How To Make A Good Espresso With A Cheap Machine? (Explained)

Craving a top-notch espresso on a budget? Don’t worry! You can brew an excellent cup with a low-cost machine.

You might wonder, ‘How is that even possible?’ The key lies in understanding your coffee beans, grind size, and the brewing process.

In this guide, we’ll explore how to extract the most flavor from your beans using an inexpensive espresso machine.

How To Make A Good Espresso With A Cheap Espresso Machine?

To create a high-quality double espresso, you’ll typically need 18g of ground coffee and an extraction time of roughly 30 seconds. This method should yield an espresso of approximately 40 ml. To achieve this with a cheap espresso machine you want to use:

  1. Fresh coffee beans
  2. A burr grinder
  3. A Pressurized coffee filter basket (sometimes)
  4. A scale and timer to dial your machine in

Let’s dive into some more detail on how to do this below!

How To Make A Good Espresso With A Cheap Machine?

Use Fresh Coffee Beans

A few months back, my dad got a new espresso machine, a brand new Breville Barista Touch.

In the beginning, after dialing it in, it functioned brilliantly.

However, a few weeks later, my dad messaged me saying it wasn’t working properly. Every espresso was pulling too quickly.

I went over to his house to check out the problem. The first thing I asked was about the coffee beans he was using. He replied that he’d just opened a new coffee bag. So, it seemed like the beans weren’t the issue.

We tried several solutions. We tweaked the grind settings – no change.

We thought the grinder might be dirty, so we cleaned it – still no improvement.

We tamped the coffee a bit harder – no difference.

We altered the brewing temperature – still, no luck.

This was strange… especially since the coffee bag was newly opened.

But then my dad mentioned he just opened the bag but had bought the coffee about six months ago!

Suddenly, everything clicked! It’s practically impossible to get a good shot of espresso with beans that are six months old, even if they’ve been sitting in a closed bag all that time.

That being said, it’s crucial to use fresh coffee beans. Because, no matter what you do, if the beans are old, you won’t get a good result.

Coffee beans usually stay fresh for about three weeks. After three weeks you may still use the beans but the taste is not the same.

After about 2 to 3 months they’re pretty much useless, your espresso will pull way too fast because all the carbon dioxide has left the bean.

Always store your coffee in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight, heat, and moisture. Once the beans are ground try to use the coffee within at least two weeks.

freshly roasted coffee beans

Choose The Right Grinder

After you’ve got yourself some fresh coffee beans, they need to be ground in order for you to make an espresso.

When it comes to espresso, the quality of your grind is also extremely important (Especially if you’re using a non-pressurized filter basket).

Don’t fall into the trap of buying a cheaper blade grinder for making an espresso. It won’t do a good job because it makes the coffee particles all different sizes.

This is a problem for espresso because you need the coffee grounds to be even, so they can properly resist water pressure. If the coffee grounds are uneven, water will push through too easily, resulting in an under-extracted espresso.

On the other hand, burr grinders are better because they grind coffee to the same size. This is really important for making good espresso because it allows the water to extract flavors evenly.

Espresso also requires a fine grind, but the exact size can depend on your particular machine and the beans you’re using. However, cheaper espresso machines can’t always handle a very fine grind.

Look for a grinder that offers a wide range of grind size settings so you can fine-tune it to your needs.

Those are the two most important things to consider when buying a grinder, Here are some other considerations for choosing a grinder:

  1. Doser vs Doserless: Some grinders have a doser, which collects the ground coffee in a chamber and dispenses it in pre-measured amounts. Others are doser-less and grind directly into your portafilter. Doser grinders can be more convenient if you’re making multiple shots in a row, but doser-less grinders can be fresher since you’re grinding just before you brew.
  2. Conical vs Flat Burr: Conical burr grinders are usually cheaper and quieter but less consistent, while flat burr grinders are more consistent but can be more expensive and louder.
  3. Manual vs Electric: Manual grinders can be cheaper, more portable, and give you more control, but they require more effort and can be less consistent. Electric grinders are easier to use and typically offer more consistent results, but can be more expensive and less portable.
  4. Price: Good grinders can be quite expensive, but they’re an essential investment for making great espresso. If budget is a concern, manual burr grinders are usually the most affordable option.
  5. Brand: There are many great brands to choose from, but some of the most respected in the espresso world include Baratza, Rancilio, Mazzer, and Eureka.

Remember, even the best coffee beans won’t make a good espresso if they’re not ground properly, so investing in a good grinder is just as important as choosing a good espresso machine.

ground coffee coming out of the grinder

Use A Pressurized Filter Basket

Some people might disagree, but I think that using a pressurized basket is a better choice for cheap espresso machines.

In my experience, cheaper espresso machines often struggle with non-pressurized baskets, especially when using finely ground coffee beans. The machine will just choke on it and not produce enough pressure to get the water through.

On the other hand, with my old DeLonghi Dedica (A fairly cheap espresso machine). I just couldn’t get the non-pressurized basket dialed in properly with a coarser grind, it would almost always pull way too fast.

These cheaper machines also usually have smaller baskets, holding around 13-14 grams of coffee, which could be part of the problem.

That’s why I recommend a pressurized basket. You can use a coarser grind setting, without changing the flow rate too much.

It’s true though, with a really good espresso machine you want the resistance of the coffee puck to build the pressure instead of the basket itself. This will result in a fuller-tasting espresso.

I hate to say it but with a pressurized coffee filter, in theory, your espresso machine becomes more like a fancy drip coffee maker instead of a real espresso machine.

In the end, a pressurized filter is just a lot more forgiving than a non-pressurized basket, the grind size and the tamp don’t matter as much.

A Pressurized Basket
The old pressurized basket I got with my DeLonghi Dedica

Dialing In Your Espresso Machine

Now that you have fresh ground coffee in your pressurized basket, let’s discuss when and how to adjust the grind size based on the results you get.

A scale and timer will be your essential tools in this process. Traditional espresso calls for a ratio of ground coffee to espresso yield between 1:2 and 1:2.5.

As an example, suppose you’re making a double espresso using 18 grams of coffee. Your target yield should be 36-45 grams of espresso in your cup in 30 seconds.

To achieve this, place your scale beneath the espresso machine and put your cup on top, ensuring the scale resets to zero.

Put 18 grams of ground coffee in the filter basket. Pull a shot and time it for 30 seconds, beginning when the first drop hits the cup.

If the espresso yield is more than 45 grams, you’ll need to adjust your grinder to a finer setting. Conversely, if it’s less than 36 grams, a coarser setting will be required.

Bear in mind, other variables also impact the espresso extraction time, including temperature, dosage, and the tamping force. However, as a beginner, I recommend focusing solely on mastering the grind size first. This focus will allow you to quickly brew a good espresso.

Conclusion

To sum up, brewing a quality espresso with a low-budget machine doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

Start with fresh coffee beans and store them properly to retain their flavors. Invest in a decent burr grinder to ensure a consistent and suitable grind size. Utilize a pressurized filter basket which is often more forgiving, especially with cheaper espresso machines.

Lastly, remember the art of dialing in your espresso machine. Pay close attention to the ratio of coffee to water, and extraction time, and be prepared to adjust as necessary.

It’s the combination of these elements that will enable you to savor a delicious espresso, without breaking the bank.

Thanks for reading!