Seeking advice about an espresso machine purchase

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

#1: Post by jitterypillpusher »

Hi there, I'm a long time lurker here and thanks to your posts I have figured out that my Gaggia Baby D just isn't cutting it. The extraction temps are in the low 170's*F and I can't seem to get it any higher. And the thing has gotten to where it takes about 4-5 min to steam 12 oz's of milk. So... I've been researching for a new espresso machine and I've found myself lost in the possibilities. I've spent countless hours looking through 1st line, chris's coffee, and WLL. And puttered through most of the reviews here.

A little background. I used to live about 1 block from a very good little coffee shop that could whip up whatever I needed Cappuccinos, lattes, even the occasional espresso shot. Then I moved about 3-4 hours away from the closest coffee shop the headaches and caffeine dt's sent me to order a refurbed gaggia and mdf. Now things are financially a little better so I'm shopping again :).

I would like to keep the budget somewhere around $1500, but I understand with a new grinder I may need to push closer to $2000. When it comes to type of machine HX versus Double boiler, ect I'm utterly confused because I have no experience with either. But I know I don't want to have to wait between pulling a shot and steaming milk.
It will be used daily, I usually make between 3-4 lattes each morning before work. I sometimes drink straight espresso's, but to be honest I can't seem to get a decent shot out of my machine. (I use fresh roasted beans ordered from Intelligentsia usually BC, rarely running over 2 weeks old). I tamp and believe I have the grind right based on what I've read here and on other boards. Ok, ok... To be honest the upgrade bug has bit me too :twisted:

Anyway back to my original questions. I would like your input on equipment that would best fit my needs, because from what I've read most of you are coming from the same roots.
-Mainly milk based drinks, but some straight shots.
-Budget: around $1500 (I could be coaxed higher, but cost/benefit ratio + the WAF (wife acceptance factor :) ) are in the mix.
-Little to no turn around in-between multiple shots/steam sessions
-Wiring/plumbing not a problem I can do both, and I'm not afraid to learn certain eccentricities of various types of machines (see the HX flush)

Thanks for any input

MDL

#2: Post by MDL »

I would highly recommend a LaSpaziale Vivaldi II mini (or the non-mini if you can spend the extra money). I have had the full size Vivaldi II for just over a year and love it. The two boiler design allows you to steam and pull shots without waiting and I have never been limited by the capacity of either boiler. The word on the mini seems very positive. I am still using an MDF grinder and while I would love to upgrade I can still pull good shots using the MDF.

I suggest that you check out the Vivaldi S1 website at http://www.rimpo.org/s1/.

Good luck,
Mark

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HB
Admin

#3: Post by HB »

Brad, I know you've been slogging through a lot of reading, but if you want make an informed decision, I recommend you soldier on. To make your reading assignment less burdensome, I'll pick what I think cover the spectrum of choices and offer a soundbite for each:
  • Vibiemme Domobar Super - big steamer, easier temperature control among HX espresso machines, solid construction; deeper footprint than most in its class.

    Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica - showpiece design and construction, demands eclectic usage, and yet easy to manage temperature control; an absolute dream steamer.

    Quickmill Vetrano - plumbed in rotary model similar to the Andreja Premium; super quiet, requires attention to temperature control (unless you install Eric's E61 thermometer adapter), solid steamer.

    Expobar Brewtus - no-brainer temperature control, slower steaming than most E61 HX espresso machines; materials and workmanship are mid-grade.

    La Spaziale S1 - predecessor to the La Spaziale Vivaldi II, it has garnered many admirers for its no-brainer temperature control; quiet rotary pump and solid construction, powerful and easy steaming. It's wide, but shallower than most home espresso machines.
If the list above hasn't exhausted you, add the Gaggia Achille and Lever Espresso Machine Smackdown. The Ponte Vecchio Lusso is among the contenders that deserves consideration as an easy to master espresso machine for home baristas; a Buyer's Guide on it will be published in the next month or two.
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#4: Post by cannonfodder »

You will be tight on that budget. Most machines that meet your stated prerequisites will be at you stated price point. If you want a new grinder (I had a MDF, an upgrade will yield a big change) you will need to bump up the budget. With the falling dollar, equipment is getting expensive, and fast. You can slide into a lever for a bit less than a pump if it will suite your requirements.
Dave Stephens

jitterypillpusher (original poster)

#5: Post by jitterypillpusher (original poster) »

Thanks guys I appreciate the input. The list HB provided were on my short list, (sorry I guess I left out the fact I was leaning towards a semiautomatic). I don't see myself as a barista by any means but more of a home enthusiast who loves good espresso. I also realize the falling dollar may hurt my expectations some, so I will probably go with a new machine, then follow by replacing the MDF in the fall.

I've read "Lever Espresso Machine Smackdown" and I quote "The espresso making process of lever machines favors slow, thoughtful movements, an almost Zen-like moment of calm, focused creation." I know myself and I do not have this trait. think... spaz.

On the other hand I love tinkering with machines, and I had toyed with idea of PID'ing the gaggia baby, But I thought better of it and just figured it was time to replace it for a machine that would fit my needs. And HB's concise but thorough comparison was exactly the kind of info I've been looking for. Maybe a sticky comparision is in order...
Anyone else have a favorite they're using/or have used that may fit the bill?

pauljolly65

#6: Post by pauljolly65 »

jitterypillpusher wrote:... I will probably go with a new machine, then follow by replacing the MDF in the fall.
OK, I know I'm slow on the draw here--by now you may well have bought a new machine and are losing sleep in pursuit of the godshot (haven't we all!). But I saw the above line and want to reiterate what nearly everyone will tell you: spend the money on a good grinder first. My wife rolled her eyeballs when I dropped $350 on a used Super Jolly to enhance the Silvia I had at the time. (My exclamations of what a great deal that was for the grinder fell on deaf ears, sadly.) However, her eyeballs really rolled when she got her first Americano with that setup. The Vibiemme Manuale came eight months later. It's a fantastic machine but the improvement of that over the Silvia was less than the difference between the Maestro and the Super Jolly...and there are those here who would decry the SJ as a bare-minimum grinder. Yet it works well for me, and I've had some incredible shots with the current setup.

I don't make many milk drinks but have had plenty of steam when I've needed it with the Domobar. I doubt that you'd be disappointed with any of the machines Dan summarized above.

Cheers,
Paul

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shadowfax

#7: Post by shadowfax »

Paul,

I agree with you on the Maestro. I ordered one and then quickly upgraded to a TagEx Super Jolly, and that was a huge difference. On the other hand, with the OP's current setup, namely a machine that is incapable of producing espresso (sub-180F extractions), I would personally either recommend bursting the bank and getting both a good grinder and machine now, or just waiting for the whole upgrade till the Fall, and buying a French press for now.

On the other hand, the Gaggia MDF is not necessarily a crap espresso grinder in the same sense as a Solis Maestro--It may well be serviceable for espresso--something one could learn technique from and still get fine results on. It would make the later upgrade have a lot more perceived value. Again, not saying that it's not important to get a $500+ class grinder eventually, if you want the best espresso, but I think the MDF is probably perfectly tolerable as a temporary grinder for a beginning home-barista.
Nicholas Lundgaard

zin1953

#8: Post by zin1953 »

Who knows where I was when this was first posted, but I, too, missed it.

A couple of additional points to think about, along with what has already been posted so far.
jitterypillpusher wrote:I would like to keep the budget somewhere around $1500, but I understand with a new grinder I may need to push closer to $2000. When it comes to type of machine HX versus Double boiler, ect I'm utterly confused because I have no experience with either. But I know I don't want to have to wait between pulling a shot and steaming milk.
With either type -- HX or DB -- you can steam milk and pull shots simultaneously.
jitterypillpusher wrote:It will be used daily, I usually make between 3-4 lattes each morning before work. I sometimes drink straight espresso's, but to be honest I can't seem to get a decent shot out of my machine . . . To be honest the upgrade bug has bit me too :twisted:
Welcome to the club. "Upgrade-itis" is a harder addiction to kick than tobacco -- or so they tell me! :wink: As for drinking straight espresso, you will when you begin to nail it!
jitterypillpusher wrote:-Wiring/plumbing not a problem I can do both, and I'm not afraid to learn certain eccentricities of various types of machines (see the HX flush)
Let me ignore the budget just for a moment, and say that if you can plumb in the machine, you'll be a much happier camper. I loved my La Valentina, and would highly recommend it as a machine to anyone except that it's a pourover: I had no problem filling the machine every morning (it was just a part of the routine), but emptying the drip tray -- also a regular part of the morning routine -- quickly, for some reason, became a PITA. It doesn't make any sense logically, but . . .

On the espresso machine side of things, you've already received some solid recommendations, and I won't "muddy up the water" by stirring things up.

On the grinder side of the equation, the Gaggia MDF is truly a solid grinder (I've ussed one for some 20 years; it's better, IMHO, than many seem to give it credit for), but there are frequent "deals" on used commercial grinders (like a Super Jolly) off eBay -- a thorough cleaning and a new set of burrs, and you're good to go! On the new side of things, I have to say that I had a Mazzer Mini but when I upgraded to a Cimbali Max Hybrid, it made a huge difference in the quality of my espresso shots! If you opt for the Mazzer Mini/Macap 4 "level" of grinder, beware that the "upgrade bug" may come back! :wink:

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

bobdc

#9: Post by bobdc »

Toward the end of 2007 I swallowed hard and bought the Vibiemme Domobar Super-Stainless. This beauty is in your $ range but was a bit of a stretch for me. Ms. Vibiemme has performed well and earns her keep every single day. I am not an expert but I am long on appreciation of especially fine espresso and espresso drinks. The VDS treated me to an easy learning curve and always comes through whether I am pullling one for myself or pulling many for guests. I have only great things to say about my VDS. :D
Bob