You are here:

Helpful tips on buying the right espresso machine from Marty Howard, founder of Espressoworkz.

Over the years we've helped thousands of Kiwi's choose the Espresso machine that's right for them.

Based on our experience, these are the key issues you need to think about when deciding what machine is going to work best for you.

Why are you really buying an espresso machine?

Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Are you buying it just to make a couple of sumptuous Saturday morning brews and you're on a tight budget or only have a very small space for it?

You need a small manual group handle espresso machine: Total Spend $350 -$900 plus grinder (optional)

  • Is your primary driver to perfect the ultimate coffee experience? 
  • Do you want a piece of culinary artwork that sits on your kitchen bench in all of its stainless steel glory and is seldom used? - (that's ok by the way)

You need a semi commercial machine with gauges, commercial group handle, non pressurised group basket, metal tamper, and a small conical grinder: Total Spend $2500 - $3,500

  • Do you want to produce impressive cappuccinos for dinner party guests without being away from the table for more that five minutes? 
  • Do you have a busy lifestyle, enjoy dining out regularly, and want consistent coffee with the minimum of fuss?

You need a fully automatic machine, with a built in grinder and milk frother. Total Spend $1,000 - 2,500

How much should you spend?

You can spend from $40 upwards on a espresso machine, but generally if you want a machine that will continue to make good coffee and last for more than a couple of years, like anything, you have to pay for it. In our experience a basic, decent machine will cost at least $350 upwards.

What type: Steam, Piston, Pod, Grinders Manual Pump Traditional Machine or Super Automatic? - decisions! decisions!


You can buy steam models for $100 to $200. They may froth your milk, but the coffee won't be anything to write home about - It's likely to taste a little bitter. .

You can also try stove-top espresso jugs costing as little as $40 but, again, the coffee may be bitter and it won't be great.

Several types of machine claim to make espresso-based coffee, but only one really delivers – one with a pump in it. Machines with pumps operate at higher pressure than steam machines and employ a thermostat to control the water temperature. The pump both makes the coffee and froths the milk.


This is an elegant old world espresso machine - a throw back to a time when espresso was first discovered.

These machines are best suited for people that thoroughly enjoy the ritual of making espresso, a hobbyist or other coffee culture enthusiast. The ease of use is low and the learning curve is high. However the coffee that they are capable of extracting is on par with the best machines.

Some have nice frothers, powerful enough for home use. You will have no problem making a couple of cappuccino's, however since they do not have a water reservoir you will find that they are not that practical for large gatherings. Other than that they are an exceptional showpiece!

To use. pull down on the machine's handle to force the hot water through the coffee. This does require some arm strength and the consistency of the pull is critical to obtaining a good extraction or espresso.

Manual or automatic?

Automatic espresso machines have one big advantage over manual models - convenience. You simply pour the coffee beans into the hopper, fill the tank with water, press the coffee button, and ... hey presto ... espresso!

It's a bit like a car, a manual car gives better fuel efficiency and power if you drive it right, racing cars are manual...but most people in the end prefer an automatic because it's just easier.

An automatic machine is likely to have many more features than a manual one, such as digital display panels, indicators, variable strength settings, and so on.

If perfect café quality espresso is more important to you than convenience, a manual model is probably a better bet. Remember, you'll have to grind the beans separately. You can buy ground beans, or use your own grinder.

Manual Pump Traditional Machines

With these machines the user starts the pump with an on/off switch and you stop the pump when the extraction is complete. The extraction takes about 20 to 25 seconds so the user will wait for the coffee process to finish and then switch off the pump. Some machines can be set to turn the pump off automatically by using a timer.

Most machines use a boiler and they also have a separate water reservoir, so they can make several cups before refilling the water tank. The boilers will all have some overheating protection device - like a thermal fuse - to protect the machine as well as the user. There are newer generation heating devices that use a thermoblock or thermocoil system instead of a boiler. The water is heated on demand as it passes through a heating tube, which makes for faster heating to brew temperature. Not to confuse you, but there is even a hybrid thermoblock/boiler version available. Unless you have a preference, consider the total machine capabilities - not boiler style.

Frothing on these machines varies from simple to highly skilled . The machines with frothing adapters help in the aeration process, however those with more traditional steaming wands are easy to master once you know the technique. Most of the machines will steam at least 400mls of milk, which is far more than you will normally need. Range of motion on the steam wand is also a consideration for some. However all the machines we sell are capable of using a 600ml steaming pitcher. Anything larger is not recommended, the height of the steaming pitcher starts to become an issue because it will inhibit your range of motion. Also, if you wish to steam half a cup milk the low level will make it more difficult to reach with the steam wand.

Frothing and nearly all other commentary on the semi automatics can be applied to the fully-automatics; see those comments above.

With these machines you will need to regularly buy freshly espresso fine ground coffee, or buy a grinder.


The two main types of acceptable grinder are the flat burr type and the conical type. The burr grinder is the most common and is fine for most home situations. The conical grinder is often more expensive because it has a better grinding system. Its' motor spins slower so generates less heat, so there is less chance of the coffee being burnt during the grinding process. It generates a grind particle size that is more consistent than the grind particle of the flat burr grinder, but is more expensive. Total Spend: $100 -$700

You can also get blade grinders . They have a blade similar to that of a propeller that chops the coffee beans. The fineness of the grind is determined by how long you let the grinder operate via a built in timer. The longer it grinds the finer the coffee becomes. The negatives of a blade grinder are that the grind can vary from powder to chunks and the coffee picks up a static charge, which will make it stick to just about everything and is therefore very messy. For these reasons, we do not recommend blade grinders.

Capsule Machines

These are nice and clean as there are no grinders or grinds involved, and the machines are often not very expensive. One of the important aspects of a capsule system is the technology behind its capsules. For expamle with the Caffitaly System the core of the technology is the use of two small filters inside the capsules. Water is forced with pressure through the first filter allowing an even contact with the tightly packed 8 grams (or 0.28 ounces) of coffee grains. When it passes through the second filter, the coffee is extracted and exits as a full-bodied, dense espresso, blanked with a consistent, compact cream.

The downside is that the capsules are imported, as opposed to being freshly roasted and ground locally, like a loaf of freshly baked bread. It's also a bit like buying an inkjet printer, you save on the machine but they get you on the consumables, a coffee shot made from a pod will typically be double the cost of one made from New Zealand freshly roasted coffee beans!!

Super Automatics

These machines are simply that - super automatics. They perform the entire ritual for the user in a fraction of the time. They contain water reservoirs and integrated coffee grinders. This is push button technology at it's best. Press the brew button and it will grind the right amount of beans, tamp the ground beans, extract a predetermined amount of coffee and then it will dispose of the puck (left over coffee) into an internal dump box. Some models will even help the user maintain the machine. The popularity of this style of machine is the fastest growing in the market. This machine presents some substantial advantages to all others that we have discussed.

Special features found on the super-automatics can be really cool and add considerable flexibility. Some will give you the ability to change the coffee strength by controlling the amount of coffee used in each extraction. This can be used to make weaker or stronger espresso, doubles and long blacks. You can make these on demand with freshly ground beans - a cup of coffee doesn't get any easier than this!

Some machines will even provide a bypass doser. This feature allows the user to bypass the whole bean coffee grinder with pre-ground coffee. The most common use is decaf for those guests that can't drink the good stuff or perhaps you don't feel like caffeinating yourself in the evening. This prevents the desire to dump the beans out of the hopper and gives more practical value to the machine for some buyers. The coffee quality offered by these machines is excellent and usually exceeds that produced by most home users on their manual machines.

This is not to say that you can not make it better yourself, it is just very unlikely that the average user has the knowledge or skill to make a better product. This is particularly true in regards to consistency - the ability to make a great extraction one after another. I speak from substantial experience with all varieties of users.

Frothing is very simple. They all have frothing adapters which as described earlier, help in the aeration of the milk to produce a thick froth. Some also have automatic milk frothers, where the milk is sucked from a milk jug and foamed directly into you cup. They are unique in that they do not use boilers for heating of the water for brewing or steaming. They use a thermoblock technology that heats the water as it passes through a tube encased in an aluminum block - hence the name thermoblock! They react very quickly and are capable of steaming continuously. The pump goes into a slow pulsing action that sends droplets of water from the reservoir into the superheated thermoblock where it is flashed steamed. This is a very effective system that also works well for hot water dispensing.

Maintenance and cleaning of the Super Automatics is on the lowest end of the scale for comparison purposes. These are no-tools required systems - some are self -cleaning and for those of you who want to visually inspect the brewing components you can remove the entire brew group on some models.

The Super Automatics will go further than simply making an espresso automatically. They take the used grounds and place them into an internal dump box, when this is full the machine will tell you. The machine will also indicate when it is out of water. Some models have their own cleaning cycles, decalcification cycles and auto-rinse cycles.

A concern for some users is that the super-automatics take away the control that you get with the other styles. This is true to an extent. One concern some have is that you cannot control the tamp pressure. This is also true, but what you want is consistency of tamp pressure. Therefore, you should change the fineness of the grind to suite the tamp.

As you would expect, all the grinders have a wide range of settings. In fact they all use very strong conical burr grinders with gear reduction systems. This makes the grinder a real strength.

Let's face it- size does matter!

Its likely your going to want to put the machine on your bench, and if you buy an attractive looking machine it can be a lovely feature in your kitchen, so looks are important. Also, whether out on display or installed inside a servery kitchen still has to fit. Measure the space you have available before you go shopping.

Single Verses Double Heating Elements?

If the machine has only one boiler or heating element you will have a wait time between making coffee and making steam for the milk of between 20 – 50 seconds depending on the machine. This can seem like a lifetime when you're waiting! The inclusion of a second boiler or chamber for heating steam practically eliminates this wait, making it possible to produce cappuccinos and lattes in a snap and also get rid of the necessity to cool the boiler (letting excess steam and water out of the steam wand) after steaming.

What Make or Brand should I Choose?

The best coffee machine brands come from in and around Italy, so its likely you wont be familiar with some of the manufacturers names.

Espresso machines do break down. Its advisable to buy from a reputable dealer and check the warranty on the machine. Ask about their experience with the brand's service department, turn around times and spare parts holdings. One of the great things about goods being mass produced in China is you can buy them at a cheap price, the bad side is if they break down outside of the warranty period; they aren't worth fixing, so when they break down out of warranty, they're destined for the wheelie bin. The old adage stands true - What you pay for is what you get!

So if you buy a cheap espresso machine, be prepared to replace it in a short period of time.

Will I be able to make good coffee when I get it home?

The key to making great espresso coffee other than good quality clean machinery, is using good ingredients (fresh quality coffee beans), and following the right process to make the drink style you desire. The best Australasian publication I have come across that explains clearly all about how to make great espresso coffee in the home is the recently published "The Home Coffee Machine Review" magazine.



Christmas Trading Hours

Up until 23 Dec 8.30am - 5.00pm

24 Dec 10.00am - 2.00pm

25th December - 3rd January


4th January - 6th January

 open till 10.00am - 2.00pm

9th Jan 

Open Normal Trading Hours
8.30am - 5.00pm 



Check us out on Facebook
and You Tube.

facebook-logo   you-tube-logo blog

0800 ESPRESSO (377737)
[email protected]


100 Mt Eden Road, Auckland
MON TO FRI: 8.30am - 5pm
SAT: 10am - 2pm


Helpfull tips on buying the
right espresso machines.