Buying my first espresso setup

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

#1: Post by thew »

Hey guys,
I am in the process of planning out my first espresso setup and would like to hear some advice from the more experienced members of the community. I am usually a filter coffee drinker and have brewed with the Kalita Wave 155, V60, and Aeropress. However, I was introduced to the world of espresso and would like to dip my toes in it. However, I found a lot of the information out there to be more geared towards the prosumer rather than the budget drinker who wants to get a great espresso. What I am looking for in a setup is one that I can mod to improve and after modding I won't have to upgrade much anymore.

So far, I have thought of a few options: The flair classic, Breville Bambino, and the Gaggia Classic.

For the flair classic, my only real gripe is that I can't really mod the machine and the workflow is not nearly as great compared to the other two from what I'm getting online. Also, the lack of ability to make milk based drinks for that price definitely is reason for me to dock some points too.

For the Breville Bambino, I am thinking about buying it and modding it with a PID and new portafilter. For this the only concern is I'm not sure if there is a difference between the espresso this makes vs the Gaggia. Am I able to mod a Bambino to where it's better than a modded Gaggia for a cheaper price?

Lastly, the Gaggia seems like a great choice as it has the 58 mm portafilter but it is also the steepest option and with added mods such as PID and new baskets, I'm wondering if I am getting to a point of diminishing returns compared to a modded bambino.

Let me know your thoughts

vecchi della seattle
Supporter ❤

#2: Post by vecchi della seattle »

How's the water down there? Looks pretty hard. You might want to stick with a manual like the Flair or Robot and use bottled water.

User avatar
Team HB

#3: Post by Jeff »

Welcome to H-B!

The missing question is "Which grinder?"

Three, very different machines.

The Flair 58 (or a Robot) will likely produce the best espresso the most reliably of all. Many "serious enthusiasts" own one in addition to their other machines.

The Bambino is a good starter machine. It can reliably produce good espresso with minimal fuss. I believe it is a flash-heating machine so a PID isn't appropriate.

The Gaggia/Silvia machines have significant limitations. A PID helps with the temperature management. They still have more repeatability challenges than I'd like to throw at someone learning the craft of making espresso. Even with several years of experience, I found working with Silvias much more frustrating than an older HX machine. A used E61-style machine can probably be picked up for a price comparable to adding a PID and, if needed, an OPV to a Gaggia.

Don't forget that grinder question. That is likely to impact your success more than a choice among these three or four options.

thew (original poster)

#4: Post by thew (original poster) »

In terms of Grinder, I am currently using a 1zpresso JX Pro grinder. With respect to water, I am using filtered water through a Brita filter. If I am looking into used machines, where would you guys recommend me look into?

User avatar
Team HB

#5: Post by homeburrero »

[TL;DR : - Skip this post entirely unless you are interested in geeky Austin tap water issues]

As to water, if you are on City of Austin water you are fortunate in having access to some detailed reports. They have three treatment plants but they are all fairly similar, with all of them drawing water from Lake Travis.

Here's a recent report: ... 3%20Q1.pdf

Austin water is different than most places in that more than half of the hardness is due to magnesium. The report above indicates a total hardness of around 110 ppm as CaCO3 but the calcium hardness is only about 35 ppm as CaCO3. That means that it's not nearly as scale prone as you might think. It has pretty good alkalinity in the 70 - 85 ppm as CaCO3 range and the pH at the tap is high, around 9.6 due to adjustments at the plant intended to protect distribution pipes. After it sits in an open reservoir the pH would come down. It probably would tend to give you a little limescale in an espresso machine unless softened.

Austin uses chloramine disinfectant, and that's not as easily removed as chlorine. If you use a good charcoal or carbon filter with slow flow (long contact time) it should handle that. You could opt for a filter that's optimized and certified for chloramine removal, often marketed as a 'catalytic carbon' filter.

I think the biggest problem with Austin water is the chloride ion content. It's at 40 - 60 ppm and seems to be increasing over the years. That's above what is typically recommended for espresso machines because of corrosion issues. And if you were to use a decarbonizing resin (aka WAC resin, aka hydrogen ion exchange resin) to soften that water, the drop in alkalinity and pH caused by that resin could exacerbate your chloride risk issue.

An RO system with a remin cartridge would be the standard recommendation for this water in a plumbed-in to tapwater machine. But for a reservoir machine you also have the option of diluting your carbon filtered Austin tap water 50:50 with purified. That would eliminate your limescale risk, leave you with reasonable 35-45 ppm alkalinity, and drop your chloride down to 20 - 30 ppm, which isn't good but certainly better. Better yet I think you could just go with a simple recipe water like rpavlis water which would have no chloride and no limescale risk.
nínádiishʼnahgo gohwééh náshdlį́į́h

User avatar
Team HB

#6: Post by Jeff »

That's a solid grinder.

On machines, condition probably makes a lot more of a difference than the specific model. Even 5-10 years ago, there weren't a lot of differences between the better HX machines as far as what ends up in the cup. For me, I'd value a "lesser" machine from a seller that clearly has taken good care of it over a "premium" machine from someone who either ignored it or only serviced it when something failed.

Great insight here, I think
aaronmaestri wrote:This machine has been used daily and probably serviced every two years. One of the issues is that the owner assumed that by getting a service everything was taken care of. There was little or no routine maintenance done between services. I guess this is what is at the heart of what all the replies on this thread have been. A service tech can't be expected to maintain your machine for you. You need to take an active role to ensure your machine is in the best possible condition. Small things can be easily dealt with but will quickly add up to hundreds in labour if left to accumulate.
While a simple machine can technically run forever it needs regular attention to ensure elements are not degrading due to neglect.

Supporter ♡

#7: Post by tinroofrusted »

thew wrote:Hey guys,

So far, I have thought of a few options: The flair classic, Breville Bambino, and the Gaggia Classic.
For the Breville Bambino, I am thinking about buying it and modding it with a PID and new portafilter.

Let me know your thoughts
I have a Breville Bambino which I like a lot so I would recommend the Bambino. With a decent grinder you can make very good espresso with the Bambino.

Take note that there are two models of the Bambino: the basic Bambino and the Bambino Plus. The Plus cost about $175 more than the basic machine and it has automated milk steaming, a bigger water reservoir and maybe a few other added features. But the automated milk steaming is the big difference from the basic. I recommend going with the basic Bambino because you don't really need automated milk steaming. Also, the steaming wand on the Bambino Plus is more or less stuck in place and can only move forward and back. It cannot be articulated sideways. The steaming wand on the basic Bambino is fully rotatable in every direction. So your manual steaming is a lot easier with the basic vs. the Plus.

As mentioned by Jeff, there is an amazing "instant on" Thermojet heating element in the Bambino which heats up in 3 seconds after you turn the machine on. That's one of the best features, IMO.

I do recommend getting a bottomless portafilter for the Bambino, and also a metal screen for the top of the portafilter. This prevents the tendency of the Bambino to squirt coffee everywhere when using the bottomless portafilter.

User avatar
Team HB

#8: Post by baldheadracing »

In your price range you are pretty much limited to used SBDU(single boiler dual use) machines with 300ml or so boilers - a Silvia w/PID, or a 58mm ring brew group machine w/PID such as various models from Lelit, Quick Mill, ECM, Profitec, older Ascaso, etc.

The Robot, Flair 58, EspressoForge, etc., would be the obvious choice for the best espresso. (Best meaning the best that you'll be able to achieve while learning. The machine becomes less of an issue as skill increases.)

At the bottom end there are
- Gaggias, but I am not a fan of its miniature boiler and the boiler's design;
- SBDU's with 250ml boilers and 57mm groups like the Lelit Anna; and
- appliance-grade machines like the Bambino.
All of these low-end machines will work, but they all have significant limitations that may make them a waste of money in the medium term and beyond.

Of course, the price of particular used machine and your mechanical and electrical skills and abilities can change things. In this class of machines, I have a machine that I paid $15 for and it only needed a $10 basket - and a few hours of labour - to get working. OTOH, I paid $450 for another machine, and it has consumed close to a thousand dollars of parts over the years, and many weekends of labour.

-"Good quality brings happiness as you use it" - Nobuho Miya, Kamasada