Single boiler espresso machine choices

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

#1: Post by Jeff Mendoza »

Hi, I'm looking for advice on buying a new single boiler, dual user (SBDU) espresso machine. I currently use a Saeco Starbucks Barista with a bottomless portafilter and Baratza Virtuoso+. The problems with my current setup are:
  • Can't dial in the grind. Either chokes or is too fast. Mostly a grinder issue, but I'm wondering if it is also due to the pressure being too high.
  • Shower screen is only open in center (for pods I believe)
  • Temp stability - small boiler.
As for the grinder, I'm currently in the process of refurbing and modding an ancient Mazzer Super Jolly that I picked up.

The main thing I want with a new machine is PID controlled brew water, this rules out HX for me. The size and cost of a dual boiler does not seem worth it to me as well. I'm happy to wait to switch between steam and brew temps, thus I'm looking for an SBDU. As for budget, I don't really have one, but as said I don't see the value in a dual boiler for me at the moment.

A few more preferences: Adjustable OPV (no spring swapping) and brew pressure gauge. 58mm portafilter for the ability to use popular precision baskets. I'd prefer a non-E61 machine (saturated group?) for faster warmup.

Lastly, I'm open and interested in modding a machine to add PID and/or a pressure gauge. I'm handy with electronics and cutting stuff.

The only thing on the market that looks to tick all the boxes is the Lelit Victoria. The downsides I see here are:
  • PID only displays set temp, not actual temp. Have to guess at time between shots.
  • OPV adjustment is hard to get to. Set once, but probably won't be experimenting with lower pressures.
Does anyone use this machine? I understand the Elizabeth is similar (with a second boiler).

As for modding, the obvious choice here is the Silvia. I'd be happy to take on a modding project, and they are more available used. I've heard sentiments that the Silvia's time is past, and is outdated. Any opinions here? I'll rule out the Gaggia Classic (pre-pro) due to its small boiler.

The ECM Casa V and Quick Mill Pippa both look really nice to me. Sharp looks, pressure gauge, externally adjustable OPV. Neither have PID though, and I don't see anyone modding these. Seems like these are in a no-man's-land, where you would go with the cheaper Silvia to mod, or a nicer machine to get a PID out of the box. I read that the thermoblock steam is weak on the Quick Mill Silvano Evo, so I'll rule that out.

The E61 machines all look good (Bezzera Unica PID, Quick Mill Alexia Evo, ECM Classika PID), with all the good features out of the box. As mentioned, warmup time seems problematic compared to the other machines. Are there other great benefits to E61 that I'm missing here? Another question: will the groupheads be running too cool with only brew-temp water in the thermosiphon? HX and DB machines all use the steam boiler water, correct?

Anything else I'm missing? TIA!

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MNate

#2: Post by MNate »

Well, I think your missing how annoying it is to use an sbdu... an HX is much more fun even with a cooling flush (some machines don't even need them now). I did the Silvia for a few years and it really does make good espresso. Personally I have really enjoyed using the Robot plus a stand alone steamer. I'd much rather use it every day than the HX I had or the Silvia, and I think it makes better espresso than either despite the lack of exact temp control. But there is certainly some personal preference at work.

I guess what I'm saying is, have you tried out several machines? Would you be able to? I realize that can be tough to do... but Seattle has to be the most likely place to be able to do it.

Plus the SBDUs aren't quite as well built as some machines that cost just a bit more.

But the Super Jolly is a great start! I just picked one up yesterday off Craigslist too. Sorry, I'm not really contributing to your question though...

Jeff
Team HB

#3: Post by Jeff »

I definitely second the opinion that a SB is a pain for more than one milk drink in a session. With more than one, you either pull all your shots then steam all your milk, or have to wait after each shot for the boiler and group to cool and stabilize again.

I prefer close-coupled groups over an E61, all else being equal. E61s are designed to spill heat, so will generally be farther from boiler temperature than a close-coupled group. The offset will vary based on room temperature and drafts.

The Lelit Elizabeth is a model I'd like to try. I'm not sure that having the boiler-temperature display adds a lot to any model, as long as it has a "heat-on" light. The boiler temperature isn't either the group temperature or the brew temperature.

A DB manages brew-boiler temperature independently from steam. Almost all HX machines require a flush routine and benefit from an EricS group-head thermometer to manage it repeatedly.

patcof1

#4: Post by patcof1 »

Jeff Mendoza wrote: The only thing on the market that looks to tick all the boxes is the Lelit Victoria. The downsides I see here are:
  • PID only displays set temp, not actual temp. Have to guess at time between shots.
  • OPV adjustment is hard to get to. Set once, but probably won't be experimenting with lower pressures.
The Lelit Glenda PL41PLUST has a 300 ml boiler and PID and 58 mm portafilter.
The PID display always shows the actual temp of the sensor which is located on top of the boiler.
After removing the top cover you can adjust the OPV.

gabeholloway
Supporter

#5: Post by gabeholloway »

Jeff Mendoza wrote: I'll rule out the Gaggia Classic (pre-pro) due to its small boiler.
Keep in mind that the smaller boilers (a la Gaggia Classic) will provide faster warm-up and switching between brewing and steaming. A PID will help greatly with consistency. I have a Gaggia Classic Pro w/ PID that comes to temp within minutes and stabilizes at temp within 10 minutes. Goes from a brew temp of 200F to steam temp of 275F within 30 seconds. Shot-to-shot temp consistency is nearly as good as my previous Breville Dual Boiler. The biggest downside, as mentioned above, is brewing multiple drinks if you're going from shot-to-steam-to-shot. But I've found that having the PID allows you to temp surf back down after steaming fairly easily for consecutive drinks.

jgood

#6: Post by jgood »

The main attraction of an E61 is that it's a proven design with easy to find parts and knowledge. Flow control add ons are also available if you decide in future to go that way. In terms of the heat up time, if it's a bother, you can get a timer to turn it on.

walr00s
Supporter ♡

#7: Post by walr00s »

Jeff Mendoza wrote: The main thing I want with a new machine is PID controlled brew water, this rules out HX for me. The size and cost of a dual boiler does not seem worth it to me as well. I'm happy to wait to switch between steam and brew temps, thus I'm looking for an SBDU. As for budget, I don't really have one, but as said I don't see the value in a dual boiler for me at the moment.
On my Alexia, this means pulling all shots, then switching to steam mode and steaming all milk. For 1 drink, this is very doable, it takes ~1 min to get fully ready to steam, and that includes a fairly long purge of moisture from the group and steam wand, and I do this nearly every morning for my wife's latte. Steaming 4 oz of milk takes ~15s, and I struggle at times to control the steam power. For 3 drinks, this is more of a time-sink, as the boiler has to come back up to temperature for each drink, though I assume I could buy a larger milk pitcher and steam more milk at once to improve this experience, but frankly if I were regularly making multiple milk drinks in a day/at once I would just sink the money into the Lelit Mara X or perhaps a dual boiler. Any work flow the involves pulling a shot, steaming and pulling another shot, will involve over heating the group and thus your brew water and dramatically change the results of your brews. I wait a minimum of 20 minutes for the group to come back down after steaming, usually more like hours since I do the steaming at the end of the workflow.
Jeff Mendoza wrote: The E61 machines all look good (Bezzera Unica PID, Quick Mill Alexia Evo, ECM Classika PID), with all the good features out of the box. As mentioned, warmup time seems problematic compared to the other machines. Are there other great benefits to E61 that I'm missing here? Another question: will the groupheads be running too cool with only brew-temp water in the thermosiphon? HX and DB machines all use the steam boiler water, correct?

Anything else I'm missing? TIA!
I went with an E61 for flow control, cost, availability of parts and proven reliability. /quickmill- ... eview.html I chose the Alexia based on this review mainly and reading many positive reviews of Chris' Coffee. While that review is 14 years old, my experience with the machine indicates that it is still relevant today. I think there's been some minor changes to things like the PID and steam wand but overall it's the same reliable platform. The review covers temperature stability in depth and I'd encourage you to check it out, but the short answer is that the author encourage a brief flush to warm the group if the machine hasn't been used in some time. I haven't been able to pick up a difference in taste when I don't do this, however I usually do it out of habit at this point while my coffee is grinding.

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apple2k

#8: Post by apple2k »

I had a Quickmill Alexia PID for many years and made 2 macchiatos and 1 latte every morning, I used a $100 Breville Milk frothier to do the milk. The Alexia was dead stable in temp, produced excellent shots and steaming the milk in the Breville gizmo was a piece of cake. Much better set up IMO than a HX machine where you need to surf the temp.

Jeff Mendoza (original poster)

#9: Post by Jeff Mendoza (original poster) »

Thanks for all the responses so far. I do hear all the praise for HX/DB when steaming milk. I currently make 1 cortado for myself every morning and am fine with the SBDU workflow. I will rarely if ever make more than 1 milk drink at a time, and if I do I am fine with making all the shots together then steaming all the milk. That said, I will look into the Lelit Elizabeth and Silvia Pro more closely. I see that the Silvia Pro doesn't have a brew pressure gauge which is a bummer.
Jeff wrote:I'm not sure that having the boiler-temperature display adds a lot to any model, as long as it has a "heat-on" light.
I don't think it does, based on the videos I watched.
patcof1 wrote:The Lelit Glenda PL41PLUST has a 300 ml boiler and PID and 58 mm portafilter.
Very cool, is this a previous version of the Victoria? Looks like it doesn't have a pressure gauge, but then the Anna PL41TEM has both PID and pressure gauge, but a 57mm portafilter.

Jeff
Team HB

#10: Post by Jeff »

https://images-eu.ssl-images-amazon.com ... Am1rIS.pdf (Grace / Victoria manual)

Page 14:

E.3 On the LCC display (12) you'll see the water boiler temperature flashing. This will grow until the set temperature will be reached.
E.4 Wait until the bar is fully loaded and "Ok" appears on the display. This way the machine will reach the set temperature.
E 5. After reaching the desired temperature, the bar will disappear and the machine will be ready for use.

(I'm not sure how you know you're over temperature coming off steaming)