Like most things in life; you get what you pay for. Espresso machines are no different in this regard and some can seem really rather expensive when compared to machines that claim they do the same job from your local high street retailer.
If you are just starting to explore the world of coffee beyond what high street chains have to offer and have decided you'd like an espresso machine, there are a few things to consider before you jump in. Sure you can buy a machine for about £50, some of them even look quite nice. Buyer's remorse soon sets in however when you realise the coffee they make isn't even up to the standard of a vending machine.
Real espresso machines have a tank full of superheated water that allows you to brew and steam at the same time, they are capable of pushing water through your coffee at 15 bars of pressure, they also maintain very stable temperatures when brewing. High street models on the other hand don't generally do any of these things; and these are just the absolute basic necessities let alone things like pressure profiling or auto dosing.
There is a half-way house here between the serious consumer machines and the cheap high street efforts. They won't offer you quite the same experience as the higher end machines as they only have one boiler and will require you to switch the boiler between brewing and steaming. They can produce good results but are not ideal if you want to make more than a couple of drinks at a time as you will be stood waiting for the boiler to heat up or cool down constantly. At this price point I would suggest machines such as the Rancilio Silvia or Gaggia Classic, both solid machines capable of decent coffee. Oh and don't forget your grinder! We will cover grinders in a different article.
So what do you need to spend to get a consumer version of a real espresso machine? The honest answer here is around £800 for the machine and around £250 for a grinder. It does seem like an awful lot of money but if you are currently buying a couple of coffees from your local café a day, let's say £6, that's your kit paid for in six months and believe me you are going to be able to produce better coffee too! Machines such as the Fracino Piccino or my personal favourite, the Classic, are capable of brewing and steaming at the same time and with the right person operating them can make coffee to rival any coffee shop you've been to! They will also last a lifetime if properly looked after.
Time to get saving perhaps?