The Best Home Espresso Set-Up for Beginners

Published on 11/19/2023 · 15 min readStart your barista journey at home with our guide to the best beginner-friendly espresso setups, blending ease of use, quality, and affordability for a perfect brew.
Janelle G., Coffee Expert
By Coffee Expert Janelle G.

Photo by Pixel Shot

TL;DR: There are several things to keep in mind when searching for your first home espresso set-up. Different accessories will be necessary depending on the type of machine you decide on, likely either a semi-automatic or super-automatic. Also, consider your budget and your anticipated usage of the machine–-it may be worth investing in a mid-range or higher quality set up that will last you for years and make exceptional espresso at home. This guide will help you determine the best beginner espresso set-up for your unique needs!

As a Coffee Expert at Curated and a long-time espresso lover, I've helped hundreds of customers find the best espresso machines for them. Working as a barista for 6 years, as well as co-managing a coffee shop for 2 years, has exposed me to all types of coffee and coffee drinkers—and taught me that there is no one-size-fits-all choice in terms of home espresso machines! I love helping people find the right machine for them, and explaining some of the complex and sometimes jargon-y aspects of home espresso.

Why Should I Get a Home Espresso Set-Up?

If you’re a coffee lover of any sort (a latte addict, straight-up espresso connaisseur, or adventurous and creative drinker who loves trying new things), there is a home espresso set-up for you. Of course, if you don’t love espresso and espresso-based beverages, an alternative home brewing method may be a better fit (such as a French press, AeroPress, pour over, moka pot, or drip coffee maker). Investing in your own espresso machine provides the satisfaction of making your own specialty coffee shop drinks in the comfort of your own home. You may even save money (and you’ll definitely save time) in the long run by avoiding your daily coffee shop trips. And above all, you’ll have the convenience of brewing a perfect macchiato, espresso, or cappuccino right in your own kitchen, whenever the craving strikes.

The journey of honing your espresso brewing technique, experimenting with different beans and grinds, and discovering your exact preferences, not only elevates your coffee game but also transforms your daily caffeine into a more personal, satisfying experience.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Home Espresso Set-Up

Photo by Prostock Studio

1. What should my overall budget be?

Budget is perhaps the first consideration many people think of when purchasing an espresso machine. Your budget will play a large role in the quality and type of equipment you can buy. However, it’s important to know that you can still get a great home espresso machine without spending thousands of dollars. With a few good quality but beginner-friendly items, you’ll have a great espresso set-up to get you started. It’s also important to consider what you plan to spend in addition to the espresso machine itself. If you need a grinder—for example, if you choose a semi-automatic machine without a built in grinder—make sure you factor in a sizable portion of your budget for the grinder.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different levels of espresso machines, and which one may be right for you:

  • Entry-level: At this range, you'll likely be looking at manual or semi-automatic machines. The quality and reliability of espresso machines under $250 won’t be as good, but there are some great machines in the $250-700 range. These machines might lack some advanced features, but will still be capable of making great espresso after a little bit of a learning curve. It's a great starting point, but these machines may require a future upgrade or replacement in a few years as you delve deeper into espresso brewing and as the machine gets more usage.
  • Mid-range: At this price point, you can afford better quality semi-automatic or super-automatic machines with more features and consistency in brewing. These machines will fall between $800-2000 or so. This price range is a good balance between cost, quality, and ease of use, ideal for a first-time home espresso user looking to make a long-term investment without breaking the bank. If you fall in this range, make sure you are also investing in a grinder (if needed) and other accessories, like a scale and tamper, to ensure you’re getting the most out of your investment.
  • Premium: With a higher budget, you’re entering the realm of high-quality semi-automatic, prosumer, or super-automatic machines, offering excellent build quality, advanced features, and consistent results. These machines are typically in the $2000+ range. It’s a choice for the serious espresso aficionado who is willing to invest in a top-notch brewing experience. These machines can be great investments with proper care, maintenance, and cleaning, so make sure you think realistically about how much time and energy you’re willing to devote to keep your machine in great shape.

2. How often will I be using the espresso machine?

Consider how frequently you anticipate using the machine (or your family and/or roommates as well). The anticipated frequency of use may influence the type of machine you decide to get. A durable, high-quality machine would be a wise investment if you plan on using it multiple times a day. Additionally, having a larger capacity for water and beans in your machine and grinder may make your life a little easier if you plan to make multiple drinks a day, every day.

3. What is my skill level?

Your current skill level may influence the type of machine you should get. Beginners might prefer super-automatic machines for ease of use, while more experienced brewers might opt for semi-automatic machines for greater control over the brewing process and ability to optimize and customize each drink. If you fall somewhere in the middle, a semi-automatic with some automated features, like integrated grinders, tampers, automatic milk steaming, and programmable shot lengths, might be a good compromise.

4. How much time am I willing to invest?

Alongside your current skill level, realistically consider how much time and energy you’d like to invest in getting used to your machine. Espresso brewing can be time-consuming, especially with manual or semi-automatic machines. These machines can also have a steep learning curve, and be challenging to optimize on your own without a significant time investment. On the other hand, super-automatic machines are great for anyone who doesn’t have much interest in spending time changing small details and problem-solving their shots and drinks. Assess your daily routine to determine how much time you're willing to dedicate to brewing, cleaning, and maintaining your espresso setup.

5. What types of coffee drinks do I enjoy?

Your preference in coffee drinks will influence the equipment and accessories you'll need. If you enjoy lattes or cappuccinos, for instance, you'll want a machine with a good steam wand and steam power. If you anticipate making lots of milk-based drinks in a row, you may want a double boiler or heat exchanger-style semi-automatic, which allows for rapid and higher-volume milk steaming. If you are leaning towards a super-automatic machine, most entry and mid-level machines only have so many drinks preprogrammed. If you have really specific drink preferences or like lots of options, you may want a more upscale model with lots of preprogrammed drink options.

6. What space do I have available?

Some espresso machines can be quite large—particularly machines with built-in grinders or super-automatic machines. Measure your available space to ensure your new equipment fits comfortably, allowing for easy operation and maintenance. Don’t forget to measure your space under any cabinets, and make sure that you have a few extra inches in between any grinder hoppers and the cabinet to allow for easy refilling of the hopper with fresh beans.

What Equipment Will I Need to Completely Set Up a Home Espresso Machine?

Setting up a home espresso machine requires a few key pieces of equipment to ensure that you have everything you need for the best possible espresso. Here are the essentials to brew delicious espresso and maintain your setup effectively:

1. Espresso Machine

Photo by Paopano

The espresso machine is the centerpiece of your espresso set-up. It's your primary tool for making every drink. The most popular espresso machines are either semi-automatic or super-automatic, and most often come with a milk frother or steam wand. Here’s an idea of what you’ll get for an espresso machine at different price points.

Budget machines:

  • Manual or semi-automatic (single boiler)
  • Limited or no programmability
  • Often without a built-in grinder
  • Generally, less durable components

Examples: Breville Bambino, Breville Barista Express

Mid-range machines:

  • Semi-automatic (single boiler or thermoblock) or super-automatic
  • Some programmable features, like PID temperature control and programmable single and double shot options
  • May have built-in grinders
  • More durable in construction

Examples: Terra Kafe TK-01, Ascaso Steel UNO

High-end machines:

  • High-quality semi-automatic (e.g., semi-automatic machines that are either heat exchanger or double boilers) or high-quality super-automatic machines with advanced features
  • Multiple programmable features for precision brewing and optimal customization
  • Top-end build quality and durability
  • May include built-in high-quality grinders

Examples: Rocket Appartamento, Ascaso Steel DUO

2. Espresso Grinder

Photo by irin2555

A high-quality and precise espresso grinder is essential for optimal espresso. A high-quality burr grinder is a must for a consistent grind size and superb espresso with delicious thick crema. Some espresso machines come with built-in grinders, though a separate grinder often provides better quality and control, and allows for more upgrades and customization later on.

Low-level:

  • Blade grinders or manual burr grinders
  • Generalist (grinds everything from Turkish coffee to cold brew)
  • Limited grind settings

Examples: Baratza Encore Coffee Grinder

Mid-range:

  • Electric burr grinders
  • Espresso-specific
  • More grind settings for better control

Examples Fellow Opus Conical Burr Grinder

High-end:

  • High-quality electric burr grinders
  • Espresso-specific
  • Infinite grind settings
  • Helpful features like grind timers, integrated scales, and digital displays

Examples: Eureka Mignon Silenzio Grinder

3. Coffee Beans

Photo by Szymon Apanowicz

Fresh, high-quality coffee beans are the foundation of a great espresso. Different roasts and origins offer different flavor profiles, so it's worth exploring to find what suits your taste. Some beans may be better suited for milk-based drinks like lattes (e.g., espresso blends and medium roast coffee), while others may be best for espresso (e.g. single origins) to really highlight their unique notes.

Low-priced beans are often pre-ground or bulk varieties. Be wary of pre-ground beans, and if possible, grind your own for optimal taste. You can often find fresh, locally roasted beans at a reasonable price. Top-priced beans are specialty, single-origin or direct trade from reputable roasters, offering unique flavors and traceable origins. These beans can really elevate your espresso set-up, and provide unique tasting notes.

4. Tamper

Photo by Wirestock Creators

A tamper is used to compress the coffee grounds in the portafilter, ensuring an even extraction. Plastic tampers are the most budget-friendly option, and may be included with an entry-level espresso machine. However, you may consider upgrading to a mid-range or high-end tamper to make tamping easier for you. If you decide to purchase an additional tamper to replace the one that came with your machine, make sure you select a tamper sized to fit your portafilter—most low-level machines are 54mm portafilters, while many mid-range and all high-end machines will have a standard 58mm portafilter.

Low-Level:

  • Budget-friendly
  • Plastic
  • Difficult to use, and nearly impossible to put optimal force into to tamp the grounds
  • Included in most semi-automatic espresso machines

Mid-Range:

  • Metal
  • Better ergonomics
  • More weight to make tamping easier

Examples: Lucca Espresso Tamper

High-End:

  • High-quality, weighty metal and mixed-material tampers
  • May have accents on the handle
  • May be custom-fitted to the portafilter

Examples: Saint Anthony Industries New Levy Tamp, Pullman Espresso Accessories Big Step Tamper

5. Scale

Photo by Capix Denan

A digital scale ensures accurate measurements of coffee beans and water for consistent brewing results. One of the most important factors in your scale is accuracy. Ideally, look for a scale that can measure to 1/10 of a gram (0.1g). Basic digital scales have limited accuracy, and more expensive scales will have additional features like timers, connectivity, and a slim profile.

Examples: Acaia Pearl Scale, Zwilling Enfinigy Kitchen Scale

6. Portafilter

Photo by Narong Khueankaew

The portafilter holds coffee grounds during brewing. Your espresso machine will almost always have one included, but some people like to upgrade to a bottomless portafilter or have an extra portafilter on hand. Bottomless portafilters not only look beautiful, but can also be helpful in identifying any channeling or other issues in your brewing. If you decide to buy an additional portafilter, make sure you check the portafilter size of your machine before purchasing.

Examples: Ascaso Stainless Steel Bottomless Portafilter, Rocket Espresso 58mm Bottomless Portafilter

7. Knock Box

Photo by kckate16

A knock box is a container for disposing of used coffee pucks, making cleanup easier. Choose the knock box that works for your space and has the size/storage capacity that you prefer. Examples: Cafelat Home Knockbox

8. Cleaning Supplies

Photo by Sridee Studio

Regular cleaning is crucial for maintaining your machine and ensuring great-tasting espresso. Brushes, descaling solutions, and cleaning tablets or powders are commonly used. Choosing a brand-specific cleaning option can be a good place to start for a surefire fit with your machine.

Examples: Espresso Parts Espresso Machine Cleaner, Cafelat Microfiber Cloths

9. Milk Pitcher

Photo by Thanaphon Subsang

If you purchase a semi-automatic machine with a steam wand, it likely will not come with a milk pitcher (although make sure you double check before purchasing!). Choose the size, or sizes, that correspond to your preferred beverage size. If you want to be able to make a wide variety of drinks, from a macchiato to a 20oz latte, you’ll likely want to purchase multiple pitchers in different sizes.

Examples: Barista Basics Frothing Pitcher by Espresso Parts, LUCCA Frothing Pitcher

10. Milk Frother/Steam Wand (optional)

Photo by Narong Khueankaew

Most machines come with a steam wand or milk frother. However, the occasional super-automatic or manual machine may not come with a milk frother. If so, you may want to purchase a separate milk frother, if you want to make milk-based lattes or cappuccinos.

Examples: Zwilling Enfinigy Milk Frother

11. Storage Containers (optional)

Photo by Ratchat

You may want a specific storage container to store your coffee beans. The most important aspect of storing coffee beans is ensuring an airtight, dark, and low-humidity environment. In a pinch, you can either store your beans in a resealable coffee bag or in a basic air-tight container. If you have a more flexible budget, you might consider containers with CO2 valves, or vacuum-sealing storage solutions for a truly airtight seal and optimal freshness.

Examples: Fellow Atmos Vacuum Canister

12. Espresso Cups

Photo by Alim Yakubov

If you’d like to upgrade your espresso drinking experience, consider investing in some specific espresso, latte, or cappuccino cups, depending on your most frequently chosen beverage. The right cup will not only elevate your drinking experience, but is also very important for making effective latte art!

Examples: Barista Basics Cappuccino Mug - Set of 2, notNeutral Vero Glass, Hearth Glass Double Walled Glass Coffee Mugs - Set of 2

Features to Look for in a Home Espresso Machine

While you may not need all of these, depending on your priorities and your budget, here are some common features to look out for when selecting an espresso machine.

Temperature Control

Accurate temperature control in the espresso brewing process is very important for extracting shots of espresso properly. For some extra assistance, and to take away some of the guesswork, look for machines with an integrated PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) controller that maintains precise water temperature throughout the extraction process.

Pressure Gauge

A physical external pressure gauge can help to monitor the pressure at which your espresso is being extracted. Pressure gauges can be particularly helpful for beginner espresso set-ups, to help diagnose any issues you’re having with the taste or flavor profile of your shots.

Grind Size Adjustment

A grinder with a wide range of (or ideally, infinite) grind size adjustments allows for better control over the extraction process. This allows you to really dial in your espresso exactly to your liking.

Dual Boiler or Heat Exchanger

Dual boiler or heat exchanger systems allow you to brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously, which is a time-saver if you enjoy milk-based espresso drinks. This is certainly not needed in an entry-level machine, and will come with a much steeper price tag. However, if efficiency is extremely important to you, or you frequently plan to make several drinks back to back, it may be worth the extra investment.

Programmable Settings

Machines with programmable settings allow you to save your preferred drink and brewing parameters, making it easy to brew consistent espresso time after time. For super-automatic machines, consider what drink settings you’d like to be able to control. For semi-automatic machines, look for programmable volumetric dosing to make pulling shots a little more hands-off and streamlined.

Automatic Dosing

Some machines offer automatic dosing features, grinding and dispensing the right amount of coffee for each shot. All super-automatics will have this feature, as well as some semi-autos with built in grinders.

Pre-Infusion

Pre-infusion wets the coffee grounds slightly before beginning the full extraction process. Pre-infusion allows for a more even extraction and a smooth taste.

Ease of Cleaning and Maintenance

Look for machines that are easy to clean and maintain. Accessibility to water reservoirs, drip trays, and other components will make your life easier. Some machines even have dishwashable components. Super-automatic machines can be particularly difficult to clean, although some have easier to clean milk frothing attachments (which are notoriously difficult to clean) or automated cleaning cycles.

Durability and Build Quality

Consider machines with high-quality materials like stainless steel, which will stand up to daily use and last longer. Machines with more plastic components won’t last as long and are not as durable.

Find the Best Espresso Machine for You!

Photo by Tatoka

There are many great options for a beginner-friendly espresso machine to make café-quality espresso drinks at home. If you are still unsure of the right espresso machine for you, reach out to one of our Coffee and Espresso Experts for free, personalized recommendations and guidance!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Coffee & Espresso on Curated

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine
$1,850.00
Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine
$699.95
Breville Bambino Espresso Machine
$299.95

Browse more Coffee & Espresso

Ascaso Steel DUO Espresso Machine
$1,895.00
Terra Kaffe TK-01 Espresso Machine
$895.00
Ascaso Steel UNO Espresso Machine
$1,595.00
Eureka Mignon Silenzio Coffee Grinder
$479.00
Fellow Opus Conical Burr All Purpose Grinder
$195.00
Baratza Encore Coffee Grinder
$149.95
Lucca Espresso Tamper
$40.00

Browse more Coffee & Espresso

Read next

New and Noteworthy