Espresso Machines Work With Water Pressure. Is Every Espresso Machine Equal?
For those who have an interest and appreciation for good coffee, whether that’s learning more about speciality coffee or just enjoying a weekend visit to coffee shop and wanting to step away from instant coffee at home then this starter guide of espresso machines is for you.
Here we're going to recommend for the newcomers to the wonderful world of coffee the best way to get into espresso-based coffee drinks at home. When most people think of ‘nice’ coffee they often picture flat whites, lattes, cappuccinos and other espresso or milk based drinks. It can be daunting at first because we’ve probably all seen baristas producing intricate latte art and it can feel quite unattainable to those new to the hobby wanting to replicate these results at home.
Besides, suchlike isn't always unattainable because of the artistic skillset required to make such drinks - it’s a cost thing too. Espresso machines, especially those found in coffee shops can cost thousands, even tens of thousands of pounds and that’s simply not practical for the everyday person looking to make a nice latte at home. This is where Sage comes in.
Introducing Sage espresso machines
Sage, or Breville as they are known outside the UK, have taken the world by storm in offering easy to use, high quality espresso machines and grinders aimed specifically at those wanting to up their coffee game. Their product range is wide and varied and all come in at different price points depending on the feature set and how much control you'd like to have when making espresso based drinks.
For those looking to get into making espresso-based drinks for the very first time, we recommend the Sage Bambino Plus. Retailing at around £390 - correct at the time of publication -, this espresso machine provides a really competitive price point with a real emphasis on usability and quality results. The fundamentals of any espresso machine is that they're all about water pressure, ensuring that it's pressure is high enough to extract the coffee effectively. For any espresso, you need to grind your coffee very fine and such a level of fineness is so to make it more difficult for the water to seep through, which also, is where cheaper competitor machines often fall down. Why? The water pressure provided by cheaper machines often isn’t powerful enough to fully extract the espresso when coffee grinds are the level of fineness required, and in turn, thus requires you to use a coarser grind which isn't going to give you the best results when making espresso based drinks. From experience we find that the Sage Bambino Plus handles this really well, especially if you pair your machine with one of the Sage coffee grinders as they too can help you really dial in your grind size with ease.
Sage know ease of use is of the utmost importance
The Sage Bambino Plus, as well as the other Sage machines in a similar price point all offer fantastic ease of use. With a few easy to use buttons, the machine takes care of the rest. However, where the Sage Bambino Plus really comes into its own, and why we're recommending it for those newcomers to the hobby, is the microfoam steam wand used for texturising the milk for your Lattes is completely automated. Texturising and foaming milk is one of the most difficult aspects of making espresso based drinks - it can easily make or break a drink - and if the wand was manual (meaning you have to control the foam amount and temperature yourself) then as a beginner you can quickly become frustrated. Such a technique can take a long time to perfect and you may find yourself wasting a lot of milk and coffee in the process. Sage clearly recognise this, and by using the two simple buttons on the front of the Sage Bambino Plus you can easily select your milk temperature and how much foam you like.
Each button does have 3 ‘levels’ represented by lights on the front of the machine, and if you like the texture of a flat white coffee, level 1 (one light) for both buttons works best. Using such settings will give you really usable results straight away as the sensor on the drip tray underneath the steam wand will detect when the milk is ready and the wand will automatically stop once it reaches the right temperature. Choosing a setting higher than level 1 will result in the milk being hotter and foamier, which you might like, but we would recommend that you experiment first. As you grow in confidence, you are also able to use the wand manually, which is a really great feature for those looking to hone their skills over time, but at least you don’t need to feel pressured right away to perfect your milk texturising skills.
Sister machines such as the Sage Duo and the Sage Barista Express are going to offer you great results when making espresso but neither of these have the automated steam wand functionality which, we think, is a crucial part of making a good tasting espresso-based coffee - unless of course you just want to drink espresso straight without milk.
The Sage ecosystem of coffee appliances is really great. With the Sage Bambino Plus you will need to purchase a separate grinder which may perhaps be a barrier to entry, but it’s an investment well worth making. The Sage Smart Grinder and Sage Smart Grinder Pro both pair really well with the Sage Bambino Pro and again, both offer great ease of use for those new to coffee at home. This all said, as we near the end of this article, we do also wish to point out that we do also have other coffee grinder recommendations beyond Sage.
A final comment we'll make is if you are looking at purchasing an espresso machine in the near future then you may already have seen the overwhelming amount of espresso machines on the market and that can make your decision very difficult. With this, we certainly recommend Sage - it’s a safe bet and they’re popular for a reason. And remember, we’re talking about coffee beginners here, those with more knowledge and expertise in espresso making may wish for more manual functionality and may want different results. If this is you, other Sage, or alternative brand altogether, machines may be more suitable for you, but if you are indeed new to this then making coffee brewing simple is the most important thing. For further espresso brewing advice, our Journal & School is a great place to start and we cover various topics such as espresso coffee grind size, espresso coffee channelling, espresso hacks and more.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.