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Espresso machines are wonderful appliances to have in your kitchen, but good home models are hard to find. The machines are too big, too expensive and can be difficult to maintain. Unless you’re really serious about espresso, most of us are better off leaving it to the professionals unless you have a lot of counterspace to dedicate to a unit. But there are a few small, budget-friendly models out there and the IMUSA Bistro 4 Cup Espresso Maker. This model retails for less than $30, putting it well-within most budgets, and has a very small footprint. I recently had the opportunity to put one though its paces and see how it performed.
The unit is sharp looking and is smaller than a Keurig. It is not a heavy machine, but it feels well made and all the components fit together very neatly. It boasts 5 bar steam pressure and an adjustable steam controller for steaming milk. For a small model, I think the fact that it has a steaming wand is a huge plus, as most small units skip this feature. You don’t need to tamp down the grounds when using the machine, just load up the grounds and snap the filter in to place.
It takes just under 4 minutes to brew 4 “cups” (really, two servings) and the coffee comes out to be a very nice, dark consistency. It’s not as velvety as true espresso, but it is clearly espresso-style coffee and delivers quite a bit of flavor. It is easy to use, easy to clean and enjoyed the coffee it produced.
I was also surprised by the steam wand, which outperformed my expectations. The steam wand is used partway through the brewing cycle (ie.: coffee starts to brew, coffee is paused while you steam the milk, then resume brewing coffee), when the max amount of pressure is build up. On my first try, I set the wand to “high” and ended up overflowing my pitcher with huge milk bubbles. On subsequent attempts, I played around with the controls as the milk steamed, adjusting the pressure as the milk heated up. There was a huge difference in performance and my milk steamed well, with some very respectable foam for my drink.
The only downside to this machine is that it is really only suitable for making a few servings at a time. The machine gets fairly hot after brewing and needs a bit of cool down time between batches. I made three full carafes in quick succession and, by the third round, some parts of the unit were quite hot. I would recommend this more for personal use than, say, serving after dinner drinks to a big crowd. If you’re entertaining, just brew up a regular pot of coffee and put that out. I think this machine is ideal for 2 and can work for 4.
Overall, this is a great little machine for the price and would be a great addition to your kitchen if you’re a coffee-lover that doesn’t have room for a full size espresso maker. It turns out good quality coffee, steams milk well and is easy to use.
If you want to give it a try yourself, I just so happen to have an IMUSA Bistro Espresso Maker to give away to one lucky reader! To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite espresso drink is. A doppio? A pumpkin spice latte? Entries will close on October 4th at 11:59 PM. Don’t forget to leave your e-mail address in the comments. It will not be made public, but that is how I will contact the winner. Good luck!
Update: This contest is now closed. A winner will be announced soon. Thanks for participating!