Best espresso gear on a student's budget?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
Vater5B

#1: Post by Vater5B »

Hello, my name is James. For the past three years I have worked in a small coffee house in Oklahoma. While the job itself was fun, I was educated to make coffee drinks better than that of a Starbucks employee, but by no means to the extent of professionalism I have discovered recently (Latte art was a new concept to me about four months ago.) Over the course of the past three months, using websites such as this and CoffeeGeek, I have improved my technique greatly, from getting a passable espresso where there is more of a rounded flavor than an overwhelming bitterness to actually getting a microfoam. While I finally feel like I was improving, I am being whisked away to college and forced to leave my professional barista days behind as the only coffee in my college town is brewed in a small diner about a mile from campus.

Having said all of this, I would like to continue my Barista journey by purchasing a decent home machine. Currently I have a Mr. Coffee espresso machine that my family bought five years ago or so, and the results are far from wonderful. Keep in mind that I am a poor college student and money is very tight right now, so my actual purchase won't be until around December/January and even then I can't afford a great deal of money just for a good beverage everyday. I've been eyeing the Saeco Classico model for a while now and was wondering if it was a good machine for my purposes. Is there a better one for a comparable price? For a cheaper price? Also what is a decent, affordable tamper? I've used just one over the past three years so these varied shapes and sizes I've been seeing are remarkable. Where is a good place to purchase supplies such as milk pitchers and what have you?

Any help is greatly appreciated. You have a wonderful website here!

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SuperT

#2: Post by SuperT »

I'll cut and paste a portion of a post I put up on another website...
For the best machine, in the range you are looking, that is capable of pulling great shots - Gaggia hands down. I wouldn't look at anything else. All Gaggia machines have the same innards, the higher end $400-500 (Classic, Baby, Baby D) offer a three way solenoid valve that relieves pressure and enables you to pull shots back to back. It can be done without (as I did it for some time with a Gaggia Evolution), but it can make a little mess. Gaggias also come up to steam temp really quickly for milk based drinks. If you are making no more than one or two at a time - it'll do the job. Don't plan on entertaining and doing numerous milk based drinks as it'll run outta steam (pun slightly intended) in a hurry. Straight espresso shots, a few drinks a day - this is your machine!

Okay - Gaggia has a few shortcomings. First off it has a small aluminum boiler versus some of the more expensive machines that have large brass. Is it a negative? I personally don't think so. It will be HOT and ready to pull in a matter of minutes (5ish) versus something like the Silvia (the next logical step up from a Gaggia) that has a larger brass boiler and a cult-like following that will take 15 or so. Most home models (until you get into the pro-sumer/semi-commercial end) can't be left on all day. Once the boiler runs dry the machine can burn out, they don't auto-prime (refill). Other than that, and some models having an obscenely small drip tray (more trips to the sink, increased possibility of spills), they are solid. Cheap enough and parts readily available enough to fix and keep running for years. Gaggia machines run $200-500 and can be found refurbished from time to time. I've got a few 'sources' should you be interested!

Next up the line from Gaggia is Miss Silvia from Rancilio. This machine has a HUGE following due to it's heavy duty design (for a home machine) and the ability to pull AMAZING shots. You can also modify for temperature stability if you'd like (PID). She runs about $500 and is more machine than many will ever need. She can be a bit finicky, but when she is dialed in - the shots are oh so sweet! I have a good friend that has had Silvia for 3-4 years and almost went through an upgrade. I walked him through the descaling of the boiler, backflushing (he wasn't!) and got him to purchase a new grinder (more on that later) - he couldn't be happier! When I upgraded, I thought about Silvia but knew I would get upgraditis later on, I wanted to skip that and go to the next level. Silvia, like the Gaggia machines, are single boiler and can't be left on all day. Also, because they are single boiler, they brew espresso at one temp (should be right around 202F) but steam at another. Because of this and the fact that they only have one boiler - you have to pull your shot, hit the steam button, wait a minute (machine will get hotter) and froth your milk. If you want to pull another shot, turn off the steam button, do a cooling flush (run water through the group head) and then pull your shot.

NOW, having said that (and that is just the tip of the iceberg), the machine is not NEAR as important as the grinder! If you plan on going down the road of espresso machines, be prepared to drop some good money on a grinder. Grinders that are capable of producing a fine enough and uniform enough grind for GOOD espresso run in the $200-700 range. Some favorites are Rancilio Rocky (the old king of the hill for home espresso), the Mazzer Mini (the new king of the hill) and the MACAP M4 (the new contender to the Mazzer). My buddy that has Silvia and pulled what he thought to be acceptable shots for years has been floored by the addition to his Rocky grinder. He states the shots are fuller, thicker, richer than he ever thought Silvia could produce. He is falling in love with his machine all over again, brought on by fresh beans and a good grinder.
There was a lot more to the post, but I won't bore you with it.

$.02

-T

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teratogen

#3: Post by teratogen »

I had a Gaggia Coffee for some time, and I got what I thought to be excellent drinks out of it. I mainly drank traditional capps out of it, so I can't say if it's all that great for straight espresso, but the Gaggias are an excellent value for sure. If you care about price, the Gaggia Espresso has the same innards as the Coffee and can be had for $200.

As for a grinder, I got a Mazzer Super Jolly off of eBay back when Tagex was clearing them out of Starbucks. It seems like all that has ended, unfortunately. Assuming I have a good pulse on general opinions here, I think that most would recommend a Rocky. If you order it along with your machine from a good retailer, you may be able to get some sort of package deal. If you could get that setup for $500, it would be an amazing value.

Good luck,
Aaron

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Fr. John

#4: Post by Fr. John »

First, if no one has said it yet, welcome to HB.

Personally, from experience, my choice for budget and great coffee is the Solis SL70. You should be able to pick up a used one in the $250 range.

Read this thread, it is really chock full of info and written by someone who is very thorough.

Oh, the grinder is even more important, you would do well well with a used Rocky. No less though.

Unfortunately you probably can't get into this for less than $4-500.
Fr. John

Vater5B

#5: Post by Vater5B »

Thank you all for the speedy replies! Yeah, when Christmas rolls around, we'll see what happens. I really wish a cafe would open up in this college town... I don't know how I'll survive without espresso only a few miles away... :(

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timo888

#6: Post by timo888 »

Vater5B wrote:I really wish a cafe would open up in this college town... I don't know how I'll survive without espresso only a few miles away... :(
http://www.gimmecoffee.com/locations_trailer.php

Regards
Timo

beanmuncher

#7: Post by beanmuncher »

I was in a similar situation a few months back:

I went for a Gaggia Espresso + MDF combo. $400. In retrospect, I should have either saved longer and gotten a Rocky or spent the same and picked up a Cunill Tranquilio. A well-liked grinder, but not exactly pretty.

Harfatum

#8: Post by Harfatum »

Hi all, I've visited HB before for research but have never posted yet. Seems like a nice place :)

Anyways, I am a grad student on a tight budget, and I can't even think about spending the money on what seem to be the more popular options among coffee aficionados. So I was wondering if maybe someone could give me some cheaper options that still can steam milk and maybe make a decent espresso.

I already have an AeroPress and it works fine, but I don't have any milk steamer. That's the biggest priority for me, I need a steamer. All I really care about is that it's not too hard to clean and it's not made of anything that will degrade or have possible health concerns like aluminum.

But if there's an espresso machine for a reasonable price that will do both, I'd love that too. I like my AeroPress but it's not exactly the same as espresso.

Oh, and I have a Porkert Universal Mill as my grinder already, and I'm not going to get anything I can't pay for out-of-pocket. I'm gonna be a grad student for around 4 and a half more years so a really nice machine probably won't be an option for me until afterwards.
"I'm going to try and convince you this is obvious"

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Psyd

#9: Post by Psyd »

Harfatum wrote:But if there's an espresso machine for a reasonable price that will do both, I'd love that too. I like my AeroPress but it's not exactly the same as espresso.
Get a new credit card with about $2000 available on it with a very low introductory APR. Something like 0% for six months and then 3.9% after that. Or get one with 0% and replace it with another one later on!
OK, once you have that, get the machine that you want, and then get something that makes great espresso. Oh, the machine you want is a great grinder. Making beans into pucks is the hard part. Heating water and pushing it through the puck at 9 bar and nearly boiling is fairly easy.
Anyhoo, once you have the pair of machines that you want, put $2.50 in the jar next to it every time you have an espresso or a latte or capp. In no time, you'll have the thing paid off, and you'll start enjoying the espresso 'for free'.
Let your college bud's know that you make better drinks than the campus offerings and you're cheaper, too, and you can have the thing paid off in a coupla months and have a great little side business too!
Either than or buy a great grinder off of one of the 'buy and sell' pages of one of the coffee forums, and then get yourself a Silvia or something. You might as well save yourself the heartache and upgrade-itis, though, and get what you want now.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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HB
Admin

#10: Post by HB »

I merged this thread with an earlier one on a similar subject...
Harfatum wrote:I already have an AeroPress and it works fine, but I don't have any milk steamer. That's the biggest priority for me, I need a steamer. All I really care about is that it's not too hard to clean and it's not made of anything that will degrade or have possible health concerns like aluminum.
Psyd wrote:Get a new credit card with about $2000 available on it with a very low introductory APR. Something like 0% for six months and then 3.9% after that.
As a general principle, I don't advocate going into debt, and doubly so for discretionary expenditures like espresso gear (I know, how un-American!). A good hand grinder and a French press / Aeropress / vacuum pot is more fiscally responsible if you're strapped for funds.

Harfatum, you didn't say how much your budget is. As you see above, the entry-level options are still a few hundred dollars. Espresso below that threshold is Krups / Braun / Presso territory, a first step in the journey we all have taken.

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Early days of HB's Bench included a Krups "steam toy" (true confessions)
Dan Kehn