Analysis paralysis: Profiling E61 DB or spring lever espresso machine for smoothness in cup?

Recommendations for espresso equipment buyers and upgraders.
RNAV

#1: Post by RNAV » Jul 08, 2019, 5:54 pm

Hi all,

I need some help deciding on the right fit for my next machine. I'm looking to upgrade from my Expobar E61 HX in the near future and working with ~$3k budget for the machine (I've got a Niche Zero grinder that I'll use with it). My daily usage is 3 back-to-back-to-back doubles and steaming ~8 ounces of milk in the AM (one drink for me, one drink for the wife); occasionally 2 back-to-back doubles in the PM.

Primary goal: smooth/sweet shots.

I know what smooth/sweet shots can taste like -- I've had some from shops (primarily shops using La Marzocco machines). Unfortunately, even used LMs are out of my price range. I've really struggled to get close to smooth or sweet shots from my existing machine, despite doing all the dosing/grind/brew ratio permutations, even mirroring the exact recipe(s) used by shops. The Niche grinder was a significant upgrade in taste quality from my previous grinder, but I'm left feeling like my current machine is holding me back. I'm looking for a machine that can help me get the rest of the way there.

Secondary goals:
Temperature stability, controllability, and accuracy
-Does the machine require flushing (I'm really over the HX flush/temp surfing routine)? Can I brew back-to-back shots and the brew temp be the same?
-Can I easily change the brew temp?
-If a roaster recommends 202F, does setting 202F on the PID actually give me 202F brew temp?

Plumbed AND reservoir capable (I'm military and move a lot, so plumbed-in-only may not always be feasible)
Built-in shot timer
Good steaming performance
Pressure Profiling and/or pre-infusion profiling capability

I was primarily considering the Lelit Bianca and ECM Synchronika w/flow control. Now that pressure profiling is available on basically any E61, is there any reason to choose one particular DB E61 machine over another, if my primary goal is smoothness and sweetness in the cup?

In the course of my research, I ran across several posts from users on this forum, and read several threads comparing E61 to levers, and the consensus seems to be that spring lever machines tend to produce more smoothness/sweetness in the cup than pump-driven E61s -- I've never had a lever shot, and don't know of any shops in my area that use them, so I'm going off of second-hand info here. I haven't seen any comparisons of in-the-cup quality of pressure profiling E61s to levers, so if anyone has any insight there I'd greatly appreciate it.

So, now I'm left with analysis paralysis. Do I get a DB E61 profiler? Do I get a lever?

pizzaman383
Supporter ♡

#2: Post by pizzaman383 » Jul 08, 2019, 6:55 pm

I will be watching this thread with interest.
Curtis
LMWDP #551

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another_jim
Team HB

#3: Post by another_jim » Jul 08, 2019, 9:35 pm

I went from the Strega to the Bianca, and have reviewed both. If you are doing straight espresso, they are equally good (in the fantastically good range). The Bianca gives you more flexibility in terms of making larger volume shots. On the other hand, levers are slightly more authentic and hands on. The other possibility in this price range is the DE1, which is much more repeatable and programmable, but much less hands on or improvisational.

The choice is more about your personality and what kind of interaction with the machine will make you happier, than ultimate shot quality or the range of coffees you can do well, which will be close to the same on all these choices.
Jim Schulman
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liquidmetal

#4: Post by liquidmetal » Jul 08, 2019, 9:51 pm

Have you looked at the Decent? It can emulate both of these (and a whole lot more).

RNAV

#5: Post by RNAV » Jul 09, 2019, 9:49 am

another_jim wrote:I went from the Strega to the Bianca, and have reviewed both. If you are doing straight espresso, they are equally good (in the fantastically good range). The Bianca gives you more flexibility in terms of making larger volume shots. On the other hand, levers are slightly more authentic and hands on. The other possibility in this price range is the DE1, which is much more repeatable and programmable, but much less hands on or improvisational.

The choice is more about your personality and what kind of interaction with the machine will make you happier, than ultimate shot quality or the range of coffees you can do well, which will be close to the same on all these choices.
Thanks for the input. I was all set on a profiling DB E61 until I ran across comments referring to lever shots as "smoother, sweeter" than E61 shots, and that now has me doubting my decision. Do you feel that the profiling ability of the Bianca enables you to either replicate or produce similar-tasting shots as your lever?

In terms of personality, I like to be in control of some things (for example, I only drive manual transmission vehicles), but then I prefer to have other things automated for me (I like power windows/doorlocks/AC/Apple Carplay, etc.).

RNAV

#6: Post by RNAV » Jul 09, 2019, 9:51 am

liquidmetal wrote:Have you looked at the Decent? It can emulate both of these (and a whole lot more).
I have, in depth. Without a doubt it is likely the most capable machine on the market. However, I'm not sure I could be happy with the aesthetics (and I KNOW my wife won't like it). Plus, if you want it plumbed, it starts getting really expensive.

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another_jim
Team HB

#7: Post by another_jim » Jul 09, 2019, 2:31 pm

RNAV wrote: ... lever shots as "smoother, sweeter" than ...
Levers are profiling machines. You can extend the preinfusion as ling as you like, and add pressure to it by partially raising the lver, and you can retard the spring lever to change flow. They also have a "built in profile" of roughly 6 to 10 seeconds of 1 to 3 bar preinfusion followed by an 8 to 5 bar pressure ramp. So they makee sweeter and smoother shots than regular pump machines. Profiling machines can do anything levers do and vice versa, they are two different ways of getting flow and pressure control.

Most levers have a fixed temperature setting. DB E61s can be adjusted somewhat to suit the blend. Expensive saturated brew machines can be adjusted more precisely. Finally, the DE1 can do programmatic temperature changes during the shot. That does add an extra dimension of tunability; although I've never run into a coffee that seems to require a super specific brewing temperature once the other extraction variables are well controlled. However, I'm very surprised that DE1 owners haven't experimented with severely falling temperature profiles, say down to 70C by the end of the shot. If there is gold in temperature profiling, that's the first place I'd look..
Jim Schulman
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RNAV

#8: Post by RNAV » replying to another_jim » Jul 10, 2019, 9:01 pm

Thanks for your insight, Jim. I'm now leaning back toward a profiling DB E61.

Side note . . . can you point me to a video demonstrating steam performance on the Bianca? I can't for the life of me find one. Obviously I'm also considering the Synchronika, which presumably has better steaming performance due to the 2 bar steam boiler, so I'd kinda like to see a video of the Bianca steaming for comparative purposes.

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another_jim
Team HB

#9: Post by another_jim » Jul 10, 2019, 9:22 pm

I'm not aware of one. It's about 8 seconds for 4 ounces of milk for a 6 ounce cappa. You can prorate that number for other milk amounts.

If you are making a plain vanilla shot for a cappa, you'll be done steaming up to 18 ounces of milk by the time the shot is done. So you're fine unless you are doing very large drinks for multiple people This is a very compact machine with a 1.5 liter boiler, the Synchronica is larger, with a 2 liter boiler. If you need the added steam, buy it and the needle valve kit.
Jim Schulman

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luca
Team HB

#10: Post by luca » Jul 10, 2019, 11:36 pm

Good discussion here; I have little to add and am just jumping in on this ...
another_jim wrote:However, I'm very surprised that DE1 owners haven't experimented with severely falling temperature profiles, say down to 70C by the end of the shot. If there is gold in temperature profiling, that's the first place I'd look..
Good idea, Jim; I'll give it a shot, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to it. There's a lot of stuff the machine can do and I'm somewhat disappointed that people haven't been rigorous in doing blind taste trials. I sort of fear that DE1 users run the risk of whatever people write about as being good practice in the early days being elevated to received wisdom, so I think that it's important for people to actually put stuff to the test in a falsifiable way and to try to be very descriptive about the results. I think that part of the problem is that you get the machine and there are just so many things that you can do, it can be a bit overwhelming. That, and it's a little fiddly to program the falling temperatures, at least for a newbie like me. I'm also not quite sure how severely you can actually make the temperature fall; for example, the cartridge heater in the group seems to pull the temp up a bit. Fortunately, the machine does at least report target and actual temps.

Cheers,
Luca
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1