To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Espresso Machine vs Coffee Maker: Which is Right for You?

Discover the key differences between espresso machines and coffee makers to help you select the right appliance for your needs

Espresso machine or a coffee maker – which is best? Ultimately, the answer is the one that will deliver you a hot, delicious cup of coffee to kickstart the day. However, since coffee is often consumed multiple times a day, it’s no surprise that people can become quite particular about how they like it. And it’s here that the myriad different types of coffee beans, roasts, grinds, and brewing techniques come into play.

Coffee brewing can broadly be split into two camps: filter coffee and espresso-based coffees. Filter coffee is what most people refer to as “regular coffee”, and is commonly made in an automatic drip coffee maker. Espresso, on the other hand, is a concentrated coffee brewed under specific circumstances, often requiring a more specific type of machine to make it.

To figure out which of the two best suits your needs, our guide below delves into the differences between coffee and espresso, as well as espresso machines and coffee makers. We’ve also spoken to Kaleena Teoh, co-founder and Director of Education at coffee training campus Coffee Project NY, for her expert thoughts.

What’s the difference between coffee and espresso?

To discover the main practical differences between coffee makers and espresso machines, we first need to understand the differences between the drinks – espresso and coffee – that they produce.

Brewing method

Explaining how regular coffee is made, Kaleena says: “Drip coffee uses gravity to pull water through coffee grounds, with the brewed coffee collected at the bottom.” Brewing coffee in this way results in large volumes of liquid, with the largest automatic drip machines can produce up to 14 cups of coffee in a single cycle.

On the other hand, “espresso uses a pressurized infusion method, in which the boiler creates pressure; it pushes water through very finely ground coffee, yielding a small intense cup”. A rich, concentrated liquid, servings of espresso are about one to two ounces in size and are either drunk in a shot or diluted with milk or water.

Brew time

Making coffee by immersing grounds in water and allowing the filtered liquid to drip down via gravity isn’t the quickest process. Standard coffee has a brew time of about 6-12 minutes, varying slightly based on factors such as volume, desired strength, and the brewing device used.

Espresso is a concentrate made under high pressure, and therefore has a quick brew time. Once your espresso machine has warmed up, it can produce a double shot in about 20-30 seconds.

Roast and grind

Coffee can be made with either light-, medium- or dark-roasted beans, depending on the strength of coffee you prefer. For standard coffee, a semi-coarse grind is preferable, with the larger grounds promoting a slower, more gentle extraction of flavors and oils. This helps to eschew over-extraction and the development of a harsh, unpleasant taste over the course of the longer brew time.

For espresso, medium to dark-roasted beans are perfect for creating sharp, full-bodied flavors. In addition, the increased surface area of a fine grind will help maximize flavor extraction during the quick, pressurized brewing process.

Taste

Regular coffee has a rich, bold flavor, but is generally considered light, bright, and only subtly acidic when compared to espresso.

Well-prepared espresso should present a complex, balanced flavor, with a richness that’s complemented by bitter, sweet, and acidic notes and a thick, silky texture.

Brewing device

The simplest and most effective way to brew a large, tasty batch of coffee is to use an automatic drip coffee maker. While this article will mainly focus on drip coffee makers, regular coffee can also be made using single-serve coffee makers such as the Nespresso Vertuo Next, as well as French presses, pour-over setups, percolators and more.

If you want full-flavored, authentic espresso, then your only true option is an espresso machine – be that a manual espresso machine or a bean-to-cup option. However, it is possible to make an espresso using a single-serve coffee maker with espresso pods, such as the L’Or Barista and high-end Nespresso Creatista Plus, or with creatively designed manual options such as the AeroPress.

Espresso machines vs coffee makers

Now that you know the key differences between espresso and regular coffee, you might already have an idea of which machine type will best suit your needs. However, there are still a few key differentiating factors to observe, which may clarify your decision-making further.

Price

If price is a chief consideration when buying a coffee maker, then a drip coffee maker is probably the cost-effective solution. They can be picked up for as little as $10, with automatic models starting around $25. Of course, if you simply prefer the taste of drip coffee but want a higher-quality machine, then multifunctional options are available with prices ranging from $200 to $700.

The cheapest espresso machines come in around $30 or $40; but the lowest-priced option we’re happy to recommend is the De’Longhi Dedica, which usually retails for around $200. Speaking more generally, entry-level at-home espresso machines cost around $150-300, while machines fit to satisfy aficionados sit in the $400-1,000 price range. If you’re looking for a truly top-of-the-line manual model or a worthwhile bean-to-cup machine then you could spend anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 on an espresso machine. Kaleena says: “With an expensive espresso maker, you’re paying for better durability, materials, a dual boiler and the ability to pull shots and froth milk at the same time. If budget permits, a more expensive espresso maker will likely give you more control over the espresso profile.”

Adjustability and complexity

Coffee makers are generally very easy to use. Usually, you simply load in your coffee and water, press a button, then leave them to it. While simplicity and ease of use are welcome attributes of automatic drip coffee makers, they limit customization, meaning they’re unlikely to suit those who like to tweak and experiment with their daily brew. If you want to get hands on with your drip coffee, a manual coffee maker is the best choice, offering control over water temperature, pour-over pattern, and brew time more directly.

A high-quality espresso machine will satisfy even the most demanding of coffee tinkerers, allowing control over everything from the grind size, to the flow rate and even the internal water temperature and pressure. Of course, you don’t need to use all these settings to enjoy a tasty espresso, and while such a model on its simplest settings is still a little more involved than using a drip coffee maker, with a little practice, anyone can get the basics down perfectly.

Build quality and appearance

How much you pay for your coffee maker will determine the materials from which it’s made. Those at the cheaper end usually sport polypropylene exteriors and metal components, while pricier drip coffee makers may have stainless-steel exteriors. Reported lifespans for drip coffee makers range from one to two years for cheaper models, to five years plus for more expensive options. Aesthetically, while I find the plasticky exteriors of coffee makers to be less appealing than espresso machines, there is something to be said for the warm, inviting look of a freshly brewed pot of coffee keeping warm on the countertop.

Espresso machines tend to have highly finished stainless exteriors and interior boilers made from copper or brass. The estimated lifespan for home models ranges from five to ten years, with more expensive models lasting over ten years. Build quality aside, I find espresso machines more aesthetically pleasing than coffee makers, with their shiny, angular bodies adding a touch of class to any countertop.

Read more

In-Depth