Upgrade time to a serious espresso machine, advice needed

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

#1: Post by Milligan »

I'm ready to make the move to a better espresso machine. My needs are perhaps a bit unique. I've had a Barista Express for about 3 years and know its quirks quite well. It makes serviceable straight shots after much fiddling, decent Cortados, and "awesome" lattes smothered in flavorings and syrups (what my family enjoys.)

My issues with it:
  • Easy to over pressure with appropriate grinds, OPV set too high
  • 60s milk steaming is too long and wand is too stubby
  • Temp differentials over successive shots
  • Grinder is deadweight since I've moved on from the built-in
  • Big box store looks
  • Portafilter maxes out at 18g medium roast and 16-17g dark/medium
  • Pointless to invest in baskets, tampers, etc due to the 54mm size
What I like:
  • Fast warm up
  • Pressure gauge, even though it doesn't show real units
Most importantly, I'm tired of wasting a shot every morning to redial it in. It just isn't consistent day-to-day for my expectations.

My needs in a future machine

I plan to use the machine at home for several months and then transition it to light commercial use. Light commercial means pulling shots to test sample roasts, making a handful of shots throughout the day at a low traffic mini-cafe, and pulling shots for potential wholesale/event accounts. Some things I'll likely need are:
  • Drip tray that is drain capable
  • Water line hookup capable, bonus points for this but maybe not 100% needed
  • Consistent temperature and pressure, adjustable
  • Good for a range of roast levels from light to dark
  • One group head
  • Cafe quality steam and wand
  • Preinfusion and flow control (FC a bonus)
  • 58mm
  • Health inspector said no NSF certification required
The strange need for me is the light commercial use. So ease of maintenance and the need to dial in a large variety of different coffees for sample purposes. I'm not sure what level of machine I should be looking at. I don't think I'd need all the analytics of something like a Decent. Something that can be quickly adjusted and robust would be more important to me. Cafe quality looks are important as well. Budget is whatever it needs to be to get the job done. Of course savings are always appreciated.

Team HB

#2: Post by baldheadracing »

I'd say that one of the first things that you might want to do is check if you need to have commercial food safety certification, and, if so, what standards are accepted locally, e.g., NSF, CSA commercial, etc. You may find your machine choices limited. (Many prosumer machines won't have commercial certification.)

No use getting a machine - and grinder, milk storage, etc., - that you won't be able to use in your future commercial endeavors.

Good luck!
-"Good quality brings happiness as you use it" - Nobuho Miya, Kamasada


#3: Post by beans+crumble »

Take a look at the La Marzocco GS3 AV or MP.

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Team HB

#4: Post by Jeff »

Commercial use, if that is a driver rather than a wish, pushes a few things up to the top in my mind.

As noted, certifications. Depending on where you are and how your business operates, you may need certain "sanitary" and "safety" certifications. An NSF machine isn't necessarily any better built than one without the certification, it just meets certain sanitary requirements related mainly to food-contact materials and ability to clean and sanitize.

Parts and service, especially if it is a "front-line" machine. The cost of being down is not just lost receipts for that day, but potential loss of customers and reputation. An adequate machine with a local tech with parts in hand may be a better than a top-line machine where a tech or parts are a day or two out.

Without knowing those factors, it is a lot harder to "recommend something".

If you're plumbing in, you should consider water. You may be lucky enough that just a sediment and taste filter is needed. Many people require special softening to meet the needs of espresso machines to avoid scale build up. Another option is to go with RO or RO/DI water and mix, such as described in Espresso Cart - Goodbye Plumbed In

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BaristaBoy E61

#5: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

beans+crumble wrote:Take a look at the La Marzocco GS3 AV or MP.
Jeff wrote:Parts and service, especially if it is a "front-line" machine. The cost of being down is not just lost receipts for that day, but potential loss of customers and reputation. An adequate machine with a local tech with parts in hand may be a better than a top-line machine where a tech or parts are a day or two out.
Good advice! The LM GS3 AV or MP will provide stable, consistently good results and have internal reservoirs as wells being able to direct plumb and drain.

The one thing that I wish I was told getting into this endeavour is that there will be breakdowns and maintenance whatever level of machine you purchase. Be prepared to become quick study in electronics, plumbing, valves, solenoids, probes, leaks, etc. Failing that have an expert, responsive espresso tech on speed dial - You're going to need it!

The best thing you can do is to feed your machine non-scaling water from the very first time you place it on a counter.
"You didn't buy an Espresso Machine - You bought a Chemistry Set!"

Milligan (original poster)

#6: Post by Milligan (original poster) »

Thanks for quick responses so far. I am working closely with the county health inspector. He hasn't mentioned any needs for certified machinery or equipment. I sent an email to my health inspector to see if the county or city requires that. Good advice.

I don't plan to use this specific machine for heavy commercial use. It will eventually find itself back at my house or as a dedicated sample machine. It will pull duty at the cafe during the soft opening phase.

As with most things in my area, I'll end up doing the repairs and maintenance. The closest espresso repair shop is about 100 miles away.


#7: Post by beans+crumble »

They may not of mentioned needing a certification but you will want a reliable machine that will be able to handle the increased use. The typical home machines aren't built to hold up to the amount of use. The GS3 is not only acceptable for home and light commercial use, it's also NSF certified (2 birds; 1 stone).

Milligan (original poster)

#8: Post by Milligan (original poster) »

The health inspector said our area does not require the espresso machine to be NSF certified. So that opens up the options a bit. The GS3 is a great machine at the high end of the price scale. What other options would you guys recommend lower down the ladder price-wise? Thanks!

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Team HB

#9: Post by drgary »

What kind of throughput would you need if people show up at peak periods at your cafe or if you're catering an event? You would want something sturdy, probably plumbed in, temperature-stable and able to continually steam milk drinks. You could save a lot of money buying something used, in good shape, maybe an Elektra 60s series or a La Cimbali or similar one-group machine. Something like the La Cimbali is a lot less expensive than a GS3, even new. They're under $4K.

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

Milligan (original poster)

#10: Post by Milligan (original poster) »

I've regrouped and spent time looking through threads and comparing machines. I think my original needs may have been a bit too strict and pigeon-holed me into only a couple of machines. Here are a few options I am now looking at:

LM GS3: This machine is out of my budget for what I am looking to accomplish here. It is hard to stretch that far and justify it in an ROI perspective. I'd love to have it personally, but this is a business decision that will eventually trickle back to my kitchen counter top in the future.

LMLM: It is like a 80-90's Ferrari. Fully manual, beautiful, and plenty of power. I could get into this price range especially for the workhorse aspect of this machine. I personally love the manual aspects but wonder if I should go for a volumetric machine to get easily repeatable results for sample roasting tasting and soft opening purposes. I don't think this would be a prime choice for pushing out consistent, fast drinks without me being on my toes. This is good and bad. I love the idea of the machine getting out of the way and making the barista the star, but at the same time I'd have to personally run the machine all the time to get good results. It definitely isn't one that I could set up and then have another person use easily. Absolutely love the look.

La Spaziale Dream: This would be the plumbed version and I'd go for the 20amp version. From what I can tell it uses a 53mm portafilter. It has volumetric dosing, shot timer, dual boiler, programmable preinfusion, both boiler temp adjustable, group head offset temp adjustable, and LCD screen for system adjustment. What I like about the Dream is that it offers full power mode that allows both boilers to be heated at the same time. Not the biggest fan of the black plastic sides and it looks a bit more consumer grade than the others here. MUCH cheaper than the others.

La Spaziale Vivaldi II: Roughly the same price as the Dream but loses 20amp capability and requires add-on kits for drain and shot timer? Kind of scratching my head on why anyone would go with this over the dream? I must be missing something here.

VA Eagle One Prima: Feature packed like a GS3 but newer and has a bit of a rocky history. Designed to push out many drinks, plenty of steam power, access to shot analytics, precise temperature control, and 58mm portafilter. Not sure I like it being so intimately linked to an app. I feel like this one would be a pretty clear choice feature-wise, looks, and price point but have serious concerns about the reliability reviews of this machine. Love the look especially for a mini-cafe.

La Cimbali Junior: Commercial quality construction. Volumetric dosing, fast steaming, dual pressure gauges, rotary pump, plumbed in water, passive pre-infusion, commerical HX intended to push out drinks quickly, 58mm portafilter, large warming tray, adjustable brew pressure and temperature (behind panels). Lacks manual features like a shot timer, requires long heatup times, and typical HX heat management workflow needed. This seems like an excellent choice for the soft opening with back to back drinks but I question if this is the right choice for discerning roast sampling and eventually coming back to my kitchen counter.

BONUS TIME: Unic Mira: I have the opportunity to buy a Twin Mira in great shape for hardly anything. It is a rather large machine at 150lbs and is 2 group. I could see this being the workhorse for the cafe, but question the quality I would get out of it. It seems with these types of machines you need to run them fast and furious to get consistent results without purging water all the time. It requires 220/240V and would never make it home to my kitchen. The price is so good I may just buy it to tinker with and get one of the machines above as well.

I'm all ears on suggestions with these listed above or others as well. I have no issue going used but it is very hard to find anything of interest in the midwest. I'm not too keen on an E61. I don't care for the look in a commercial setting.