HX espresso machines... Is there any more love?

Recommendations for espresso equipment buyers and upgraders.
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Postby tegee » Feb 17, 2016, 11:27 am

I've been very curious lately, in doing considerable homework for a new machine, that there seems to be love lost for HX machines.....at least in my observation.

Let me preface this by saying....I'm mainly talking about higher level prosumer home barista machines. The entry level machines, to keep costs down, is an obvious. But when you start shopping around and/or seeking advice for higher end models, it appears DB with integrated PID have literally consumed the market.

Am I off based with this observation? Have people, home baristas, become afraid of flushes, minor temp variations, etc.? Have out palates become so picky that a 1 or 2 temp shift haunts us?

Part of the reason I ask this is because it appears to get build quality of a higher end DB unit you get equal bang for you buck with an HX for half the cost. Similar to the lower end E61 HX's vs $2k-ish DB. Looking for commercial build quality in a DB (I.e. LM, Slayer, etc) you're looking at $5, 6, 7k. Getting the same "build quality" in an HX it's literally half. And I know, technology (PID), two boilers,etc all add significant costs. BUT is the quality "in the cup" better? Have commercial HX's (think Cimbali Jr Casa) type machines seen their better days?

My disclaimer is: I'm not seeking buying advice on one specific machine, but I am trying to gauge the short and mid-term market going forward. Say the next: 3, 5 or 7-years. I've got no dog in this fight....so please don't throw darts at me:-). I'm simply trying to "educate" my mid-level barista knowledge/skills.

Thanks in advance for any insight you can share...

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Postby JK » Feb 17, 2016, 11:58 am

HX has more hands on learning curve..
It's a tad more flexible when you know what your doing..
Check out Dan's videos in Tips and Tricks section..
Espresso 101: Newbie Introduction to Espresso [videos]
I forget which one he talks about HX or DB
I'm on a Mission from God!

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Postby gophish » Feb 17, 2016, 12:11 pm

I would agree there is a general shift. In my opinion that is because there are more 'prosumer' level DB's on the market now, and consumer demands (in general) seem to prefer double boiler machines, which came first, I don't know, but those two drivers are responsible for the shift, IMO.

In general, I think people get a lot of reassurance and comfort over seeing that PID number or setting and knowing that is one less thing to worry about, and there is less of a learning curve because of this. I also think there can be some intimidation factor with the unknown of an HX. Once you understand how it works and learn the flushing routine, it's very simple and easy to use, but I could see how it could be intimidating versus seeing a readout of a set temperature.

There are also more double boilers coming in a lower price points, which is making them more accessible. So, when you have something like the Profitec Pro300, that doesn't have the unknown of the HX, you can see why more are opting for DB's.

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Postby brianl » Feb 17, 2016, 12:16 pm

I can assure you that no one is afraid of flushes. However, at the end of the day, why would I want to flush a certain amount to make the machine usable when I don't have to? Sure ill flush an oz or two to clean my cup before pulling a shot but its very imprecise and I can do it with my eyes closed.

I make my own water as well, so all of that usage in flushes would drive me mad ha.

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Postby bluesman » Feb 17, 2016, 12:51 pm

brianl wrote:I make my own water as well

Wow! How do you do that????


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Postby jwCrema » Feb 17, 2016, 12:52 pm

I could not be more happy with my Hx and have zero interest upgrading. And I do suffer from bouts of upgraditis, especially when it comes to grinders. The Hx has fewer things to go wrong and its temperature stability is rock solid. I have installed Erics thermometer, which I used early to understand the flush, but since then only when I've made a change to pump pressure.

It's really been interesting for me to observe the continuing conversation about cooling flushing. I quickly saw with Eric's thermometer that once you're about 2 seconds past the popping and hissing the flush is over. My other early mistake was heating the machine for an hour with the portafilter locked in. But the flush is the simple step of holding the lever open for ~7 seconds in total and off, once.

What I also learned with the Hx is the pstat setting doesn't matter compared to the Cremina or La Pavoni. There are threads about this for my Hx on this site but I tried different settings - it was a waste of time, but a good learning experience. Of course this Hx is not a Cremina, but it was where I came from, and now I came to understand the reason ECM put the pstat valve under the covers - you can't mess with it unless you're determined.

On the other hand, pump pressure gets virtually no comments compared to flushing, and I'm astounded at the difference it makes in bringing the best out of a roast. Not coincidently, ECM put the pump pressure valve under the water lid and made it work with a small coin - easily accessible and 1/2 a turn can have a dramatic impact on flavor.

Taking posts at face valve and marrying up my experiences over the last 1 1/2 years with this Hx I tend to think the flush is blown out of proportion because modifying pump pressure is hard on other Hx's or there may be a lack of awareness. I re-read the ECM owners manual and they don't cover this topic at all in the English section.

This link is a good review, and Ken's observations about temperature stability match mine. It also links back to the HB.com review.

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Postby gophish » Feb 17, 2016, 1:04 pm

brianl wrote:I can assure you that no one is afraid of flushes.

That's not really what I was saying. There are a number of threads started every month with people asking questions about HX flushing and HX vs DB, and in a lot of those threads it comes out that they don't really understand the HX flush and how to manage it. I'm not even defending HX's, just saying how I can see why more people, especially those with less experience would prefer a DB, and can be sympathetic to that learning curve or the unknown of the HX.

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Postby gophish » Feb 17, 2016, 1:06 pm

jwCrema wrote: My other early mistake was heating the machine for an hour with the portafilter locked in.

You lost me here, why was this a mistake?

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Postby Nick Name » Feb 17, 2016, 1:53 pm

brianl wrote:However, at the end of the day, why would I want to flush a certain amount to make the machine usable when I don't have to?

I think the OP already answers that question. There's a price tag on DBs. Why would you pay more money if you don't have to? :wink:

On the other hand we have the best water in the world endlessly from our tap, so the infamous flush really is nothing to me.

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Postby EspressoForge » Feb 17, 2016, 2:08 pm

I think there are several factors at work here:
  • Water usage - subconscious or not, you tend to flush more with a HX...if plumbed in it makes it a lot easier
  • Fear of change - you have to change something each shot...now a precise flush should be the same, but this fear is there for a beginner anyway. It's a bit like conical vs flat burrs...I had a Super Jolly and loved it, but each day it required a very small tightening of the grind as the coffee aged. After switching to a big conical, the essentially no grind adjustment was relieving. Maybe better shots can be had with flats and some coffees, but it's the fear of that necessary change so often that makes it more hassle
  • People like numbers, even if they aren't real - seeing a number on a PID is believing, even if that number is only a set-point. My BDB shows the actual temp for a while when heating up, but once it gets close to the setpoint it "snaps" there and never moves. Maybe the PID is that good, but most loops that I've tuned either have some amount of overshoot and quick settling, or take longer to get to the set-point but are more stable. It's all in the PID values and not exactly magic...but the display sure is! I think it acts more like a car digital thermostat...tells you what you want to see but not the actual temp always. Not all PID machines are like this, but my point is that any number is more comforting than no number.

HX has plenty of pros. They are faster to change temp between shots, theoretically more fresh water is used. And a more simple/efficient design than having 2 boilers. But I think the number comfort and fear factors kind of outweigh these pros, especially when shopping for machines on paper.

You can see how learning to stop worrying about it too much can let you enjoy these machines with a great and efficient design:
Managing the Brew Temperature of HX Espresso Machines

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