Higher end HX espresso machines vs. lower end double boilers

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

#1: Post by Bex »

Hi there!

I was hoping that the experts could help me with the following question. I am a complete newbie, and plan to buy a nice machine in the spring. As mentioned in another thread, removing temperature from the equation that has so many variables is very important to me in a machine. Reliability is a close second.

The higher end HX machines that are regularly praised - Andreja, Vetrano, etc. - run in the neighborhood of $1500-$1600 dollars (more if you add the thermometer). An Expobar Brewtus II currently costs $1550 from Whole Latte Love.

Comparing these, why would one choose anything but the Brewtus II? It is comparable in size and appearance (if a bit less attractive - but the steampunk appearance of all these machines is an acquired taste, isn't it :)); has the simplicity for pure espresso of the single boiler + PID setup; and has the easy steaming of an HX due to the dedicated steaming boiler.

Even if I look at a lower end HX machine, like an Anita, that's $1250 and the thermometer adaptor brings it to $1350, so only $200 saved. $200 saved, though, is $200 that can go to something else, like a grinder upgrade, if the performance - most importantly the ease of temperature control! - is the same.

Edit: note that I am excluding, for the moment, the possibility of plumbing in any machine that I buy.

User avatar
mrgnomer

#2: Post by mrgnomer »

I've never used a double boiler like a Brewtus or LaSpaziale VII but from a lot of reading even between the commonly offered double boilers there's differences in design and even reliability that could have an effect on performance.

I've upgraded from a Silvia to Vetrano. While I had the Silvia I was tormented by wanting to upgrade almost as soon as I learned to get good shots from her. With the Vetrano not a hint of upgrade fever in almost 2 years.

There's something to be said for either single boiler HX semi automatic lever actuated 61 group machines. HX flushing is no problem for me. Temperature stabilty is something that's being focused on recently but it's debatable whether accuracy within a couple degrees F is really noticeable. Flushing an HX makes for quicker on the fly temperature adjustability, in any case, than a double boiler and is pretty accurate.

Before temperature is even a factor one would need a good grinder, good hand and some good experience at extracting espresso to be able to target extraction temperature You'll have to grow into any machine you start off with if you don't already have good barista experience.

Most who like double boilers find them easier to use and find being able to set the temp for brewing makes for consistently good espresso. Most who like HX's like the on the fly flexibility and the benefits of always fresh from the source water for brewing, e61 lever preinfusion, more compact design and price. A Vetrano is about the price of a Brewtus II, I believe, but with the Vetrano you get a plumbed in rotary pump machine which I find is a great set up for quiet convenience.

There are a lot more e61 HX machines for sale in the same price range than double boilers. Servicing an e61 HX is probably a bit easier. The parts are pretty common to all and pretty well stocked as the design has been around for some time. Might not be as easy to service double boilers.
Kirk
LMWDP #116
professionals do it for the pay, amateurs do it for the love

MDL

#3: Post by MDL »

I think that you need to decide what you want in a machine. Both HX and double boiler machines have different attributes (that sometimes overlap).

In addition to the Brewtus you also need to think about the LaSpaziale Vivaldi II and the mini-Vivaldi if you are going to look at double boiler machines in the sub-$2000 range.

Personally I really love my Vivaldi II and appreciate not having to think about cooling flushs on an HX. However, that is my bias and opinion.

It is also very desirable to have a rotary pump (quieter) and to have the machine plumbed in so that you don't have to fill or clean a reservoir; again my bias and opinion.

Good luck,
Mark

User avatar
julioale

#4: Post by julioale »

Alex by Izzo (rotary pump), La Valentina, Vibiemme, Fiorenzato Bricoletta are others nice HX

Ale
Ale

LMWDP #180
Puerto Rico Baristas Association - Member

User avatar
Bex (original poster)

#5: Post by Bex (original poster) »

Thanks, guys.

A few follow ups:
mrgnomer wrote:Most who like double boilers find them easier to use and find being able to set the temp for brewing makes for consistently good espresso. Most who like HX's like the on the fly flexibility and the benefits of always fresh from the source water for brewing, e61 lever preinfusion, more compact design and price.
This is helpful. I hadn't thought about water going stale in the boiler. On the other hand, I don't see myself (right now) wanting to change temperatures much. To use an example: I love scotch, but when buying bottles, rarely buy full bottles of anything except a couple of brands. I would not expect my patterns to be different with espresso. Doesn't the Brewtus have the e61 grouphead, and isn't it fairly easy to warm up?

At least until you look at the LaSpaz, as mentioned by MDL. That adds significant price and size (the depth of other machines generally comes from their drip tray & PF handle, whereas the depth of the LaSpaz applies to the upper body as well). It seems to me that once you leave the Brewtus behind and start looking at the LaSpaz, the price of $1900 goes back to price trade offs as well as just feature trade-offs.

ppopp

#6: Post by ppopp »

Something else to consider - Andreja, Vetrano and Izzo can be purchased from Chris. The Brewtus comes from Whole Latte Love. Big difference there.
Peter

Know beans, know coffee. No beans, no coffee.

User avatar
mrgnomer

#7: Post by mrgnomer »

Bex wrote:Thanks, guys.

A few follow ups:


This is helpful. I hadn't thought about water going stale in the boiler. On the other hand, I don't see myself (right now) wanting to change temperatures much. To use an example: I love scotch, but when buying bottles, rarely buy full bottles of anything except a couple of brands. I would not expect my patterns to be different with espresso. Doesn't the Brewtus have the e61 grouphead, and isn't it fairly easy to warm up?

At least until you look at the LaSpaz, as mentioned by MDL. That adds significant price and size (the depth of other machines generally comes from their drip tray & PF handle, whereas the depth of the LaSpaz applies to the upper body as well). It seems to me that once you leave the Brewtus behind and start looking at the LaSpaz, the price of $1900 goes back to price trade offs as well as just feature trade-offs.
The La Spaziale brew boiler is smaller than the Brewtus which some might consider a benefit for fresher water. Don't know if any boiler can be completely flushed with fresh water but water in a smaller boiler would exchange quicker, I guess. I think has to do with how long you can run your pump. I don't think the vibe pump of a Brewtus can be run long enough to exchange out its water.

The specs say the Brewtus has an e61 group. The definition of true e61 can vary but one of the features I think of is a preinfusion chamber that opens and closes with the action of a manual lever. This, from what I understand, is what allows pressure to build up to full, whetting the grounds first for an extraction potentially less prone to channeling. The e61 group was designed, as far as I know, to be used with a heat exchanging line. It's got mass to help maintain thermal stability and usually a thermosyphon loop to help circulate the HX brew water to maintain a more constant temp at the group head. Cycling in and out of the boiler gets the HX hot so that's why a flush is necessary. With a boiler dedicated to brewing a direct connect could be considered a better option since the boiler is held at brew temp anyway. An e61 on a double boiler is a bit of a miss match but if it's capable of preinfusion that might be one reason to use one. On a double boiler the nose gets cold so you have to flush not to lower the temp but raise it up. I think the Brewtus' thermosyphon makes for less of a temp raising flush but I could be wrong.

Any machine with lines and a lot of brass takes time to warm up. About 40min. You can speed it up by flushing but I don't think the Brewtus would warm up any faster than say a Vivaldi II. The Vivaldi may heat up quicker with it's smaller boiler and recover faster as well.

Consider your vendor too. Your warranty doesn't come from the manufacturer, it comes from the vendor. There's no network of authorized service centers from what I'm reading. The service under any kind of parts and labour warranty is only done by the vendor you bought the machine from. Other vendors will service machines if they can but they'll charge you. Buy from a vendor who'll back you with service and support. Keep in mind that many vendors have exclusive distribution rights in North America from machine manufacturers. Chris has Quickmill. All Quickmill machines along with their warranties go through him either directly from him or to distributors he's authorized. Whole Latte Love has Expobar. I think Stephano's is the Vibiemme distributor. So if you buy an Expobar, say, you'll probably be dealing with Whole Latte Love for any service.

From my experience Chris' Coffee is very good with service and support from helping you set up your machine to fixing your machine if there's any kind of problem. Search the forums for what people are saying about different vendors out there.

It's hard to go by opinions, though. The usual bias is to promote the equipment you've got. Brewtus owners mostly have good things to say about Brewtus machines. Vivaldi II owners love their machines... All I can say is I really like my Vetrano. There are complaints and concerns with all machines and vendors too. Some seem to have more than others and that maybe is what you could look out for.

I love Scotch too :lol: Got a good collection of single malts that aren't full bottles anymore :wink: What do you mean about buying full bottles with respect to espresso equipment? Do you mean that you'll only be pulling shots now and then? If so, I believe all higher end double boiler/e61 HX machines can be left on all day if you want. I've got my Vetrano on a timer to go on before I get up so it can heat up and on weekends she usually stays on all day.
Kirk
LMWDP #116
professionals do it for the pay, amateurs do it for the love

User avatar
Bex (original poster)

#8: Post by Bex (original poster) »

Thank you - that is all incredibly useful information and that and your earlier comment get to the core of what I was asking. Thanks for taking the time to type it out.

My scotch comment meant that while I will try scotch from different distilleries when I'm at a bar with a great selection, when I'm buying for home, I pick from a few tried and true favorites (Lagavulin if I'm feeling flush with cash :)). That way I get my regular comfort infusion, which is more important to me than experimentation. The analog being that I don't expect to buy lots of different beans and experiment with the different temperatures they might want - rather my personality is more likely to find something I really like and then just stick with it. So I put a little less value on quickly changing temperatures.

That said, there is something to the point about fresh water and the chance to get a quieter rotary pump (though I'd be looking at the non-plumbed in Alex, I think), and the reliability of the distributor. Everyone raves about Chris' Coffee.

User avatar
RegulatorJohnson

#9: Post by RegulatorJohnson »

a double boiler is also essentially 2 machines using electricity... all day probably.

i have the vetrano. wanted brewtus.. but the WLL vs chris thing. the rotary. blah blah.

using the extra electricity was a deciding factor when i realized i would be running 2 heaters to heat 2 boilers.

jon
2012 BGA SW region rep. Roaster@cognoscenti LA

User avatar
mrgnomer

#10: Post by mrgnomer »

Chris strikes me as an honest guy who's into specialty coffee and espresso. He knows his machines and is very loyal about backing them. He's very hospitable.

When I was keen about upgrading machines I put what I'd been reading to the test and arranged in advance with Chris' to try out a couple machines and grinders I was interested in. My wife and I made a trip of it. It turned out to be a great trip- better than I expected.

He's got his machines in a room and with enough notice he'll hook up the machines you want to try out if they aren't hooked up already and let you try them out. I was there for about 3 hours burning through his coffee and trying out machines. In all I was there with my wife almost a whole day. Besides trying out equipment the rest of the time I spent talking to him and his assistant, getting advice from him, getting a tour of his place and finalizing the purchase of new equipment. Talking to Chris, seeing his business and his expansion, meeting his staff I got the impression that he's going to be around quite a while. I felt even more confident about going with him as the vendor.

The Vetrano and VII are his collaborations with Quickmill and LaSpaziale to design good machines that have what most people would want. He's very detail minded from what he's said about the Vetrano. He had her tweaked a few times until he was satisfied with her design and performance. He's got a couple grinders now made to his specs and they look like good grinders.

He's said that he's not in the business of selling God shot machines but machines capable of consistently good espresso at a reasonable price. I think he provides very good value for your money.

As far as a machine to go with a home double boiler might well suit your needs if you'll be better served by a set brew temp. I like to experiment and with home roasting my roasts are constantly varying not only by bean or blend but different roasting profiles. I think a machine that's very hands on and flexible for brewing serves me better. The home double boiler with temperature control is relatively new as a design, from what I know. It's being applied by high end manufacturers like LaMarzocco and Synesso for temperature consistency and accurate adjustability. I've had a well extracted fresh Black Cat off a Synesso Cyncra two group and the shot was embarassingly better than what I get out of my Vetrano. There's more to the Cyncra than the stability of a dedicated brew boiler, though, and the price reflects it.

The e61 group was patented in 1961 and the HX design has been around commercially for quite some time. It's tried and found to be true. I think it's an ingenious way of holding a single boiler at steam temp and getting it to not only brew at extraction temps but make it pretty brew temperature stable and flexible as well.
Kirk
LMWDP #116
professionals do it for the pay, amateurs do it for the love