A little budget-conscious? Who isn’t? If you’d like to get your paws on a home espresso machine for under $200, Capresso’s Cafe Espresso Machine has a nice feature/value balance that could be an excellent contender. Here’s our assessment of this lil’ number.
Convertible steam wand
The wand has an easily removable panarello sleeve that incorporates just a small amount of air into the milk, creating a fluffy froth. However, if you want a little more control over it, you can remove the sleeve to reveal a traditional single hole tip steam wand below — yes, it’s black plastic, and yes, it’s running off a thermoblock so the steam is on the wetter side, but we were able to produce a silky, wet paint-like microfoam suitable for latte art (theoretically).
If you’ve got a smaller kitchen where countertop space is at a premium, this little guy has both a tiny footprint and a lot of overhead clearance for cupboards, etc.
The water reservoir is side accessed and easily removable for filling, cleaning, etc. We liked the drip tray’s drawer-esque design and the active metal heating plate on top of the machine got pretty toasty, quickly warming cups.
The only way this portafilter could be any more insubstantial is if it was made from paper. Really, does it have to be this lightweight for the price? We’re not sure, but we don’t think the aluminum, rough-hewn design does the machine any favors. One nice thing, however, is the fact that you can easily convert it between pressurized and non-pressurized via a little metal insert.
While this is good in that it heats up quickly and you don’t have to necessarily temperature surf between steaming and brewing, this kind of functionality really does tend to favor the steam side of things and not the brew side. We got great steaming results (even though it took a little longer than we’d like it to), but our shots were either too hot/burnt or too cool/sour. We’ll need to play around with it more to dial it in just right, and we were able to produce a couple of shots that were serviceable — especially if they were going to be mixed with milk.
You manage steam and brew by selecting which function you’d like on the toggle switch, then when the indicator light is green, you flip a dial one way or the other to initiate the shot or open the steam valve. For shot brewing and steaming with the panarello wand, this dial was fine, but we found we needed one more hand to switch off the steam when we were using the traditional wand and trying to keep the milk rolling until we were finished.
Overall, this machine is well balanced for what you pay and what you get. It’s not going to win any fetching design awards or power up next to the Silvia and perform neck-and-neck, but it does give you some great flexibility and is easy to use. We love it that you can easily convert the portafilter to non-pressurized and there really are very few machines in this price range (if any?) that give you traditional steam wand functionality in addition to a panarello — usually, it’s either/or and generally it’s only the latter. So that is a huge plus for this machine and one of the biggest reasons to consider it.