Is E61 HX espresso machine a good place to start?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
jorgen83

#1: Post by jorgen83 »

Right, so some of you might have read I purchased a second hand Mazzer Major recently, but now I have a confession to make... I don't have an espresso machine yet. This is because firstly I took the grinder first advice to heart, but also because I'm a poor student. That said, I'm now aching to get to brewing some goodness.

I was eyeballing a Silvia for a long time, but now I'm thinking more in terms of an E61 HX. I hate upgrading and since I would also like milk drinks I'd rather have something that would exceed my demands than underpowered like the Rancilio. So the question is, what is a good place to start? I could probably get something like a Vibiemme Domobar used for about 400 euro's. I don't know how much I'd miss a hot water point.

Sedi

#2: Post by Sedi »

As far as I know, the domobar, not the super, is not an hx. I would have bought it instead of my hx oscar if I were more educated at the time. I am 99% espresso guy, so it fits me better with the same cost as my non e61 hx. In the hx class, I think the oscar is great in terms of value per euro, but I can see my self upgrading in the future, which you wrote you personally hate to do. Many times, this is how it is when you buy value per mony. Good luck.

jorgen83

#3: Post by jorgen83 »

Hmm, that would explain the low price.

The oscar would functionally be great, but it's kind of ugly (sorry). So then I'd guess a Expobar Pulser would be the cheapest alternative (still not really pretty). For now, that's already a hard sell to my girlfriend (who thinks it's ridiculous to spend this much money on a "coffee-machine" :roll: ).

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Randy G.

#4: Post by Randy G. »

You are looking in the right direction, but take you time and wait if necessary to get what you want instead of ending up with a compromise machine. A lot of great machines feature the E-612 brewhead, but having an E-61 brewhead does not mean that a machine is a great one.
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

CafSuperCharged

#5: Post by CafSuperCharged »

jorgen83 wrote:I was eyeballing a Silvia for a long time, but now I'm thinking more in terms of an E61 HX. I hate upgrading and since I would also like milk drinks I'd rather have something that would exceed my demands than underpowered like the Rancilio. So the question is, what is a good place to start? I could probably get something like a Vibiemme Domobar used for about 400 euro's. I don't know how much I'd miss a hot water point.
I live in the Netherlands like you and bought an Andreja Premium (by Quick Mill, through Chris Coffee): E/61 HX.
I felt I needed an HX because of the superior steaming capacity (almost scary at first) and because the HX does not need to cycle up and down between coffee and steam temperature/pressure.
The downside of HX is the boiler is at a relatively high temperature to always have the infinite steam capacity and the heat exchanger - a coiled tube running through the steam boiler - feeds fresh water heated by running through the steam boiler. After an idle time both the water standing in the HX and the group heated by HX water that circles through the group become too hot. Hence the temperature surfing people write about.

After an episode of total allergy of anything containing proteins I was forced to skip on the milk drinks. As my wife is into pure espresso as well, I reduced the pressure in the steam boiler so its temperature gets nearer the desired brew temperature. Steam is a bit less now. If boiler pressure/temperature is too low, intra-shot stability might suffer and wait times between shots might increase.

A tendency in the espresso market is dual boilers to solve these issues in one go. Brewtus Expobar is an example. With the VBM Domobars, most that were sold in the NL are single boiler (no HX) where you need to flip a switch for steam that raises temperature and flip it back for espresso (and wait for the entire machine to cool down).

The hot water point _might_ be used for tea, but be warned on an HX machine it is taken from the steam boiler and comes out at boiling point. That is OK (required) for very strong English or Irish Breakfast teas, but way too hot for an exquisite Japanese green tea and probably so for a nice Darjeeling or Oolong.

I suggest you look at http://www.chriscoffee.com and take a look at the Quick Mill machines. Be warned if you buy one through the USA, you are on your own regarding warranty. Chris has a good service department, no comment at all, but if you need to replace some part quickly, you need to probably find a professional espresso machine maintenance workshop (and they will be surprised your home machine actually uses the same parts they use in the real big ones).

The biggest "irritation" of most of the home machines, including mine, is the vibration pump noise. Rotary pumps with electric motor are about as big as a boiler in a home machine, so usually home machines have the smaller vibration pumps. Commercial machines in bars usually have the pump outside the espresso machine under the sink/counter top.

After all it is about the coffee. To me, the process is most important (learning involved) and this applies to very expensive commercial machines as well. And the fit between the coffee you select and your machine - some are very forgiving, others must have been roasted and cupped using commercial machines with 0.1 degree precision and will only produce divine shots in a very narrow temperature band. So, set an additional budget of 10% to 20% (your case) of your machine for experimentation with coffees and the learning process.
After a few years, with Andreja Premium, I have almost god shots on a daily basis, gosh shots every other day and no sink shots at all. But, a change in the coffee roast can be a hard hit causing serious re-learning. In other words, it's the barista ... that is a adds the "sufficient" condition to the "necessary" condition of the hardware.

Take care,

Peter
Netherlands
Europe

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Spironski

#6: Post by Spironski »

Ha, another Dutchie! :D I'll be short in my answer: The E61 is a very good place to start. It is a forgiving system, and the "water dance" isn't too difficult at all.
The Major is a good starting point as well! I have one of those also.
Think about a second hand espresso machine (Marktplaats? You got your grinder second hand, did you?)). I got mine (3 years old) at one quarter of the original price! Be patient, and look for something else than a Domobar. I think they are a little overpriced, as everybody is looking for them. And if you drink cappuccino's: don't go for a single boiler non HX, you'll regret it.
About buying in the US: with the dollar so ridiculously low, it is tempting. But how about the 110V against our 230V? You can't just plug it in, can you?

CafSuperCharged

#7: Post by CafSuperCharged »

Spironski wrote:The E61 is a very good place to start. It is a forgiving system, and the "water dance" isn't too difficult at all.
My experience too. And it can be the last. To develop your barista skills, read other people's experiences with the water dance, but be aware this preparatory process really depends on the settings of your machine.
With some of the coffees in the market being not forgiving at all, I really needed a good thermometer, though and still consider the in-group sensor with a digital thermometer for that matter. And I still consider a PID as replacement for the pstat-based thermo-regulation (PID potentially does not add much to the equation - not having seen a lot of data on this out there - and is generally considered the wrong approach with HX boilers).
Spironski wrote:Be patient, and look for something else than a Domobar.
I think they are a little overpriced, as everybody is looking for them.
I think they are good machines. Probably the only ones with a _real_ E/61 group (if I remember well, having read this somewhere, Faema sold the patent to VBM at one point). The VBM group is cast in a slightly different mold. I do not think there are functional differences.
Much depends on execution elsewhere still though, as the functional parts themselves are generally the same in most machines. One commercial brand X buff & mechanic once said to me he "hated brand Y machines because their HX lead was just too short". This means small engineering details will give potentially not so subtle differences between machines' espresso qualities. (shorter HX lead -> higher boiler temperature -> more steam -> more overheating of group during idle time but may be more stable with high volumes starting from the 2nd or 4rd shot)
Spironski wrote:And if you drink cappuccino's: don't go for a single boiler non HX, you'll regret it.
To reverse this:
If you do a lot of milk drinks take a
- HX machine (usually has one boiler); or
- dual boiler machine.
If you do not do milk drinks at all or hardly ever, you could consider a simpler single boiler machine and probably PID it.
Spironski wrote:About buying in the US: with the dollar so ridiculously low, it is tempting. But how about the 110V against our 230V? You can't just plug it in, can you?
Wrong assumption.
My Andreja Premium is a decent 230V 50Hz (cycles/second) version. At the time, Chris Coffee was able to deliver these Andreja Premiums straight from the factory (in the Milan(o) region, where I coincidentally picked it up during a holiday and paid it as well). The USA only came in administratively, it is where I placed my order.
The reason I mentioned this route/website to a "poor" student is to build some more fundamental understanding of the types of machines that are sold "out there", alternative to the Domobar.

If do a lot of milk drinks, you have the space, money, time and handiness, consider even this:
- buy two second hand single boiler machines.
- PID one of them and modify the temp flip swith so it starts the pump when the heater is off (manual fill);
this is your espresso machine now.
- use the second one as a steam machine only.
Unanswered question is if the second machine lasts long as it needs to be able to run at the higher steam temperature all the time.

Regards
Peter
Netherlands
Europe

jorgen83

#8: Post by jorgen83 »

Thanks for all the advice. I had already thought about getting two machines to make for a makeshift two boiler setup, but that's not going to fly with my girlfriend.

And so I've been looking at some decent HX machines. Buying at Chris Coffee and getting a machine straight from the factory does sound like a nice deal. If I pick it up myself like you did, does that also mean there's no shipping costs? Otherwise buying secondhand is no problem at all, but what should I pay extra attention to with older machines?

CafSuperCharged

#9: Post by CafSuperCharged »

jorgen83 wrote:I had already thought about getting two machines to make for a makeshift two boiler setup, but that's not going to fly with my girlfriend.
You have to make her understand that you do not _need_ the HW, but just have a discerning taste. That's why you chose her and need extremely delicious espressi. The kit is secondary.
By the end of a serious meal in a serious restaurant (National Top 20, Michelin stars), my wife would say she would like an espresso and then we decide to have it at home, because it is plain better.
Take your SO to e.g. De Koffie Salon (Utrechtsestraat, Amsterdam) or Palladium (around corner of Leidseplein, Amsterdam) and have espresso. Both have Kees van der Westen machines, the former lever, the latter E/61 based, and excellent Italian coffee (Roman style).
As to space, in a student's condo you may have little. My house has a small kitchen and I decided to put the espresso stuff in my music room. A trolley from Ikea (stainless steel) with a drawer to hold the knock box and accessories/tools, a lower open shelf to hold the bulk of demitasse cups/saucers, some spirited drink, and on top the HX machine, grinder, scales, tampers and a jar with coffee beans.
jorgen83 wrote:If I pick it up myself like you did, does that also mean there's no shipping costs?
Before deciding to go there, make sure this is still an option for your preferred machine. Next settle administratively with e.g. Chris and do not arrive unannounced at the factory in their holiday period.
They did not charge me any shipping - it really was the place where they put everything together. Make sure you have a good GPS system, though.
jorgen83 wrote:Otherwise buying secondhand is no problem at all, but what should I pay extra attention to with older machines?
If you are capable of some DIY plumbing, you should be able to do many things yourself. You need not be capable of the ultimate zen of motor maintenance. Wear of parts depends on use. If a machine is on a time or manually switched on/off frequently it heats/cools more often and the respective expansion/shrinking will cause more strain on joints, seals and parts. On my machine the first part needing replacement was the vacuum valve on the boiler. Safety valves probably last a lifetime. Other parts that might need replacement are the water pressure regulator, pressurestat, etc. A search on the internet will learn you these parts are not extremely expensive (unless you want a Sirai pstat and your machine has space enough to host it).
Probably a bit more expensive is the boiler water level sensor with electronics box.
Question is why somebody does away with a good machine? Because it was not looked after well (no frequent maintenance, no descaling, etc.) and the machine looks really aged, then I would expect to have to replace most vital regulation parts and potentially boiler, copper tubing and group.
A big worry may be, especially if you want to safely adjust parameters with the machine running (230V) is the electrical insulation on connectors may have become brittle because of prolonged heating and not be safe anymore. In which case you have to rebuild/replace the wiring loom.
I hope this gives you enough negotiation points for buying 2nd hand.

Take care.
Peter
Netherlands
Europe

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Spironski

#10: Post by Spironski »

Man, it sounds like you want to scare him off! :D Okay, here's my story:
I have a second hand La Scala Butterfly (a 2 l. boiler HX E61), which brand and type nobody knows, so nobody looks for them. The person who posted it had misplaced it in Marktplaats (not in the espresso-departement, but in kitchenware). So nobody was bidding on the item.
The asking price was € 650 for a 3 year old machine, which I think was reasonable, as the new machine itself costed €1400, the grinder which came with it €300, and the knockbox €35 (and there was also 2 kg. of stale coffee). My bid was €350. I got it for €375, shipping included. The machine was sold because the wife thought it was too big, so they bought a Nespresso.
I am making espresso with it for over half a year now, and I am very content. I had to replace the brainbox (ouch!), but that is all.
I sold the grinder for €100, and bought one of the Mazzer Majors for €75. So I think I have a pretty good set up now! :D