It’s no secret that we lust after handsome, well-designed stuff, but the often astronomical price tags make us wonder: Is the old adage you get what you pay for an essential truth? We decided to test it by pitting four posh and pricey products against their budget-friendly counterparts, comparing aesthetics and performance. No battle was without its hardships: razor burn, bossy robots, and sore feet among them. But we emerged appreciably wiser—and even maybe a bit richer—for them.
Krups XP7230 Fully Automatic Espresso Machine ($1,250) v. Bialetti Moka Express ($25)
On the face of it, comparing a Krups fully automatic espresso machine to a stovetop Bialetti is a bit like comparing a Porsche 911 to a Schwinn. The Krups sports a beautiful stainless-steel exterior and comes with an adjustable coffee outlet, a steam nozzle, a bean grinder, a digital dashboard, a programming knob, a bin for collecting grounds—basically, everything short of a coffee plantation. The Bialetti, by comparison, is a Luddite’s dream. No programming hassles, no plugs. Just add water to the base, put coffee in the funnel, screw on the coffeemaker, and place on low heat. A few minutes later, your espresso is ready. The Bialetti scored big points for its simple design; to wit, the instruction manual is roughly five sentences long while the Krups volume resembles a prep book for the MCATs. We also liked the Bialetti’s classic hourglass design; it looked dignified atop the stove and took up next to no space, which is critical in cramped city apartments. But the espresso tasted slightly bitter—more like too-strong coffee—and we found ourselves overindulging on the sugar and cream to offset the acidity.
The Krups, meanwhile, repeatedly poured 1.3 ounces of caffeinated perfection. And it’s far easier to use than its high-performance looks would lead you to believe. For example, the initial programming, which we half-expected to be an evening’s affair, took no more than 15 minutes. Like most Americans, our instinct was to ignore the instruction manual. Fortunately, we didn’t really need one to boot up the Krups. Press the “on” button and the computer walks you through a simple setup, which includes filling the water tank, dumping in beans, programming the date and time, and rinsing the machine once before use. In short, the machine is idiot-proof.
Which is no easy feat. In some circles, making the perfect espresso is a science. You must choose the right bean, find the right grind, tamp down the coffee just so, and employ the perfect amount of pressure to push hot water through the grinds. Master all of these variables and you’ll be rewarded with a thick and aromatic brew capped with a thin layer of crema, which imparts a sweet, flavorful taste. Espresso is simply not espresso without the creamy foam, and the Krups poured it flawlessly—so much so that we drank cup after cup until we hit a chatty manic high (herein lies the danger of having excellent on-demand espresso). What’s more, the machine cleaned itself with the touch of a button, eliminating the oily residues that can go rancid and spoil future pours. The Bialetti, though beautifully simple, just couldn’t generate the kind of water pressure needed to create the crema, hence the espresso’s bitterness. And the process is messier, as evidenced by the coffee grounds that invariably wound up on the floor each time we cleaned out the funnel. Advantage: Krups.