Starting out as a fledgling barista can be daunting!
If you’ve done even a bit of research into coffee gear, you’ve seen how pricey it can get. You also might feel like you can’t afford the level of equipment needed to make good espresso.
Even if budget isn’t an issue, you may be confused on which equipment to prioritize when starting from zero.
Fear not! We’ve put together a comprehensive guide with a full checklist of espresso gear you’ll absolutely need when starting from scratch.
We’ll also provide multiple options at varying price points. After all, you don’t need the latest, greatest, most expensive gear to make great espresso.
Matching You With Your Machine
Your first order of business will be deciding on an espresso machine that fits your needs and budget.
This is absolutely the most important purchase you’ll make when crafting your setup, so it’s crucial to consider as many factors as possible to ensure you don’t waste time and money.
When picking a machine, you want to consider the following:
- How easy is this machine to learn and use?
- Can this machine make the type of coffee I want?
- Does this machine have a dual boiler?
With these main considerations in mind, here are our picks for the best starter espresso machines in each price range.
Your Budget Espresso Machine
When it comes to affordable offerings for new baristas, the Gaggia Classic Pro is often considered to be the best entry level espresso machine of all time.
At only $439 and bursting with features, the Classic is top of its class in its price range while also being supremely easy to operate.
The rocker switches and ready lights comprise 3 distinct options for power, brewing, and steaming. When it’s time for each step, the ready light will come on to let you know.
Right out of the gate, the Gaggia Classic Pro can brew both pre-ground and freshly ground coffee, giving you the chance to discover which you prefer brewing with.
The latest addition of a commercial steam wand will also let you froth velvety milk foam to practice latte art.
Though the Classic only has a single boiler, it’s rapidly heating which lets you get right to brewing without delays.
As far as budget options go, the Gaggia Classic Pro should be your first consideration for its sheer options at a fantastic price point.
Your Midrange Espresso Machine
At a middle ground price point, the Profitec Pro 500 PID with Flow Control is our top pick.
Featuring build quality and commercial-grade parts that rival those of more expensive machines, the Profitec Pro 500 PID punches well above its weight class with its style and features.
The heat exchanger in this espresso machine lets you brew and steam back to back without waiting. This decreases your time spent brewing and even lets you brew and steam at the same time if you wanted.
Meanwhile, this machine’s flow control valve gives you full control over your water flow during extraction. This lets you get different flavors out of your coffee and experiment with what tastes you prefer.
You’ll also enjoy a thermosyphon system in the E61 group that offers a level of temperature stability unheard of in other heat exchange espresso machines. This stability eliminates the need for cooling flushes.
As a final touch, the PID temperature display is easily visible on the machine’s face, letting you time shots easily with all the information readily visible.
Its great features and modest price allow the Profitec Pro 500 PID with Flow Control to punch above its weight class and make its home as our pick for the best entry level midrange machine.
Your Luxury Espresso Machine
When price is no object, the Dalla Corte Mina has everything you could possibly want out of an espresso machine, entry level or not.
The Mina is a commercial-grade, dual-boiler, single group espresso machine that offers both semi-automatic shot control with a level and automatic flow profile programming using a Bluetooth connected app.
As a dual boiler espresso machine, the Mina can brew and steam simultaneously with complete control. Consistency is the name of the game with this machine.
The key feature of the Mina is its Digital Flow Regulator (DFR) with a custom made Flow Meter.
This hyper-accurate flow meter, the first ever designed for an espresso machine, can measure up to 80 pulses per second so you get the perfect in-cup dose every time.
The yoke, seen above the brew group, works with the DFR and flow meter to allow for both manual and automatic brewing.
The manual lever lets you adjust flow rate in five stages between 0 and 12 grams per second, giving you the ability to experiment with different extraction profiles and coffee flavors.
Rounding out this incredible machine is full-fledged app support that lets you time shots, monitor temperatures, track pressure, and more from any Bluetooth-enabled smart device.
With the Mina giving you incredible control over every aspect of your shots, you absolutely get your money’s worth.
The cutting edge features increase both options AND ease of use, making the Dalla Corte Mina perfect for veterans and newcomers alike.
Grabbing a Grinder
As important as the espresso machine itself is, having a great coffee grinder is just as vital to pulling tasty shots.
You want a grinder that helps you get the best flavor and strength possible from your coffee.
When buying a grinder, here’s what to watch out for:
- Does it have stepped adjustment or is it stepless? This influences how much you can refine your grind size.
- What are the burr sizes? This affects durability and grind time.
- How big is it? Will it fit in your kitchen with the rest of your setup?
- Is it single or double dose?
Here are our top picks for grinders based on budget.
Your Budget Grinder
The Fellow Opus All-purpose conical grinder is an exceptional entry level grinder that’s simple to use and a great value for its capabilities.
At only 8.3 inches wide and 10.6 inches tall, the compact Opus fits comfortably on any espresso bar’s countertop with room to spare.
Featuring C6-40 Burly Burrs that turn at 350 RPM and 41 stepped adjustments, the Opus has a grind range that goes from cold brew coarse to espresso fine (<200 microns).
The Opus is designed for single dosing and uses a timed grinding system with three different presses of the start button allowing for 30, 60, and 90 seconds of grinding respectively to a max of 2 minutes by holding the button.
This grinder also has an automatic shutoff that stops the motor once all coffee has been ground, which is great for beginners who may not have the timing down quite yet.
The Opus also features easy volumetric dosing and can be loaded with up to 110g of coffee for a single grind cycle.
Overall, the Fellow Opus is a compact, user-friendly, and affordable option for the budget barista looking for a grinder that covers the basics in spectacular fashion.
Your Midrange Grinder
The Eureka Mignon Turbo is a fantastic grinder with noticeable upgrades compared to less expensive models.
With large 65mm flat steel burrs, the Mignon Turbo enjoys fast and consistent grind output. You’ll be able to grind 18g of coffee in just 8 seconds, which amounts to a double shot of espresso.
The Mignon Turbo also allows for plenty of grind customization with a stepless micrometric regulation system and a responsive touch screen that lets you make adjustments within 1-tenth of a second.
You’ll also enjoy silent grind technology that reduces grinding noises by 20 dB compared to similar grinders.
The Mignon is an incredible grinder at a modest price point with features that make it an obvious step up from more budget options.
Your Luxury Grinder
The Ceado E37Z Barista Single Dose Grinder is a high-capacity commercial grinder with cutting edge tech that puts it firmly ahead of the pack.
This grinder sports 83mm proprietary burrs optimized for low friction and high uniformity. That means your grind will be impeccably consistent and speedy— 5g per second when grinding for espresso.
The E37Z features SweepOut Dual-Spin technology that reverses the motor after grinding to clear out the chamber. This allows for Zero Retention, meaning you’ll never see stray coffee grounds polluting the grind chamber before your next shot.
You’ll also enjoy the option to program 3 unique shot times set within 1/10 of a second and a touch display for easy access to this grinder’s plentiful features such as password protection, toggleable thermal control, programmable shot times, backspin duration and more.
Ceado has also given this grinder a Quick Set Gear to ensure a precise grind adjustment with no drift while in action. This also makes cleaning and maintenance far easier by isolating the gear assembly.
There’s no other way to say it— the Ceado E37Z is bursting with features that essentially guarantee ease of use and shot consistency. A perfect high end grinder no matter what your skill level.
Securing a Scale
After picking up a machine and grinder, it’ll be time to grab the peripheral tools that make pulling good shots easier.
Your most valuable asset for shot timing and measurements will, of course, be a quality scale.
When picking a scale for espresso making, consider the following:
- How accurate is it to the nearest gram?
- Does it have additional features beyond just weight calculation?
- Is it waterproof?
- How large is it?
Here are our top picks for scales in three different price ranges.
Your Budget Scale
The Brewista Smart Scale II is an affordable multi-purpose scale with a ton of features for espresso and brewed coffee.
This handy scale can weigh ground coffee, liquid espresso, and brewed coffee within 0.1g, which is an excellent level of granularity.
The Smart Scale II sports 6 different operating modes: Manual, auto-taring and auto-timing options, and pour-over.
It’s also waterproof via a nano coating and has a rechargeable battery.
All in all, the Brewista Smart Scale II is a fantastic budget scale with loads of useful features while being built to last.
Your Midrange to Luxury Scale
The Acai Lunar 2021 is designed to be the ultimate compact scale for espresso brewing.
Featuring a sleek and compact form factor at just 15mm tall, the Acai Lunar is made to fit on any countertop no matter how expansive the rest of your espresso bar is.
This scale is super fast to respond to weight changes and measures accurately to a hundredth of a gram.
The Acai Lunar also makes dialing in a breeze with a flow-rate indicator to monitor the flow rate of extractions in real time. It also features a bright LED screen that shows dose/shot weight AND the time it takes to extract.
Overall, the Acai Lunar 2021 is a small scale with big features that works flawlessly as a midrange and high end option for baristas of all skill levels.
While espresso machines usually come with tampers that do a fine enough job, their quality and materials are usually not the best and you’ll want to upgrade as soon as possible.
A good tamper will be both durable and ergonomic, able to last through multiple uses while giving you a nice, even tamp every time.
When hunting for a solid tamper, here’s what to consider:
- Does it fit your portafilter’s basket?
- Is it made of sturdy material?
- Do you like how it looks?
Here are our picks for the best tampers based on your budget.
Your Budget to Midrange Tamper
The Revolution True Tamp 58.3mm tamper is durable, stylish, and works with most 58mm commercial portafilters.
This tamper has a stainless steel base and high-quality acetal handle built to last throughout multiple uses.
Its ergonomic design feels natural in the hand with round and smooth edges and a sturdy, weighty feel.
This tamper looks great, feels great, and will last you a nice long while.
Your Luxury Tamper
For an innovative modern tamper that aims to add consistency to tamping and ensure perfect shots, look no further than the Bravo 58.5mm tamper.
This tamper has an internal and external spring to ensure constant pressure application, and that pressure can be adjusted between 26-34 lbs.
Its outer rim rests gently on the outside of the portafilter as you press down, preventing excessive pressure.
This cutting edge tamper will take the guesswork out of your tamping so you have one less variable to worry about when crafting your perfect shot.
While the previous tools cover the absolute essentials, you may still want to take your setup even further.
For that, there are great additional accessories that will enhance your experience.
A distribution tool such as the WDT coffee tool will help give you an even better tamp by evening out your coffee grounds beforehand, leading to better extractions.
To improve your milk frothing, you’ll want a dedicated frothing pitcher like the Fellow Eddy Steaming Pitcher. A specialized pitcher with a well-designed spout will make pouring more accurate, giving you an easier time when practicing latte art.
Weird tasting water will lead to weird tasting espresso, so it’s worthwhile to grab a water filter like the BWT Bestcup M Package to ensure your coffee has the best flavor possible.
As a finishing touch, puck screens like 58.5mm Caffewerks Puck Screen will give you better water dispersion across your coffee grounds, leading to better extractions and more flavorful coffee.
Putting It All Together
No matter your price range, and even if you need to mix and match these products based on preference or budget, your setup should be good to go with any combination of the above tools.
Of course, a barista’s tools aren’t everything. Learning to use them will be pivotal, which is why ease of use is such a big factor when starting out.
But once you get the hang of the more budget starter options, don’t hesitate to branch upwards! More options usually lead to more fun in the world of espresso.