Ally wrote:I am looking for an entry level machine. Can anyone suggest something appropriate for a budget around $300. So far, I am looking at the DeLonghi EC702 or an entry Gaggia. Thoughts?
First, welcome to the forum!
My first machine was a DeLonghi. I can't remember if it was the EC207, but it was very similar. I think mine was the version from the UK. I picked it up off ebay. It was horrible. I hated that machine. I did everything I could to get decent espresso from it (right down to taking apart the pressurized basket) and I could never get anything drinkable out of it.
I ended up buying a used La Pavoni europiccola pre-millenium for $200 off craigslist and its very first shot was better than all the shots I had ever pulled on the DeLonghi.
In addition to the espresso machine, you are going to need a decent grinder. I like the Kyocera CM-45 myself. But that's $75 of your budget right there. Most decent espresso machines are going to cost you closer to $500 or so.
For your budget, I would look into the Nespresso line of machines. They use pods (so you don't even need a grinder), but actually don't make half bad espresso. You can find them used very cheap also (like on ebay or CL). They even sell little pods you can fill up yourself. I've been thinking about buying the Pixie machine they have out now. I think it's only about $249 or so and sometimes goes on sale. I'm constantly surprised what smooth and enjoyable espresso those little machines turn out. I've been thinking about picking on up to sit next to my La Pavoni, just because I like the different character of the espresso it produces.
The Nespresso might not produce the thick, rich, super intense espresso of a $1500 machine or a lever machine, etc. but if you just want a solid nice tasting shot of espresso to start off your day and/or for after dinner, the Nespresso doesn't do a bad job at all.
Also, most stores that sell the Nespresso (Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma, etc.) typically have a demo machine setup. You can test it out before you buy. They also have a little manual which describes all the different coffees in the pods, etc.
And if you want milk based drinks, toss in a hand milk frother from Bodum (the glass kind that you pump up and down) and you would be surprised how far that will get you. Give me a Nespresso and a hand milk frother and I can duplicate 90% of what my La Pavoni can do!
Okay, maybe 85%, but you get the idea.