Although steam espresso machines do not produce the real espresso with a thick layer of crema on top that compares to what a pump espresso maker makes, you may want to consider one if you are not willing to spend over $100. A good steam driven espresso maker I would recommend is the Mr. Coffee ECM160.
The good thing about steam espresso machines is that they are much quieter than pump models. Read my espresso machine guide about different types of espresso machines. Mr. Coffee ECM160 is a steam espresso maker that makes up to 4 cups of espressos at once (you may make just one), and it comes with a pretty good milk steam wand for making milk based espresso drinks.
I must say I was impressed with the milk frother on this little espresso maker. With the power it has, the frother can create some pretty decent froth and creamy steamed milk for your lattes. If you love milk based drinks, this is the best espresso maker for cappuccinos you can get at this price.
I think that it’s easy to use this espresso maker, even if you’re a first timer. You may want to experiment with the pressure of your tamp and grind size to find the best taste that suits you. A tighter tamp will produce stronger coffee but if it’s too tight and the grind is small, coffee will come out more bitter.
Frothing the milk also takes some practice. You will soon find out how to position the steam wand to control the thickness of the foam. Remember though, that the Mr. Coffee ECM160 cannot brew coffee and steam your milk simultaneously.
As for keeping this espresso maker in good shape, just run blank shots (brewing without the coffee) through it every so often and descale it.
I love how you can wind the cord up beneath the espresso maker itself if you need to move it somewhere. Right out of the box the machine has part of the cord wound up.
Mr. Coffee ECM160 is really a decent espresso maker at a very attractive price, though I would only recommend it to peeps who have never owned a pump espresso maker and those who prefer milk based espresso drinks to espresso on its own.
If you decide to get a pump espresso machine after all, you may want to look at the Delonghi EC155, a small pump semi automatic espresso maker just below $100.