Buying advice - single-boiler or HX espresso machine for home?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
zoli2xa

#1: Post by zoli2xa »

Hey, I am looking into buying an espresso machine for home. We are two persons and usually drink cappuccinos / lattes in the morning and maybe one in the afternoon.

I am mulling over getting a single-boiler machine with PID, probably the ECM Classika but not sure if it is too much of a hassle making the cappuccinos with it - would perhaps an HX machine, like the ECM Mechanika serve me better (I am balking at the price of a two-boiler)?

I mean, are we talking about a two-minute procedure of making two cappucinos on the single-boiler vs. one minute on the HX or is the time saving more significant? I'm not afraid of learning how to do cooling shots etc.

Also, what amount of milk is it possible to steam with the models (they have 0.7L vs 2.2L boilers, respectively)? The lattes we drink are easily about 12 oz / 0.3 liters. Would I even be able to do two lattes with the Classika in a row? What about four?

Also, I kind of like the idea of the control I get over the brewing temp with the PID single-boiler, which I supposedly wouldn't on the HX. Is that a big deal?

Sorry if the questions are too n00b and thanks for any advice :-)

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Jeff
Team HB

#2: Post by Jeff »

Welcome to H-B!

For me, a lot would depend on how many "we" is. For two, with a SB, I'd pull two shots, then change the temperature and steam the milk. Even if the boiler temperature drops after steaming, you still need to wait for the group to cool and come to equilibrium with the boiler. As a very rough guess, I'd give it at least as long as you had the switch on "steam" for this.

Managing an HX's brew temperature is something of a dance. A PID controlling the steam boiler temperature doesn't do much for the brew temperature. You still need a flush routine. (The Lelit MaraX is different as its PID measures the group temperature, which gets you reasonable control over brew temperature).

At four drinks, I'd look at the MaraX if you wanted classic looks, or one of the newer dual-boiler units, like the Breville/Sage Dual Boiler ("BDB") or the Lelit Elizabeth. I don't know the prices there, but in the US, they are competitive with HX units.

On an HX, I found that the time for the group to rebound after the flush was perhaps a half a minute or a minute longer than it took me to grind and prep the next puck. This was on a Quick Mill Anita. Different models, especially those that claim "no flush" behavior, may be longer. A handful may be shorter.

Steaming rebound time is mainly a function of the heating element and level of boiler insulation. My guess is that most units in the same class are similar. Purely guessing, the 0.7 L boiler may not have enough thermal capacity to steam more than a drink of that size without waiting for rebound. I don't have any experience to back up that feeling.

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Bluenoser
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#3: Post by Bluenoser »

If you are looking at an HX, my opinion is you should also get a group thermometer or you are just guessing at the brew water temp..

My Profitec 500 PID design has very slow rebound .. making 2 espressos, I can do in a reasonable time.. 4 I can't.. it takes about 30 minutes.. But steaming is great.. So I wouldn't necessarily recommend the Profitec/ECM brand.. there are other HX designs that rebound faster, but you need to flush them to get a predictable brew water temp.

Either a single boiler or dual boiler gives you much better control over the brew water temp. 12oz lattes take a lot of milk to steam.. so not sure how a single boiler would take in steaming 24 oz of milk .. (I use 6 oz in my milk drinks).

Certainly the best value might be the Breville Dual Boiler.. You have to use very good, scale-free water to get long life out of it.. (but that is true of most espresso machines)

If you think you are going to do 4 large drinks a day, I might try to find some dual-boiler option, or maybe you can try out a single boiler somewhere and make 2 x 12oz lattes and see the work flow and how long it takes..

zoli2xa (original poster)

#4: Post by zoli2xa (original poster) »

Jeff, Dave, thank you for your answers. Just as Dave suggested, I think I'll look for a way to try out the machines first, as it's difficult to get a feeling for it just by researching... I think I just have to get a feel for how it would work for my setup; with the amount of milk I'm a bit concerned about a SB machine, but also, what I read about HX, not being able to control the brew temperature seems like a big disadvantage, especially for a machines in such a price category.

Bluenoser
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#5: Post by Bluenoser » replying to zoli2xa »

The vendors will tell you that HX machines are super stable, with their PID. That is only part true. The boiler temp is super stable but as it flows to your portafilter, the E61 is the main influencer and many environmental things influence that.. Also most E61s require a 30 minute warm up to stabilize (SB, HX or DB) .... the brew water in an HX might be super stable during the shot, but you won't be able to tell what that brew temp is. My first shot is super stable at 200F. My second shot is super stable at 195. My third shot is super stable at 190. The thermosiphon and the restrictor size in the HX design makes each model a little finicky.. Some rebound slow, some faster .. even within the same model. With a group thermometer on an HX you can tell when the rebound is complete so you can pull the next shot. You don't need the thermometer on a SB or DB. The MaraX is the only model that actively has success in managing the brew water temp in an HX design.

It's always nice if you can demo the machine you want.

PeetsFan
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#6: Post by PeetsFan »

I own a dual boiler, but I respect that they cost more and it might not be in your budget.

I would prefer the HX over a single boiler. Waiting for the boiler to increase the water temperature, then cool down again, is just no good for me at all. I would hate that, unless I didn't steam milk at all.

My real advice is to look for an open box dual boiler. It will cost only a little more and give you many years of trouble free cappuccinos.

ShotClock
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#7: Post by ShotClock »

It seems to me that a lot of E61 dual boilers also don't regulate their temperature very well - although you will avoid the cooling flush routine of most HX machines.

I would recommend either the Lelit MaraX - which I owned, it was great, or the Lelit Elizabeth - which I've not tried, but looks like a nice design.

ECM and profitec machines are significantly more expensive than Lelit in the US - perhaps this is not so bad in Germany. If you want to look at those, you might consider the Profitec Pro 300. Larger more powerful machines may be worth considering if you are steaming 0.7L of milk every time, either an Hx (Technica, Mechanika, Pro 500) or dual boiler like the Pro 600 or Synchronika (though these are more expensive).