And then - there's the grinder ...

Spend as much as you like on a brewer, but your coffee will only be as good its grinder. If you're serious about getting a uniformly fine grind for espresso, use a decent burr grinder (which crushes the beans between two wheels, as opposed to chopping blades on cheaper models) - or don't even bother grinding at home.

Ironically, higher-end brewers require a better grinder to perform well, while lower-end machines have accessories, like special filter screens, to compensate for lesser grounds.

But there's a wide range of options here, too, beginning with Capresso's adequate compact grinders, which range from $50 to $90. For more ambitious (and more precision) grinding, step up to the Rancilio Rocky for around $320. Or go Robo-Grinder with a 17-inch-tall Mazzer Mini ($529) that will quietly smash your beans into perfectly uniform espresso bliss.

   - Craig LaBan