Looking for a cheap(ish) but decent starter espresso machine - Page 2

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
aindfan (original poster)

#11: Post by aindfan (original poster) »

I've sorta made the decision to go with either that costco machine (Faberware FES15B) or the DeLonghi EC155. Both within my price range, basically, leaving a bit of room in the budget to save up for the grinder. Given that both machines I listed are cheap, entry level pump machines, am I likely to notice a difference between them?

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jesawdy

#12: Post by jesawdy »

If you don't have time to boil water in an electric kettle and grind coffee for a press, you won't have time to use those machines either.

I will second any of the above recommendations. I especially like Randy's suggestions if you want espresso-like drinks, more so since you intend to use milk.

(EDIT - Oops, realized these are pump machines, but still....) If you must have a steam toy machine (and it will work fine for steaming your milk), save your money and hit a few yard sales or thrift stores, they are usually in abundance.
Jeff Sawdy

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Randy G.

#13: Post by Randy G. »

aindfan wrote:In terms of the grinder... I plan to buy ground coffee.

For any further suggestions, please put aside the fact that I will basically be pulling (that's the term, right?) crap (relative to what most of this site's members are crafting), so I need something that makes an *OK*ish beginner espresso shot that gets poured directly into a cup of steamed milk. Ok, maybe I'll take a sip of the espresso every now and then, but certainly not often enough to warrant a super high quality espresso process.
You didn't say what the source of pre-ground will be. If you have a convenient shop nearby and can get half-pounds of preground, then it might work out. If you are thinking about cans of pre-ground or buying a pound or two at a time, then this is not a good idea. Once ground for espresso, coffee is good for about an hour at the most- the very most. Without knowing the coffee, how old, or how it will be stored, I would say that using preground in a $sub-100 espresso machine would not approach OKish- IMO, I would barely be able to choke it down.

Using a sub-$100 machine with preground coffee will make some really pitiful coffee beverages. You are trading taste for the "experience" that will enable you to tell your friends that you make espresso, and that is about all that you will be getting out of it. Adding milk may make it drinkable, but just. You might as well say that you found some ground beef and are wondering if you can heat it with a kerosene lamp and make a sandwich with it.

If you want to make believe that you are making a cappuccino, then get a $19 milk frother and put in a spoonful or two of instant coffee. If you think heating water is too much trouble, or that cleaning up a French press is a mess, then after cleaning up after using an economy espresso machine for the first time you will be wondering if you should turn the machine into a lamp or sell it to the guy down the hall that likes the Grateful Dead and said he thought it would make a cool bong. :wink:

If you are interested in something that tastes good, read my first post in this thread. If you just want to make espresso and that is a priority, then hit the thrift stores and spend $10-20 on a used steam driven machine. Since you are going to be using pre-ground, the lower pressure of a steam machine may just make a better cup of coffee than using a better machine.

I am not tying to make fun or embarrass you, but trying to make the point that if taste is not important, then why even ask the question here in the first place. My first suggestion will make the best tasting coffee for the money. If fresh-ground (about one minute's effort) and heating water (fill kettle, plug in, and brush teeth while waiting) is too much effort or time, then give up on making espresso. It will be too much effort and after a week you will wish you still had the $100 in pocket.
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aindfan (original poster)

#14: Post by aindfan (original poster) »

Thank you very much for all of the very well thought out responses (making them quite different from my original way of thinking). Thanks to all of you, I have come to the realization that the taste of the coffee is truly more important than the cool looking foam on top of it, so here is what I might be deciding on:

1. Aerobie Aeropress ($25 + s/h)
2. "Burr" grinder - this seems VERY important based on what I've read. Posts on this forum lead me to believe that I should prefer to spend $50-$60 on a good grinder for fresh coffee every morning than $100 on a mediocre machine.
3. I already have a water heater. ($0)
4. I go to school in NYC, so I'm sure I'll be able to find good coffee somewhere. Zabar's comes to mind. ($10/bag?)

I'm considering the grinder an investment, so I can use it for espresso later in life, if/when I get a real machine.

I once again thank everyone for their hard work in making me realize that hiding a burnt/otherwise badly made shot in a hot cup of milk is not the way to go, and (based on what I know about the Aeropress) I hope the Aeropress will help me achieve delicious, low maintenance, straight cups/shots of good coffee.

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peacecup

#15: Post by peacecup »

With all due respect to the above baristas, I firmly believe you can make VERY GOOD espresso with a ~$20 second hand, hand-operated conical burr grinder, and an entry-lever Gaggia or Saeco pump espresso maker. And I mean VERY GOOD.

You can often pick up Estro (Saeco) Vapores (AKA Starbucks Barista) for $100 on Ebay - coupled with a non-pressurized portafilter ($20 new from Saeco) you can be pouring very nice shots. If you're coupling them with milk I'll wager you'll be brewing better drinks than most coffee shops within 100 miles of your house in no time.


Here's a 100% crema shot poured from a Saeco Via Veneto - a very entry level machine - don't let the plastic case fool you, its the same pump as the fabled Silvia. This shot happens to be from the pressurized PF - these are easily over-ridden with good beans and a proper grind, but for the extra $20 you can get the non-pressurized kind.



Here's the $20 grinder - conical burr, stepless, no clumping, no noise, and FUN:



PC
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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Randy G.

#16: Post by Randy G. »

aindfan wrote:Thank you very much for all of the very well thought out responses (making them quite different from my original way of thinking). Thanks to all of you, I have come to the realization that the taste of the coffee is truly more important than the cool looking foam on top of it...
There is hope for the youth of America! :wink:
aindfan wrote:so here is what I might be deciding on:
1. Aerobie Aeropress ($25 + s/h)
2. "Burr" grinder - this seems VERY important based on what I've read. Posts on this forum lead me to believe that I should prefer to spend $50-$60 on a good grinder for fresh coffee every morning than $100 on a mediocre machine.
3. I already have a water heater. ($0)
4. I go to school in NYC, so I'm sure I'll be able to find good coffee somewhere. Zabar's comes to mind. ($10/bag?)
I'm considering the grinder an investment, so I can use it for espresso later in life, if/when I get a real machine.
That all sounds good, but please be aware that an "investment" grinder will set you back at least $200. For espresso figure at least $250 or so. Unless you are willing to spend that much on just the grinder, the Cuisinart CCM-16PC mentioned from Costco (reviewed HERE on my Website) will work OK with the Aeropress. For just under $200 or so, take a look at the Solis or Baratza offerings- or maybe the MDF. Alternatively, you are close to two suppliers (1st Line and Whole Latte Love, both in Jersey), and you may be able to pick up a return/refurb grinder from one of them for less and save shipping. Give them a call.
aindfan wrote:I once again thank everyone for their hard work in making me realize that hiding a burnt/otherwise badly made shot in a hot cup of milk is not the way to go, and (based on what I know about the Aeropress) I hope the Aeropress will help me achieve delicious, low maintenance, straight cups/shots of good coffee.
See my review of the AEROPRESS. If the coffee is decent, it is nearly impossible to make a bad cup with it.
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alsterlingcafe

#17: Post by alsterlingcafe »

I had to add this......... By the time Randy and Peacecup, above, posted their responses, I had yet to finished mine. I read Randy's and realized how abrupt mine appeared, but out of selfishness and the unwillingness to admit I had drafted a poor example of a thoughtful response, decided to let it stand. And for Randy.....I still keep the Cuisinart, mostly as a napkin weight, in the espresso bar area....right next to the MDF which at that time replaced it! (My prime grinders are Macap M4 Stepless Doser) The Cuisinart will be "regifted" to one of the kids sometime this year. (smile) And as demonstrated by Peacecup, there certainly are used coffee equipment items out there. Although I've observed that the majority of gear is used commercial grade, with grinders rarely under $200. Of course, wait long enough and eventually a bus will stop at your corner.
aindfan wrote:Thank you very much for all of the very well thought out responses ..............Action Item #2. "Burr" grinder - this seems VERY important based on what I've read. Posts on this forum lead me to believe that I should prefer to spend $50-$60 on a good grinder for fresh coffee every morning than $100 on a mediocre machine.
Simply thinking out loud, and with malice toward none......

I'll never forget how excited I was to find a Cuisinart Burr Grinder at Costco for $29.00, regularly suggested retail $80.00! (....in the beginning)
Let's see............ I lost about 3 weeks of time and a fews dollars of roasted beans, trying to figure out why I couldn't get crema out of my Expobar!?
(Yes, one of you did mention the misplaced anger of the ".....this damn espresso machine doesn't work syndrome.")

My suggestion to those who posted such fine responses; wait until your kids grow up and have kids. Watch your kids explain to their kids why they have to shut the lights off when they leave the room. It took me about 30 years to realize that "Please-shut-off-the-lights-when-you-leave-the-room" may include certain frequencies and harmonics that may, pretty much, be inaudible to humans. The same phenomenon probably occurs when generating the sounds......"You must have a good grinder ($150 and above) before you worry about anything else."

I'm sure someone, maybe you Dan, has posted a warning that, plus or minus, THERE IS NO NEW GRINDER AVAILABLE FOR UNDER $150 THAT WILL GRIND FINE ENOUGH FOR ESPRESSO. This would certainly save alot of newcomers to this hobby a considerable amount of time. Beyond that, and being in sales and marketing, I am a firm believer that we all will sometimes pursue an objective, simply waiting to hear what we want to hear as reassurance for our decision. ("There must be SOMEONE out there that agrees with me? I'll just keep plugging away until I get my "go-ahead.")

Best, Al

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HB
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#18: Post by HB »

peacecup wrote:With all due respect to the above baristas, I firmly believe you can make VERY GOOD espresso with a ~$20 second hand, hand-operated conical burr grinder, and an entry-lever Gaggia or Saeco pump espresso maker. And I mean VERY GOOD.
I suppose it depends how you define "very good"; I define it as a 4, as discussed in What does your typical espresso rate? Regrettably they are not as frequent as I would like, independent of the equipment. Most of my espressos are in the 3.0 to 3.5 range and I'm willing to accept blame as the weakest link of my current setup. If it's any consolation, I consider those who pull consistent 4s as national competition level baristas.
alsterlingcafe wrote:I'm sure someone, maybe you Dan, has posted a warning that, plus or minus, THERE IS NO NEW GRINDER AVAILABLE FOR UNDER $150 THAT WILL GRIND FINE ENOUGH FOR ESPRESSO. This would certainly save alot of newcomers to this hobby a considerable amount of time.
I didn't say that, but I do agree the problem of most low-end motorized grinders is inconsistency of the grounds (boulder and dust), which leads to uneven extractions (i.e., both under and overextraction). Peacecup's suggestion of a hand grinder is apt, though I understand the Zassenhaus models are hard to come by these days.
Dan Kehn

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peacecup

#19: Post by peacecup »

Let me start by saying I began the espresso journey with a Saeco Via Venetto and store-ground coffee. I used to make great (so I thought) cappucinos and lattes. Looking back, I'm sure they were bad, but likely not worse that some cafe espressos out there. BTW, there wasn't any HB out there to help in those days! Then I read somewhere that I needed a burr grinder - off the get the cheapest I could find - an $50 La Pavoni PA. This was the worst $50 ever spent - totally useless for espresso - I used to have to grind two or three times through to get it fine enough! Then, I stumbled upon an old German hand grinder on Ebay - $15 at the time, and my espresso improved dramatically. I won't claim these are as good as $150+ electric grinders - I've never compared - but they will grind fine enough to choke both my lever and pump machines. I've since gotten a few more, and almost all have been excellent. So, I maintain that a good, used entry level pump machine, from a reputable seller, and a good hand grinder (you can PM me for specs) can make GOOD espresso (see below). Since I have never developed a taste for brewed coffee (french press), I would vote hands down for the entry level espresso setup. I love the ritual of grinding, tamping and brewing espresso, and I love the results in the cup.

RE: espresso quality, I've yet to read the link re: how my espresso rates( but will do so), but if Dan's are in the 3-3.5 range I doubt mine are any better. If 4's are competition level, a three is pretty darn drinkable. I'll give you an example of how my rate, just off the cuff, because I've never even been to a barista competition.

I live in Juneau, Alaska, and travel to Seattle 2-3 times per year. My straight espresso is better than 90-100% of what I can get in Juneau, from a local roaster/coffee shop chain that has been roasting and brewing 30 years. I buy my beans from their roastery, so we use the exact same espresso blend. However, I know my equipment, its clean, consistent, etc., and the beans are always fresh, and freshly ground. There is at least one competition barista in the chain, but other than that I have no idea about their training. They use La Marzocco machines. I doubt I have had a shot from them the past two years that rates with any of mine, either lever, or possibly from the cheapo pumps I use for backups (Saecos).

Even on trips to Seattle I've generally been disappointed with coffee shop espresso - even fairly well-known roasters, like Cafe D'Arte, Caffe Umbria, Zoka. Last time I was in Seattle I had 10 or more straight shots at Zokas, from at least two competition baristas. Some may have been better that my good shots, but most weren't.

BTW, Haven't I read from Dan the same thing, that its tough to find cafe espresso better than home-brewed? Isn't there a thread somewhere on HB where someone compares his old Krups to his new HX machine?

Regards,

PC
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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Randy G.

#20: Post by Randy G. »

alsterlingcafe wrote:...... And for Randy.....I still keep the Cuisinart, mostly as a napkin weight, in the espresso bar area....right next to the MDF which at that time replaced it!

I'm sure someone, maybe you Dan, has posted a warning that, plus or minus, THERE IS NO NEW GRINDER AVAILABLE FOR UNDER $150 THAT WILL GRIND FINE ENOUGH FOR ESPRESSO. This would certainly save alot of newcomers to this hobby a considerable amount of time. Beyond that, and being in sales and marketing, I am a firm believer that we all will sometimes pursue an objective, simply waiting to hear what we want to hear as reassurance for our decision. ("There must be SOMEONE out there that agrees with me? I'll just keep plugging away until I get my "go-ahead.")

Best, Al
I am a bit confused because I cannot tell whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with what I said. To clear any confusion, I have never stated that the Cuisinart would work for espresso. I recommended it for use with the Aeropress. A flat plate of steel and a smooth-faced hammer would work with the Aeropress. Although I have not tried it, I do believe that the Aeropress would work well with a whirley-blade device.

As far as espresso, I agree with peacecup in that the least expensive grinder for espresso is a quality hand grinder. As far as electric grinders, there are some in the general area of $200 that would work, albeit not well, but acceptably for most people (not for most people on this forum, but most people). MDF, Solis, Baratza come to mind. Spend a bit more and get a Rocky. But the Cuisinart for espresso? I never recommended that.
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