Espresso machine for latte lover with $400-$600 budget

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

#1: Post by jcoleman08 »


Yes, I know, I am asking a question that has been asked about 12,567,967 times, and for that I apologize. I have done my due diligence with searching and reading a lot of threads, yet I am still stumped as to what to do (and am hoping for some guidance).

OK, so I have a Breville 800esxl, which I loathe. I have been experimenting with beans from Counter Culture, Ecco, and Vivace, and no matter where I dial in my Vario, I am treated to a consistent hot cup of bitter mess every morning. I have "upgraded" the Breville to use single-wall, a non-pressurized basket, but this did not really help. Plus, when I use these, the pump makes a noise like a car in too high of a gear lugging up a steep hill. I still get ~ 2 oz. shots in ~ 20-25 sec., but the taste is somewhere between bad coffee stand and licking my boot after I stepped in spilled grounds.

As far as drinks go, I make two a day (usually back to back), which are almost always half and half lattes. I do Americanos every now and then, but lattes count for about 90% of my usage.

As such, I have come to the guess that the Breville is simply not capable of giving me a decent cup. I am not fond of the Breville anyway, so I guess this is a mutual break-up. As of right now, I am looking at either a Silvia or a Gaggia Classic with an Auger PID. I had one of the Ascaso's recommended to me, but the feedback about the leaky steam wand scared me off. Since I am doing latte's almost exclusively, the steaming capability is very important. Also, if *feel* like I have my technique down to the point where I do not want/need any kind of panarello (or other frothing aide) attachment.

My bottom line is that I know I have very sensitive taste (which, I am guessing, everyone likes to think about themselves), but I know that I absolutely *adore* excellent lattes and I do not like mediocre ones at all.

Anyway, apologies if that is too much back-story. Any help with machine choice would be most appreciated. Thank you all, and I sincerely appreciate your patience with yet another newbie!


#2: Post by godshot »

Well, I know you said you read a lot of threads... but did you read this one?
Basic inexpensive espresso machine recommendations
and forum member Randy G. in that thread points to his own site. This particular article is worth reading for the conclusions if for nothing else:
Machines, Machines, Machines...

By the way, I don't have enough experience to help you directly. I bought a Starbucks Barista Athena more than a decade ago, and used it for all this time without realizing that my espresso wasn't especially good. I just bought a Vibiemme Domobar Super HX, but besides the fact that it is outside your budget limit, I can't actually recommend it because I haven't used it yet. I haven't even got it hooked up! :D

jcoleman08 (original poster)

#3: Post by jcoleman08 (original poster) »

Thanks for the reply, and yes that was one of the ones I read. Good info, to be sure (this was one of the main ones that pointed me to the Silvia). However, I am still left in a quandary. I have been watching eBay since November and my local craigslist is a joke.

Also, I don't have a coffee habit I am replacing in that I guess I am enough of a curmudgeon that I simply don't buy coffee here because to me all of it is simply "meh". As, such, I cannot do the "HX Math" that says "well if I save $5/day then I can pay for a machine that is $500 more expensive in x months". I have had great drinks in Seattle, and even at Batdorf and Bronson in Olympia, but I have not found anyone in this town that can produce anything I would say is better than decent. That is just my $.02, though.


#4: Post by shalenkur »

I was in the same position, with a similar budget and not sure what to buy. Me and the wife like milk drinks so I started to steer a way from the sbdu(single boiler dual use) machines because they require too much attention(temp-surfing) for me. (I use a Hamilton Beach right now and have to heat the reservoir and temp surf it and steam for like two minutes. :cry: ) My reasoning and reading this forum got me thinking that a h/x machine would make life much easier, and save frpom making an upgrade in the future. Tried to find a decent used one, and the bid always exceeded my budget. Finally got fed up and upped and ordered a new Salvatore basic machine. I am quite conservative so this is a major purchase but I enjoy coffee and don't plan on stopping.

3 months ago I would've scoffed at spending over $1000 or even $500 on a coffee machine--but that was before I started home-roasting. . .

fwiw--I don't yet have my Salvatore .

jcoleman08 (original poster)

#5: Post by jcoleman08 (original poster) »

Thank you for the reply, I do *sincerely* appreciate it. If you don't mind me asking, though, if you are using a PID on a single-boiler machine, what are the advantages of an HX other than wait time? And, how is an uncontrolled HX better than a temperature-controlled single-boiler? Personally I don't mind waiting a bit (I know it sounds weird, but I enjoy the process of making a great cup of coffee, and I am not pressed for time in the mornings).

I am definitely not trying to debate your suggestion, I guess I just do not understand the HX advantages (other than the wait times and steam availability). And, I am guessing there are clear advantages to an HX I am just simply ignorant of. Any clarification would be most appreciated. Thank you!

jcoleman08 (original poster)

#6: Post by jcoleman08 (original poster) »

BTW, I saw your post about the Salvatore. My, what a beautiful machine. And as a small(er) business owner myself (mostly on the web) I appreciate a back-story like that. Congratulations on your choice.

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#7: Post by peacecup »

You could buy a lever machine like the PV Export for around 600. They can make great espresso and the steam like a champ.
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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#8: Post by HB »

jcoleman08 wrote:I guess I just do not understand the HX advantages (other than the wait times and steam availability). And, I am guessing there are clear advantages to an HX I am just simply ignorant of.
Espresso Machines 101 covers the design differences, but doesn't say much about the practical differences. As you noted, the main benefit of the heat exchanger design is no waiting to brew/steam. For those who love lattes, the brew/wait/steam cycle of a single boiler eventually grates on their nerves, especially if you are preparing drinks for more than one person. That's what happen in my case... as my espresso got better, more family/friends asked to share it. The reasonable limit for a single boiler is one or two people; I found that preparing drinks for three or multiple rounds was simply a chore.

I understand your quandary: "If I spend now, will I avoid an upgrade later?" If you're into espresso two years from now, the answer will certainly be yes. You noted the elimination of wait time, but another issue that frequently drives newbies crazy is the "fussiness" of entry-level gear. Jim said it best:
another_jim wrote:Newbies invariably attribute their inability to pull two identical shots in a row to the lack of sufficient equipment settings they can change between shots. The fact is that the entry level equipment used by newbies is much more unforgiving than the commercial equipment people buy after they decide they'll pursue home espresso. This creates a double whammy, the people with technique good enough to use entry level equipment have moved beyond it; and the people buying it will have their weaknesses mercilessly exposed. The upshot is that entry level equipment gets a lot of unfair criticism; and that newbies get a very long hazing learning to cope with it.
The next step above the $600 single boiler espresso machine is an entry-level HX espresso machine like the Bezzera BZ02, or as peacecup pointed out, an entry-level lever espresso machine like the Ponte Vecchio Export. While there are those who upgrade from such an espresso machine (typically to a double boiler), most are satisfied with their choice for many years.
Dan Kehn

jcoleman08 (original poster)

#9: Post by jcoleman08 (original poster) »

Thanks for the recommendations, and I guess I am left with some thinking to do. Upon further HX research, it seems that one of the advantages I missed was temperature stability (not to mention the HX machines seem to be steam cannons). However, I am left wondering how that would impact me (I don't make lattes for friends, it is just my wife and I here in the mornings). Also, I am left wondering how the temperature stability issue would rear its head in a single boiler with an aluminum tank (e.g. the Gaggia Classic) vs a single-boiler with a brass tank (e.g. the Silvia), and how a PID would level this difference. It seems the more I learn the less I know... ;)

Thanks again for the help.


#10: Post by dialydose »

Jim's point above (quoted in Dan's reply) cannot be overstated. I previously owned a Gaggia Classic and for the longest time could only pull garbage with it. It took a long time to understand that it was me not the machine. When I upgraded to a Vivaldi, it had a lot to do with convenience and making another leap in consistency. However, looking back, I am fairly certain that I could tease a shot nearly as good as the ones I pull on the Vivaldi out of a Classic or Silvia. It would be more of a pain and would happen with less frequency, but after several years, the technique has finally caught up (in small measure) to the expectations.