Best Espresso Machines For Beginners

TL;DR: The best espresso machine for beginners is the Breville Bambino because of its ability to make a good quality espresso without too much effort or skill on your part.

This is my roundup of the best espresso machine for beginners.

I have owned one of the machines listed in this roundup (namely the Breville Barista Pro) and spent a whole day researching people’s experiences with these machines online to put together this roundup.

I will also help you save money by calling out a specific machine that specifically markets itself to beginners, but simply uses this as a gimmick to sell a shoddily designed machine at an inflated price (spoiler alert: it’s the Breville Bambino Plus).

Let’s get started.

Top Picks

Best Overall For Beginners: Breville Bambino

Best for Potential Espresso Nerds: Gaggia Classic Pro

Cheapest Machine That’s Still a Decent Option For Beginners: Delonghi ECP3420

Best With a Built-in Grinder: Breville Barista Pro

Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine For Beginners: Philips 3200

To reiterate, the best espresso machine for beginners is the Breville Bambino:

Best Overall Espresso Machine for Beginners

This is the best espresso machine for beginners as it allows you to make very good espresso without any real knowledge of the technicalities of espresso making.

Best Overall Espresso Machine for Beginners: Breville Bambino

The Breville Bambino is the best espresso machine for beginners as it allows you to make very good espresso without any real knowledge of the technicalities of espresso making.

Quality of Espresso

The Breville Bambino can make a good espresso due to the fact that it controls brewing temperature very accurately and pre-infuses your shot for superior extraction.

The machine comes with both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets meaning that it can work well with pre-ground coffee, but that its quality ceiling goes way up when you use it with freshly ground coffee.

The machine’s coffee quality is somewhat let down by the fact that you cannot time your shots automatically with the machine.

This makes it harder to fine-tune your espresso.

While this may not be a problem when you first start using the machine, if you want to delve deeper into the science of espresso you might find the machine to be lacking in how much feedback it gives you on how to improve your shots.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 7/10

Quality of Milk Wand

The Bambino uses a pinhead steam wand with two holes.

This steam wand enables you to make a wide range of milk textures, from thick foam to make cappuccino, to silkier microfoam to make lattes with.

The steam wand is not super powerful, meaning that it takes about 30 seconds to steam two portions of milk. 

While other machines (like the Breville Barista Pro) can steam milk faster, having a less powerful steam wand is actually good for beginners because you are less likely to scorch your milk.

Scorching milk is the most common make that beginners make when steaming milk.

Quality of Steam Wand Rating: 9/10

Ease of Use

The machine is very easy to pull shots with for two reasons:

  • It automatically doses out brewing water for you
  • It comes with a pressurized portafilter basket (as well as a non-pressurized portafilter basket).

A pressurized portafilter basket means that it can make a good espresso with pre-ground coffee, or if you poorly tamp your ground coffee.

This means that you can do a poor job on the more fiddly bits of espresso making and still have a decent espresso at the end of it.

Machines with non-pressurized portafilter baskets tend to extract poorly if your coffee is not finely and evenly ground and tamped well (they can create better coffee than pressurized portafilters if you do these well though).

Fortunately, the Breville Bambino comes with both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets.

This means that when you get better at espresso-making and invest in a good grinder, the machine’s potential to create amazing espresso will grow along with your skill level.

In short, the Bambino can be easy to use for a beginner, but can also offer you some scope to brew in more complex ways for better-tasting espresso.

Ease of Use Rating: 9/10

Design and Build Quality

The machine has excellent internal build quality and rarely succumbs to technical issues.

The highlight of this is its thermojet heating system. This allows you to brew an espresso within three seconds of turning the machine on.

The machine has a compact footprint, meaning it should fit on any kitchen countertop without dominating it.

Its exterior feels a bit cheap and plasticky, but since it is only a lower-mid-priced espresso machine, I think that this is forgivable given its overall quality.

Design and Build Quality: 8/10

Value For Money

The machine is mid-priced for an espresso machine with a portafilter, however, is one of the best quality machines available.

It, therefore, offers good value for money, in my book. 

There are certainly many similarly priced machines that are much lower quality than the Bambino. You can find out about one of these in my comparison between the Breville Bambino vs Bambino Plus.

Value For Money Rating: 9/10

Pros of Breville Bambino
  • Works well with pre ground and freshly ground coffee.
  • You can make a wide variety of milk textures with its steam wand.
  • You can make an espresso within three seconds of turning it on.
  • It is quieter than most machines.
Cons of Breville Bambino
  • Its steam wand does have a small learning curve.
  • You cannot open up the machine and modify it.

Best Overall Espresso Machine for Beginners

This is the best espresso machine for beginners as it allows you to make very good espresso without any real knowledge of the technicalities of espresso making.

Best For Potential Espresso Geeks: Gaggia Classic Pro

The Gaggia Classic Pro is also an excellent starter machine. The big advantage of the Gaggia Classic Pro over other machines is that they can be easily modified and upgraded. There are thriving communities online dedicated to modding Classic Pro making it the best machine for potential espresso hobbyists.

Quality of Espresso

The Gaggia Classic Pro can make an excellent espresso but needs a bit more tinkering to get to this level of quality compared to the Breville Bambino.

You need to control your water dose manually with the Gaggia Classic Pro. 

Although this does mean that the Classic Pro’s potential coffee quality is higher than the Bambino’s, it’s also easier to make a bad espresso with the Gaggia Classic Pro than the Bambino if you mess up your water dose.

The Gaggia Classic Pro also uses pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets meaning that you can make good espresso with pre-ground coffee and excellent espresso with freshly ground beans.

The Classic Pro uses a better-quality pressurized portafilter than any other machine (for more info on this please see this video.

This means that it can make better espresso with pre-ground coffee than any of the other espresso machines listed here.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 8/10

Quality of Milk Wand

The Classic Pro uses a pinhole steam wand with one hole in its nozzle.

This means that you can make lots of textures of milk froth with this machine. This puts its steam wand ahead of any machine that uses a panarello steam wand (as most domestic machines do).

Some users of this machine complain that its steam wand is not powerful enough to steam larger portions of milk (say enough for several lattes). 

So, while the steam wand will be more than adequate for beginners, and is actually a very good wand to learn how to steam milk on, it is one of the first parts of the machine that people upgrade when modding the machine.

Quality of Steam Wand Rating: 7/10

Ease of Use

Since you need to manually dose your water with the Gaggia Classic Pro, it is going to be slightly more work to use than a machine that automatically doses water.

Still, the Gaggia Classic Pro is a fairly easy machine to use largely because it comes with the option of using a pressurized portafilter.

This means that you can still pull a decent shot even if your grinding and tamping of the ground coffee aren’t great.

Its relatively gentle steam wand means that it is easier to use than other machines with pin-holed steam wands, including the Breville Bambino and Breville Barista Pro.

Ease of Use Rating: 7/10

Design and Build Quality

The machine has a high-quality pump and boiler heating system meaning that it rarely succumbs to technical issues

It has the best exterior build quality of all the machines listed here, giving it a stylish feel worthy of Gaggia’s Italian name.

The Classic Pro’s biggest strength is the ease with which the machine can be modified and upgraded.

For many Gaggia users, this is the whole point of the machine and there are several online communities dedicated to modding Gaggia machines including the Gaggia Classic subreddit.

Build Quality Rating: 9/10

Value For Money

The Gaggia Classic Pro is also a mid-priced espresso machine. 

It is typically a tiny bit more expensive than the Breville Bambino, and I think that you get a bit more for your money with the Bambino than with the Classic Pro.

You pay a small premium with the Gaggia for its brand name and how easy it is to modify.

Still, it is a sturdy, reliable machine that should last you a long time so I still think it represents decent value for money.

You can find more information about Gaggia’s impressive range of machines in my roundup of the best Gaggia espresso machines.

Value For Money Rating: 7/10

Pros of Gaggia Classic Pro
  • The machine can be easily modified. Very few other machines allow this.
  • It can make the best coffee from pre ground coffee of all espresso machines due to its advanced pressurized portafilter.
  • It has a classic design and a high external build quality.
Cons of the Gaggia Classic Pro
  • Its steam wand could be more powerful.
  • There are machines that offer better value for money available.

Cheapest Espresso Machine That is Still a Decent Option For Beginners: Delonghi ECP3420

The Delonghi ECP3420 can do the basics to a decent level and is the most affordable espresso machine that can still do justice to the drink.

You can find out more about this machine in my Delonghi ECP3420 review.

Quality of Espresso

The machine uses a pressurized portafilter and requires you to manually dose its water.

This means that you can create a decent-to-good espresso with pre-ground coffee if you are willing to take the time to measure out your ground coffee and final drink and aim for a 2:1 brewing ratio. 

Fortunately, the machine gives you the space to put a small scale under your cup when brewing to make this weighing out of your espresso possible.

Since the machine does not use a non-pressurized portafilter, it is a bit of a waste to buy whole-bean coffee and a high-quality burr grinder to use with it – the machine just cannot do that type of coffee justice.

Still, if you want to start your espresso journey with pre-ground coffee then this will do a good job for that (not as good as the Gaggia Classic Pro though)

Quality of Espresso Rating: 6/10

Quality of Steam Wand

The machine uses a panarello steam wand. This steam wand has two settings:

  • One is called “hot milk” which will heat your milk without blowing additional air into it.
  • One is called “cappuccino” which will create a very thick foamy milk.

Since the ECP3420 has a panarello steam wand, it is easier to steam milk with this machine than any of the other machines on the list (save for the Philips 3200 LatteGo).

You are, unfortunately, limited to just thick foam and hot milk with this machine’s steam wand. 

You cannot make silky microfoam (and therefore a true latte) with the ECP3420.

Quality of Steam Wand Rating: 7/10

Ease of Use

The machine requires you to dose up your water manually. It is therefore a bit more hands-on than Breville machines.

Still, the machine’s use of a pressurized portafilter means that you can make a decent espresso without having to tamp your coffee that precisely.

The machine has the easiest steam wand to use of all the machines featured here because it is the only machine to use a panarello steam wand. 

This means that you do not have to maneuver your steam wand in your milk to steam it evenly and that someone can make decent quality steamed milk having never used a steam wand before.

Ease of Use Rating: 8/10

Design and Build Quality

The machine uses a relatively low-quality thermoblock heating system which means that it needs to be turned on for a minute before it works. 

It also takes a long time for the machine to be able to switch from making espresso to steaming your milk due to its poor-quality heating element.

The machine is not the most reliable in general and will be unlikely to last for more than a few years. 

Reviewers particularly remark that its steam wand deteriorates over time and starts to spit out water rather than steam (presumably because it cannot get hot enough).

This lack of build quality is understandable given that the Delonghi ECP3420 is far cheaper than any of the other machines featured in this article (it is over 50% cheaper than the next cheapest item).

Design and Build Quality Rating: 5/10

Value For Money

The Delonghi ECP3420 is the cheapest espresso machine that I feel comfortable recommending

There are countless espresso machines that are of poorer quality and which command a higher price than the ECP3420. 

In short, the Delonghi ECP3420 represents excellent value for money.

You can find out more about how Delonghi and Breville machines compare in their value for money in my comparison of Breville vs Deonghi.

Value For Money Rating: 10/10

Delonghi ECP3420 Pros
  • Excellent value for money. Superior to pretty much any similarly priced machine.
  • Can make a good espresso with pre ground coffee.
  • Has a very easy to use steam wand.
Delonghi ECP3420 Cons
  • It’s a waste to use fresh coffee on this due to it lacking a non pressurized portafilter basket.
  • Its steam wand cannot create finely textured milk foam
  • It does tend to succumb to technical issues (especially its steam wand).

Best With a Built-In Grinder: Breville Barista Pro

The Breville Barista Pro’s high-quality built-in grinder and ability to time your shots allow you to fine-tune your espresso shots with much less fiddling than you might expect. This makes it the best Breville espresso machine as well as one of the best espresso machines for beginners.

Quality of Espresso

The Breville Barista Pro can make a good espresso with pre-ground coffee and an excellent espresso with freshly ground coffee due to its use of both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets.

The machine’s built-in grinder can grind coffee fine and even enough for a top-class espresso. This is why I think it is one of the best espresso machines with a grinder on the market.

My favorite feature of the machine is its built-in timer with will time shots for you.

This gives you excellent information to work with when it comes to fine-tuning your espresso (over 25 seconds means coffee is too fine or tamped too hard, and under 25 seconds means too coarse or not tamped enough). 

The more you can fine-tune your espresso, the better espresso you can make with your machine.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 9/10

Quality of Steam Wand

The Bambino Plus’s steam wand is excellent.

It has a pin-holed steam wand with four holes which means that you can make almost any textured milk you want. 

The four holes on the wand mean that you can achieve an even texture even when you are steaming very large quantities of milk.

The machine’s thermojet heating system means that you can go from brewing espresso to steaming milk in a matter of seconds and that you can steam large quantities of milk without the machine overheating (this is an advantage of the Barista Pro over the Bambino).

Quality of Steam Wand Rating: 10/10

Ease of Use

The Breville Barista Pro automatically doses out your coffee and water for you meaning that the only manual part of making espresso with it is tamping the ground coffee.

While there is a learning curve to this, the machine assists you in this by giving you feedback on how your to tamp was based on how long the espresso takes to brew. 

Anything longer than 25 seconds means that you tamped too hard, and anything shorter means that you did not tamp hard enough.

The pin-holed steam wand also has a small learning curve, but it is nowhere near as difficult as people make out, especially if you do not care about latte art. 

The results you can get from the steam wand far outweigh the small learning curve that it takes to master it.

Ease of Use Rating: 9/10

Design and Build Quality

The Barista Pro has a very impressive build quality. Its highlight is its thermojet heating system which allows you to make an espresso within three seconds of turning the machine on.

Its high build quality means that it will likely last a very long time without losing heating power or pump pressure.

The machine’s only design flaw comes with its grinder. 

If you put the grinder on too fine a setting (anything under 5/30) it will clog up and you will need to unclog it with a brush (the machine comes with a brush to help you with this.

For more information on this issue, please see my in-depth Breville Barista Pro review.

The exterior of the machine has clearly been made with a lot of plastic, which is a bit disappointing for a machine with such a large price tag.

Design and Build Quality: 8/10

Value For Money

The machine is one of the more expensive espresso machines on the market, but also one of the best.

It might be too expensive for some beginners, but if you are happy to splash the cash then you will not be disappointed.

Value For Money Rating: 7/10

Breville Barista Pro Pros
  • The machine automatically times your shots which gives you feedback on how you can improve your espresso.
  • It has the best steam wand of any of the machines featured in this article.
  • It heats up quickly and can make many espressos in quick succession.
  • Its built-in grinder grinds coffee very finely which is perfect for espresso.
Breville Barista Pro Cons
  • One of the more expensive espresso machines on the market.
  • It is quite large so will likely dominate your countertop.

Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine For Beginners: Philips 3200 LatteGo

The Philips 3200 LatteGo is the most affordable super-automatic machine that can consistently make good quality espresso and milk-based drinks.

Quality of Espresso

The Philips 3200 LatteGo makes acceptable, but not great espresso.

Its main problem is that it does not brew your espresso for long enough. This means that espressos are a bit on the sharp and watery side.

Still, they are far from terrible, and there are many cheap super automatics machines that do a much worse espresso than the 3200

The 3200’s espresso is good enough to give you a decent idea of what the drink is like and how good it can be.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 6/10

Quality of Milk Frother

Unlike other machines featured in this article, the Philips 3200 LatteGo uses an automatic milk frother rather than a steam wand.

You attach a plastic milk container to the machine and the machine will heat, foam and dispense your milk at the touch of a button.

The machine can only create larger bubbled foam, suitable for cappuccinos.

It cannot do finer milk foam (it has similar functionalities to a panarello steam wand such as that found on the Delonghi ECP3420).

Still, the foamed milk from the Philips 3200 is pretty good, especially when you consider that you can steam milk by just pressing a button.

Quality of Milk Frother: 7/10

Ease of Use

The 3200 is very easy to use, far easier than any other machine featured here.

It is operated with a button-controlled LCD screen that gives you a menu of coffee types, just press the button corresponding to the type of coffee that you want and the machine will make it for you.

To find out more about what drinks this machine offers, please see my Philips 3200 LatteGo review.

The machine is also self-cleaning and has a dedicated descale mode.

This saves you on, in my opinion, the most annoying part of using an espresso machine: the clean-up afterwards.

You do need to manually clean its milk container after use as it is not dishwasher safe. 

Leaving the milk container on the machine rather than removing and cleaning it can leave sour milk residue in the container, which no one wants.

Ease of Use Rating: 9/10

Design and Build Quality

The machine has a decent internal build quality. 

The only technical issue that I could find with the machine was that it occasionally starts reducing its serving sizes over time. This was not a common problem, however.

The machine’s external build quality is not the best. 

It feels very cheap and plasticky with its hinges opening up the machine being very flimsy.

The bean hopper is also poorly designed. It is very shallow and hard to fill without messing with beans everywhere.

Still, the machine is well-built enough to perform its functionalities reliably and to a decent standard.

Design and Build Quality Rating: 7/10

Value for Money

The Philips 3200 LatteGo is very inexpensive by super-automatic espresso machine standards.

Most super-automatic machines in the 3200’s price bracket are terrible. 

The 3200 is not terrible by a long stretch and is rather a reliable, albeit unfancy, machine. 

This makes it an excellent buy, in my book.

Value for Money Rating: 9/10

Philips 3200 LatteGo Pros
  • Very easy to use because of its LCD screen menu.
  • Has a good milk frother by automatic frother standards.
  • Very good value for money.
Philips 3200 LatteGo Cons
  • Its exterior looks and feels cheaply made.

One to avoid: Breville Bambino Plus

The Breville Bambino Plus may initially seem like the ideal espresso machine for beginners due to its automatic milk-steaming system.

However, this milk-steaming system is flawed for two reasons

  • It cannot create anywhere near as well steamed milk as more manual steam wands like that on the Breville Bambino (its cheaper cousin)
  • Its automatic steam wand takes up drip tray space which means that you need to empty its drip tray after 4 or 5 espressos. This becomes a real pain especially if your machine is not right next to your sink

I’d recommend that anyone, no matter how much of a beginner they are, just learn to steam milk using a manual wand.

It’s really not difficult to learn how to do this, and the results are so much better than what the Bambino Plus can achieve.

This video can help you learn how to steam milk.

Watch the video and then practice with five jugs of milk. 

Once you have steamed five jugs of milk with a manual steam wand I assure you that you will be able to create better-steamed milk than you can make with the Breville Bambino Plus.

What Makes an Espresso Machine Good for a Beginner?

I am now going to go through the different features that affect an espresso machine’s performance and ease of use and make my recommendations for which of these features you should look out for when buying your first espresso machine.

I am going to split this section into two parts. They are:

  • What makes espresso machines that use a portafilter (semi-automatic and automatic espresso machines) good for beginners?
  • What makes super-automatic espresso machines good for beginners?

I am doing this because these two types of machines are fundamentally different in their design so comparing their features against each other does not really make sense.

For most beginners, I would recommend buying a machine with a portafilter rather than a super-automatic machine.

Buying a machine with a portafilter will give you a much better grounding in how espresso works, and the variables that affect espresso flavor and body, than a super-automatic machine. 

Super automatics are very much “beans in, coffee out” with minimal tinkering on your part. 

I would only recommend this if you have no real interest in the process of espresso making and just want the drink with as little work as possible.

Anyway, that digression aside, let’s look at the features that make an espresso machine good for beginners.

What Makes an Espresso Machine with a Portafilter Good for a Beginner?

TL;DR: The ideal espresso machine with a portafilter for a beginner would have:

  • Automatic water dosing
  • A 58mm diameter portafilter with pressurized and non-pressurised portafilter baskets
  • A pin-holed steam wand
  • A thermocoil or single-boiler heating system
  • A way of telling you when the machine needs to be descaled
  • A cost of under $800

Here are the features that you should pay attention to when buying your first espresso machine with a portafilter (automatic or semi-automatic espresso machine).

Automatic or Manual Dosing

Some espresso machines will automatically dose your brewing water for you, whereas others will require you to dose this out manually.

This is the defining feature that separates automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines from each other.

Automatic machines dose out water for you, and semi-automatic machines require you to dose your water manually.

You can tell if a machine offers automatic dosing by whether it has separate buttons for a single and double espresso.

If it has separate buttons for these two drinks then it will dose out water automatically. 

If it just has one button then it will require you to dose out water manually by pressing this singular button to start and stop brewing.

I do not want to say that an automatic machine is better than a semi-automatic machine for a beginner (or vice versa).

While automatic machines are easier to use, semi-automatic machines give you much more control over the brewing process. 

The amount of water you use in your espresso can significantly affect its flavor and body, so you can create a much wider range of drinks with a semi-automatic machine.

Water Dosing systemAlso known asHow to tell which one your machine usesAdvantages of system
AutomaticAutomaticThe machine has separate buttons for a single and double espressoEasier to use
ManualSemi-automaticThe machine just has one “brew” buttonGives you more control over brewing.

The table below shows each of the machines listed in this article and whether they offer automatic or manual brew dose control.

MachineAutomatic or semi automatic
Breville BambinoAutomatic
Gaggia Classic ProSemi automatic
Delonghi ECP3420Semi automatic
Breville Barista ProAutomatic

You should note that most machines with automatic dose control can allow you to preset what these dose sizes are. 

This means that you can still adjust the amount of water you use in your espresso, however, this will be hard-coded into the machine for every shot you pull until you change it again.

All the machines listed in this article have this functionality, as do the vast majority of semi-automatic espresso machines.

Portafilter Diameter and Basket Type

The portafilter is the detachable part of your machine that holds the ground coffee.

Different machines have different types of portafilters. The two main ways that they differ are:

  • Whether their baskets are pressurized or non-pressurized
  • Their diameter

I will now go through these two variables in a bit more detail and give some recommendations for beginners.

Pressurized vs Non-Pressurized Portafilter Baskets

Portafilter baskets are the baskets that sit inside a portafilter and hold the ground coffee.

Portafilter baskets vary in whether they are pressurized or non-pressurized

Pressurized portafilters (also called dual-walled portafilters), force all your espresso through one tiny hole. This increases the amount of pressure your espresso is brewed under.

Non-pressurized portafilters (also called single-walled portafilters) force your espresso through hundreds of tiny holes. This means that all the pressure that your espresso is brewed under is created by the machine’s pump alone.

Pressurized portafilter is on the right, the red circle shows you the one small hole that the coffee is forced through

The advantage of a pressurized portafilter is that it allows you to make a decent espresso with pre-ground coffee.

The disadvantage of a pressurized portafilter is that it reduces the quality of coffee you can make with freshly ground coffee.

Non-pressurized portafilters can make much better coffee with freshly ground beans but struggle to brew with pre-ground coffee.

I’d therefore recommend machines that come with a pressurized portafilter if you are going to use pre-ground coffee (or have a cheap blade grinder). 

Machines that come with a non-pressurized portafilter are better if you have a burr grinder or a machine with a built-in grinder.

Type of portafilter basketAlso known asDescriptionBest for…
PressurizedDual walledForces all your espresso through one small hole when brewingIf you want to use pre-ground coffee
If you only have a cheap blade grinder
Non-pressurizedSingle-walledHas hundreds of small holes for your espresso to run through when brewingIf you have a burr grinder
If you have an espresso machine with a built-in grinder
Portafilter Diameter

Each machine has a specific portafilter diameter. 

The machine can only work with portafilters of this diameter because they need to fit in flush with the machine’s brew head, which also has a certain diameter.

Portafilter diameters are measured in millimetres (mm) and range from 49mm to 58mm.

I would recommend that a beginner should buy a machine with a 58mm diameter portafilter.

This is because 58mm is by far the most common diameter for portafilters. It is therefore much easier to find upgrade and replacement parts for a portafilter of this size.

The table below shows the portafilter diameter and available baskets that come with each of the machines featured in this article.

Machine NamePortafilter DiameterPressurized or non-pressurized portafilter baskets
Breville Bambino54mmBoth
Gaggia Classic Pro58mmBoth
Delonghi ECP342051mmPressurized
Breville Barista Pro54mmBoth

Steam Wand

Espresso machines have one of two types of steam wands. They are:

  • Panarello steam wands
  • Pin holed steam wands
Panarello Steam Wand

Panarello steam wands are wands with a metal or plastic sleeve around them. This sleeve contains a small hole which draws air around it and pumps it into your milk.

If your machine’s steam wand has a perfect cylindrical shape then it is almost certainly a panarello.

The main advantage of a panarello steam wand is that it is very easy to use. 

You can steam milk just by holding the wand in the center of the milk and turning it on. The only way this can go wrong is if you scorch your milk.

The main disadvantage of a panarello steam wand is that you can only make one texture of milk with it.

This significantly reduces the number of types of drinks you can make with your espresso machine. 

A true latte has a very different texture to a cortado (for example) and you cannot replicate these drinks authentically with a machine that has a panarello steam wand.

Pin-holed Steam Wand

Pin-holed steam wands just dispense steam from holes on the end of their nozzle.

If your machine’s steam wand flares slightly towards its tip, then it is almost definitely a pin-holed steam wand.

Pin-holed steam wands can vary in the number of holes they have in their nozzle (usually this ranges from one to four holes). 

More holes are normally better as it helps disperse steam more evenly in the milk, resulting in a more uniform milk texture.

This is a pin-holed steam wand on my Breville Barista Pro

The main advantage of pin-holed steam wands is that they allow you to create many different textures of milk foam depending on how you maneuver your steam wand in the milk.

The main disadvantage of pin-holed steam wands is that they are a bit more difficult to use than panarello steam wands. You need to actively move the steam wand around the milk to get it to froth properly.

Wand typeWhat it looks likePros and ConsWould I recommend it for beginners?
PanarelloA plastic or metal cylinderEasy to use
Can only make one type of milk texture
No
Pin holedA metal tube with a flared nozzleSlightly harder to use
Can make lots of different types of milk textures including microfoam for latte art.
Yes

I would recommend a beginner look for a machine with a pin-holed steam wand rather than a panarello steam wand.

Pin-holed steam wands are only marginally more difficult to use than panarello steam wands. 

You can master a pin-holed steam wand by watching this video and then practicing with it on around ten portions of milk. 

Once you have done that you will definitely be able to make better milk foam then you ever can with a steam wand.

The table below shows what types of the steam wand the machines featured in this article have.

Machine nameType of steam wand
Breville BambinoPin holed (2 holes)
Gaggia Classic ProPin holed (1 hole)
Delonghi ECP3420Panarello
Breville Barista ProPin holed (4 holes)

Heating System

Espresso machines can have one of four systems to heat up the water and the milk that you make your coffee with. They are:

  • Thermoblock
  • Thermocoil 
  • Single boiler 
  • Double boiler

The table below breaks down how each of these heating systems works, as well as what their pros and cons are:

Heating systemHow it worksAdvantagesDisadvantages
ThermoblockThe machine heats the internal pipe that your brewing water or steam runs through.Cheap, meaning that machines that use it will be relatively cheap.Your water loses heat before it hits your coffee as the final part of the pipe is not heated.
ThermocoilThe machine heats the internal pipe that your brewing water or steam runs through, but only at the tip where it meets your coffee.Your water is at the desired temperature when it hits your coffee.You need to wait a relatively long time between pulling coffee shots as the thermocoil cools down easily.
Single boiler The machine heats up large quantities of water within the entire machine.You can pull several espresso shots quickly without waiting.
Water is always at your desired temperature.
You cannot pull espresso shots and steam milk at the same time.
More expensive than thermoblock and thermocoil systems.
Double boilerSame as the boiler, but separate heating systems are used for the espresso brewer and the steam wand.You can pull espresso shots and steam milk at the same time.
Water and steam are always at the desired temperature.
This significantly adds to the cost of your machine.

I would recommend a beginner get a machine with a thermocoil or single boiler system.

These two types of heating systems allow you to make significantly better drinks than those with a thermoblock system. 

I would not recommend a beginner get a double boiler machine as they tend to be really expensive without offering too much benefit to someone in a non-commercial setting.

PID

You might see the term PID being thrown about while you are browsing espresso machines.

A PID simply allows you to adjust the brewing temperature of your machine. Any machine that has brewing temperature settings has a PID.

I don’t think that a machine with a PID is necessary for a beginner.

Although different brewing temperatures can affect your espresso’s flavor and body, this is getting into really advanced espresso-tweaking territory.

Experimenting with grind size, and coffee and water dosing is more than enough for a beginner to learn how to dial in their espresso.

The table below shows the heating systems that each of the machines featured in this article has.

Machine nameType of heating system
Breville BambinoThermocoil* with PID
Gaggia Classic ProBoiler
Delonghi ECP3420Thermoblock
Breville Barista ProThermocoil* with PID

*Breville machines use what they call a “thermojet” system. This is an advanced version of a thermocoil system that heats up faster than most thermocoils. Thermojet systems allow you to brew a coffee within 3 seconds of turning a machine on which means that you can pull shots 15 seconds apart from each other.

Descaling System

Nearly all espresso machines need to be descaled at some point.

This is usually required every 1-3 months. The regularity at which you need to descale your espresso machine depends on three factors:

  • How often do you use the machine (more use means more frequent descaling is required)
  • How hard the water is in your area (harder water calls for more descaling)
  • Whether your machine uses a water filter (a water filter can drastically reduce the frequency which you need to descale).


Espresso machines can help you with descaling in up to two ways:

  • They can warn you when you need to descale your machine
  • They can have a dedicated “descale mode” which guides you through the descaling process.

I believe that any beginner-friendly espresso machine should have a descale warning system.

It’s easy for anyone (especially a beginner) to forget to descale their machine, and using a machine that needs descaling can cause permanent damage to its pump.

Only automatic machines require a descaling mode

All the descale mode does is force the machine to drain the contents of its water tank when you tell it to brew. 

You can do this on semi-automatic machines (like the Gaggia Classic Pro and the Delonghi ECP3420) by pressing the brew button and not pressing that button again until the machine’s water tank is empty.

The table below shows which of the featured machines have a descale warning system and a dedicated descale mode:

Machine nameDescale warning systemDedicated descale mode
Breville BambinoYesYes
Gaggia Classic ProNoNo
Delonghi ECP3420NoNo
Breville Barista ProYesYes

Cost

Espresso machines with portafilters range from around $50 to $2,500.

You find the best value from around $150 to $800.

I would not recommend spending any more or any less than these amounts as a beginner. 

The only time that I’d justify spending more/less than this is if you have prior experience with a machine in this price range and specifically want it on the back of that experience.

Pump (Less Important Than You Think)

Almost any domestic espresso machine that you come across will claim to have: 

a 15 bar pump capable of delivering 9 bars of pressure”.

In reality, this does not mean that much. 

Fifteen bar pumps are standard on espresso machines, and it is unlikely that you will be brewing with nine bars of pressure on a domestic machine (usually this will be closer to 6-7 bars).

If a retailer specifically tries to sell a machine on its “15 bar pump” then this should be the cause of skepticism.

A more important aspect of an espresso machine’s pump is its durability.

There are a lot of espresso machines whose pumps are prone to losing pressure over time. 

It’s nearly impossible to tell whether this will happen based on the specifications of the pump alone. Instead, you should look through reviews of the machine online and pay attention to whether there are repeated complaints of the machine losing pressure over time.

Fortunately for you, I have vetted all the featured machines in this way so you shouldn’t have to worry about them losing brewing pressure as they get older.

What Makes a Super Automatic Machine Good For Beginners?

TL;DR: A beginner should buy a super-automatic espresso machine that has a button-operated digital display screen control panel and which costs between $600 and $800.

Super-automatic machines are far easier to use than machines with portafilters, meaning that they are by their very nature beginner friendly.

That being said, there are two factors that beginners should pay close attention to when choosing which super-automatic machine they should buy. These are:

  • Cost of the machine
  • How the machine’s control panel works

Cost of Machine

Super-automatic machines can vary a lot more in price than machines with portafilters.

Super-automatics can range in price from $300 to well in excess of $5,000.

As I spoke about in my roundup of the best super-automatic espresso machines, the “value sweet spot” for super-automatics is between $600 to $1,800.

If you are still on the fence about whether you want to be drinking espresso day in and day out, I would not recommend spending more than $800 on a machine.

You can get a decent super-automatic machine for under $800, and this should be enough to help you decide whether splashing out on a more expensive machine could be something that you’d want to do in the future.

How the Machine’s Control Panel Works

Super-automatics almost always have one of three types of control panels. They are:

  • Button operated only
  • Button operated with a display screen
  • Touchscreen operated

I would recommend that a beginner buys a machine that has a button-operated control panel with a display screen.

Button-only control panels never signpost what their buttons actually mean so are often more difficult to use than a machine with a portafilter (thus defeating the point of buying a super-automatic espresso machine – convenience).

A touchscreen alone seems to inflate a machine’s price tag by about $1,000 (seriously), so there are very few machines with a touchscreen that still represents good value for money.

A button-operated control panel with a display screen gives you the best combination of ease of use and value for money, making it the best choice for a beginner.

Final Verdict

The best espresso machine for a beginner is the Breville Bambino.

Best Overall Espresso Machine for Beginners

This is the best espresso machine for beginners as it allows you to make very good espresso without any real knowledge of the technicalities of espresso making.