Are expensive coffee machines worth it?

Spending $1500 on a proper hand-made-in-Italy coffee machine is an investment that you should make. Right now.

"The basic crux is this: coffee goes stale minutes after you grind it," says Charlie Monteleone from Jetblack Espresso. The coffee in pods was ground weeks, possibly months ago, he said.

"It retains some of its flavour, but nowhere near the authentic espresso experience where you're getting all those flavours and aromas."

Buying a proper machine will save you money on rubbish coffee you hate. And a proper Italian machine will last a life-time – unlike the modern computerised machines hawked at appliance stores.

Morning glory

The first major purchase I made after getting my first full-time job was a big, bad Rancilio Silvia.

It is a huge, quaking, steaming, groaning hunk of copper and steel. It dominates my kitchen. My microwave is in awe of it.

It feels like a piece of industrial machinery from a bygone age. It came covered in coffee grounds from a cup of coffee its Italian makers had made in it – to test it, before they sent it to me.

It is my favourite possession. Every morning it produces a flat white better than most cafes (although not as good as what you might get at a top bean-bar).

It was expensive – about $1500 with a grinder - but it was also an investment.


Let's do some maths

Every day of the year you will buy a cup of coffee. Two if it's a bad day. The average cup of joe in Melbourne costs $3.63, per Gilkatho's cappuccino price index.

A large coffee is an extra dollar, anecdotally, but lets assume you can sate your caffeine addiction with only a regular cup.

At a cup a day (including weekends), you're spending $1324.95 a year.

A 250g bag of coffee beans from distinguished Melbourne roaster Proud Mary will set you back $15. I find these last me a little over two weeks – so around $1 a coffee. Even with milk and electricity costs added, you're still several hundred dollars ahead a year.

Don't leave money sitting on the table. Invest now, and reap the profits over many years.

So, what to buy?

Espresso machines extract coffee under high pressure and at the exact right temperature to extract the maximum amount of coffee oil from ground beans. It's that oil that gives coffee its distinctive flavours and aromas.

Mr Monteleone encourages new customers towards two Italian-made machines – Silvias (like mine) and Lelits (specifically the PL41LEM).

The entry models start at around $830. Another $370 will get you an entry-level grinder. That's pretty much all you need to start pulling excellent shots.

But like the best hobbies, coffee machine upgrades can absorb an almost unlimited amount of money.

The Silvia struggles to keep its temperature at the perfect level to pull perfect shots, for example (though you can, as I do, try to temperature surf your way around this). More expensive machines use better thermostats and materials to hold water temperature just right.

Upgrading to a Rocket ($3,799), for example, gives a user access to pre-infusion technology, in which the machine slightly wets the coffee grounds before hitting them with pressurised water – another trick to enhance extraction.  

Lifetime investment

I've often looked lustily on my friend's Breville – the new machines come packed with features, including pre-infusion, digital temperature control and a pressure gauge, all which make my Silvia look old by comparison (and they come at a very good price-point). Even though the machines are Choice-recommended, Mr Monteleone is not impressed.

"Sure, you will get a feature-rich machine. When you compare it to the Italian machines it will definitely outstrip it in terms of features. But they don't really intend you to have these things 10 years later."

At Jetblack, Mr Monteleone runs a trade-in system. When customers want to upgrade, he'll happily buy back their old machine. Especially a Silvia or a Lelit.

"Two years down the track, 10 years down the track, they'll still work. We'll trade in a Silvia any time, because they last."

Check out the gallery above for five of the best home coffee machines that will transform your life.