The Espresso Machine MOST of You Should Buy

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

#1: Post by JayBeck »

I have been pretty quiet on these forums lately. There's a reason for that: 1) dad life. 2) I've found a deep happiness with my machine I'm using. I've been meaning to write this article for some time now. I suspect over time, I will refine it but if I don't start at least a draft of my thoughts, it may never get done and people will continue to make mistakes purchasing their equipment.

One of the most common questions I see on these forums ultimately boils down to 'which machine is best?' This question takes various forms, for example: "should I upgrade to xyz?' or 'machine a vs machine b?' What the user is really trying to find out is if they can get better espresso and/or seeking justification to satifsy the itch of 'upgraditis.'

I suspect this post is going to bring out fanboys and perhaps some trolls. Unfortunately I don't know that there is much of a way around that. What I care about is helping honest people who are genuinely confused about what to do. I hope this thread ultimately is informative and gets good conversation going about what it is that actually is important in espresso making and what isn't as important.

My claims:

1. The Lelit Bianca is the best overall OUT OF THE BOX value in espresso equipment as of March 2021. If you want to have the most consistent, best tasting espresso of your life, this is what most of you should be buying.

2. If you have the extra $1k+, don't mind importing parts, have the room for it, etc then the Londinium R (and its variants) is the easiest to use, best possible way to ensure amazing espresso every time. I believe Bianca can get you similar levels of consistency, but I appreciate the Londinium and I would have one today if my kitchen were set up to allow for the vertical room necessary.

3. The budget option if you can't do #1 or #2 is twofold. 1) If you are comfortable modding your machine then buy a Breville Dual Boiler and do the needle valve mod; 2) If you want a budget machine that works perfectly out of the box for what you need with preinfusion, then buy the Lelit Elizabeth v3. I suppose you could add a manual lever like the Robot, Flair, or even a Pavoni here. But I want to keep this discussion to pump machines and the unique Spring Lever design of Londinium.

4. The DE1 ultimately does not live up to many of its marketing claims and as such, do not get fixated on it being some 'future proof' platform that is going to leave all traditional boiler machines in the dust. What I learned in 2 years of ownership is that the rabbit holes it opens up are a waste of time and do not make great espresso easier nor does it unlock unique flavors you can't get on other machines. I stand FIRMLY by this claim.

My Resume:

1. I have extensively used the following machines in this order: 1) Breville Infuser; 2) Profitec Pro 500; 3) Profitec Pro 700; 4) DE1 v1.0; 5) Breville Dual Boiler; 6) Lelit Bianca

2. Of those machines, I have pulled many more shots on the DE1 -- possibly as many on it as all the others combined which is saying a lot. As a v1.0 early adopter, I went through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the DE1 to where it is today. I have horror stories and a lot of opinions of that journey (which BTW, I knew was part of the package of a v1.0 machine). I've pulled some great espresso on the DE1. I've pulled way more shots that were blah or sink shots and by comparison to the other machines, the ratio of good to sink shots on the DE1 is not in the DE1's favor.

3. My claims for the Lelit Bianca have less to do with the Lelit as a brand nor the E61 as a platform. In fact, my bias against both is why it took me so long to trust the Bianca. What I'm really saying is the following claim:

I believe that a semi-competent barista using a needle valve pump machine with adequate temperature stability OR the Londinium cousin (they are a surprisingly similar concept if you didn't know) will pull better, more consistent espresso than the DE1 could ever muster.

4. My grinders I've used these machines with include: Niche Zero, Baratza Sette, Baratza Forte (Alicorned, both Steels and Ceramics), Monolith Flat (Mythos & SSP), Monolith Max (SSP LU).

5. These thoughts were not developed in a vacuum. All ideas I will post have been 'peer reviewed' so to speak by a group of friends who have a myraid of machine, grinders, and experience including a Slayer, DE1, Londinium R24, Slayer mod BDBs, Jake Mod GS3s, and various manual levers (Streitman, Robot, Flair, Pavoni). Grinders likewise include very Monolith variant, EG1, HG1, the Baratza line up, K30, and others.

I have not used the v1.3 and above of the DE1 with the Group Head Controller ("GHC"). The GHC should have been there day one, but I understand why they had to finally ship a machine. My discussions with people who have the GHC are that it's not nearly as great as I had hope at allowing the Barista, who is smarter than a computer, to pull a shot.

In subsequent posts, I will elaborate on the claims. This opening is essentially an outline. I stand by this claim. As a former DE1 zealot, I understand many will come to the rescue telling me how wrong I am, how I must not understand the machine, or perhaps that I'm a bad barista. I've done it, and I understand why people are excited about the DE1. What I am here to say is that the DE1 isn't some special machine that can do things no other machine can while at the same time accurately emulated the other machines -- a true jack of all trades type device! (that's ultimately the sales pitch, isn't it?). The DE1 is a fabulous training tool and I give it credit for helping me understand what preinfusion is, what it isn't, and how puck erosion and channeling plays a role in both PRESSURE and FLOW. My losses on that machine were worth the information I learned so credit does need to go where it is due.

I want to make two shout outs here. Firstly to John Buckman. I do not want this to become a bash post of the DE1. I'm glad to see John push the boundaries. I'm not a fan of the marketing hyperbole as I'll address later, but I understand what marketing does to help launch a new product. John's openness and 'doing the right thing' when users have a problem is something to really be applauded. Secondly, I want to thank Java Jim from 1st Line Equipment. Jim is a bit 'in your face' at times but I cannot imagine all the buyers remorse lies he has to put up with so I totally get why. Jim went above and beyond to get me a Bianca to my house perfect after some UPS issues; what's more, he did this without me asking and covering the cost of a pallet to ensure my machine came flawless. I feel confident saying if you buy from Decent or 1st Line, you will get 1st rate customer service.

All of my comments are my comments, and all equipment has been paid 100% out of my pocket with no strings attached.
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JayBeck (original poster)

#2: Post by JayBeck (original poster) »

This is the first post that I want to use to elaborate on some reasons for the OP, as well as have some general discussion of what it is the espresso machine does, as well as some definitions to technical terms so that we can have a discussion using terms with a common definition.

Firstly, what exactly is an espresso machine? Simply put, an espresso machine is a hot water pump. It is a platform that allows a barista to pump or push hot water through a puck of finely ground coffee. The way each machine achieves this is different but let's not pretend that there is some magic going on inside of the group. So when we ask the question, 'what is the BEST espresso machine' what we're really asking is which hot water pump will get me the best tasting espresso? When you break it down like this, the blind spots we have to brand name, aesthetics, and marketing jargon slowly go out the door and we end up in a more objective place to have a discussion.

Secondly, what exactly is 'preinfusion' and why is it important? This still seems to be a mystery in 2021 on these forums. I joined HB about 4 years ago and for the longest time I thought 'preinfusion' was some magic going on in the group that only an elusive set of machines could do (GS3MP, a plumbed ECM/Profitec, a manual lever, or gear pump machine like the Vesuvius). To this day, I still see a lot is misnomer going on discussing this term. Simply put, 'pre-infusion' is what happens when the hot water pump first graces your coffee puck with hot water and it ends when the espresso start flowing through the puck. I have a LOT more to say about preinfusion because I think this is one of the most critical aspects to 'get right' with espresso making. When done correctly, preinfusin will increase the forgiveness and consistency of espresso making by orders of magnitude I could not begin to write about. Bold claim, yes -- and the proof of this claim is validated when you analyze why so many people move from a pump machine to a lever machine and talk about making the best espresso of their life and never wanting a pump machine. The problem is their pump machine didn't have proper control over preinfusion whereas their lever machine does.

Preinfusion should do at least 3 things for the barista: 1) allow you to grind finer, thus increasing your extraction; 2) allow you to heal channels that develop naturally regardless of how good your puck prep is; 3) adjust for not having the proper dose or grind size to pull a shot without gushing, or choking. I cannot stress how improtant it is that your machine be able to have total control over preinfusion so you can take advantage of points 2 and 3. Doing so is 'game changing' and will totally revolutionize your ability to pull the best espresso of your life and increase the joy via making espresso less frustrating and/or stressful.

This leads me to my third point, which is a series of 3 definitions: What is a 'traditional' pump shot; what is a 'Slayer' shot; what is a 'Londinium shot.'

1. A traditional pump shot is this: your hot water pump turns on. The flow of water has a fixed water debit (i.e. the flow of water without any resistance; this can easily be measured on any machine by putting a cup on a scale, turning the machine on, and measuring the total weight of water into the cup after 10+ seconds. I use 10 seconds because you can easily divide by 10 to get the debit. E.g. if 60g of water is in your cup after 10 seconds, your water debit is 6ml/s). Traditional pump machines have a fixed water debit. Vibration pump machines usually have a water debit of 8ml/s and rotary pump machines usually have a water debit of 12ml/s. This of course, varies by manufacturer based upon the size of the flow restrictor, or 'gicleur' as you hear it called, which sits between the pump and the grouphead to regulate the max flow of water. What happens during a shot is the the water starts at full force until resistance from the coffee puck is met. At that point, pressure will begin to rise as the pump continues to push hot water. Pressure will stop when the pump's pressure limit (say, 9 bar) is reached. The machine doesn't care if espresso is flowing through your puck -- it's a dumb machine, only programmed to pump hot water with the parameters of peddle to the metal until I hit my limit. You could have a gusher, a choked shot, or a perfectly controlled pour. The machine doesn't care, which means the barista has to go through a painful process of 'dialing in the grind' whereby you adjust the grind such that you get drips into the cup around 7-10 seconds and you get your desired yield in 25-30 seconds.

2. A Slayer shot is the logical evolution of the traditional pump shot. Slayer developed a 2-step approach whereby the machine has 2 gicleurs instead of 1 toggled via the grouphead paddle which has 3 positions: Off, pre-brew, brew. The first gicleur is connected to what is commonly referred to as 'pre-brew' position on the paddle whereby a low water debit of ~2ml's (this gicleur is user adjustable via a needle valve) gently wets the puck to soften it prior to moving to 'brew' which is a gicleur set to around 6ml/s flow. The pre-brew position is connected to the pump such that if the grind is fine enough, you can brew up to 9 bar (or whatever you have the limit set to) completely via pre-brew. This allows pressure to begin building during a shot which is important. If the pump cannot keep pushing water once the flow hits resistance, things will effectively stop and only the top of the puck gets hit with water making the effectiveness very limited at best. The brew position of the paddle operates like a traditional pump shot. Thus, the owner of a Slayer can pull a traditional shot by going straight to the brew position and skipping pre-brew; or, the owner can use pre-brew to doing some slow, but effective preinfusion to soften the puck. This allows the barista to grind finer, extract more, and have a higher forgiveness factor from the shots pulled.

3. A Londinum shot is of course named after the famous machine. The reality is, this type of shot can be done of any machine that has complete control over preinfusion. By complete control, I mean control over water debit, pressure, and time such that the pressure does not rise above 4-6 bar prior to the espresso beading evenly on the bottom of the basket so that a perfect, even cone can form for minimal channeling. A Londinum shot is a shot that has a high flow of water to rapidly fill the headspace of the portafilter and begin building pressure. Once pressure hits 1-6 bar (user defined and we can discuss more about this later), the pressure no longer rises and it just sits there. Once the bottom of the basket is beading and the puck is softened and water looks evely distributed in the puck, the user increases pressure to 7-9 bar so that the shot pours and you end up with a well extracted shot. The user has total control over when to end preinfusion based upon what's actually happening at the puck which provides unparalleled forgiveness for grind size and distribution.

A brief history lesson: When I was doing my deep dive into the DE1 I noticed that all of the stock profiles were not great and in fact, were all nearly identical despite being over a dozen of them with exciting names. One thing they all had in common is they were trying to be like options 1 and 2 above. None of them allowed for preinfusion to heal channels or make grind size more forgiving. From watching many YouTube videos online, I realized the issue was that the DE1 profiles did not hit 3-5 bar of pressure and sit there until the bottom of the basket was beading. This is important because once pressure gets above about 5 bar, channels can become unhealable and you'll have permanent dead spots on your basket which lead to poorly extracted shots. Thus I began working on an advanced profile to do this on the machine. Another user who I won't name here was a longtime Londinium user and 'lever head' who was on the same journey. He and I began chatting and developed the first version of what is now called on the DE1 the "Londinum shot.' This profile was adopted by another user, Damien, who refined it which is why the profile is officially named 'Londinum R by Damien' or some variant thereof. It is very important that you understand why this version of a shot is superior to any other shot. The famed and so called 'blooming espresso' is literally nothing more than a really long bloomed Loondinium shot.

This is the end for now of my 1st draft on my second post. I will clean this up within the week.
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JayBeck (original poster)

#3: Post by JayBeck (original poster) »

Reserved 2/3

JayBeck (original poster)

#4: Post by JayBeck (original poster) »

Reserved 3/3

mdreuben

#5: Post by mdreuben »

I'm confused by how the title of your post gets washed away by an obvious bias against Decent for some reason.

As a DE1 owner, I'm likely somewhat prejudiced, but the vast majority of your post ISN'T about why someone should purchase a particular machine, but rather why they shouldn't purchase a Decent.

If you provided more details about the value or shortcomings of each of the machines you've owned and then drew a conclusion, I could respect that. But in this post, you name your favorite machine, list a few others without going into any real detail, and then spend an inordinate amount of time bashing one particular brand.

In short, your post is titled like so much of the clickbait we're all subjected to on the internet and reads like an advertisment, along with some brand bashing thrown in. If you want to produce an essay that actually educates people, please do so. This post purports to be an educational piece, but does almost nothing to help your fellow enthusiasts.
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MNate
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#6: Post by MNate »

Robot is the right answer to the title - why limit to pump machines?

Whether as an introductory learning machine, a travel machine, or just as a fun way to try a lever or experiment, the Robot is far and away the best value. Plus it gets away from all the troublesome upkeep issues of most espresso machines.

Once you get beyond that I don't think you can say what most should do. The Lelit's are legit, for sure though and should definitely be considered against whatever factors the buyer values most.

Still, some nice thoughts and I'm glad for some it being a great machine for you and others.

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Spitz.me

#7: Post by Spitz.me »

mdreuben wrote:I'm confused by how the title of your post gets washed away by an obvious bias against Decent for some reason.

As a DE1 owner, I'm likely somewhat prejudiced, but the vast majority of your post ISN'T about why someone should purchase a particular machine, but rather why they shouldn't purchase a Decent.

If you provided more details about the value or shortcomings of each of the machines you've owned and then drew a conclusion, I could respect that. But in this post, you name your favorite machine, list a few others without going into any real detail, and then spend an inordinate amount of time bashing one particular brand.

In short, your post is titled like so much of the clickbait we're all subjected to on the internet and reads like an advertisement, along with some brand bashing thrown in. If you want to produce an essay that actually educates people, please do so. This post purports to be an educational piece, but does almost nothing to help your fellow enthusiasts.
This is a very fair point. It is a personal post so Jay can effectively do with it as he pleases (within the rules), but if it is going to be something more than "just a post" it does make sense to refine the language to read more like a comparison to a DE1 instead of a knock on the DE1. I mean, you could completely remove any reference to the DE1...

Still very interested to hear about your experience, Jay.
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redbone
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#8: Post by redbone »

If volume as in number of shots is of concern then a pump machine could be justified. Considering I just pulled 3 phenomenal shots with a Bruni Brunella this morning with a custom 115v retrofitted element my opinion differs. Added water and pulled 3 shots starting from a room temp machine in 15 minutes. If steam is required I'd use the LPE or Faemina all come to temp well under 10 minutes. My answer for home use low volume would be a pro-sumer heated lever machine. I've previously owned an HX pump machine for reference. Individual machine experience and comfort come into play here regarding the answer to your title or statement.
Between order and chaos there is espresso.
Semper discens.


Rob
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cgibsong002

#9: Post by cgibsong002 »

Why is the Bianca so popular? At $3k, there are a lot of cheaper options with nearly identical features, and i haven't heard exactly glowing reviews of the internal design and engineering. Is it just the flow control?

PeetsFan
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#10: Post by PeetsFan »

This is pretty cool; there aren't many people with so much experience with so many expensive machines, unless they're resellers. And you can't 100% trust a reseller, especially since Decent sells directly.

I'm curious to learn whether the flow control feature of the Binaca makes a difference to Jay. To be honest, I'm hoping it doesn't, because that's a level of effort I don't want to take in the quest for the perfect morning coffee.