First timer with budget around $1000

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

#1: Post by gegtik »

Hi everyone,

I've been delving deep into purchasing guides and I have to say I'm really, really excited about moving into the world of espresso.

My previous forays into the world of coffee have included drip, presspot, cold-brew (toddy), ibrik (a bit of a disaster. I bought a 10 cup before I realized that I would have to brew 10c every single time I use it), and more recently, a stainless steel moka pot and a vacpot.

I've got a not-quite-good enough grinder, by reviews I've been reading: the Breville Ikon.


Now, assuming my budget is somewhere around 1000 (cheaper is appreciated, more expensive could be tolerated), and I would prefer to amortize the purchase over a few months (buy a grinder now, an espresso machine later... or vice versa). Where should my priorities lie?

I've read several times that the unsung hero of espresso is the grinder, and that a good grinder should be the first priority -- however, I've also read that the Ikon is a barely-passable grinder for espresso when set on its so-called "Turkish Coffee" setting, so maybe I should pick up an espresso machine first, screw around with it using grounds from my Ikon?

Or, will the over-coarse grind of the Ikon necessarily create sub-par espresso (esp. at the hands of a complete novice like myself), and sour me forever on the idea of making my own espresso?

On my interests:
I believe I'd be happiest with a semi-automatic espresso machine from what I've read on the matter. I want to be able to froth milk.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer me :)

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sweaner
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#2: Post by sweaner »

Go for the grinder first. The Baratza Vario would serve you well, as it seems to do well with multiple grind types. Consider a gently used Gaggia espresso machine. This is what I started with, and it gave me great experience and time to learn. That way, when you want to upgrade...and you will...you will be ready.
Scott
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gegtik (original poster)

#3: Post by gegtik (original poster) »

A question now that I've done more reading...

Looking at the pros and cons of what's available in my budget, I've started contrasting semi-autos versus lever operated machines. Will buying a manual machine net me any advantages over a similarly priced semi-auto (grouphead mass? Boiler capacity?)?

How much steeper is the learning curve for a manual vs. a semi auto?
What other tradeoffs am I overlooking?

Any help would be appreciated :)

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HB
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#4: Post by HB »

Apologies for quoting myself, but from HX or Double Boiler Espresso Machine?
HB wrote:Comparisons based purely on spec sheets (e.g., boiler design, group design, features) will lead to a superficial decision. When taking into the account the various recommendations you're sure to receive, there's no more valuable piece of advice than this: There's no substitute for hands-on experience.
In my opinion, some levers are harder to master than semi-automatics, primarily because they require more attention to brew temperature management and true lever types (non-spring) require more attention to brew pressure. That said, I reviewed the Ponte Vecchio Lusso and agreed with others' reports that it's among the easiest espresso machines to use (semi-automatics included), so be wary of generalizations that all levers are more challenging than their electric pump-equipped cousins.

If you have an evening free, read the Lever Espresso Machines Smackdown and Olympia Cremina 2002: The evolution of design. If you make it through these two before bedtime, add an oldie but goodie Elektra/Pavoni side by side. They're long reads, but I found them quite interesting. :)
Dan Kehn

gegtik (original poster)

#5: Post by gegtik (original poster) »

Thanks for the reply, Dan!

last night i chewed through espressomyespresso which has given me some sort of perspective on semi-autos (the silvia in particular).. now to learn about levers :) The more I learn, the less I know... it's humbling

draino

#6: Post by draino »

It sounds like you are headed toward the Silvia/Vario combo, which should take care of your $1K. I learned on the Silvia for two years and it is well built, well reviewed machine. If you are an impatient person, multi milk based drink person, then you might want to jump to an HX machine or lever.

I have a used Super Jolly, which is a great grinder for espresso, but from what I have read about the Vario I do have a little remorse as the SJ needs a little more per shot work than I thought: clear a few beans from the hopper, sweep the chute and the doser, do the schnoz and sweeper mods. Plus, you can't use it for drip or Press Pot. Kind of trivial stuff for the enthusiast, but things that make you think the grass is greener on the other side.

Just my humble $ .02.
Good Luck
Dave

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timo888

#7: Post by timo888 »

gegtik wrote:I've read several times that the unsung hero of espresso is the grinder, and that a good grinder should be the first priority -- however, I've also read that the Ikon is a barely-passable grinder for espresso when set on its so-called "Turkish Coffee" setting, so maybe I should pick up an espresso machine first, screw around with it using grounds from my Ikon?

Or, will the over-coarse grind of the Ikon necessarily create sub-par espresso (esp. at the hands of a complete novice like myself), and sour me forever on the idea of making my own espresso?
One of the most important things about a grinder used for espresso is that it permit fine adjustments within the espresso range. You are likely to be disappointed in the outcome without such a grinder. Hand-grinders are relatively inexpensive but deliver a high-quality grind, if you're willing to grind for 1-2 minutes by hand. You will have a better chance of making something drinkable with a good grinder and a so-so machine than with a so-so grinder and a good machine. Even a $10,000 espresso machine will produce undrinkable espresso if the grinder isn't up to par.

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gegtik (original poster)

#8: Post by gegtik (original poster) »

draino wrote:It sounds like you are headed toward the Silvia/Vario combo, which should take care of your $1K. I learned on the Silvia for two years and it is well built, well reviewed machine. If you are an impatient person, multi milk based drink person, then you might want to jump to an HX machine or lever.

I have a used Super Jolly, which is a great grinder for espresso, but from what I have read about the Vario I do have a little remorse as the SJ needs a little more per shot work than I thought: clear a few beans from the hopper, sweep the chute and the doser, do the schnoz and sweeper mods. Plus, you can't use it for drip or Press Pot. Kind of trivial stuff for the enthusiast, but things that make you think the grass is greener on the other side.

Just my humble $ .02.
Good Luck
Dave
Funny you should mention that, a member here is offering me a SJ + ascaso uno pid for 1k, and I'm mighty tempted. It seems like a pretty good deal (other than having to deal with US-to-canada shipping), and while I've had no problems finding people's impressions of the SJ, the ascaso is another story.

I'm also entertaining the idea of picking up a second-hand silvia V2 w/PID for $600, or possibly an old gaggia classic that's being offered for 250. Finally, the guy running the local coffee roaster may be offering to sell me his old pavoni epc (lever-operated)... but I'm not sure if he was serious or not :P

Overall I have to rate myself: oversaturated with information!

gegtik (original poster)

#9: Post by gegtik (original poster) »

timo888 wrote:One of the most important things about a grinder used for espresso is that it permit fine adjustments within the espresso range. You are likely to be disappointed in the outcome without such a grinder. Hand-grinders are relatively inexpensive but deliver a high-quality grind, if you're willing to grind for 1-2 minutes by hand. You will have a better chance of making something drinkable with a good grinder and a so-so machine than with a so-so grinder and a good machine. Even a $10,000 espresso machine will produce undrinkable espresso if the grinder isn't up to par.
I've come to accept that a vario-level grinder is in my near future :P

draino

#10: Post by draino » replying to gegtik »

Sorry if it seemed that I was dissuading you from an SJ. They are industrial strength and do a great job. They have resale value and are built to last, so if the aesthetics are not a turn off and you can get one cheap, then go for it. I have not used a Vario, but many positive things have been written.

A PID'd Silvia at $600 will keep you happy for a while as well. Upgraditis may hit you eventually, just look at many of the machines users have at this site. So I think it is important to get your price ceiling in line. The used SJ/Vario route will do, IMHO. The question for you will be what to do if you want to spend much more than $600 for an espresso machine. Having gone from a Silvia to an E-61 Vetrano has shown me the benefits of a second or third tier quality machine: on demand steam, more consistent espresso, and a few bells and whistles such as looks, rotary pump, plumb-in, etc.

Again, good luck.
Dave