"I hate coffee."
That was a truism a believed with such fervor that it was near religious devotion. It was bitter, it burned like Hell, and it was a pain in the butt to make. Fast forward to September 2010. Running on minimal sleep at a local convention, I notice a boutique coffee vendor (Coffee Shop of Horrors) handing out free samples. Vanilla cinnamon? Caramel? These sound good. I drink it black and add sugar.
I was turned.
My first purchase was an Aeropress and a Hario Skerton hand grinder. It's great for American-style coffee, but I want something more. After experimenting at local coffee shops, I've learned to love the latte, so I figure I'll try it myself with a Mr. Coffee milk frother. It doesn't so much froth the milk as turn it into a thin bubble bath. No good.
So I take the leap and purchase a Delonghi EC-155 espresso machine for about $90 along with the requisite tools: Terry's tamper (which turns out to be either too big or too small for this odd-sized portafilter), a pair of Bodum 2 oz. shot glasses, a 12 oz Rattleware frothing pitcher.
After some trial and error, I learn some tricks of the trade. I'm frankly embarrassed by some of the stuff I did when I got this thing (200 degree milk, anyone? Or maybe you'd like your grinds tamped so loose you can look at them and make it move.), but I've learned quite a bit. Now I am strongly considering an upgrade.
Now, the Delonghi EC-155 is a great buy for $90. It's quick to heat up, it's cheap, it's really great beginner's machine. The biggest problem I have now is the steam wand. It's way too short and requires you to position the machine near the edge of a counter just so you can get the pitcher under it. It's tremendously underpowered and uneven as well. I would watch this thing sputter to a crawl spitting out barely any steam. You know that vortex you want when frothing milk? When you need a cyclone you get the ripple's of a fat kid jumping into the pool. The espresso it makes is OK, and I know my technique with the milk isn't helping things, but simply put, I think I've outgrown it.
Now as for the grinder, for $40 it is fantastic. Granted, it is time consuming, and by virtue of that it takes too long from beans to brew, but not enough that I'm sure I would even notice. That being said, I know the rule is $200 grinder/$400 espresso machine > $50 grinder/$2000 espresso machine. The problem is I'm getting rid of the Delonghi mainly because of the steam wand and its inability to make a good latte rather than quality of espresso, although I'm sure my next machine will make a far superior espresso.
That brings me to this forum. Like all newbies, you go to the professionals when you need help. So here are just a few of the burning questions I have on my brain...
- For those familiar with the Delonghi EC-155, am I correct is assuming it is more a failure of the unit to steam milk and get a good microfoam than it is me? My technique has improved tremendously after watching some of the videos here, but I want a really thick, creamy latte. Right now I'm getting a mediocre at best latte for 3 sips before I'm pretty much drinking coffee with lots of milk.
- I know everyone says "grinder first, machine second", but given my situation, is that still the case? I feel like if I had a new machine right now I'd have much better lattes with the same grinder, and I could buy a new grinder eventually and improve things even more. But since I recently got laid off, the last thing I'm thinking about is adding a $200-450 grinder on top of an espresso machine if I don't really need it.
- Of course, I've been looking at the Gaggia Classic and the Rancilio Silvia V3. The Silivia v3 looks like a beautiful machine, but the biggest complaints I've heard is that it is overpriced by about $200 and the thermometer can be off as much as 15 degree. I know a PID can fix that, but if we're looking at adding a PID right out of the box, I might as well start looking at $1000 machines that can probably outperform it. And if we're at $1000, what about that $1200 machine that is soooooo much better? Before you know it, I'm spending double what I intend.
- I have zero interest in ESE pods, so that doesn't factor into the equation.
- I'm very willing to buy used or refurbed. I'd rather have a superior used machine with no warranty than a brand new one that isn't that great.
- Budget-wise, I'd say I'm looking for a $400-600 machine. There is wiggle room in very special situations, I.E some awesome machine for $700 refurbed that is normally $1200 or something. This assumes I keep my Hario Skerton grinder for now.
- Usage-wise, we're talking about 2 drinks back-to-back 98% of the time. On rare occasions, it could be maybe 5 or 6. That being said, I need a machine that won't take 45 minutes of prep time for 2 drinks.