First espresso machine: Ascaso Steel Uno w/PID or Lelit PL62T Mara? - Page 2

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
MntnMan62 (original poster)

#11: Post by MntnMan62 (original poster) »

Keith, I take your suggestion seriously. However, I have to ask whether you feel there is a significant difference between the grind produced by the Vario versus that produced by a machine costing 3 times the price? Also, while I understand the concept behind the espresso maching being the least important part of the equation, if you take the two machines that I've been considering, and noting they are at two very different pricepoints, are you saying that one machine's ability to produce consistent brew temperature or the ability to produce enough steam for frothing is not important? I guess the question becomes, at what point is spending gobs of money on a grinder a game of minor increments versus the need to stay within a reasonable budget for all of the necessary equipment?

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#12: Post by canuckcoffeeguy »

You mentioned your neighbour has a Nuova Simonelli Musica. What grinder do they have?

MntnMan62 (original poster)

#13: Post by MntnMan62 (original poster) » replying to canuckcoffeeguy »

He has the Baratza Vario.

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#14: Post by canuckcoffeeguy » replying to MntnMan62 »

Have you been able to use his Musica and Vario combo? And see how you like the routine and the Vario as a grinder? And have you tasted shots from them?

As I mentioned before, you can get better in the cup than the Vario, but that also requires more money. It also requires giving up something in terms of convenience: For commercial grinders, that means a larger footprint and perhaps a few more steps to single dose as a routine. For manual grinders, that means, well, hand grinding.

You could go with the Vario as a starter grinder. Then once you feel like you've mastered things with that grinder and your machine, if you think you want to upgrade eventually, you could dedicate the Vario to brew duty.

Also, if you're planning on steaming everyday, you're probably better off with the Lelit Mara or the Bezzera Unica. The Ascaso can steam, but it will take longer. And you won't want to entertain guests with a long line of drink orders with the Ascaso. The Unica is an SBDU with PID, so you would have to wait to switch from brew to steam and back. So that's also something to consider. Whereas the Mara is an HX, so it can brew and steam simultaneously or whenever you want. The UNICA with PID will set the brew temp automatically, while the Mara will require a cooling flush routine to get you close to the desired brew temp. Again, you can't have it all in this price range with machines. There are compromises with each of these types of machine.

Here's a video with Luca Bezzera demonstrating a shortcut switching from steam/to brew mode quickly. I came close to buying a Unica when I eventually got the Bezzera Magica, an E61 HX like the Lelit Mara.

Also, I think the Lelit Mara is fairly compact, narrow HX. If you don't find it cramped, that's cool. Just wanted to flag that.


#15: Post by BenKeith »

Am I suggesting buying a nice machine is not important, NO!. Am I suggesting you spend all your money on a grinder, and use a Krupps to brew with, NO. Did I make my post to start a pissing contest, NO! My initial point was, you are concentrating heavily on getting the best espresso machine, but seem to have little concern for the machine that's going to process the beans going into it. Read all these post of people buying these really nice machines, and then are on here asking why their shots are gushing, bitter, sour etc. It's not the espresso machine causing all those problems. Think about that when you get yours and you make your first post on why you are having extraction problems. I will also be the first to admit, you can have the $3,000 grinder and still have all kinds of extractions problems because of technique.
As for how well the Vario works on espresso, I don't have a clue, never used one. I did look at getting one for a coffee grinder, but because of the space limitations on where I had to put it, I went with the Virtuoso, but had no considerations of ever using it for espresso. I'm sure it's probably a fair, entry level espresso grinder, a lot of people are using them. After all, when I started 15 years ago, I bought a Rocky because it was "supposed" to be a good grinder.

I will just say, if you shop around, and put a few more dollars with it, you can find a much better, used grinder where someone several levels above where you want to start right now, are upgrading again. Grinders are probably one of the hardest choices there is. There are tons of them, many are similar in many ways, but most have their draw backs also. Something that doesn't bother you, could drive another person nuts. I hate dossers on a grinder, but some grinders are not going to work without them if you try to convert it. They become clump monsters and static generators. Some people prefer the dosser, over the doserless.

Team HB

#16: Post by baldheadracing »

With your budget, I would definitely get a 'better' grinder than the Vario before spending more on a machine than the price of, say, a CC1 (which costs less than the two fine machines you are choosing between).

Whether a 'better' grinder costs more or less or doesn't exist is up to you. Depending on your preferences and what kind of coffee you like, there are 'better' grinders than the Vario for less money; there are 'worse' grinders for more money; and the Vario could indeed be the 'best' grinder for you.

As an aside, for the same price, I would take a Cuadra over the Mara. Mind you, I wouldn't buy either machine nor a Vario; given your budget (and restricted to new equipment), I would buy either a Major, E37, HG one, or a Pharos, and go from there - but my preferences place quality of the espresso over appearance, convenience, noise, size, steam, etc.
-"Good quality brings happiness as you use it" - Nobuho Miya, Kamasada

MntnMan62 (original poster)

#17: Post by MntnMan62 (original poster) »

Thanks Keith. I wasn't trying to start a pissing contest either. My questions posed were sincere as I am trying to learn as much as I can before making the final decision. Some of the considerations that went into settling on the Vario were the fact that my wife drinks decaf latte drinks exclusively and I need my caffiene. Which means I'll be needing to adjust the grinder fairly frequently and the "experts" that I have spoken with have told me this is one of the more quicker adjusting grinders at or even above that pricepoint. The only negatives of it seem to be the housing is mostly plastic. And other considerations on the espresso machine itself have been a shortage of counterspace for this stuff. I'm not worried about height as my cabinets are 18" above the counter but I am concerned about footprint which is extremely tight. The Lelit seemed to offer the smallest footprint while offering a nice level of performance, both in producing shots as well as ability to produce steam for frothing.

Ryan, I have not operated my friends Musica but have sampled his coffee on a few occassions. This was all before I became more focused on the quality of coffee. My recollection is that I liked what he extracted. They were always with milk though. I don't recall ever having straight shots. I agree with you that the Mara or Unica would be better choices for me than the Ascaso since I will be steaming everyday. Thanks for the link to Luca's video on the Mara. I've seen that as well as others. A huge factor for me is the Mara's small footprint.

Craig, Interesting that you mention the Cuadra. I was considering that machine but what sent me back to the Mara was some quality issues that some people posted about with that machine. I am open to any grinder so long as it can quickly handle grinding duties for different beans.


#18: Post by BenKeith »

I will say one thing. I am not or never will claim to be anything more than slightly above a Novus but when it comes to espresso machines and making the milk drinks, I think you are tons better off with a HX or double boiler. When I first started I though I would just go down to a department store, buy the best one they had, paid $175 for it, and thought I would have something my wife could make her a cappuccino with. No need to say how that turned out. The internet then was not what it is today but I got on line and did all the research I could, and I was looking at one of those single boiler, no HX machines and decided I didn't like the idea of having to heat it up for one part and let it cool down to do another. Following advice from a few people back then I got the Livia 90 semi automatic, which was about as cheap of "good" machine with HX as I wanted. Even today, I wished I had put a few more dollars with it and got a double boiler, but it works good, and I'm not into this stuff enough to upgrade to a double boiler now. When I got a grinder, I bought a $120 grinder (15 years ago) that was supposed to do just fine. What a joke. So, I ordered a Rocky, which was the rave of the grinders back then. Again, adequate but barely once I learned a little more about what I was doing. I found a great deal on a Doge grinder, modified the crap out of it to single dose, and now there is a world of difference between shots from it and shots from the Rocky.
One word of caution with new grinders, or if you get a used grinder and put new burrs in it, I don't care who's it is, at first your are going to be thinking you just wasted a whole bunch of money on a piece of junk. Until those burrs get seasoned/broke in, the dang thing is going to produce junk. I've been through it four times now and until I get several pounds of beans though one, I can not make an espresso that fitting to drink, even if I can get it to extract.
So, from that point, a used grinder that has good burrs is way better than an new grinder, even if they are just alike. Also, remember that if you buy your new Vario, for the first few pounds of beans, you will most likely be pulling your hair out wondering what you are doing wrong. So, if you buy a new grinder or put new burrs in one, get you about five pounds of the cheapest, whole beans you can possibly come up with and start grinding until you have ground all of them, just let the grinder cool ever so often.

MntnMan62 (original poster)

#19: Post by MntnMan62 (original poster) »

Thanks Keith. Everything you say makes sense. I wonder if the Mazzer Mini would be as quickly adjustable as the Vario. I see one new for $500.

MntnMan62 (original poster)

#20: Post by MntnMan62 (original poster) »

And Keith, you are correct on the HX and DB. Which is why I'm really focused on the Lelit Mara. A nice HX machine. I considered the Profitec Pro 300 but was told the boiler is too small and the boiler is made of such thin metal that a very light press of the finger would cause it to dent. I think given my budget, a HX machine makes most sense.