Best grinder and espresso machine for... $400 budget? - Page 2

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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#11: Post by Jeff »

It's really hard to say, as each choice, even with "unlimited" budget is a set of trade-offs.

Before you read the rest, I have a Robot, a 1950s home lever, and a small, spring-lever machine on order. I can't say that the fancy gear makes better classic espresso than those machines. When we finally "go back to work", I'll likely take a hand grinder and one of those vintage, home levers with me.

For me, for a grinder, the next step would be one that is comparable or better in the cup, but easier to use. The Niche Zero is one that I find to be very good in the cup and a pleasure to use, at a bit over $700. The DF64 with SSP burrs is perhaps a bit different in the cup in ways that people who like bright, lightly roasted coffee for espresso might appreciate, and those that prefer classic espresso might hate. It's also completely possible that in a blind test, most people couldn't reliably tell them apart in the cup. The DF64 is, from what I can tell, much less pleasant to the ears than is the Niche, and looks to be a bit more fiddly to use. It runs a bit under $700 once you get done with the mods that I would want if I owned it. There are some reasonable grinders in the $300-$500 range that offer reasonable grind quality and, in my opinion, fair usability (retention and exchange from shot to shot are generally fair to poor, for the way I make espresso).

For a machine, that's hard. Now you really need to talk about the tradeoffs. The Robot (and probably the Flair 58) make some great shots that can go toe-to-toe with very expensive machines. The main thing you gain in the next step past those (and often lose some as well) is built-in steaming. Somewhere around $1,500 is where, in my opinion, the pump-driven machines start to have repeatability that means that you can reliably get shots that are comparable to a good, manual lever. The Elektra "MCaL" (Microcasa a Leva) is right around there for a spring-lever machine. Having used Silvia-class machines in the past, I prefer the repeatability and forgiveness of a good manual lever like the Robot or one of the better home levers of the late 1950s or 1960s. There are tradeoffs on the latter as the style then was based on Italian blends and a ristretto shot from a 14 g "double". It's nearly as different a drink from American-style espresso as is light-roast espresso.

One can, with a bit of skill and without years of practice, reliably get very good espresso from a good hand grinder and something like a Robot for around $500-750, or, with an electric grinder, under $1,000. That is a "starter setup" that wasn't easily obtainable a decade or two ago when the Silvia and later Gaggia machines gained their reputation with added PID controllers.


#12: Post by macal425 »

bgnome wrote:Another reasonable option to consider would be the Sage / Breville Barista Express. Surely not anyone's top pick, but can usually be found in your budget range and gets you to good espresso without a lot of fuss.
I second this for your budget. This is an entry level machine at best but can still make a decent espresso. It also has the bonus of a built in grinder. The grinder is not great, but it does the job. They usually retail for $699 but a few times a year they drop the price to $599. It seems as if Breville controls the retail price and you rarely see any other discounts outside the few times a year that it drops by $100. However, there seems to be plenty of used ones, or open box ones on Ebay at a good price.

costaricacoffee (original poster)

#13: Post by costaricacoffee (original poster) »

This is so helpful, thank you for all the replies!

As far as electric kettles go, does it matter which kind?



#14: Post by boren »

Baratza Sette 270, or if you can increase your budget a bit - the auto-weighing 270Wi version. Both are excellent for both single-dosing and on-demand grinding.


#15: Post by shanester »

I was in a similar situation and chose the Baratza Vario + and the steel burrs.

costaricacoffee (original poster)

#16: Post by costaricacoffee (original poster) »

So last question(s) for me on this thread...

Is it better to get:

J or K series Zpresso hand-grinder and Flair
Breville Barista Express, which does both.

Can a J or K series grinder be used for pour-over reliably?



#17: Post by Cedo »

The hand grinders can also do pour over, but the breville won't grind coarse enough for pour over. If you don't have a separate grinder for pour over then I would go the hand grinder/flair route.

costaricacoffee (original poster)

#18: Post by costaricacoffee (original poster) »

Update: I went with the 1zpresso K-Pro and it has been fantastic for Pour-over and Espresso!

Also went with the Flair Pro 2 and am enjoying it a lot (even though I have only done a few shots the learning curve is not very steep)!

Thanks for all the help!