellow coffee enthusiast!

In case you just joined drippingcoffee, I’d like to welcome you! This article is about getting started with making delicious espresso at home, a.k.a becoming a home barista. There hasn’t been a better time than now, in 2024, with all the great options available.

After reading this post, you’ll know everything you need to get started, which type of espresso machine is right for you, what accessories you need to get, and what further information you should read to learn more.

First, we’ll go over the different types of espresso machines, and then I’ll provide what I consider to be the best starter espresso machine for each type.

Types of espresso machines

There are three main types of espresso machines: manual, semi-automatic, and super-automatic. Manual machines require the most skill and effort, as you have to control the entire brewing process. Semi-automatic machines offer some automation but still require user input for grinding and tamping the coffee. Super-automatic machines do everything for you at the push of a button, from grinding to brewing.

Now let’s dive into the best starter machine for each type.

Best starter manual espresso machine

For those who are serious about mastering the art of espresso making, a manual machine is the way to go. Manual machines are those classy machines with a lever. I have one, and while I absolutely love it, I can’t imagine someone getting one as their first machine. Good luck explaining such a purchase to your SO.

On the beginner side, there’s an excellent choice to experience this hands-on approach to brewing coffee and it’s the Flair. Here are some key features and benefits of this machine:

  • Precision temperature control: One of the most important aspects of brewing a perfect espresso is maintaining the right temperature. The Flair Signature Pro allows you to have full control over the brewing temperature, ensuring that you can extract the flavors and aromas from your coffee beans with precision.
  • Sturdy build: The Flair Signature Pro is built to last. It is made from high-quality materials such as stainless steel and aluminum, giving it durability and stability during the brewing process. You can rely on this machine to consistently deliver great-tasting espresso shots.
  • Detachable brewing head: Cleaning a manual espresso machine can sometimes be a tedious task, but not with the Flair Signature Pro. It features a detachable brewing head, which makes it easy to disassemble and clean after each use. This ensures that your machine remains hygienic and free from any residual coffee oils or grounds.
  • Portability: The Flair Signature Pro is designed with portability in mind. It comes with a compact design that allows you to easily pack it up and take it with you wherever you go. Whether you’re traveling or simply want to enjoy espresso outside of your kitchen, this machine offers convenience and flexibility.
  • Customization: With a manual espresso machine, you have complete control over every step of the brewing process. From adjusting the grind size to tamping the coffee grounds, you can customize each shot according to your preferences. This level of control allows you to experiment and refine your skills as a home barista.

The Flair Signature Pro is an ideal choice for beginners who are passionate about learning and mastering the art of espresso making. Its precision temperature control, sturdy build, detachable brewing head, portability, and customization options make it a top contender in the manual espresso machine category.

However, the Flair doesn’t have an option to steam milk, therefore you have to rely on external steamers to prepare a cappuccino. As a beginner, having to juggle between several machines and devices to make a single cup of cappuccino can be exhausting and lead to poor coffee as well. Therefore, if you want milk-based drinks with a manual espresso machine, consider a La Pavoni as the most entry-level machine in terms of budget, and a more expensive machine like the Profitec 800 for a better user experience.

Who is a manual espresso for?

When I started out, a fellow forum user suggested I get a La Pavoni as my first espresso machine. That said, I was too intimidated by the idea of taking too long to master the art of the lever machine when all I wanted is to simply enjoy a good cup of coffee with my wife. I wasn’t as curious and passionate about it as I am today.

However, if you are that passionate, and you can definitely see yourself tinkering and obsessing over each cup of coffee, measuring the weight and extraction time while learning the different complexities of espresso notes and flavors, then please, get a manual lever espresso machine. What I like about the Flair, is that it’s capable of making the best, absolutely the best, espresso whilst costing 1/10 of high-end luxury espresso machines.

One thing to note here is that you must invest more money in a professional, prosumer grinder if you want to explore and enjoy the possibilities of a manual lever machine.

Best starter semi-automatic espresso machine

If you want a balance between control and convenience, a semi-automatic machine is your best bet. In fact, this is how I started and most people stay in this category forever. Most popular prosumer machines are semi-automatic espresso machines. In case you want to read about more options, I have a list of budget semi-automatic machines, and a list of prosumer espresso machines.

In this post, I’d like to focus on a different machine I haven’t featured on the 2 abovementioned articles, it’s the Breville Barista Express. It’s a popular choice among beginners. The number one feature that made it to my recommendation is the fact it has a built-in grinder. Here are some key features that make it an excellent option:

  1. Built-in grinder: One of the standout features of the Breville Barista Express is its integrated conical burr grinder. This eliminates the need for a separate grinder, saving you space and ensuring that you always use freshly ground coffee for the best flavor.
  2. Automatic dosing: With the Barista Express, you don’t have to worry about measuring out the right amount of coffee for each shot. It has an automatic dosing system that delivers the perfect amount of coffee grounds every time. This takes away the guesswork and ensures consistency in your espresso shots.
  3. Programmable shot volumes: Another user-friendly feature of this machine is its programmable shot volumes. You can easily customize the amount of espresso you want for single or double shots, allowing you to create your favorite drink exactly to your liking.
  4. Steam wand: To complete your espresso experience, this machine comes with a powerful steam wand for frothing milk. Whether you prefer lattes, cappuccinos, or any other milk-based drinks, the steam wand allows you to achieve velvety microfoam that enhances the taste and presentation of your beverages.

The Breville Barista Express offers a bunch of features that I consider great for beginners. With a built-in grinder, programmable shot volumes and a steam wand that will enable you to create a beautiful latte art. Overall, it’s a great machine to test the waters and see if you’re into a relatively hands-on experience and workflow as opposed to a superautomatic machine.

Best Starter Super-Automatic Espresso Machine

For the ultimate convenience, a super-automatic espresso machine is the way to go. These machines take care of every step of the process, from grinding the beans to brewing the espresso. I should note that I never had a personal experience working with a super-automatic espresso machine for a long period of time. I had lots of coffee from such machines in various environments and opportunities, and for me, the coffee experience varied from very bad to okay. That said, I’m fairly biased with my Profitec 800, right?

One thing to point out is that with a super-automatic, the major advantage is its major disadvantage and that is it’ll make the same coffee for you every time, and given your machine is configured properly and you use freshly roasted beans, the quality of your cup will always be fine. Not great, not utterly bad, but fine. every time. This is an advantage because with manual and semi-automatic machines you’ll produce plenty of bad shots that’ll go to waste because of human error and the learning curve involved in the process. This is a con, because your coffee quality will not reach the potential quality of a properly prepared coffee from a professional semi-automatic or a manual machine. Now, let’s proceed…

One of the best starter super-automatic machines is the Philips 3200 Series.

Here are some key features that make the Philips 3200 Series a great choice for beginners:

  1. Customizable Drink Options: The Philips 3200 Series offers a variety of customizable drink options, allowing you to create your favorite espresso-based beverages exactly to your liking. Whether you prefer a classic espresso shot, a creamy cappuccino, or a frothy latte, this machine has you covered.
  2. Intuitive Interface: As a beginner, it’s important to choose an espresso machine with an intuitive interface that is easy to navigate. The Philips 3200 Series features a user-friendly display with clear icons and buttons, making it simple to select your desired drink and adjust settings as needed.
  3. Hassle-Free Maintenance: Cleaning and maintaining an espresso machine can be a daunting task for beginners. However, the Philips 3200 Series makes maintenance a breeze with its automatic cleaning and descaling functions. Simply follow the prompts on the display, and the machine will take care of the rest.
  4. Bean-to-Cup Brewing: With a built-in grinder, the Philips 3200 Series ensures that you always have freshly ground coffee for each cup of espresso. This eliminates the need for a separate grinder and allows you to experience the full flavor and aroma of freshly ground beans.

A couple of things to emphasize, with the super-automatic, you don’t have to purchase a bunch of accessories like a tamper, milk jug, WDT, and mainly a dedicated grinder which costs a lot of money.

General factors to consider

Regardless of the machine you end up buying, there are several factors that you should consider. One of the most important things in owning an espresso machine is its maintenance. Since espresso machines use water it’s crucial you think about the right water solution. I have a post about water solutions you can read.

Budget. You should allocate budget not only for the espresso machine but for everything that you might need to operate it properly. In case you choose to get a super-automatic machine, you’d need to purchase some accessories: a knock-box, a WDT, a milk jug, a tamper, a digital scale, a tamping station and more.

More importantly, consider the budget you’d need for your water solution.

Other factors to consider include size and durability.

Super automatic and manual machines tend to be better built, constructed from better materials like aluminum and stainless steel and have better access to removable internal parts. Size wise, they also tend to be bigger and take up more space on your kitchen counter. Additionally, if you’re adding all your accessories and a dedicated grinder (potentially in the future), that might consume a lot of space!

Conclusion

Beginning your journey as a home barista is an exciting adventure, and the first step to mastering espresso is finding the best starter machine. Consider your budget, space limitations, and desired features when choosing between the different types of espresso machines. I hope this post has helped you understand the major differences between each type and categorize the type that is most fit for your style. Moreover, I’d be more than happy to hear you chosen to join the semi-automatic or even better, the manual lever side of home coffee brewing :-)

Whatever you choose, have a great day and a great cup of coffee. Good luck!


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