Should you buy an espresso machine or a coffee maker? The difference between regular coffee and espresso is the brewing method. Both processes require ground beans and a pressure system to squeeze water through the grounds to extract flavor. However, espresso machines create a firm puck of finer grounds and a high-pressure system squeezes water through the condensed grounds in 25 to 30 seconds. This extracts a more intense flavor. It's possible to create espresso using stovetop methods, but experts say this technique results in an inferior product. Some connoisseurs add that cheaper home-brew espresso makers are incapable of producing "true" espresso.
Will you use your espresso machine every day? Espresso makers designed for home use can be bulky, and will require a permanent spot on the countertop. Measure the dimensions of your cabinets and the space beneath to be sure your machine will fit. If you want an espresso maker for occasional use, look for a model that can be conveniently stored when not in use.
Do you travel often? A few espresso machines like the inexpensive Bialetti Moka Express (*Est. $25 to $75, depending on size) need just a heat source. That means it's easy to toss this pot in a suitcase for great espresso when you're camping or traveling.
Top-rated espresso machines cost hundreds of dollars, more than most average consumers are willing to spend on a kitchen appliance. However, if you visit a local coffee shop every morning for an espresso or latte, you're likely shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.
Espresso machines can cut down significantly on the cost of staying caffeinated. Fresh-ground coffee is much less expensive per cup than the several dollars you'd fork over for a standard coffeehouse beverage. The trade-off is time: Most espresso machines need a few minutes to warm up and a few minutes more to brew each cup. Machines that accept pods are quicker, but pods are more expensive than ground coffee.