UPDATE 7/10/21 to the OP: Given the time between the upcoming posts and the original post, I want to put a disclaimer and add more context to the title which seems to have stoked fanboy flame wars. The good news between the gap is that I'm this many more months/shots experienced with Bianca and the Flair Pro 2 for a lever comparison. This has cemented my thoughts and even refined them. The best machine for making espresso is a manual lever. It's the only machine that gives the barista the tactile feedback necessary to ensure amazing espresso every time - in other words, the tactile feedback lets the barista know the optimal flow rate for the puck to ensure an evenly pulled and balanced shot. There is absolutely no way to deny this and it should be indisputable. But I know that many people for various reasons want a pump machine. Thus the following comments from me are framed in the context of someone looking at the various pump machines in the market and not knowing which to get. I was very, VERY close to changing this post to the Breville Dual Boiler w/ Slayer Mod. It is the best value no doubt but after more time with the Bianca I have honed in my skills and believe the extra $1500 for Bianca is worth it if you can afford it. With this said, I will continue to dial in why I am set on Bianca with the understanding that any of the fantastic manual levels will make equally good espresso at a fraction of the cost. Hence, the reason for this updated disclaimer and Segway into my final posts. In the first post I have added additional clarity indicated by the obvious "UPDATE" label. Thank you!
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 is important in espresso making and what isn't as important.
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. UPDATE: I know I already said I was excluding levers for this post but the LR24 isn't your ordinary lever. Spring levers do not provide tactile feedback and the LR24 has a pump that can simulate line pressure preinfusion up to 6 bar. The spring dynamically sets the rate of flow / pressure based upon the puck. This is why people with the LR machines love them so much. It's easy mode espresso and it's beautiful to look at. Thank you Reiss for making such an amazing machine.
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. UPDATE: I think for many this bullet point came out of know where and looked as if I was targeting the DE1. What I failed to do is explain what led me to this. Basically, everyone seems to be jumping in the DE1 bandwagon over the past year and I anticipated many opening this post would expect I was going to recommend the DE1. Based on the money I've spent and time to get the best espresso, I felt it necessary to ward people away from the DE1. I think it's a terrible machine - IMO the best thing it has is the ceramic water pan and drip tray. This is not a jab or a hit piece but rather my advice based upon extensive usage with it and other machines. Without a doubt I had more sink shots with the DE1 than all my other machines combined. I don't recall a single sink shot in over 6 months of Bianca which is by far the most forgiving machine I've used outside of the Flair. From 15 seconds to 2 minutes I can make something taste good on Bianca. I am not alone in experiencing a lot of bad espresso on the DE1. I have many, many private conversations with former DE1 users who had the same experience. We could never pinpoint why there was so much variability. The most common consensus is terrible water distribution - indeed it's the worst I've ever experienced. Do not buy the marketing hype. It's bad. I also don't trust the temperature since it's moving all over the place to try and keep what it thinks is the puck temperature. I also don't trust the flow because it's not real - it's simulated and defies the laws of physics unlike other espresso machines. To add insult to injury, without a gicleur you cannot have a natural decay of pressure and steady flow - the DE1 does what it can to either maintain a flow under pressure or it will do an absolutely ARBITARY pressure decline (if in pressure priority mode). I've having PTSD thinking about it. I'm sure I've just made some of you angry and you think I don't know what I'm doing or I had a bad machine. I'm not going to disclose my private conversations but I will tell you this: Everyone I know who had DE1 issues ended up with a Londinium R and instantly improved their espresso. Look, I'm not hiding from anything. I have posts on HB and Diaspora that are ODEs to the DE1 because I thought it was new and could do everything better than the competition. Once that fanboy glow wore off, I realized thanks to a good friend who owns an LR24 that I needed to get a different machine. I'm glad I listened.
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.
All of my comments are my comments, and all equipment has been paid 100% out of my pocket with no strings attached.