Espresso is wonderfully complex coffee, one which needs just as complex a machine. So what’s the best espresso machine under $1000?
Before I get to the question of the hour, I want to quickly go over why you’d even need to spend $1000 in the first place, and more importantly, where your money goes.
What does an espresso machine do?
It heats water and pushes is through your espresso grounds.
That’s it. So why on earth do you need to spend $1000?
The problem is espresso is a little finicky. It needs water heated to exactly the right temperature (200F). Even a couple of degrees above or below can have a drastic effect on the taste. It also needs to be pushed through the tamped espresso ‘puck’ at exactly the right pressure (9 bars).
The real challenge faced by all espresso machines isn’t in reaching the right temperature and pressure (although this is difficult). It’s in maintaining it. It’s an uphill battle.
For one, pressure causes a change in temperature. One affects the other! And secondly, during the brewing cycle, external factors cause the temperature and pressure to change constantly.
Cheap machines simply aren’t designed to cope with these, but with a budget of $1000 you can compensate for these changes quite well.
So, what’s the best espresso machine under $1000?
Our first choice is…
In a line: Simple, strong and elegant.
The Rancilio Silvia is a ‘meat and potatoes’ espresso machine. There’s no fancy trimmings, no bells and whistles. It just does its job – making espressos, cappuccinos and lattes. Well.
It’s a compact, heavy, sturdy machine with the build of a tank. It has high quality parts to ensure it does its job – temperature and pressure control – well.
To minimize temperature fluctuations, it has a heavy brass boiler and a heavy chrome-finished brass portafilter. To minimize pressure fluctuations, it uses a three-way solenoid valve to prevent your espresso puck from becoming ‘soup’.
This is where your money goes with this machine – the highest quality essential parts for a home-commercial espresso machine. It doesn’t have bells and whistles like a pressure gauge or a PID heat contoller. (What’s a PID controller? It’s a heating system which will maintain the ideal temperature better.)
An espresso machine with the same build quality and parts as the Rancio Silvia, but with a PID controller and other gadgets, will cost you significantly more. More importantly – it’s not even needed for this machine.
The temperature varies during the Rancilio Silvia’s cycle, but you can easily ‘temperature surf’ to ensure it’s always at the right temperature for your espresso:
It’s also been around forever (over 20 years) without much change (this is only the 3rd version in that time). This means parts are easy to obtain, and it shows absolutely no signs of becoming discontinued.
If you’re eagle eyed, you might notice that the Rancilio Silvia is under $1000. Significantly under $1000.
I’ve chosen it as the best espresso machine under $1000 because its essential that you use the rest of your budget to invest in a grinder of its class. (If you haven’t already).
So the real question you should be asking yourself is:
‘How can I get the best home espressos for under $1000?’
With espresso machines, you can only ever get out what you put in. You can have the best espresso maker under $1000, but if you use poorly ground beans, you’ll only ever get watery espresso soup.
The Difference a Good Grinder can Make
If the grind is too fine, the puck will clump together and water will not pass through most of the grounds. Your espresso will under-extract and be weak, as well as have fine coffee grounds swimming in it.
If it’s too coarse, the grains will retain their flavor. Water will find channels in the gaps between the large grains, again giving a weak espresso.
The most important thing a grinder will do is grind consistently. This is where the extra money goes when you invest in a good grinder.
Cheaper grinders will give you an uneven mix of ‘dust’ and ‘boulders’, causing the problems above.
So what’s the best grinder for the Rancilio Silvia?
Briefly, the Rancilio Rocky Road grinds to a size and consistency which will allow the Silvia to do its job.
Like the Silvia, it’s compact, stylish, simple to operate, and built like a tank. It’s also been around for over 20 years, meaning parts are easy to find now and well into the future.
If you want more choices, you can read more on the best coffee grinders for espresso here.
The best espresso machine combo under $1000 is the:
- Rancilio Silvia espresso machine
- Rancilio Rocky Road grinder
- Dedicated base (optional, but stylish).
But what if I already have a good grinder?
If you already have one of the best grinders and are just looking for the best espresso machine under $1000, the answer is:
The most significant difference between this and the Rancilio Silvia is the Breville’s dual boiler – the main benefit of this is a more constant temperature. Combined with it’s PID heater, it’s accurate to within 1 degree.
But, it doesn’t have brass tanks – they’re stainless steel. This isn’t a problem for the the Breville though, since its dual boilers and PID heater make up for it in spades.
Having a boiler dedicated to the milk steamer and one for espresso means that switching between the two is instant (you can even do both simultaneously), with both a fast heat up time and a fast recovery time.
Where the Silvio was a ‘meat and potatoes’ espresso maker, the Breville comes with all the trimmings – you can program the shot temperature and volume, pre-infusion duration and volume (this gradually raises the pressure in the head for a more even extraction) , and start time.
It also has some nice user-friendly features – like letting you know when to empty the drip tray, the ability to fill the tank from the front, and a drop down wheel to help you shift it on your kitchen counter.
This is a sturdy, heavy and large home-commercial espresso machine which, most importantly, produces fantastic home espresso.
It’s the best espresso machine under $1000, although occasionally the price fluctuates to just over this. The small amount shouldn’t deter you if you’re serious about the making best home espresso with a budget of around $1000.
- The Breville BES900XL can be found on Amazon here.