New to espresso advice - buy cheap, learn and upgrade, or buy expensive and learn

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

#1: Post by Alwyn »

Hi all,

I've been grappling between two espresso machines at quite different price points. I'm new to espresso, have been using my 9Barista up until this point which is a variation on a stovetop brewing method. For my birthday as a gift to myself I'm looking to take the next step and purchase a fully fledged espresso machine.

The way I see it, there are two options that appeal to me: buy a Rancilio Silvia for £500 or a Lelit Bianca for £2000 (or there abouts, waiting to see when v2 is available in UK online). If I were to get the Rancilio I would be able to learn more about the fundamentals of making an espresso and then upgrade to a better machine once I have more experience. With a Lelit Bianca I would be able to learn on a machine that has more control over all of the variables up front and I can tailor from there.

I guess my question is, would it be better to learn the basics on a more simple model before upgrading - I'm not bothered really about the financial commitment, the reason for thinking of starting in this range is that I think it would be easier to learn on a more basic device. I know within myself too, I'd want to upgrade from that point to a machine that offers the kind of control and ability to experiment that the Lelit Bianca does.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated :)

P.S. I have just ordered a Niche Zero, which is yet to arrive - this was part in preparation for the espresso machine and in part for use with v60

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#2: Post by Nunas »

My advice is to skip the Silvia. The Bianca (or any DB for that matter) is easy to run and learn on. Some of the skills with the Silvia are not particularly transferrable to a DB anyway. For example, flushing and surfing are entirely different (little warming flush and no surfing). Also, you don't have to use the flow control right off. Ditto waiting for the boiler to get to brew/steam temperature. Just set it to a normal water debit (I imagine it says where this is in the manual...if not do a little search here and you'll find plenty of info). In the case of all machines, just play with one variable at a time when you're learning. You'll soon get the hang of it.


#3: Post by mgwolf »

Your choice of grinder is fine. Whether you jump right in to an expensive machine depends on your confidence that you want and will keep the espresso habit, your amount of discretionary cash, and how much you want to finesse/massage a machine into giving good espresso. The Silvia was a great beginner machine about 15-20 years ago, but there are much better entry-level options available now. Don't get a Silvia. I agree with Nunas in the previous post. If your interest is in fooling around with a machine for it's own sake, go cheaper. If your interest is having a nice espresso drink regularly, start with a double boiler. There are plenty of opportunities for screwing up a shot (i.e. learning curve) even on double boilers.

I think many of us here on the forum started small many years ago due to budget as well as lack of affordable/decent home equipment. Today, there's much more available for reasonable money ("reasonable" being a relative term).


#4: Post by Alwyn »

That makes a lot of sense, I don't think I'd be hard to convince as I wanted a bit of validation before making a big purchase ... but I'm pretty confident that I'll stick to having espresso regularly so I think jumping in with a Bianca is the right call for me :) I'll let people know how I get on with it, once it's available!

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#5: Post by TomC »

Hey Alwyn, welcome to HB!

I agree, skip the Silvia. Not that it's bad, but that the learning curve is steep and nailing it just right is going to be tighter on it. The Bianca could probably be explored for years, yielding great results the whole way thru and will be less frustrating.


#6: Post by ojt »

I approached this in the way that I'd get the cheapest possible machine that I know can make exceptional espresso and otherwise meets my requirements. Ended up being the Pavoni in my case and am happy with the choice. Silvia and the like will get frustrating quite quickly in my opinion. Dialing in a light roast for example I can imagine would be quite finicky. With a good, performant machine you can actually learn because you can trust the machine. My 2 cents.

Of course there are many other machines too to consider. Many here like the Sage / Breville Dual Boiler. Then there is the all new Lelit Mara X that seems like an interesting choice for beginners (and oldies alike I guess).

I once had this idea that a good / real espresso machine does not exist for under 600€ new. I think this is still quite correct but for manual lever machines the sum is a bit less, and for pump machines I think a bit higher, somewhere upwards of 1000. Probably my standards have changed.


#7: Post by PIXIllate »

I had a Gaggia Classic Pro for about 3 months. One of the most frustratingly inconsistent experiences of my life. Literally I could do 3 shots back to back at 18g in 36g out and get timings from 22 seconds to 40 seconds. I worked my a** off on puck prep with every trick in the book. One day I just had enough. I flushed it, cleaned it, put it back in the box and sold it that night. Nobody needs that much frustration to start their day.

I will never understand why this machine (which is stuck running at 13 bar) is recommended by so many people. I can go into other people's homes who have mediocre e61 machines and pull shots better than they can on their own gear so maybe I did learn extreme puck prep but it was not worth the headaches.

If you can afford a DB I'd say skip the grief. As evidence of this I'm currently shopping for a Profitec 600 after 6 months of not drinking coffee.

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#8: Post by millmountain »

Alwyn, the Niche and Bianca are really a great combo. I started with a cheap unit because of the financial aspect and low knowledge, but the validation you've received here is, well, valid, since you have said you are not concerned about the financial commitment. Should you ever drift from the Path of True Espresso, the Bianca should have a good resale value.

If you have not done so already, I would highly recommend looking into the quality of water you will put in the machine. I've gone with distilled + rpavlis recipe.

PIXIllate, ouch. Six months without coffee? That first cup is gonna taste sooooo good.


#9: Post by PIXIllate »

millmountain wrote:PIXIllate, ouch. Six months without coffee? That first cup is gonna taste sooooo good.
People say I'm extreme but I'd always rather have nothing than something less than excellent. Same reason I gave up wine. If I can't afford to drink aged Cru Burgundy I'd rather have water. It always amazes me how so many people talk about how particular they are and then proceed to consume mediocre beverages. I don't live somewhere where there are commercially available shots pulled that are as good as the shots produced by friends at home with taste and passion for the very best. And no wonder. The general public doesn't demand it. I've always said "You can't teach taste."

And yes, the headaches were quite bad for the first month.


#10: Post by Alwyn »

Thanks everyone :)

Side note, it can be intimidating joining a new community and the fact that people are so open to respond is very re-assuring so I appreciate everyone's input!

The responses seem pretty unanimous by the looks of it :) maybe I was confusing the idea of learning the fundamentals... I suppose it would make sense to learn these on a machine where I can more tightly control the variables... Thanks for helping me make up my mind