Not long ago, espresso lovers looking to buy espresso machines for use at home had to be content with the old-fashioned Italian stovetop gadget known as the "Moka pot." A sleek, retro-looking metal contraption, it is composed of two chambers separated by a filter holding ground espresso coffee beans. Water in the lower chamber was brought to a boil, forcing it up a metal tube through the ground coffee; the brewed espresso then drips through the filter to collect in the upper chamber, from which it is poured.
Moka pot espresso makers are still widely available, generally selling at under $25, and still do a decent if not spectacular job of making espresso style coffee. But the results aren't as rich tasting or thick as true espresso coffee. And Moka pots do not include metal spigots for steaming milk, making it impossible to use them for making espresso drinks such as cappuccino coffee or caffè latte.
Another type of stovetop espresso maker does froth milk. Generally found under the brand name Graziella and priced at around $50, it includes a steaming nozzle just like professional-quality espresso machines. For about the same price, you can also find stovetop devices that steam milk but don't make espresso coffee!
Since the early 1990s, it has been more and more easy to buy espresso machines for home use. Such models are designed to fit on the kitchen counter, and generally include reservoir tanks in which water is heated to perfect brewing—and milk-steaming—temperature.
Home espresso machines are now available at a wide range of prices, determined largely by their size, how they work, the complexity of their design, and the number of features they offer. Some of the least expensive home espresso machines, ranging in price from under $100 to around $150, are those that operate simply by steam pressure built up by heating water in the water tank, which forces the hot water through the ground espresso coffee. Popular brands include DeLonghi and Krups.
More complicated pump system espresso machines, including popular models made by Gaggia and Cuisinart ranging in price from around $150 to $300 or more, use pump mechanisms to force water heated to the ideal brewing temperature through the ground espresso coffee. A separate tank heats water to the ideal steaming temperature for milk-based espresso drinks.
The most expensive espresso coffee machines of all use a piston to force heated water through ground espresso coffee, following the basic design of some of the earliest models of espresso machine in espresso history and still in use in many traditional coffee bars today. Models made by such experienced espresso machine companies as Pavoni and Riviera can range in price from around $400 to $700 or more, depending on their size and design.
The latest revolution in espresso coffee making, however, puts a great cup of espresso coffee within the reach of any budget. You can buy espresso machines that use the pod system for less than $100, and these machines bring precision, reliability, and easy cleanup to the espresso making process.