Looking to upgrade espresso setup with flexible budget. Recommendations?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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#1: Post by joshboni86 »

Hello all,

So I got myself an entry-level setup almost a decade ago way back in Med school; a Lelit PL41TEM as well as a matching grinder, the Lelit PL53, and am looking to upgrade. Honestly, I find myself using the Kurig more often than not now, which saddens me. The Lelit produces decent shots, but is just not that fun to use. I threw in a higher temp thermostat to get better steam, which helped some, although it's still not great. And the grinder has always been pretty terrible TBH.

Anyway, I'm looking for upgrade recommendations. I do mostly milk beverages... love doing that latte art haha... so probably something with a double boiler. Other than good steam, I just want something that is a joy to use. Price-wise I can drop whatever I need to on it, as long as it's justified, but it's not like I'm running a coffee shop here either. Usually 1-2 drinks a day, and more for company on occasion. Any recommendations are appreciated, or forum links that you think may be helpful. Thanks!

Edit; Thank you everyone for suggestions. I ordered a new micra and niche zero yesterday. Can't wait to get them in. Gotta say, was definitely tempted by the levers, but in the smaller place I have right now, it would be a struggle to fit one. Also, I still hold out hope I can get my wife to pull a few shots here and there (as much as she asks for lattes lol), and the micra has a better chance there.

As far as the grinder I was between the p64 and the NZ, but ultimately came down to two things; First, I rarely make drip coffee at home, although I do occasionally French press. And second, I don't like the look of the p64. Not saying it's ugly, but it reminds me of a microscope or some other lab equipment and I see enough of that at work lol. Plus the white NZ and micra just look sharp together. I will probably aim to get a decent hand grinder for filter coffee, or else just keep getting it from the roaster weekly that's 5 min from my door.

I'm sure I'll eventually add to/upgrade, particularly for some of the lighter beans I like, but for now I think this will do nicely. Thanks again everyone!

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#2: Post by luvmy40 »

I can highly recommend the Breville Dual Boiler and the Niche Zero, and/or the DF64.

You are welcome to come up to Ravenna and pull a few shots some weekend if you would like to try out the combination.

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#3: Post by Eagleboy99 »

Profitec 600

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#4: Post by mrgnomer »

Welcome to the upgraditis rabbit hole. Beware, it may become an obsessive addiction where $250 scales and $100+ tampers become justifiable purchases.

I too started with a similar single boiler thermoblock machine paired in a package with a stepped grinder. That lasted for almost a year before upgrading to a plumbed in rotary pump e61 and stepless doser grinder. Big improvement on overall espresso quality that lasted over 10 years. The machine finally needed an overhaul and upgraditis bit again.

A commercial group lever replaced the e61 HX along with a new grinder. Great improvement there.

It depends on what your extraction quality goals are and your budget. Anything you get to save money on might be lost if you're inspired to upgrade sooner than later. A good used e61 machine paired with a solid used grinder like a Niche Zero or DF64 or a stepless doser from any commercial grade manufacturer would give you the tools to improve your milk steaming and espresso extractions. With the machine, an e61 group is a common part so the choice there would be heat exchanger or double boiler, PID temp control or pressurestat, flow control or not. The more refined the options the more expensive the machine. A used good condition E61 HX with pressurestat control should be the most reasonably priced.

Or you could skip the common second stage upgraditis solution and go right for a lever. They're popular right now and for a reason. They offer extraction control that rivals machines that are much more expensive. I find mine to be like a manual transmission performance vehicle; the increased hands on makes it so much more fun to drive and once you get a feel for the control there's so much more you can do compared to a standard semi automatic pump driven machine. The steaming is really good too.

This might start an upgraditis rabbit hole but check out the Home Barista Guide to Espresso. It's pretty comprehensive.
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#5: Post by ira »

A Niche Zero and a Linea Micra might be perfect for your needs. Probably about as close as you can get to banging out a perfect espresso for milk and really good steam to boot, so making perfect milk should be a breeze. The Niche is a reasonably priced single dosing conical grinder perfect for traditional espresso.

There will be lots of other suggestions, all of which are valid. It sounds like you're more interested in the result than the process and both of the machines should be perfect for that. Perfect milk drinks with the least amount of drama with tools that just work and look good doing it.

As always, IMHO. I've neo had one in my hands yet but all the people I know who have, seem to have come away with that impression.

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#6: Post by Jeff »

Unless you're looking to move into light-roast espresso and probably straight shots, this becomes a "one from column A, one from column B" kind of thing. Once out of entry-level machines, the better machines in each price class will provide solid, classic espresso and be reasonably forgiving in doing so. The tradeoffs among them are mainly in terms of price and workflow, with a bit of slight bend in flavor profile in some cases.

Ones that I would consider include

Column A:
* 1Zpresso K-series (or similar hand grinder)
* Option-O Mini Moonshine
* Niche Zero
* Acaia Orbit
* Option-O P64

Column B:
* Breville Dual Boiler
* Lelit Mara X
* Lelit Elizabeth
* Bianca / Synchronika / Profitec Pro 700 -- maybe the new Chris Coffee Sorella (I don't know much about this one)
* La Marzocco Micra

Edit: If it plays out, I'd include the Argos Odyssey in the list. "Commercial-group" levers can be excellent, once they've warmed up. They and most E61s, including those listed above, take 30 minutes to an hour from cold until they're ready. I've gotten very spoiled by machines of various types that are 10 minutes from "I think I want an espresso" to enjoying one.

I wouldn't hesitate to pair a La Marzocco Micra with a Mini Moonshine -- the first shots I pulled on the Micra were with the Mini and they were very good from the first shot. My hesitations on the Mini would be around if you were expecting to make more than a couple shots at a time. It isn't intended to be a high-volume grinder.

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#7: Post by vizia »

I second the Linea Micra. Got mine around a month ago and been pulling great shots compared to my previous E61 HX. It's a joy to use it and feels like I'm in a cafe! I paired it with a new Option O Lagom P100 but still keeping my Niche Zero (it's a great grinder). P100 can pull clear and flavorful shots but as a massive flat, doesn't have the same mouthfeel/body as a conical. I still prefer it as I like the clarity of the shots with the roaster I buy my beans from, and normally stock around 3-4 single origins at any time.

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#8: Post by Quester »

Jeff wrote: Column A:
* 1Zpresso K-series (or similar hand grinder)
* Option-O Mini Moonshine
* Niche Zero
* Acaia Orbit
* Option-O P64
Jeff, what are your thoughts on the Turin DF83? I watched Lance Hedrick's review, and it seems like a good value with minimal modifications (taking the declumper out and using bellows). And some interesting burr options coming in the near future. A 500w motor. $700.

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#9: Post by Jeff »

I haven't had a DF83 in hand so I can't comment on the workflow. I'm well aware of the challenges with the DF64 in getting good alignment at grind gap. Getting a clean wipe only tells you the unloaded alignment at that point. There are execution problems in the DF64 related to parts not being "square" so that when you rotate the adjustment collar the burrs are no longer parallel. This was foreshadowed by the common instruction to try the upper carrier in each of the three position to see which is best. Something with reasonable axial symmetry shouldn't be wildly different rotating things 120°. If it is, you're probably getting to one of the "bad" points as you change the grind setting. The DF64 has what I consider design flaws on several fronts including too much flex in the adjustment collar and inadequate motor mounts. Another flaw is that the bellows are directly attached to the floating carrier. If you press down on them, the burr gap changes -- ugly, but it means you need do remove your basket before using the bellows.

Alignment, burr gap that doesn't change under load, and repeatable adjustment of burr gap are, in my opinion, keys to high-quality grinders. Right now I don't trust any of the "inexpensive" Asian imports or unproven grinders like the Zerno to be able to deliver on that out of the box for virtually all buyers. As Jake's examination found, even having a "clean wipe" at touch may be significantly off at typical espresso grind gaps.

Wattage doesn't tell me much more than a number the manufacturer put on a nameplate. Hand grinders are probably 10 W or less and do a great job. The Zhang Ultra, from what I understand, sucked several hundred Watts without any beans in it due to how it dealt with preloading the bearings. One of the significant changes with LeverCraft Ultra was a redesign of that portion of the grinder. Delivered torque at grinding speeds seems like what matters to me. Will it slow down or stall under load? Will it grind your choice of beans, no matter how hard, at espresso-level fineness?

83 mm grinders are still a bit challenging for burr choices. That may improve in the future or you may be at the whim of Mazzer and SSP on what they manufacture and distribute.

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#10: Post by Mochajoe »

How about a La Marzocco Linea Micra and Eureka Libra. Can't beat this combination.

If money, or the lack thereof, is part of the equation, the Eureka Specialita is always a safe bet. However, I would love to have a Mahlkoenig E65S GBW, even though it is too big to fit underneath cabinets.