What do you think about these espresso machines?

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

#1: Post by jiminycrickett »

Rancilio Silvia, and the ECM Casa V. I have a Gaggia Classic for about 9 years now that pairs with a Baratza Vario grinder. I asked a technician-manager at Whole Latte Love if she could recommend an espresso machine. I've had a lot of back & forth with her for years, so it is not just some random person. I only use once my setup once a day for two double shots. Don't care about "bells & whistles", just want a functioning machine that is sturdy, reliable, and not temperamental. Bottom line is, I love my once a day two double shot cappuccino, but that is all the caffeine I can get or my heart acts up, so not heavy use. Thanks.

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#2: Post by sweaner »

A Breville Dual Boiler would be a better option.
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#3: Post by jiminycrickett »

Can you tell me why? Thanx

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#4: Post by MatGreiner »

I had and loved a Silvia for almost a decade. I loved how sturdy and reliable it was. Shopping in the same market today, I'd probably get the ECM, and suspect it will feel more obviously like an upgrade to you than a Silvia would. The BDB will have good precision in brewing and faster access to steam.
As a personal preference, the Breville machines feel less substantial and more gimmicky to me. It is hard to imagine them lasting as long as the other machines mentioned, though they very well may, and tons of people love them. Do you have any way to experience any of these in a hands-on way?


#5: Post by Jeff »

Sales staff will sell you what they have. Even with 30-day returns, typically you get a store credit, which you can apply to another machine, many times ending up being more expensive than the first ("Well, if you didn't like that one, this one for only $300 more should address those considerations").

The Silvia has a great reputation, in my opinion, as it was comparatively cheap, somewhat better built than its competition at the time, and then it was "discovered" that you could add a PID unit for a couple hundred dollars to get over its temperature-control problems. It gained a following on Usenet and the coffee boards, which spilled into the mainstream with blogging and social media. As I recall, it has an OPV which your machine may not, which controls brew pressure, which would be a step up from your Gaggia. The change in basket size to a "standard" 58 mm is interesting, but not one that will dramatically improve the espresso. While it may have a tighter dead band to its temperature, without a PID you'll still need to "temperature surf". The reliability of the Silvia-E and its electronic controller is an open question. Current retail looks to be $735 without PID. A PID kit bring it to around $1000.

I have used a Silvia at an away-from-home location and "consistent" isn't a word that I'd use to describe the results. The best shots with it, when I was lucky enough to get them, were on par with my mediocre shots from my HX at home. My better shots at home were much better than those from the Silvia. I had access to a Silvia at work. I ended up deciding that the coffee out of the industrial coffee machine with enough milk or cream was a better bet.

The ECM Casa V at $1000 looks to be little more than a fancy Silvia. Its still a single-boiler unit and without a PID, as far as I can tell. At that price, I'd go with a Quick Mill Silvano ($1075) which gives you the PID control to better regulate your brew temperature without surfing.

The challenge for me is that, assuming you can still pick one up at the old price of $1,200, the BDB provides just about everything you'd want in terms of temperature stability and control, pressure stability (or control, with simple mods), and preinfusion control. It then adds in a quick warm-up (perhaps as quick as 10 min) rather than the 30-minute warmup of the single-boilers discussed above. It's a machine that I think most would agree they'd be able to quickly dial in shots and reliably get good to great espresso from. Even at $1,500, my assessment is the same.

HX machines have a certain aesthetic appeal, but they require their own "surfing" methods (flushing) for temperature control. The Lelit MaraX (note the "X") is an exception to this, with it clever control system, but it is at $1,450 and I think the BDB is more stable, more flexible, and can produce better espresso.

I think an option worth considering would be the Cafelat Robot, an electric or stove-top kettle, and using your Gaggia for steaming. They run around $400, depending on options. Manual levers can be very forgiving, as you can adjust the flow by pressing harder or softer as you go. Temperature control sufficient for medium and darker roasts is basically pouring boiling water into basket, pouring it off, refilling it, and pulling your shot. There's an in-depth review at Cafelat Robot Review and a really, really long thread around experiences at Cafelat Robot User Experience They're compelling enough that I've tried to pick one up used (they resell very quickly), and will order one either when the polished ones come available again, when HK-to-US shipping gets cheaper (since I want some non-stocked accessories), or when my desire outstrips my patience. Prima Coffee should be getting restocked shortly. They are also available through IDrinkCoffee (prices there in CAD, about 0.76 USD to CAD, they ship "free" to the US, from what I recall).
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#6: Post by jiminycrickett »

Jeff, first off thank you for all your continual help, patience and kindness in helping me. Not many people can do that, help with patience and kindness--at least sustaining it. So..........I appreciate that.

I have no way of trying out these machines anywhere, so I guess it is all the help I get from people who 'get' it more than I do & my own research. The BDB is $1500 now, which is about $1,050 more than a new Gaggia Pro (I have the Gaggia Classic). Here's my thing, if I could get consistent pressure/temperature control, and it is not COMPLICATED to learn, it would be worth spending a little more than triple what the Gaggia is going for now. I don't have to have 'god' shots, just really good & good shots. I don't need an espresso machine with a built in timer, and bells & whistles that go beyond pulling the shots & steaming milk. The BDB sounds promising. I have to check out the Quick Mill. Over the years I've heard people talk a lot about the BDB, also a Compak??? But never paid a lot of attention as I wasn't really thinking about replacing my Gaggia.

UPDATE, did read on the BDB (sounds like it has a very large water tank)--wondering if this machine is for someone who brews espresso all day & night. I only do ONE 2-double shots cappuccino per day. The Quick Mill Silvano has a PID which I think might be where I'm having the problems with Gaggia.


#7: Post by Jeff »

There's a very active group of BDB users here that can help everything from completely new users to those that are literally into the machine up to their elbows.

I totally understand the desire to have thought-free coffee in the morning. Some bells and whistles get in the way. Those are to be avoided!

My machine arguably has more bells and whistles than any out there. The thing has a tablet to program it. But in the morning? Touch the button, it turns on. Bring fresh sprouts to my parrot. Get out the scale, weigh the beans, grind them, prep, tamp, it's ready to go in under 5 minutes. Press the button, it starts. Press the button it stops. Done.

For a walk-through of how a professional would use the (unmodified) machine (skipping over all of its bells and whistles) you can look at James Hoffman's "how to dial in a BDB" video.

Similarly, here's his video about the Robot that shows the workflow around it.

(Scales are readily available that fit for around $15 -- Mini scale for Cafelat Robot, most people find that going for 6-8 bar is plenty.)

Your Vario is comparable to the Niche in that video and shouldn't need an upgrade with any machine you'd likely select.

Edit: On water tank size, it comes down to how often you want to refill it. If you pull a shot and rinse the screen, you're probably using something like 75-100 ml per cup, plus some for steaming. So a 1 liter tank (about a quart) would probably need refilling every five days or so. A 2.5 liter tank is big, but not huge, especially if you're pulling 4-6 shots a day.

Is the Robot better than the Gaggia? Yes, I think so, and by a long shot.

Is the BDB worth $1000 more than the Gaggia? That I can't answer for you. Maybe its easier to think about it over a five-year period. The complete purchase price of the BDB is less than a dollar a day. Running on good, "non-scaling" water and with routine maintenance, it should last a lot longer than five years -- that's just one pick of a period over which to consider.


#8: Post by jiminycrickett »



#9: Post by thirdcrackfourthwave »

I think Jeff's idea of using the Gaggia for steam with a Robot is a sound one. Of course this is all confirmation bias on my part but. . . .it does work. The steaming function of the Gaggia is weak but will work for cappuccinos. Also fwiw, I'm not sure but I think the Gaggia's of your vintage still had OPV but the newer ones don't.

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#10: Post by baristainzmking » replying to thirdcrackfourthwave »

Another vote for keeping Gaggia for steam and getting the robot. This little machine just can't pull a bad shot. I start work super early and making a shot with a robot and adding hot water from my kettle (to make Americano) takes no time.