I was always skeptical of expensive espresso machines and wondered why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars for an expensive machine. It turns out that the more expensive and quality machines are "pump-driven" rather than the typical "steam driven" found at your local Wally World and such. A pump driven machine will hit pressures 4-5 times greater than that of a steam driven machine and gets much better extraction from the espresso grinds (better flavor) and are the only machines capable of generating the "chrema" foam at the top of the espresso.
The DelLonghi EC155 is an excellent budget machine found for under $100 that is pump driven. I was happy with my old steam driven Delonghi, but once I received this I realized that I didn't even know what I was missing. This espresso is as good or better than anything you'll get in a nice Italian restaurant or at your local Charbucks. The chrema that this thing produced is flat out great (you'll get a nice 1/4 layer of tasty emulsified foam). The convenience of pulling a single shot is great too, and you really only need the machine to warm up a few minutes before you pull a shot.
The best feature about this machine in my humble opinion is that it is E.S.E certified (easy serve espresso). This means that you can pick up the ESE certified pods from Charbucks or a good online pod retailer and not have to go to the trouble of grinding and tamping. This is a HUGE feature that even some more expensive machines do not have and is what eventually sold me on this unit. Having grown accustomed to the convenience of pod coffee, it was only natural to look for the same thing in my espresso machine. Do note that coffee (senseo style) pods will not work in here as those are much larger than the ESE certified pod. Try a nice blend from Baronet or another find espresso brand and you won't be sorry.
I highly recommend this machine. In short, it has fantastic features for the money, makes awesome espresso chrema, and it ESE certified for pod use. You will definitely not do any better than this machine for under $100.
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