Option Paralysis: First espresso machine, budget $2-5k, what's most important?

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

#1: Post by Scheissami »

Hi all, I've spent many hours over the past few weeks reading through many threads here and on Reddit regarding equipment choices.

A quick bit of background. I drink primarily V60 or Chemex most days, with Aeropress if I just want a small cup or am traveling, and cold brew in summer. I was the recipient of a Nespresso machine as a gift ~8-10 years ago so have had my share of capsule "espresso," though I've not enjoyed it as much since getting into nicer coffee with pour-over. I live in Portland, so there are quite a few well-reputed local roasters. I have recently enjoyed lighter roasts, higher elevation, fruitier/vegetal coffees. I am not averse to acidity in general. I use a Niche Zero grinder, chosen in part with the intention of using it for both espresso and filter coffee.

I greatly enjoy espresso when out and am ready to take the plunge. I primarily enjoy espresso straight, but also like cappuccinos and cortados. My wife loves lattes. I expect to make 4-8 shots per day, with anything from 1-4 milk drinks per day, and my 3 year old son is already a lover of--decaf!--coffee so I expect as he get's older that number will only increase). We love to entertain so at times (once the pandemic allows) I anticipate serving a fair amount of drinks at once (after supper, brunches, etc.).

I tend to get significantly invested (mentally as well as financially! :shock: ) in my hobbies, as that's part of what makes them enjoyable for me--understanding the why's and wherefore's. I am absolutely willing to put in the time necessary to learn the craft, as well potentially more complex machines.

I am in the fortunate circumstance of having a reasonable amount of discretionary money (in fact compared to some of my other interests, such as music, hifi audio, and cycling, espresso doesn't seem all that exorbitant!). My budget for my first machine is upwards of $5-6k, I'm in no hurry so if a nicer machine would represent a substantial improvement I am happy to wait to save more money, and I tend towards enjoying nicer things in and of themselves, even if I cannot necessarily enjoy their full potential immediately. I know conventional wisdom would suggest purchasing a more budget option, but I know I like espresso and would like to enjoy it at home, so I'd rather commit up front. Buy once, cry once.

What I think I have settled on so far: double boiler; tank with option of being plumbed in the future.

From there, I've ended in the vicious cycle of agonizing over possibly minor differences and option paralysis.

My initial thought was the La Marzocco Linea Mini. I like the aesthetic (a bonus for my wife, who allowed the associated increase in budget 8) ) and review here on HB is fairly glowing. The simplicity appeals to me, as I can focus on *my* technique and tasting coffees, rather than getting lost in flow/pressure profiles, programming, staring at screens. It heats up quickly, has ample steam power, and seems to be reliable/serviceable. Cons: no real preinfusion; no control of pressure/flow without aftermarket mods (I'm not completely averse to this, but some of these seem a bit kludgy); expensive for the functionality. As I live in Portland, I went to Clive Coffee's showroom to see the machine and get a chance to brew with it, I enjoyed the simple work flow and staff suggested it would be an excellent high-end machine, unlikely to warrant upgrading in the future.

The Vittoria Arduinio Eagle One Prima also seems attractive. A bit more cost upfront than the LMLM, but some savings as the plumbing kit is included in the cost. Has "Pre-wetting" though this seems to be closer to true pre-infusion than the implementation on the LM. The aesthetic is equally nice, though different than the LM (I live in a ~100 year old home with mid-century vibe, not the expansive modern design that I think would suit the VA EP1 best; also, the lovely LED-lit back panel of the machine would face the wall). Cons: new machine, so reliability and user experience are relatively still unknowns; App integration so far still sounds fairly buggy; water tank small so would need to prioritize getting it plumbed; not sure I would use the VM dosing.

Lelit Bianca: Manual flow profiling; wood accents; cheaper than the other options; removable water tank if plumbed, making the machine's footprint smaller. I don't really like the chrome look, Lelit's pedigree maybe not up to LM and VA standards?

LM GS3 MP: Manual flow profiling but with conical valve so implementation different than on other machines, also wastes water when used this way (correct? excess water diverted to drain? annoying until it gets plumbed in). I find it lovely, but adding the cosmetic wood upgrades gets this machine into truly expensive territory, could spring for a Slayer for similar money. This one seems hard to justify.

Decent DE1XL: options galore for flow/pressure profiling, preinfusion, everything. Small footprint. Lots of capability for the cost. Lots of data to analyze, theoretically allowing me to learn faster from my mistakes and to repeat my successes. I worry, though, that this would simply end up with my constantly fiddling with parameters instead of focusing on technique, preparation, and *the coffee*. Also, not keen on the aesthetic/UI, don't want to program my coffee, I think I would enjoy the more traditional/analogue vibe of the other machines.

Anyway, this was quite a treatise. I've enjoyed lurking here for a while, I believe I've already learned quite a bit about how to get to work and hopefully begin to understand my inevitable mistakes. I'm overall leaning towards the LMLM. I figure it should last as long as I want it to and would allow me to focus on my skill and palate. Should I eventually wish to expand my workflow, I could later sell the machine and invest in something with more features. In another five years, the options for flow/pressure profiling will likely be greatly expanded, with many more options.

What do you experienced folks think? is this reasonable? Am I insane to drop $5K on a machine without preinfusion or pressure control? Or is it the perfect machine for me to learn the craft?

Malachi noted in his La Marzocco Linea Mini Review:
it's hard to know how the home barista community is going to react to this machine. It's a throwback and it runs counter to a lot of trends in the market right now. It puts the responsibility for the coffee back on the barista and pretty much removes the machine from the equation. As a barista, it's back to being a conversation between you and the coffee. But this assumes you have confidence in your palate, can tune parameters from taste, understand espresso -- and that you desire the removal of gear from your experience. I don't know if there are a lot of home folks who fit this profile
In any case, I appreciate your time reading this tome, would love your feedback.

Cheers!

drH
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#2: Post by drH »

I have had a number of machines over the years and I'm currently working with two side-by-side. The Olympia Maximatic and the Cremina. The Maximatic is an HX machine but with good temperature consistency. I would guess that it's like a Linea Mini with less control over temperature and a bit less convenience.

In a way I'm in a similar situation. For my next home setup I'd like a plumbable machine with some more flexibility. I thought long and hard about larger lever machines but eventually put them aside for now because all of the available ones fall into one of these categories (which isn't bad, just doesn't work for me): no local support or local vendor, amazing on paper but still new in the market, requires plumbing or reservoir but doesn't allow for both. Maybe one of the new lever machines can work but not yet.

So I've narrowed it down to the LMLM and the GS3. For now I'm leaning to the LM because of the reasons you mentioned and because for 90% of the time I'll prefer the simplicity of the design. And, why not keep a small lever like the Cremina or a Streitman on the side to experiment with pressure profiling and satisfy the remaining 10%? If you get into roasting you can always move the small machine to your roasting area.

bobkat
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#3: Post by bobkat »

Based on how I interpret your evaluations of your choices for an espresso machine, you are leaning in the direction of LMLM. I am not an expert on espresso machines but I have read very good reviews on this forum about all of your choices. You are very fortunate to live in a location where you can actually view in person the machine you are interested in buying. I think your final decision should be what machine YOU feel most comfortable with for ease of use/maintenance, looks, and espresso produced. Good luck!

trimona
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#4: Post by trimona »

Did you read Bella Barista review of the Lelit Bianca?

https://coffeeequipmentreviews.wordpres ... it-bianca/

The ultimate question is what will be the difference in the cup between the LM and the Bianca with flow control.
if you buy the Lelit,you can invest the rest of the money in a high end grinder.The theory is that the grinder is more important than the espresso machine.
Good luck with your research!

Pressino

#5: Post by Pressino »

I second trimona's comment about reserving a part of your total espresso budget to a high quality grinder, which you will definitely need if your goal is excellent espresso. None of the machines previously mentioned will produce great espresso from non-optimally ground coffee. Figure setting aside $600 to $2000 for a superb grinder. :shock:

elkayem

#6: Post by elkayem »

After 12 years with various espresso machines and the last 6 months with a machine with flow control (the Bianca, on your list), I can honestly say that I could not imagine investing in any future machine without some kind of flow control device. It has absolutely transformed the quality of my espresso. This is why I would personally take a pass on the LMLM. You mentioned enjoying lighter roasts. You should know that flow control can make an especially big difference on lighter roasts.
★ Helpful

SandraF

#7: Post by SandraF »

Given that you are in Portland, OR, may I suggest you make an appointment with Clive Coffee to get demos of their machines? They sell many of the ones on your list. If you're not familiar, they're on SE Hawthorne near 8th or 9th.

I bought my entire setup from them, in part, because I can drive over in 20 minutes & they transported my purchases to my car & loaded it for me. I was unaware that I could have made an appointment, so bought my espresso machine & grinder sight unseen.

Having one on one time to demo some machines, touch & feel, etc. might be nice. Their showroom is closed due to Covid, so with an appointment you will have lots of space with not many folks inside.

Stavey

#8: Post by Stavey »

Pretty simple , I'll make it easy for you.
Fact is under 5k you simply can't beat a Decent DE1.

jgood

#9: Post by jgood »

I second visiting Clive -- it's a great luxury to have one of the few vendors of "our" type of machines close by. I am sure you could set up an appointment and pull some shots on a few of your finalists and get some hands on time. I am not a fan of flow control devices for the beginner as it adds another layer to what's already a lot to learn -- if it's an E61 it can be easily added later. And grinder, grinder, grinder...

BruceWayne

#10: Post by BruceWayne »

I bought my machine from Clive and would've jumped at the chance to visit their showroom before buying. Adding another recommendation to go there. I'm really happy with my Bianca that I purchased from them.