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How can I make barista-quality coffee without spending a ton on an espresso machine?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

A tasty shot of espresso (or espresso based milk beverages like cappuccino, latte etc) depend on four aspects, as expressed so eloquently by the Italians - inventors of espresso coffee:

  • Miscela: The coffee-blend; it covers the selection and blending of the beans as well as proper roasting.

  • Macinazione: The grinder; proper grinding of the given blend and its usage when its still fresh.

  • Macchina: The espresso-machine; usage of the given grounds with a proper espresso-machine.

  • Mano: Skill of the barista; usage of all above with skill

So, barista skills are as important as the espresso machine, along with the other two -good quality beans and grinder.

Espresso making skills can be learnt by visiting sites such as Barista Hustle or the countless videos on YouTube on the general topic of home coffee brewing.

Why does one need a grinder at home. why not just buy ground coffee?

That’s because coffee beans, once ground, lose their aroma and freshness in about 15 mins. That’s how long the freshness lasts due to rapid oxidation of the coffee grounds.

This is an important factor to keep in mind and cannot be stressed enough - for cafe quality espresso at home, a good quality grinder is non negotiable.

Whilst on the topic of freshness, it is also important to note that coffee beans, once roasted, stay fresh for a period of only about 4–6 weeks, depending on how they are stored.

This again, is due to the oxidation process which begins right after roasting. It’s not unique to coffee beans alone, fresh roasted groundnuts (moongphali) available in winters, is the same for example. So it is important to purchase freshly roasted beans.

The roast level and taste profile of coffee beans is critical too. Typically for Starbucks style cappuccino or latte taste, look for medium dark to dark roast coffee (sometimes also called Italian roast, Vienna roast or City roast).

However, the lowest cost options for a proper espresso machine plus a grinder for home use which can deliver cafe quality espresso beverages are usually around the $1000 mark.

What if someone doesn't have $1000 to spend on home espresso?

There are some close enough alternatives possible:

The cheapest and easiest way to make tasty cappuccinos and lattes at home is the classic Italian method of a stove top espresso, better known as the moka pot.

To learn more about the Moka Pot, check out our Moka Pot Page.

The cheapest machine option which is close in taste to real espresso (albeit with a high ongoing cost and a lot of environment unfriendly waste pods) would be the Nespresso pod machine. This eliminates the need for an espresso machine and a grinder but ties one in to the Nescafe company for supply of coffee pods:

Image: DeLonghi Essenza Nespresso pod appliance

A better tasting and less wasteful option than Nespresso pods would be the Internet legend - Delonghi Dedica:

Image: Delonghi Dedica

It is a global hot seller amongst low cost thermoblock style (instead of a proper boiler) home espresso appliances and also has a very large Internet based user community for resolving beginner queries.

This requires a much steeper learning curve in terms of basic barista skills than Nespresso pod appliances and one would still need to purchase a good quality grinder with this option though.

For a deep dive into types of espresso machines/appliances for home use, read this blog post of ours:

Do check out our coffee hardware vendor directory to find out where to buy such machines in India.

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