First espresso machine, budget around $400

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

#1: Post by wormraper »

Ok guys, I've been around for a while but I've stuck FIRMLY in the drip coffee world due to it being super simple, and not wanting to clutter my life with a devices (well a million devices MORE than I already have) so I stayed away from espresso.

However, over the last year I've really started to want to add espresso into the rotation by at least having it for those weekends so I can make some latte's for the wife and I while we sit on the porch with the dogs.

so, judging by everything that's out there and all the trouble and the maintanence of cleaning, descaling boilers etc, AND the fact that the wife has given me an ultimatum of "no big massive coffee machines that look like a transformer on my countertop!" and coupled with a budget of $400 (ish) that mean something like the flair machines would be my best bet unless I'm missing something.

here's the thing, I'm a bit snowblind figuring out which one to get. I know the NEO is out because it's a bit TOOO basic, and the 58 just seems a bit much. I know that while I'm a newbie at espresso, I'd like to grow and expand as I'm a tinkerer with flavors (my wife gets pissed off at me because I'm constantly adjusting grind size for her pour over because it just needs a liiiiiiiiiiiiiitle adjustment for the flavor profile, so I was wondering if the upgrade to the PRO 2 was forth the money over the Signature. I know the signature is only $199 on sale right now, but was wondering if the Pro 2 was worth the extra $125 or whether it was just "minor improvements"....although I like the ability to do a 20 gram/40 ml "double shot" from the PRO.

I have a K-max grinder right now which should at least get me off the ground for a grinder (until I get a Jmax or save up pennies for a Niche Zero) so I've got zero problems with hand grinding. Just wanted to know if my thinking was sound, and if the PRO or the Signature was the right choice

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#2: Post by sweaner »

I think that the Pro 2 would be the one I would get. You can consider a Robot too.
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#3: Post by Milligan »

Since your wife wants lattes you have to get one with a steam wand. That eliminates the robot and flair.

The Gaggia Classic Pro is the one to get in your price range that will do steaming. With a few minor mods the Gaggia can pull great espresso. Another option to look for is a Breville Barista Express which has a serviceable conical burr espresso grinder included. The only thing it needs is the OPV setting changed to 9bar (no parts needed, but takes about 30mins) and you can get good espresso from it.

You'll likely add on a few accessories here and there to help you out as you go like WDT, dosing funnel, tamp mat, brush, knock box, shower screen, blind portafilter, scales, baskets, etc. Those make for great birthday/Christmas presents :lol:

If you are handy then you can pick up a Gaggia or BBE for a song on FB or craigslist. All the parts are super cheap on them and they are easy to work on. You'll see some that were barely used. People tend to get into espresso seeing the fancy machine at a box store and then quickly lose interest.


#4: Post by iyayy »

the k can do just fine on flair pro2, breville bambino, or breville dual boiler with vst basket. you may have to adjust dose by .5g or so other than clicks to get your target recipe, very straightforward.

personally i dont like the effort to use flair pro2. too much wasted water, preheat work, and post cleanup hassle. robot is more sensible in workflow, 58mm, doesnt require basket preheat (tho some advise to heat the piston) and much faster to cleanup.

i end up getting bambino plus and more happy with the workflow and ease of cleaning, 3sec on to start to steam / pull hot water, etc. i also dont really favor nanofoamer, steamed milk taste much better.

if you dont mind 54mm, bambino plus with ims basket (i highly recommend the basket) gets you pretty good results, enough that i stopped using flair after getting it. without the basket, flair does have more complex flavor. difference is small if any with ims basket.
also you (or ur wife) can also auto steam the milk with the plus, and it works quite well.

for lighter roasts i'd recommend running a shot with blind basket to heat it up further, since the thermojet doesnt saturate the head well. but its still much easier and faster than preheating a flair.. you may hit a wall when doing very light roasts, despite being easier to get consistent better taste light roasts than flair pro2. the flair body takes a lot to heat, some people actually steam it on top of kettle. i got tired dealing with steam and extra hot cleanup, hence i got myself the bambino. some dont mind it.

58mm can give you bit more flavor, but it'll challenge your puck prep, dose, tamp, etc. coming from pure dripper it'll be some learning curve, i"ve been there myself, i was pure dripper for quite a long time.

for long term no upgrade path gaggia with pid is arguably much better affordable choice. 58mm is good. boiler does take quite a while to heat up, but i like the shots pulls and steam much better.

i went bdb after a year+ with bambino btw, and used the k for almost 3 years already for all of them. i like 58mm and steam boiler a lot, and grinding time slots well with the heating time.
but bambino plus is still ridiculously fast and convenient.

sorry forgot to mention mine is 1z k pro btw.

i do mostly 50/50 nell drip and latte. v60 in office. rarely straight espresso at all.

thats from my experience. good luck.

ragdoll serenade

#5: Post by ragdoll serenade »

If you go with a Flair or Robot you could add a Bellman steamer for your lattes. I would also consider a Breville Bambino or maybe a Solis Perfetto in your price range. Disclosure, I've owned none of these devices.

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#6: Post by peacecup »

If you could just find a little extra cash you could get a PV Lusso and be set for life: ... furbished/
LMWDP #049
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#7: Post by howard seth replying to peacecup »

Plus a short round trip flight to New Jersey to pick it up. "Sidewalk Sale" Amiright?


#8: Post by boren »

$400 is a bit too limiting. I'd get a Picopresso and keep saving for a better machine at a later stage.
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#9: Post by kris772 »

I am a) a cheapskate, and b) love to be entertained, so I often hit the 4 goodwills that are within easy metro travel range. I often see good delonghi's there, like EC-155. Got a EC702 that did very fine for me until I happened on a used Livia 90S (ebay) for $400 plus shipping. You can test in the store that the pump makes noise and boiler heats (just feel pf screen after 10 secs of on, but don't leave it plugged in w/o water!!!. Make sure it comes with a correctly fitting portafilter basket holder - that's the thing with the handle that you put the little basket with the coffee into, turn and lock. These are very expensive bought separately and often don't fit. Baskets can often be had cheaply if you don't fall for the "precision" thing (not saying they aren't good, but definitely NOT at this stage!) Oh, I have also seen Baristas there (made by Saeco for Starbucks - fine)

Second, I would look at ebay used, though they are often overpriced - anything Delonghi or Breville would do the job. Assure you can return free to seller.(it's part of the listing below price.)

As to Gaggia, I would avoid them since their steam capabilities are pathetic. I have gone through, I believe, 3 of them (different models) - new ones - before I learned - it wasn't me, it was the machine. You can do much better.

I would avoid hand grinders - btdt. takes forever. I would avoid the flair-type as I feel you will wish you had gotten one with a pump.

At goodwill and elsewhere you will see many cheap espresso machines with a steam bump/cap on top - no pump, they run by steam and will mostly produce burnt/bitter brew. Avoid them at all cost.imho.

Comment on pressurized pf's: - these are fine but, like anything coffee, taste depends almost totally on fresh beans. Even canned Lavazza from the local market will stay fresh for 8-10 days. I have actually used that on my Livia as a test.

At your stage, it is so easy to be bullied into various things. You can enjoy many fine brews from these inexpensive machines! (if my Livia dies, my Delonghi is sitting waiting in the closet!)

Oh, and for last thought, if you wind up with something that doesn't froth well consider a milk frother (NOT a nespresso which is way overpriced) - they will do satisfactorily for taste, though not for latte art.$10-15 as I recall. Amazon. "Instant".

Good luck!!! Let us know!

Remember, with more money, you can get, well, more in debt... :)

most are 51mm - get a cheap tamper, or use a spice jar bottom. Even(especially) with pressurized.
Life is too short for bad espresso! - Thunk-ed, NOT stirred!

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#10: Post by GLT »

Couldn't be easier!!!
As of 9/3 on HB's items listed for sale is a like new Gaggia Classic Pro with Mods (costly modifications) and a bunch of costly extras... with all boxes and paperwork... for asking $380!!! What'cha waiting for! Did you look there? Didn't you see it? Go get it! Then, just have fun!
If that doesn't work, import a Cafelat Robot directly from England!
And yes, you'll have to get a steamer or frother. Oh, and a grinder.