Techniques  - 
You Don't Need an Expensive Espresso Machine for Great Espresso!
Have a look at these photos. These are a series of shot pulls I did a few years ago on a Krups entry-level espresso machine (I think it was the XP4050 model) that went for as little as $100 on sale, and as much as $175ish. 

Pretty much any espresso machine capable of producing 9bar of pressure, maintaining temperatures above 198F at the grouphead, and preferably without a crema enhancer (this one had one, I think I modified it to remove it) is capable of making great espresso if you have your other correct tools needed for the job. It helps too if the espresso machine's portafilter is chromed brass (like this one was) or solid steel - aluminum is a poor choice because of how it handles heat. 57mm, 58mm is the preferred basket size, but this Krups was 53mm.

What's the real secret? The grinder and your coffee. The grinder is so much more important to great home espresso. In this one, I was using a Mazzer Mini espresso grinder, but even a grinder like the Baratza Preciso will do a stellar job for home espresso at half the Mazzer's cost. $300 for the grinder, $150 for the espresso machine.

And of course the coffee. There's no substitute for fresh ground, fresh roasted, high quality coffee. Your coffee should be between 4 and 12 days after being roasted - no older. Your coffee should be ground seconds before brewing (when you grind coffee, it loses about 75% of its stored CO2 in the first 2 minutes - and that CO2 is important for transporting flavour, oils, lipids, and for creating crema). 

The Grinder. The Coffee. The two most important things in the four things important to great espresso (the other two items are the espresso machine, and you!).
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Does this Krups have a water pump? The $100 Krups I had back in the day relied on steam pressure for pulling the shot, which means the temperature and pressure were never reliably consistent. 
Amen +Mark Prince . My first espressomachine was a Krups Vivo F880, paired with a decent grinder (Rancilio rocky) it produced quite acceptable espresso. Steaming power for cappas was however quite poor.
I'd like to add that for this price one could buy a used Jolly or Rocky and an entry level Gaggia. One can also easily make good "looking" espresso with pressurized porta filter that make not look so. 
I dunno Mark.  Maybe some, and maybe once in a while when the moon's in alignment, but I'm not sure, for the most part, repeatedly.

I spent a decade trying with the Starbucks Barista.

Home roasting, dose by weight, Baratza grinder (now with the preciso gear/burr rebuild but not back then), bottomless portafilter, PID, etc.

Certainly I agree the grinder and the beans made by far the largest difference - but walk up - reproducible espresso results never happened until moving to big boilers and big brass/copper.

Plus it wasn't until that move and the simplicity of simultaneous steam, brew and hot water (without any mode changes or waiting for heating or cooling) and the preset doze by weight ala Baratza, that the whole family felt it approachable enough to participate in.

[steps back down off the go big or go Aeropress soapbox]
I concur.  But I feel I should say that for a bit more you get a lot more reliability and much better milk texturing.  The low end machines are OK for the occasional piccolo, but suffer if used a lot or if you try to steam milk.
That said, I have a $100 machine I keep in the cupboard 'just in case' the $650 machine needs repairs.  And for weekends away.  :D
Thank you for the input. Good coffee is hard to find anyway, so these tips are worth keeping in mind. I think also that a curtain sorts of coffee could be mixed for better results.
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