Kitchn Love Letters

This Affordable, Easy-to-Use Espresso Machine Has Taken My Morning Routine to the Next Level

updated Oct 26, 2022
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Espresso shot with beautiful crema.
Credit: Getty Images/Guido Mieth

Ever since my mom gave me my first one when I was, like, 12 years old, I’ve always been a fan of espresso. (Looking back, it seems like way too young of an age to start slammin’ concentrated coffee, but my mom is from Bogota, Colombia, and according to her, she started drinking coffee when she was eight, so I guess I was a little behind.) From my first sip of the bracing, bitter sludge, I was hooked — and the pleasant caffeine buzz didn’t hurt, either. However, I never thought that bringing espresso into my home was a possibility. 

As I got older, I’d watch the baristas in Manhattan pull gorgeous shots of espresso and steam milk with the speed, precision, and steady hand that only comes from doing it hundreds of times. It was sorcery — that is, until I started tending bar in Brooklyn, and had to learn how to make espresso for early morning regulars and customers who’d come in and crush five espresso martinis in one sitting. Turns out, while it certainly takes some time to master espresso making, it’s actually pretty easy to get started, especially if you’re working with the right equipment. My pick for the best affordable, entry-level machine in the game? The DeLonghi 15 Bar Espresso & Cappuccino Machine

This little guy rocks. It’s about the same size as an air fryer, so it doesn’t take up too much real estate on my countertop, and it features a professional-grade 15-bar pressure capacity, adjustable controls, and is compatible with both ground coffee or espresso pods. You can also make two shots at once with the dual spouts, steam milk with the built-in wand, and quickly clean up any spillage with the removable drip tray. And, before you get all up in arms, even the most novice home barista can handle the setup, maintenance, and operation of this thing. If you can make a pot of drip coffee — which, yes, you can — you can make a real-deal espresso. The DeLonghi is essentially ready to rock right out of the box, and once you plug it in, all you have to do is fill the built-in water reservoir and run a hot water cycle through the machine to clean it. 

When you’re ready to make your coffee, here’s how it works. Turn the dial to “on,” and a red light will appear. While the machine heats up — it only takes a minute or so — fill your portafilter (the fancy name for the removable piece that looks like an ice cream scooper) with finely ground coffee, press it down with the included tamper, and lock the portafilter into place. Once the green light comes on, turn the dial all the way to the right, and watch as your beautiful espresso begins to fill your cup. Once you’re satisfied with your pour, turn the dial to “off.” That’s it! Easy peasy. And, if you want to steam milk for a macchiato or cappuccino, do the same process, just turn your dial to the “steam” setting on the left and use the switch on the right side of the machine to control the flow of steam. (There are plenty of tutorials on how to achieve perfectly steamed milk on YouTube.) Now, don’t expect to be a latte artist or a cappuccino master on your first try — while this is definitely an attainable level of java mastery for the at-home barista, it takes time. However, do expect to rip out a totally serviceable drink, despite your foam heart being more of a foam … blob. 

Credit: Ian Burke

However, the real key to good coffee here is to get beans that are either pre-ground for espresso (any local coffee shop worth its salt will do this for you) or grind them at home yourself. If you’re grinding them at home, you’ll want to grind them pretty finely, and if possible, use a conical burr grinder rather than my run-of-the-mill spice grinder you see prominently displayed in the picture above — though those work in a pinch, too. Also, remember to blow some steam and wipe down your milk wand after using it to prevent nasty buildup or mold. (I find having a kitchen rag nearby is a great move.) 

Oh, and I’m not going to give you the ol’ spiel about how “if you just start making your coffee at home, you’ll save enough money to claw your way out of the slippery clutches of debt, put a down payment on a two-story home, and finally make all those friends you’ve been telling your parents that you have,” but at the end of the day, you will probably save some cash in the long run, and every little bit counts. Plus, there’s just something uniquely awesome about being able to crank out delicious, cafe-quality espresso at home, and the DeLonghi 15 Bar Espresso & Cappuccino Machine is the easiest, most affordable way to make that happen — trust me.