Smeg Espresso Machine review: serving good looks and espresso, but is it worth the price tag?

A playful retro espresso machine that’s simple to use and perfect for beginners

Smeg espresso machine
(Image credit: Smeg )
Homes & Gardens Verdict

Espresso beginners will get on the best with this straightforward and great-looking machine, while for those looking for an authentic barista-style machine there simply aren’t enough adjustable settings to impress coffee connoisseurs.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Easy to use

  • +

    Takes ESE pods

  • +

    Comes in seven colors

  • +

    Compact

  • +

    Preheats quickly

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Plastic construction

  • -

    Not enough space for tall cups

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Smeg’s retro-style appliances are iconic. There’s no mistaking a Smeg appliance from its coveted old-fashioned refrigerators to its range of 50’s inspired countertop appliances. With a rounded, bulbous, retro shape and a range of colors to choose from, these 50’s style appliances offer something different from the norm.

The Smeg espresso machine is the only espresso machine in the 50’s style range of appliances from the brand, and it comes in seven colors. Among the plethora of options when it comes to the best espresso machines,  it’s quite a basic, entry-level espresso machine with minimal adjustable settings. It can make single or double espressos using pre-ground coffee, or it can be used with Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) pods. Plus, there’s a steam wand for frothing your milk or dispensing hot water.

I’m a coffee fan and I use an espresso machine daily to make two cappuccinos each for myself and my husband, or we switch to iced coffees if it’s warm. I put my usual machine away and replaced it with this Smeg espresso machine, using it for a week to see how well it could produce my usual double shot espresso with frothy milk as well as trying out all the functions on offer. 

helen mccue
Helen McCue

Helen McCue is a freelance contributor who trained as a home economist. After starting her career in the food industry, she moved into home appliance reviews, utilizing her cooking skills and experience to put all kinds of products to the test, and over the years has reviewed hundreds of home and kitchen appliances for a variety of publications.

She’s a reformed tea drinker who now needs a minimum of two coffees to start the day. She reviewed this coffee maker at home, using it every day for a week before sending it back to the brand. 

 Smeg Espresso Machine (ECF01) specs 

Smeg espresso machine

(Image credit: Smeg)
  • Model: ECF01
  • Coffee type: Ground or ESE pods
  • Water tank capacity: 1 liter
  • Pressure: 15 bar
  • Weight: 10.4 lbs
  • Power: 1550W
  • Dimensions: 13"H x 5.9"W x 13"D / 330x149x329 mm
  • Coffee options: single or double espresso
  • Materials: stainless steel  and plastic
  • Accessories included: Combination scoop and tamper, 3 filters
  • RRP: $529.95 / £329.95

Unboxing the Smeg Espresso Machine 

Smeg espresso machine review

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

The Smeg ECF01 might have a bulbous retro appearance, but it’s actually lightweight and pretty compact. The first thing that strikes me on removing it from the box is that there’s a lot of molded plastic on the exterior, which I guess contributes to the lightweight feel. But for me, it lacks the sturdy, robust quality that I’d like to see from a coffee maker at this price.

Smeg espresso machine review

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

The portafilter is weighty though and feels sturdier than I expected in comparison to the rest of the machine. It comes with three interchangeable filters, one for single shots, one for double shots, and one for use with ESE pods. There’s also a coffee scoop with a tamper on the other end, but again, it feels plasticky and nowhere near as heavy and well-built as the tampers I’ve seen provided with other espresso machines.

I was disappointed not to find a milk frothing pitcher in the box, this is something you’ll have to purchase separately. I was also surprised that there wasn’t a water softener filter included or any descaling solution to get you started. Both of these are often provided with other espresso machines as part of the starter pack.

First impressions 

Smeg espresso machine review

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

The initial setup is pretty straightforward. Once the water tank has been washed and filled, it slots into place at the back of the machine and a big plastic lid covers it to complete the retro look. Then, all you need to do is twist the empty portafilter into place and press the double espresso button to run hot water through the internal circuits. This has to be repeated five times before dispensing 100ml of hot water from the steam nozzle. After this, it’s set up and ready to go.

Smeg espresso machine review

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

There are some general settings you can adjust at this stage too. The manual walks you through how to use the three main buttons to access a settings menu – you do need the manual though; this isn’t an intuitive process. I’d recommend adjusting the water hardness to reflect the water you’re using, there are three hardness levels to choose from.

Smeg espresso machine review

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

The automatic shut-off time can also be adjusted, choose between 9 minutes, 30 minutes, or 3 hours. It’s very fast to heat up, so I chose for it to shut off after 9 minutes of no use, to save energy. Coffee temperature and the amount dispensed are the other adjustable settings, but it’s worth making a few brews and assessing the results before adjusting these.

Smeg sent the cream color espresso machine to try, and in my old cottage kitchen, the retro style looks good. But it definitely won’t suit every style of kitchen and in my opinion, it feels like a beginner’s espresso machine rather than a high-end coffee maker.

What's the Smeg ECF01 Espresso Machine like to use?

Smeg espresso machine review

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

Making Espresso
The instruction manual advises one level scoop of coffee for the single shot filter basket. I added a little more than that as it didn’t seem full enough. I learnt pretty quickly that you can’t tamp the coffee grounds too firmly, otherwise the coffee struggles to dispense. It takes 15 seconds to brew a single shot and the coffee came out at 162°F/ 72°C which is ideal for me.

A double espresso was dispensed at a similar temperature and unsurprisingly it took double the time. Two level scoops of coffee is the recommended amount, but for the double filter this was too much and it was tough to twist the portafilter into position, so I used about one and three-quarter scoops.

The double shot dispenses around 2 oz/ 70ml, which is standard and perfect for my morning cappuccino. But this can be adjusted in the settings menu to any volume you like.

Making espresso is simple enough, you can’t go wrong once you’ve worked out how firmly to tamp the coffee grounds. But there are a couple of annoying details; when twisting the portafilter into position, the rest of the machine isn’t weighty enough to stand up to the force, so you have to hold it to the counter with your other hand to stop it moving.

Smeg espresso machine review

The tamp and the portofilter

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

Secondly, there’s not enough space for a standard mug on the drip tray, you can only fit a small cup around 3.1 inches tall. If you remove the drip tray, there’s space to fit a 4.7 inch tall mug, but if your favorite mug is taller, you’re out of luck – you’ll have to dispense the espresso into a small cup and pour it into your tall mug. Furthermore,  after dispensing the espresso, coffee continues to drip from the portafilter for a little while, so it’s best to leave the cup in place for a minute or so.

Smeg espresso machine review

The drip tray needed to be removed to brew directly into a normal size coffee mug 

(Image credit: Helen McCue)

Steaming Milk
Milk is best steamed in a stainless-steel pitcher to allow you to feel the temperature of the milk by cupping the outside of the pitcher, but you’ll have to buy one separately. The steam function heats up in just 10 seconds and the steam lever on the side starts it up.