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Looking for a cheap(ish) but decent starter espresso machine - Page 3

Postby ntwkgestapo on Fri Jun 15, 2007 12:30 pm

I've got to say, while I'd love to have a Cimbali Jr or some such (and I WILL in the near future!), I've been complaining about my Starbucks Barista (with the Barista Burr Grinder) for years! Lousy coffee, 12 second doubles, crappy espresso! I went to pods for a while (the ONLY way I was able to get SOMETHING almost drinkable) but was just figuring I was going to have to wait until I could drop $1500 or so for a machine and grinder before I could get something decent! WELL, I've got to take that BACK now. I recently purchased this grinder http://www.espressoparts.com/product/CLIP_TGR_LG for just over $30 shipping included and, FINALLY, I'm getting some quite good espresso out of the SBUX Barista machine! Nice dark red/brown crema (about 1 to 1.3 inches @ 30 seconds, settles to about .5 inches w/2oz of espresso underneath), decent flavor, etc. I bought the grinder to take with me on vacation trips so I could have fresh ground coffee while sitting in either of my camping trailers (one coleman "pop-up" which I tow, and a 31 foot Jayco which I leave in storage @ a campground in Myrtle Beach, SC. The Jayco is the reason I don't have the espresso system I want!).
I've only had it for a few days (UPS ground from Olympa, WA to Salem, VA 'tain't the fastest!) and I'm finding that adjustment is , shall we say, critical, but it made the WORLD of difference in my coffee!

On the adjustment front, the initial setting it had when I received it was a good starting point, but 1 turn of the adjustment screw coarser made for 15 second blond gushers and 1/2 turn tighter made for 1) a 3 minute grind jumped to 45 minutes! and 2) after 30 seconds of pump on time, there was NO coffee coming out of the barista! But, that's just the learning experience!

The coffee coming out appears to be fairly consistent (much better than than the Barista burr grinder AND MUCH finer as well). IF I get the chance I intend to take some pictures of the grind (drop directly onto a white paper background and spread out a bit) so I can get a better idea, but right now I'm HAPPY! $30 has turned my espresso BACK into something I can enjoy (I'm sure it's NOTHING like I could get from Silvia, Alexia or any good HX machine, but it's DRINKABLE!).

I'm currently using some fairly fresh Larry's Beans Malabar Triple X (Full City + and it's starting to age a bit) and enjoying my espresso once again!
Steve C.
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Postby alsterlingcafe on Fri Jun 15, 2007 12:32 pm

Randy G. wrote:I am a bit confused because I cannot tell whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with what I said. To clear any confusion, I have never stated that the Cuisinart would work for espresso. I recommended it for use with the Aeropress. A flat plate of steel and a smooth-faced hammer would work with the Aeropress. Although I have not tried it, I do believe that the Aeropress would work well with a whirley-blade device.


Randy, sorry I wasn't clearer in my comments. They were a bit tongue-in-cheek without enough detail. I read your comments about the Aeropress, and although I haven't owned or operated one, I'm trusting that as you alluded, a dull hammer and a hard table (slight exaggeration) could possibly squeak by as adequate if the Aeropress is the brewing device?

Along parallel lines, and somewhere along my coffee travels, I had an entrepreneurial vision for grinding coffee. Needless to say, it didn't fly......oh well.

Image

Best, Al
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Postby Randy G. on Fri Jun 15, 2007 3:08 pm

alsterlingcafe wrote:Randy, sorry I wasn't clearer in my comments. They were a bit tongue-in-cheek without enough detail. I read your comments about the Aeropress, and although I haven't owned or operated one, I'm trusting that as you alluded, a dull hammer and a hard table (slight exaggeration) could possibly squeak by as adequate if the Aeropress is the brewing device?
Best, Al


That is why I was a bit confused- I was so accustomed to having my comments start flame wars on AC that I am still a bit trigger-shy.. :wink:

If you have not tried the Aeropress give it a go. It makes a great carry-along for trips when you don't want to lug something larger or heavier. It has become my gift of choice for folks. Gave one to my brother and he really likes it, andam about to order one for my tax guy.

Although the inventor insists on calling it an espresso maker, it certainly is not. The coffee it makes is more akin to press pot, or thereabouts. All the richness and body of presspot with none of the fines that cause the bitterness. The paper filters it uses are very efficient at creating a clean cup. If you think of it as a poor man's moka pot you have the idea... Faster and easier as well. For $25-30 I consider it the best cost:quality coffee maker around.
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Postby aindfan on Sat Jun 16, 2007 12:53 am

A question about this lower priced alternative: will an expensive grinder make a difference in taste with the Aeropress, or will I get the same "shot" of coffee with a whirly blade grinder (whose resulting grind is fed into the Aeropress)?

EDIT: another question:
ntwkgestapo wrote: I recently purchased this grinder http://www.espressoparts.com/product/CLIP_TGR_LG for just over $30 shipping included and, FINALLY, I'm getting some quite good espresso out of the SBUX Barista machine!


Please explain exactly how this thing works, and why it isn't all over the place replacing $200 grinders.

EDIT 2: Would it be worth buying espresso beans for the Aeropress or just going with regular coffee (again, I plan to buy my coffee from Fairway or Zabar's).
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Postby fac10 on Sat Jun 16, 2007 8:28 am

The $30 hand grinder won't replace $200 electric grinders because it's less convenient. If you're willing to do the work, a hand grinder is a great way to get good quality grinds at a low cost.

The quality of the grinds going into the Aeropress definitely makes a difference in the taste. If you really care why, you can read up on this site or coffeegeek about the relations between particle size, extraction level, and flavor. There are 100+ pages of discussion on CG about every imaginable dimension of the Aeropress (link), including much discussion of the effects of grinders and different grind levels.

That said, the best choice for you may just be to pick up an Aeropress and a cheap grinder and start experiencing these things for yourself. If you have the patience to use it, by all means consider the manual grinder. Otherwise, see if you can find a $5 whirly in a thrift store. A whirly makes a great spice grinder so your money won't be wasted when you eventually replace it. Once you get used to the Aeropress, buy some beans at Zabars, have some ground for you and some kept whole, then immediately bring them home and compare the results of fresh burr-ground vs whirly-chopped whole beans. Compare the two again the next day, and then a week later and see what happens to pre-ground coffee over time. This experiment may motivate you to spend $100+ on a new grinder, or it may not. In any case, the difference should be something you experience yourself, not something you read about on the internet.
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Postby aindfan on Sat Jun 16, 2007 11:36 am

I think I'm going with the Aeropress and that hand grinder posted by ntwkgestapo.
Total: ~$60 shipped from espressoparts.com

Here's a pm sent to ntwkgestapo, perhaps others can comment as well:
If you have a moment, can you comment for me on the operation of the hand grinder you posted? About how much time (and how much effort) does it take to get a good grind out of it? Where does the coffee actually go in the machine to be ground (in the area below the hand crank?) and does it fall out or get held in the bottom?

If you have more than a moment, please accompany your response with pictures, but if not, don't worry about it.


Thanks so much to everyone for your help in this process, and for saving me the trouble of wasting money on a $100 bad machine.
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Postby ntwkgestapo on Mon Jun 18, 2007 10:10 am

Yes, that's what I meant to say.... IF the user is willing to take the time/work hit, this grinder will do the job just fine.... I've actually got an old Zassenhaus grinder, but it's ONLY the metal parts (the important ones!), no wood at all.... I intend to make a new box for it but as I have limited space, I don't keep my "woodworking" shop setup all the time. This looks to have been an old "knee" grinder. I WILL be setting up the cabinet making stuff sometime (probably in the late fall) and at that time I have every intention of making a nice maple box to mount this in.... UNTIL then I'll use the little plastic one! works great (as long as you don't set it TOO FINE!) and is also MUCH more portable (easily fits in a suitcase/computer bag and quite portable!)...
The Zassenhaus one will make a nice one for the home (and a good backup once I've GOT my Cimbali Jr or the MAX/Jr that's coming out!) :D
Steve C.
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Postby sehrgut on Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:25 pm

I'm in pretty much the same boat as the OP (although I do have a kitchen, which keeps the coffee away from the clothes on the floor *grin*). I've not yet sprung for a "real" espresso machine. Instead, my main setup includes the infamous Cuisinart SupremeGrind, a couple of moka pots, a frothing "whip", and a jimmied Toastmaster popper. (I've actually never cared for Aeropress coffee. It's much further from espresso than is moka coffee.)

My recommendation would be to pick up the Cuisinart from Amazon (remanufactured at $20), which will be my forever grinder for French press, and grinds perfectly well for the moka pending the inevitable purchase of a real grinder. Then, grab a moka pot or two, depending on how much coffee you drink at a time. I have a 1-cup (I drink coffee throughout the day, so single cappas and macchiatos are my drinks of choice) that brews straight into a demitasse, and a 6-cup for entertaining.

I waffle (depending on how much a hurry I'm in) between whipping the milk with an electric froth whisk and steaming it with a used steam toy I picked up for $3.

Cuisinart SupremeGrind (reman) - $20
Moka pot (various) - ~$20
Froth whisk - $5-10

Quite honestly, that's all you need to top Starbucks (and most of the independents in poor benighted Augusta, unfortunately) for espresso-drinks. No, it's not espresso, but I don't think it really has to be. It makes a flippin' good cappa -- and on a student budget no less! I'm honestly not going to spend money on something that I'll want to replace. The above setup will always be a great moka/presspot setup, even after I scrape together the funds for my eventual "real" machines.
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Postby alsterlingcafe on Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:53 pm

sehrgut wrote:I'm in pretty much the same boat as the OP .............No, it's not espresso, but I don't think it really has to be. It makes a flippin' good cappa -- and on a student budget no less! I'm honestly not going to spend money on something that I'll want to replace. The above setup will always be a great moka/presspot setup, even after I scrape together the funds for my eventual "real" machines.


You know, it's easy to get hung up on the "espresso gear" and all the high end machinery, but I humble myself right back down when I remind myself that when in Brasil visiting family, we use a simple Melita plastic filter holder and boiled water to brew very excellent Brasilian fine ground cafe.

Even now when I have the espresso bar available, we still enjoy and drink our very simply brewed Brasilian cafe every AM and also in the afternoons. While I haven't used the Aeropress or presspot approach, it really doesn't surprise me that it would produce a very pleasing coffee. The most straightforward brewing method we have at home is to bring our water and sugar to a boil, back it off, dump in our coffee, stir, then pour it through a $0.75 cloth hand held filter (common in stores in Brasil) back into a small plated carafe that sits on a very low flame on the stove. That's actually how we get the most flavor from our coffees.

Ultimately, it's all about personal taste, and whatever works for us, right?

Best, Al
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Postby HB on Sat Jun 23, 2007 12:09 am

alsterlingcafe wrote:You know, it's easy to get hung up on the "espresso gear" and all the high end machinery, but I humble myself right back down when I remind myself that when in Brasil visiting family, we use a simple Melita plastic filter holder and boiled water to brew very excellent Brasilian fine ground cafe.

Good point. We were cupping at Counter Culture this morning and Peter mentioned the presspot is a relatively "new" invention (early 1900s?). Prior to that, people poured water off the boil directly over the grounds, let them steep / sink to the bottom, skimmed off the crust of coffee grounds that rose to the top, and then poured the coffee sans grounds into a coffee cup. It certainly can't get easier than that.
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