First espresso machine - high end single boiler or low end double?

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

#1: Post by gobucks »

Hello, i'm in the market for my first espresso machine (wanting to branch out from pourover) and I'm feeling a bit lost. As a bit of background, I enjoy a mix of pourover from a chemex and espresso drinks, mostly cortados when I go to a nice coffee shop, but obviously I plan to get more into espresso once I have a machine at home. We sometimes entertain small groups of friends as well as my in laws, and my father in law really likes cappucinos. My wife likes americanos. So I'm thinking that in a given session, I'd generally be making 1-2 milk drinks unless I have an unusually large crowd, the rest espresso. I generally enjoy single origin light to medium roast coffees, so I want something with a fair amount of control (Definitely PID, maybe pre-infusion and/or flow control).

I'm thinking <$2k USD budget, which puts me into the range of high end single boiler or low end double boiler, and I'm kinda stuck on which tradeoffs to make. In the single boiler corner, I was looking at the ECM Classika PID with flow control ($1699), Bezzera Unica PID ($1389), Quick Mill Alexia ($1550), or the Rancilio Silvia w/PID and preinfusion ($1150). For dual boilers, I was looking at the Lelit Elizabeth ($1699), Profitec Pro 300 ($1799), and Rancilio Pro X ($1890). People rave about the Breville Double Boiler, but I really don't like the consumer appliance look at all. And then part of me wonders if I should just get the Profitec Pro 600 and be done with it, but it seems like overkill. Also, I've more or less ruled out heat exchangers, I think I'm going to want control over the brewing temp seems like it might cancel out a lot of the advantages of preinfusion/flow control.

So far, the most capable machines of each type seem to be the ECM Classika PID with flow control for single boiler, and the Lelit Elizabeth for double boiler. The ECM has preinfusion, e61, PID, and flow control, but obviously it's missing the second boiler. The Lelit has programmable preinfusion along with presets, which seems great, as well as PID, but it lacks an e61 so there is no way to add flow control, and I hear mixed things about the build quality.

The main thing I'm wondering is how the boiler sizes affect things. The single boiler of the ECM is much larger than the brewing boiler of the Lelit (750ml vs 330 i think), is that going to be a problem for back to back shots with the Lelit?
Thanks in advance for the help.

Marmot

#2: Post by Marmot »

I would suggest you get a Lelit Mara X from Chris Coffee since they add a flow control device for free at the moment.
The Mara X is an HX but it is a very modern and intelligent solution. You have three settings for temperature which the machine will hold and you don't need to flush the group before making a shot. I think the three settings are enough to cover dark to light roasts.
The Mara X is also faster in heating up than other E61s because the machine will "overheat" at the beginning to get the group hot faster and when it reaches stability on the temperature setting you chose a control lamp will indicate that.

Do you already have a capable grinder for espresso? Many people focus on the machine but the grinder is far more important for shot quality.

gobucks (original poster)

#3: Post by gobucks (original poster) »

The Mara X is an interesting suggestion. The lack of having to worry about flushing seems pretty helpful, and the price difference + free flow control is awfully tempting, but I'm worried it might be a bit too fussy for a newbie. All else being equal, I'd like something on the more intuitive side, since while I'm willing to put in some work to learn a new process, I think any chance of my wife using it depends on it being relatively automated (this seems to be the key Elizabeth advantage). Do you have any thoughts as to specifically how these two machines compare?

As for the grinder, at the moment I'm still using a Baratza Encore, but I have ordered a Niche Zero, should be shipping in February. I am used to weighing and single dosing my beans, so I think a machine specifically geared towards that should be good for me. If I end up buying an espresso machine that arrives before the grinder, hopefully I can at least get a passable grind with my Encore to hold down the fort until the upgrade arrives.

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Rice Bowl

#4: Post by Rice Bowl » replying to gobucks »

Flow control really isn't that fussy at all. I haven't used an Elizabeth, but there's no need to use the paddle at first - the MaraX seems perfectly capable of pulling straight nine bar shots while you continue gaining experience pulling espresso at home. The idea of getting Lelit's flow control kit for free seems like a no-brainer bargain if you're looking at machines under ~$2000. Just look up some youtube videos on flow control recipes/templates, it's pretty simple and greatly helps you have more control over the process of pulling at home in the long run. I was always put off by the Elizabeth before getting my E61 DB because the idea of being unable to manually upgrade to a flow control kit like you can on E61 machines felt like a ceiling I would eventually break through as a home espresso user.

gobucks (original poster)

#5: Post by gobucks (original poster) »

To clarify, the "fussiness" things I'm worried about with the Mara X are 1) The lack of independent temps. I would probably use the lower temp brew priority mode, which apparently lowers the steaming power significantly. And obv having precision of 1 degree is better than 2-3 degrees. 2) The interface. As a new user, the idea of programming the preinfusion, hitting a button, and then hitting it again once the shot clock has hit its mark seems a lot more intuitive than manually managing the mechanical preinfusion and flow control. 3) the Mara heat up time seems kinda slow, I can obviously buy a smart plug, but the 10-15 min of the Elizabeth is a big plus. 4) as you said, I'm both interested in and a little intimidated by the flow control. It definitely seems like the kind of thing that could really allow me to expand my brewing options as I get better, but a recipe requiring manual valve adjustment every few seconds could get very complicated very fast. For a light roast, how important is it compared to, say, temperature control and preinfusion control? Is it a situation where having 2 out of 3 should be good enough, or is flow control really crucial?

One other thing I forgot to mention, I live in a NYC apartment, it's large by NY standards, but I still do have limited counter space, so that's a point in favor of the Mara X. On the other hand, the Elizabeth is quite a bit shallower than the Mara X.

PIXIllate
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#6: Post by PIXIllate »

I looked at the Classika for a long time and thought that was the best machine for me to buy since personally I only drink straight shots. In the end I bought the Profitec 600 which is a similar machine but a dual boiler. After owning it for a few years I can say I'm very glad I chose to spend the extra money and have very little desire to replace the machine any time soon. Maybe a Decent at some point and if I had the room maybe a Londinium. But with a top shelf grinder I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

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mckolit

#7: Post by mckolit »

I say keep stretching that budget to get a double boiler. But before all that, what grinder do you have? What grinder do you plan on getting?

gobucks (original poster)

#8: Post by gobucks (original poster) »

@mckolit, I ordered a Niche Zero, due for February.

@PIXIllate, the Profitec 600 does seem like a pretty droolworthy machine, glad you like it. I feel reasonably confident that that would be the last machine I'd buy for the foreseeable future, but it's a lot to swallow right now. I have just made some other major purchases (new macbook, suit, plus the Niche), so I'm trying not to go completely overboard when I have no idea what I'll actually use. If that's the route I ultimately go, I will likely punt on a machine for a few months, wait for my bank account to recover, then reassess.

PIXIllate
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#9: Post by PIXIllate »

It's far cheaper in the long run to hold tight and buy once, cry once. I bought a Monolith last year and have another one coming in April and don't feel the 600 is out of place on the counter alongside grinders that cost more than the coffee machine.

drH

#10: Post by drH »

You have great options here. My opinion of the Classika after owning one for two years is that it makes excellent espresso and is rather forgiving. But if you make milk drinks it's a bit of a fuss to switch the boiler temperature back and forth between espresso and steam.

Of the machines you listed I'd probably go for the Silvia ProX: proven design, dual boiler, PID, pre-wetting. Sounds like solid and convenient basics. But I've never used it (or any of the others) so it's speculation on my part.