Upgrade espresso machine with ~$500 budget

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

#1: Post by MaxStone »

Hi all,

I have had a Mr. Coffee pump espresso machine for a little over a year now and it appears to be on its last legs (tried to descale and now there are mineral particles coming out, but that's a separate thread). I really have no regrets about buying this machine, it was only $80 which was good when I didn't know if I was interested in espresso as a hobby and it made fine espresso and steamed milk for my taste. It took a while to get the milk hot and I was never able to get that wet paint look, but it did the job.

The main two machines on my radar are the Gaggia pro (the newer model with the professional steam wand) and the Breville infuser. I love all the features on the Breville such as, programmable buttons for one or two shots, automatic pre infusion, built in water filter, and the fact that it regulates the temperature. What brings me back to the Gaggia is what seems to be a much better steam wand and the 58mm porta filter. Additionally, I think I'm willing to give up some features if it lasts twice as long (10+ years vs. around 5 from what I've heard).

Other machines I'm considering are the Ascaso dream, the Breville duo temp, and of course the Rancilio Silvia. Are there any I've missed with similar features in this price range?

Other factors I'm considering:
It is going in a dorm room so the smaller and quieter the better.
If it doesn't regulate temperature how difficult is it to get it to the right temperature especially if I steam milk first (and preferably without modifications to the machine)?
How long does it take to heat up when you turn it on in the morning?
I have a Breville smart grinder pro so it would need to work with that.
Can I get good milk for latte art?
What sort of maintenance would it need to do? I know the Breville has those cleaning tabs, but is that all I would have to do (not descale if the water tank has a charcoal filter)? I don't plan to put hard water through any of these machines, but it will likely just be water filtered through a Brita or similar filter.
I am definitely interested in playing with espresso as a hobby, but I feel that the variables of grind size, tamping, and type of beans to be enough without adding temperature of the machine into the mix.

Thank you in advance!


#2: Post by M.White »


If you want to buy new, I would go for the Breville Duo Temp Pro and keep to rest of the money to put on a new grinder later. There is really no reason to go for the Infuser. It has a couple more features, but it's not worth the premium in my opinion. I've been using one daily for almost 4 years with zero issues.

That being said, I think your best option is still to buy used. It could be a Silvia, but there is also some nice HX machines selling for under 500$ on the forum.

I don't think you should be concerned about the noise of the machine, your grinder will be much noisier anyways :D

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#3: Post by baldheadracing »

Ascaso Basic is what I'd get to work over any new machine in the North American market under $500. In the $300 Basic, you are paying for the internals - the external case is plastic. If you want (essentially) the same components in a nice case, that'll be the $600 Dream. The Basic will work fine with a Breville Smart Grinder Pro. You can start with the (included) pressurized baskets, and then move onto the (also included) regular baskets as your skills develop.

Good luck!
What I'm interested in is my worst espresso being fantastic - James Hoffmann


#4: Post by MaxStone » replying to baldheadracing »

Thanks so much! I hadn't seen that machine before. Can you (or anyone here) speak to how long those machines last? Every time I read reviews for machines from Ascaso there are people saying the build quality is bad.

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#5: Post by baristainzmking »

If you can stretch your budget a little, Lelit PL41TEM Anna Espresso Machine - PID w/ gauge is a great option. It has a PID and comes to temperature quickly. The portafilter is a little odd at 57mm. But looks like a solid choice.

https://www.1st-line.com/buy/lelit-pl41 ... d-w-gauge/

Edited to add that this machine is eligible for a 7% discount.

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#6: Post by baldheadracing »

MaxStone wrote:Thanks so much! I hadn't seen that machine before. Can you (or anyone here) speak to how long those machines last? Every time I read reviews for machines from Ascaso there are people saying the build quality is bad.
Well, you're not paying for an heirloom machine at $300 :) .

In the past, the main 'quality' issue with many lower-priced machines was that they were single-boiler-dual-use (SBDU). The main drawback to lower-priced SBDU technology is that if one steams for too long too often, the heating element will either crack or burn out. The Silvia, for example, is designed to produce enough steam to handle two Italian-sized cappa's. Two American-sized latte's will require about four times the steam, and that is simply too much for the 300ml boiler size. However, the Silvia will still do it - but the element will eventually burn out. Older consumer Ascaso machines had 250ml boilers that were smaller than the Silvia's 300ml, and so experienced even more burn out at the hands of people who didn't stay within the machine's limitations. Now Ascaso - and Breville - use newer designed thermoblocks/thermocoils with stainless steel lines. They're electronically controlled so they can't burn out, and will produce steam forever (as long as the reservoir is full). Don't get me wrong - the steam from a thermoblock/coil won't be nearly as good as that from a machine with a decently-sized boiler (1500ml+) that'll cost $1500, but again, for $300 ...

Seattle Coffee Gear has a few videos of the Ascaso Basic on YouTube, perhaps have a look at those. Besides the review video, the comparison to a Rocket ($300 vs $3000) is pretty funny. In video's generally, you have to see if the Basic in the video is the older version with the small boiler vs. the current version.

I have a machine with the 250ml Ascaso/LeLit/etc. boiler with integrated/saturated 57mm group that was built in 1996. It was my office machine. Why has it lasted 20+ years? - because I have never steamed milk with it.
What I'm interested in is my worst espresso being fantastic - James Hoffmann


#7: Post by janpijpelink »

I recently have purchased a Gaggia Classic Pro (2019) and a Baratza Sette 30.
They seem to be an almost perfect match.
Very good results so far.


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#8: Post by mivanitsky »

At your price point, I would recommend Cafelat Robot, and a good PID kettle, such as Stagg EKG or Bonavita. if you must steam milk, get a burner/hot plate, passive kettle, and a Bellman steamer. This will easily produce better espresso than any low end SBDU machine.

You will eventually want a better grinder, but can live with what you have for a while, most likely, if you stick to medium or darker roasts.

Pay attention also to quality, fresh coffee, and use appropriate water, whichever device you chose.


#9: Post by drown »

If you can find a good deal on the latest generation Crossland that would fit your budget.
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#10: Post by MB »

I am going to second the Cafelat Robot (either version). Why?
- Better tasting espresso and espresso drinks
- Will last well beyond 10 years
- Ridiculously easy maintenance
- Completely quiet
- Fun to use
- Come on, it's shaped kind of like a robot, not a boring box
- Super forgiving, so easier to get great results
- The only heat up time is for boiling water (and for steaming milk, see below), which you can do while grinding beans and prepping

Yes, you will need a source of boiling water, like a kettle (nothing fancy needed, you just need to boil water) or if you are careful to wait a couple of seconds before opening, a microwave.

For steaming milk, you can go with the mentioned Belman steamer with a heating plate, or my favorite, a cheapo Mr. Coffee steam espresso maker with the black doohickey removed from the steam wand. (Maker is for steaming milk only, not coffee!) This can heat up and be ready to steam by the time you finish pulling the shot.

On the other hand, if you are looking at this and thinking, "I just want one machine, I live in a dorm, so even if the Robot is better in other ways, space is at a premium." then go for one of the other options and enjoy. :D

P.S. You can make milk for latte art with good technique in about 45 seconds or less. I used to do it all the time at work until I got the Londinium R.
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