Setting up the criteria for your decision
What do you want to make?
I’m going to focus on just two very simple coffee styles: Lattes and Brewed Coffee. From experience, if we start to break out into all the variances (especially on the brewed coffee side) then we’ll be here all week. So what coffee do you like?
Now, if you just want to copy me, I wrote a post about what my coffee setup is these days. You can see that here: My 2020 Coffee Setup.
What is your budget?
You can start as affordable as $10 for a great coffee maker setup and I’ll top out at around $800 for everything you need. We’ll chat about everything in between.
What goes into coffee?
Let’s first talk about what goes into a good cup of coffee. Water and ground beans. Let’s start there.
Have good water. If your water from the tap tastes bad then your coffee foundation is going to be pour…poor. (I’m a dad, now…I have to pun) Filtering your water is always a great way to improve the taste of your coffee. Bad water in any price of an espresso machine will make bad espresso.
Right now, your local coffee shop needs you. Buy from them. Many are setting up online stores if they don’t already have them and often they are offering pickup as well. Support them. Personally, I’m located in Portland, Oregon, so these have been some favorites:
Sisters COVID-19 Relief Blend
I love Sisters Coffee and right now this blend gives a helping hand to those who need it most in Oregon. Let your coffee do good beyond your morning smile.
Holderness Coffee Yirgacheffe
I frequented this coffee shop in Corvallis when I was a teenager a lot. I know the roaster and enjoy them a lot and it's been fun to re-visit their coffees having them delivered.
Trade Coffee (All over the US)
If you're interested in trying coffee from all over the states you can try out Trade. My wife has us enjoying coffee from local shops all over the US and it helps support those local shops who need it most. Allison, my wife, gave me a link to share with you...the first coffee is free if you try it out.
No matter what you’re making you need to increase the surface area for the water to be able to pull all those flavors, antioxidants, and of course C8H10N4O2 (otherwise known as caffeine). To do this you need to grind your coffee. Of course, the most affordable option is to buy local and have them grind the coffee for you but right now most coffee shops are not offering this. Some online shops are offering ground coffee to order but with staying at home your best option is to get a grinder.
Also, your coffee is only as good as the grinder. You can’t put poorly ground coffee in a fantastic machine and expect good results. I also highly recommend separating your grinder and machine (as there are grinders built into some machines). Grinder and machine combos are great for counter-space but it removes your ability to leap-frog your purchases as your budget changes over time. Also, most are tailored to the machine so you can’t use the built-in grinder on an espresso machine to make, say, French Press coffee.
Breville Dose Control Pro
Unless you're getting terribly nitty-gritty (pun 2) I'm going to recommend two grinders. I have both of these grinders and I use them daily. I've personally taken these grinders and gone toe-to-toe with $1,200 grinders on a top-of-the-line espresso machine. While a trained person could tell the difference in espresso, both myself and my buddy testing were extremely impressed with the performance of this $170 grinder (which you can usually find for $150).
Breville Smart Grinder Pro
Even Better Pick (My Pick)
If you want to step up and get some more control and a fancy screen you can get the more expensive version. I've found both of these to be great but the money is worth the convenience of the functionality the screen offers.
What do you want to make?
Even if you love your lattes a good cup of brewed coffee is always a good option. Let’s start here for the simplest way to get your fix at home.
You can't go wrong with the classic and most-simple of coffee makers. I used these for years and still will revert back when I'm feeling nostalgic.
Lower Budget (My Pick)
AreoPress is one of the most versatile of coffee makers. The cleanup is so easy. The coffee is great. It's so fast. You can throw it in your bag when hiking or camping, you can make brewed coffee by adding more water to cut the intensity. You can leave it strong and add ice cubes and they'll help dilute it and make your iced coffee delicious. You can't go wrong with this pick.
Breville Precision Brewer (with Carafe)
I must admit: with having twins this machine has been such a blessing. The carafe keeps the coffee warm all morning. The programable functionality allows me to wake up groggy and have coffee ready. I can make a small cup just for me by putting my travel mug under it or make a full pot holding 12 cups. It adapts to how much water you put in and you can make a fantastic cup of coffee from it. It's on the pricy side but it's been worth every penny for my wife and I with our newborn twin girls.
If you’re wanting to make lattes at home you don’t need to break the bank. There are of course great high-end options but you can start simple and enjoy the ride. Also, why go straight from low to high budget? What gives? If I’m honest…I can’t in good faith recommend some of the lower-end espresso machine’s I’ve tried. We can get into specifics but you’re just not going to get a good shot out of them and you’ll be left disappointed. Of course: I always have said that if you like it enjoy it so please don’t feel shame if you want to try a $50 espresso machine from Target. If you enjoy it, please enjoy it.
AreoPress with Frother
While it's not "officially" a latte I always like to propose the simplest of options of using an AreoPress for the "shot" and keeping it strong and using a whisk-frother for the milk. Worse case if you don't like it you have a great coffee maker and super brilliant hot-chocolates from the frother.
Moka Pot with Frother
Alternative Lowest Budget
You could also go with a Moka Pot for the "espresso". This is also a really fun coffee brewer.
Highest Budget (My Pick)
This machine has been one of my favorite coffee purchases ever. I can't elaborate how much I love it enough. For the price it's one of the best machines I've used. I've taken it next to $7,000 machines and it's held up quite well. With a good grinder this machine will make you a very happy coffee lover.
No matter what coffee setup you have the key is to enjoy your coffee. If it’s as simple as a pour-over in your mug still seasoned with yesterday’s coffee or you’re ready to experiment with making latte art the key is to enjoy it. Don’t let anyone (especially me) shame you into buying expensive gear unless it’s what you’re really wanting.