Espresso Machines

Saturday, 7 April 2007 | Tags:

The simple morning coffee has transformed into lattes, espressos and cappuccinos of late, and consumers are paying dearly for the luxury. While a $3 beverage may not sound like much, it adds up to $90 a month or $1080 a year, enough to buy your own machine! So we found out which machine makes the best cup.

The Basics

  • Coffee experts describe the perfect espresso as:

    • Balanced, not too bitter or too watery

    • A reddy-brown colour indicates a good cup brewed at the right temperature.

    • There should be a thick cream on top to retain heat and flavour.

    • It’s the combination of machine, coffee, and brewer that makes for the perfect cup.

  • There are three main styles of espresso machines:

    • Electric steam is less expensive than the other machines.

    • The semi-automatic pump machine is piston-lever operated.

    • At the high-end are the semi-automatic or super-automatic machines, both of which come with a built in grinder.

  • For the best espresso, buy a machine that is just for espresso, not cappuccino and espresso.

  • Make sure the machine has a commercial brewing component for top quality coffee.

  • Look for built-in grinder and disposal. The machines must be cleaned and cared for to work well – the easier the machine makes this chore the better!

  • Look for uniformity and type of grind on the coffee itself.

  • Consider the quality of water being used in both mineral content and taste.Other Considerations

  • Machines need to be washed and cared for carefully after every use. Espresso machines do tend to be a little temperamental. They need a fair amount of maintenance so select a dealer that is nearby.

  • Aficionados argue that the brewer plays as much of a role in the final product as the machine itself, so expect to practice your technique in order to achieve a perfect cup every time.

  • Select your coffee beans carefully and ensure you have a good quality grinder on hand.

  • Never grind the coffee beans in advance of preparation – grinding just before brewing is what gives the full flavour of the bitter roast.

Be Aware

  • Avoid machines that are just steam-driven since they don’t make a real espresso. The flavour tends to be watery and bland. You can tell them since they don’t have a pump with a knob on top. Cappuccino machines don’t have this pump or knob.


We went to Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver to test whether the quality of the machine makes a difference to the final cup. We tested:

  • DeLonghi Café Sorrento (steam-driven): $70
  • Starbucks Barrista (electric pump, occasional use and no commercial components): $499
  • Rancilio Silvia (includes commercial parts like a 3-way electro valve which prevents dripping and reduces maintenance): $695
  • Gaggia Paros (includes commercial components like an electro valve and built-in coffee grinder): $949
  • Gaggia Factory (manual, not steamed or electric driven): $999
  • Gaggia Syncrony (fully automatic and does everything): $1650

Taste Test

Our barrista testers brewed up espresso using each of the machines, and then we tasted samples from each to see if we could notice a difference.

  • The Syncrony’s espresso was very watery, and had no taste.

  • The Silvia gave a bitter taste

  • The Sorrento was not as strong, but was flat and watery.

  • The Paros gave a nice cream, and a very good, rich flavour.

  • The Starbucks machine’s espresso had a flat flavour.

  • The Factory espresso was not too bitter, and not too subtle.

Usage Test

  • Overall, our barristas preferred the Silvia and the Paros, both with the electro valve and commercial components.


For ease of use and an end product closest to perfection, the Gaggia Paros was our overall favourite machine.



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