Best Value Entry-Level Home Espresso Machine

by Marc Buckman August 17, 2016


It’s a question we get all the time. Someone’s on a tight budget and they want a recommendation for a lower cost entry-level semi-automatic espresso machine. There’s one very clear standout for capabilities and value for those starting out in home espresso. Today we’ve our pick for best value in entry-level home espresso machines. Now keep an eye on the links up here for more information and direct connections to products.

Gaggia Evolution

So our pick? It’s the Gaggia Evolution. And the reason? Well it’s simple. It blows away the competition on features, price, performance and reliability. The first thing you’ll notice, the Evolution uses a full-size and weight commercial style chrome-plated brass portafilter. Every other machine in the category uses smaller, lightweight aluminum portafilters. It’s all about heat retention. And brass components do it well. With the Evolution, you’ve got heft in the portafilter and in the brew group which it mounts into - it’s also heavy chrome plated brass.

 

Next up lets talk boilers. Most every other machine at this level uses a thermoblock boiler. Thermoblocks heat water in small passageways and are not known for producing consistent temperatures that are so important when making espresso.

In the Evolution, there’s a real boiler. Unlike a thermoblock It doesn’t heat the water as it travels through. In fact, the Evolution uses the same boiler as the well regarded and more expensive Gaggia Classic. As an added benefit, the Evolution’s boiler is much more forgiving of scale buildup than a thermoblock. So better reliability even if you slack a bit on maintenance.

Gaggia Classic

Now I mentioned the Gaggia Classic. It’s a past Consumers Digest Best Buy and a machine with a long history and strong loyal user base. But if you’re on a limited budget, the Evolution has the same boiler and similar performance.

The major differences: the Classic has a rugged stainless steel housing while the Evolution is predominately plastic. And, the Classic has a 3-way solenoid valve, while the Evolution does not. The 3-way solenoid automatically releases pressure and water after brewing resulting in drier easier to knock out coffee pucks. But, it’s a convenience feature, and has no real effect on brewing performance.

Portafilters

Now we should talk about portafilters again. Just about every other machine in the Evolution’s price range has those lightweight aluminum ones. On top of that, almost everyone uses pressurized filter baskets. With Pressurized baskets it’s not the coffee puck that creates the pressure but the basket itself. It’s a kind of cheat - if you will that makes grind size a little less critical but produces what most consider to be a lesser quality espresso.

So it’s easier for those newer to espresso, especially if a quality grinder is not in the budget at the moment. But like you said, pressurized usually produces lower quality espresso. So the Evolution comes with pressurized single and double shot baskets so you can use a lower cost grinder, pre-ground coffee or ESE pods. But, it also comes with a standard non-pressurized double shot basket. So as you get into grinding your own coffee or upgrade to a better grinder. It’s a machine that grows with your budget and capabilities.

Grinders

And speaking of grinding, here’s a list of our recommendations. Now like we said you can start with no grinder at all using pre-ground or ESE pods. But for better espresso we recommend the Jura Capresso Infinity or Baratza Encore for use with pressurized baskets and moving up to the Gaggia MDF, Baratza Virtuoso or Rancilio Rocky for traditional brewing in non-pressurized baskets.

Really good espresso is first about the coffee, then the quality of the grind so those recommendations, especially for non-pressurized brewing are the minimums. In the end, there’s a direct relationship between grind and espresso quality.

That’s the Gaggia Evolution. We recommend it as an exceptional value in entry level semi-automatic espresso machines.

It really is a standout - a fine choice for those taking a first step into home espresso. It’s available now at Whole Latte Love. Thanks for reading and were hope to see you back here soon for more on everything coffee.

Marc Buckman
Marc Buckman

Marc is Whole Latte Love's resident videographer and expert on everything coffee. He built our YouTube channel from the ground up in 2009, demystifying the world of coffee for upwards of 100k subscribers by producing over 1000 in-depth videos. Marc enjoys hiking, scuba diving, and saving the lives of his coworkers when the kitchen runs out of coffee by sharing some of his own.