Where to start with espresso machines?

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

#1: Post by TokyoA »

Hi!

I've been a huge cafe espresso enjoyer, and am now taking my first steps into home espresso.
But, like many people, I've fallen down the gear rabbit hole when looking for my first machine.
Which has me asking "Why shouldn't I start at the top with a Linea Micra, Decent, or Sanremo You?"

The entry level models seem to have too many compromises.
The mid-range models are all ugly steel octopi that my partner won't accept in our small kitchen.
And the best features, designs and energy efficiency seem gated in the premium machines.

So, what would you recommend? If you were starting all over again on your gear (and skill) journey, where would you start today?
It's tempting to just stretch the budget and convince myself that starting at the end-game is better than working my way up.
But on the other hand, maybe there are some great reasons to start with a GCP, upgrade, mod, try new machines, etc.
Or maybe Breville is the perfect middle ground?

A minor consideration is availability - There are no viable domestic retailers where I live, so I'm limited to global online stores like ECS and warranty/support is less of a factor. But for the sake of good discussion, that can probably be ignored.

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Randy G.

#2: Post by Randy G. »

Make a list, or even a spreadsheet. Set priorities. Sounds like size matters, so start there. Make a list of all the machines that will fit the size requirements. And remember, the grinder is a critical component of any quality espresso setup.
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Idfixe

#3: Post by Idfixe »

I had same questions as you have right now. I went straight for Slayer and Malkhonig peak grinder.... Tuens out that it probably slowed me down in my learning. Too much variables when you are not ready.... Like driving an f1 to pass your licences.... In my opinion, you kind of grow with your set up. You learn what you like and dislike, what you want out of your coffee.... What variables you want to control.... You can definitively get a super nice high end set up.... I would stay away from pre infusion, paddle type of machines...

TokyoA (original poster)

#4: Post by TokyoA (original poster) »

Interesting! Thanks for sharing that perspective.
I guess there's something valuable in starting simple and developing the right instincts.

imipolexg

#5: Post by imipolexg »

The price i pay for beans means it's foolish to cheap out on the gear. $30/week is $1500/year...

I stumbled through several mediocre machines and grinders until I got an e61 pid brewtus almost 20 years ago. Then more grinder progression and now I have a kafatek.

That grinder made a giant difference to our coffee. Hard to overstate. Like everyone says, grinder matters. Not as much as beans though.

I've played with much more expensive machines but taste no improvement so will keep my brewtus running as long as I can. I installed a flow control device last year, it's nice to see brew pressure and sometimes salvage a shot when grind is wrong on a new bag of beans but is just nice to have.

I don't think it makes sense to get less than a pidded dual boiler and I am really happy with the kafatek. Buying today, probably I'd get a profitec 600 or 700 because they're nice inside to work on. I'm afraid of the breville because it's modern inside and I couldn't repair it with common parts.

Anyway, my opinion: buy what you need to make the coffee you like. If you don't have the beans then no point.

For espresso machines, there's a capability that is needed to make great coffee, and past that it's overkill and aesthetics.

For grinders there might be more significant evolution, there is no good enough but I'd be very surprised if I ever spend to upgrade from the kafatek.

boren

#6: Post by boren »

If I started today and wanted to maximize bang for the buck I'd get a Lelit PL81T Grace. It has a 250ml brass boiler, a PID and shot timer, a pressure gauge, 3 way valve and every other thing you would want for this amount. It's way more attractive IMHO than the popular Gaggia Classic Pro or Ransilio Silvia. The Grace comes from the factory with most of the features people mod to get these other machines to be more functional. Its only downside, at this budget, is that it uses the less common 57mm portafilter diameter, which reduces somewhat the amount of available accessories (mainly baskets). It's still a very minor aspect compared to its many advantages.

The most obvious limitation of the Grace compared to HX and dual boiler machines is that it can't brew and steam at the same time. If that becomes an issue, I'd get a secondary machine that's tiny, cheap and known to be decent at steaming, e.g. a Breville Bambino or a De Longhi Dedica with an aftermarket steam tip.

Only if them I feel this combo is not sufficient I would consider upgrading to something more expensive.

Oh, and I'd get a Kingrinder K4 from Amazon as my first (manual) grinder. It's 88 USD now and is amazing for espresso. It has external grind level adjustment, is super fast (~20 sec to grind 12 gram), has zero retention and produces grind quality you can't get from electric grinders that cost several times more. If you're also interested in filter coffee consider the K6 for a little more money. It produces ground coffee with less fines so a bit less body in the espresso. It's also not as fast as the K4, but that means it takes less effort to grind.

macaber8

#7: Post by macaber8 »

I am in the same shoe with you my friend, except I only became a coffee lover recently. I started my research couple weeks ago shopping for my first espresso machine. What I found is that my espresso journey should start with a lever machine and end with a lever machine.

Disclaimer: I have never tasted lever machine myself yet. This is about to change.

I found all semi or fully automatic espresso machine have 1 common goal: to be able to produce espresso shots like a lever machine would. Their brewing process deviated so far away from lever process that dealing with these machines became a challenge. Almost all $3K-$4K non-lever machines, for example DE1, Lelit Bianca V3, or Profitec pro 700 flow control, ecm synchronika, Rocket 58, cannot produce similar pre-infusion process that a much cheaper lever machines could, like Ponte Vecchio Lusso or La Pavoni. To program a DE1 properly, you must be an expert. This is just an extra layer of complication for me.

One can add flow control to a none-lever or program a pressure/flow profile with DE1, but the flow rate will cap out at 10-12 ml/sec. If you watch a video of Londinium R24 or Cremina or a cheap Ponte Vecchio Lusso, the amount of water coming out initially is impossible for none-lever machines to match. We have to go to GS3 or Slayer ($7000+) for a non-lever-machine to get close.

At the end of the day, I just want good coffee. Whether am I pressing a button or pulling down a lever don't matter that much. If the brewing process is 2-3 minutes, I don't have to walk away and steam my milk in the same time. This is home coffee, and I am not serving espresso to more than 2 people everyday. Cutting off all of these other things, start with a lever, and get good coffee first, seems the right thing for me.

Beyond all that, I found lever machine seems very much forgiving for beginners.

I hope this helps!

boren

#8: Post by boren »

As someone who owns and owned multiple lever machines (Flair 58, Elektra Micro Casa Leva, Flair Classic) I strongly disagree with the previous comment. On the plus side, lever machines are fun, and the manual ones (non-spring-based) provide a level of control that you just can't get with a regular pump machine. However, they are also more complex to use and getting consistent results is more challenging. With spring-based lever machines getting a repeatable pressure profile is easier, but you lose much of the control that makes a lever machine all that appealing. With some lever machines (e.g. La Pavonis, the aforementioned Elektra) you also have to deal with temperature inconsistency. You can forget about pulling multiple consecutive shots and have them all at the same temperature.

Bottom line: You can more easily get great espresso with a pump-based machine, and even there if you're new to espresso there's quite a learning curve. Don't overcomplicate things. Do also get a lever machine as your second machine, when you're in control and want to experiment, but don't start with one if you want to get off on the right foot with this this journey.

BSdV

#9: Post by BSdV »

Real first dive into the espresso world was a Profitec Pro800 and quickly after that a Mazzer Major V grinder followed replacing our Eureka Specialita.

After this, since I stopped enjoying poor over for a while, I purchased a Cafelat Robot for when I'm traveling for work (6months/year). The Comandante grinder I had for poor-over got upgraded with Red Clix and this became my traveling set.

I have pulled many more what I consider great shots with the cafelat Robot than I have with the Pro 800.

If I had to start from scratch again I'm not sure I would go with a machine like the Pro800 that requires about 45mins to warm up. With my CR I'm drinking espresso in a few minutes time with very little energy wastage as an added bonus.. Cafelat being a fully manual machine and easy to pull great espresso's with, I might go with a smaller full manual lever like the Olympia Cremina. This one doesn't require much warming up time and I've always fancied it.

Not that I'm not happy with the Pro 800, quite the contrary - but I'm not sure I'd make the same choices with the knowledge I have now.

And if milk coffee's are not important, then a Cafelat Robot is a very easy to live with machine just by itself. Unless delving into light roasted beans, I'm pretty confident this machine is every bit as capable of pulling great espresso's as espresso machines costing 10x more.

macaber8

#10: Post by macaber8 »

boren wrote:As someone who owns and owned multiple lever machines (Flair 58, Elektra Micro Casa Leva, Flair Classic) I strongly disagree with the previous comment. On the plus side, lever machines are fun, and the manual ones (non-spring-based) provide a level of control that you just can't get with a regular pump machine. However, they are also more complex to use and getting consistent results is more challenging. With spring-based lever machines getting a repeatable pressure profile is easier, but you lose much of the control that makes a lever machine all that appealing. With some lever machines (e.g. La Pavonis, the aforementioned Elektra) you also have to deal with temperature inconsistency. You can forget about pulling multiple consecutive shots and have them all at the same temperature.

Bottom line: You can more easily get great espresso with a pump-based machine, and even there if you're new to espresso there's quite a learning curve. Don't overcomplicate things. Do also get a lever machine as your second machine, when you're in control and want to experiment, but don't start with one if you want to get off on the right foot with this this journey.
Not to start an argument as I am still learning, plus never had a real lever machine on my hand. Just want to ask more questions if you don't mind:
spring-based lever machines getting a repeatable pressure profile is easier, but you lose much of the control that makes a lever machine all that appealing.
Provided one must practice and get reasonable familiar with the lever machine. While spring-based lever machine offers easy repeatable and pre-infusion pressure and massive initial flow rate, would you say this is an easier way to produce good espresso comparing to a similar priced pump-based machine? At La Pavonis price, I am not sure if there is anything pump based that could compete. Would you mind name a few? At Elektra prices, we are most likely dealing with HX machines with vibe pumps. I agree it would be easier, but not sure in terms of potential coffee quality, if HX machine can get close.

In the mean time, if user wants to play with the process, once can always push against the lever for adjustment, right? Considering that, would you say the level of adjustment is almost the same as a complete manual machine? Especially, comparing to an automatic machine?

On the other hand, temperature stability wise, I do see complaints on La Pavonis and Elektra in regards to pulling consecutive shots. How many number of consecutive shots would you say these machines is good for? At what level of usage would you think is better to go for a fancier machine such as L24R, Creamia, or cheaper ones like Bezzera Strega Lever, Profitec Pro 800, or Quick Mill Achille? (these are all relatively more temperature stable but not adjustable machines).