Decent espresso with Starbucks Barista? I DARED TO DREAM

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?

#1: Post by eguy »

I've been lurking on this coffee forum for some time. I like espresso, but I'm cheap. I also like tinkering, so a few years back I bought a used Starbucks Barista for $55 and began the wild journey of being overly picky about coffee, yet unwilling to pay for a nice machine.

Since then, I've made mods and improved my setup, and I thought I'd share some of them with you. I've come to understand that this machine was designed in some ways to be a (fairly) viable espresso machine, but in some ways designed to be a forgiving beginner's machine that can't really hack it. So I changed the stuff that can't hack it.

Here's my setup:

I have a refurbished baratza encore burr grinder and a rattleware 53mm tamper.

And the first pull after my most recent upgrade:

Now to the literal "home brew" coffee machine improvements that turn the cheap beginner machine into a cheap beginner machine that makes pretty decent coffee:

I made a naked, depressurized portafilter out of the stock pressurized filter. I made a handle out of a cheap stainless steel paint scraper from harbor freight and used some of the stock screw holes to attach it. All unnecessary metal was ground off with a dremel. Any ridges or internal structured that catch nastiness were removed. This makes it easy to clean, and easy to see extraction problems. I left the third screw hole on the bottom for stability for tamping, and have been using it like this for about four years.

Next, I opened up the shower screen. This machine came with a screen designed for pods. It focused the water in the center of the puck, causing uneven extraction. I bought a 1mm drill bit, and started drilling to increase the dispersion area. The first picture is after I started the project. The screen has some criss crosses on the back that didn't go all the way through, so I used those as a guide. The outer ring of holes is a bit larger than the inner ring of holes, but it doesn't seem to matter.

Here is the obligatory naked extraction video. The pull is long because I need to work on my tamp pressure, but the shot tasted great. It was literally the first pull I did after opening up the screen, as is the picture of the coffee I posted. It still has some slight channeling, but the screen really evened out the extraction. This was a medium roast premium bean from aldi's.


#2: Post by Davidm »

Wow, I am impressed. I had the exact setup 20 years ago minus the mods (mine had a pressurized portafilter). I could never get good espresso out of it, so just did cappuccino with flavoring syrup. When the unit died, I switched to filtered coffee all the way up till I bought a Decent Espresso DE1+ middle of last year. Much easier to pull a good shot... :)

Brings back fond memories of my first adventures in espresso.

eguy (original poster)

#3: Post by eguy (original poster) »

Thank you !

One day the plastic handle on the pressurized portafilter cracked, so rather than buy a new one, I made the paint scraper handle and cut off the bottom of the metal portafilter.

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#4: Post by NicaDon »

I just adopted a Starbucks Barista and have been playing with it. Came with a naked portafiter and I'm getting some channeling and spray no matter the grind and tamping pressure. As you found and I suspected the pod shower screen that was masked by the pressurized portafilter is to blame.

I found this- ... -and-saeco

for... competition?

Looks tempting if I can find someone to bring it to Nicaragua for me!
LMWDP #730


#5: Post by thm655321 »

My first machine was a Starbucks Barista, and I modded the heck out of it. Naked portafilter, IMS basket modified to fit, added a PID, added a sliding control to control the pressure of the vibe pump (machine has no 9 bar OPV), etc. After all that, some shots were passable but mainly not. The primary issue with the machine is that the boiler is so small that water temperature swings are far too large during a shot. No mods can change that.

I enjoyed mine and enjoyed modding it until finally it was ground faulting and I didn't want to bother with it any longer.

I now have the Lelit Bianca and let's just say that by comparison the Starbucks Barista is like banging your head against a wall. And the Bianca needs no modding.

TL;DR - Decent espresso with Starbucks Barista? No...

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#6: Post by NicaDon »

Yes, a more modern, capable machine would be very welcome here. Unfortunately the very few machines available command a 200% premium so I will try to do the best I can with what I have and appreciate that eguy has been kind enough to share his experiences.

thm655321, did you happen to try the IMS shower screen? Did you find another way to address the channeling?
LMWDP #730


#7: Post by thm655321 »

I did try the IMS shower screen but I don't think it made much difference to be honest.

I didn't have much channeling, I think that is due to the grinder/distribution more than the machine. I was (and still am) using an HG One.

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#8: Post by NicaDon »

Thanks. I've only had it a few days and hope I can make some passable 5am shots from it. I've had a Flair for 3 months while it produces wonderful espresso it's a little more involved than I can handle first thing in the morning. Thankfully my taste buds aren't so discerning either at that hour. I'll work more on the tamping and grind settings.
LMWDP #730


#9: Post by pcrussell50 »

I still have my old Barista from circa 2002'ish. Got it used at a flea market back then. No idea how old it was before that. I don't use it any more. BUT...

1) bought a pre made bottomless PF from Cerini coffee
2) never thought of addressing the shower screen, thanks for that
3) what it really needs is an OPV

With these addressed, temp surfing as the last major shortcoming becomes a more tolerable proposition. I might address these issues as a fun project. I would want to glue a thermocouple bead or otherwise affix one to the boiler. I don't drink many milk drinks so the SBDU aspect is of little consequence to me.

And guys, don't waste your time and worries on tamping pressure. It's like trying to blow up your car tire with your mouth, in comparison to the pressure of 15 bar on the top of the puck. Just make the top of the puck level and smooth and move on to other considerations.


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#10: Post by NicaDon »

A little update. I've actually started getting pretty good shots out of mine. First problem was the grinder. I use a Lido E-T for the Flair and an old Baratza Preciso for the Barista. No matter what, it just wouldn't come together. Took the Preciso apart, saw a tiny hairline crack in the outer burr plastic and thought it was too small to bother with. Wrong. I had a spare, popped it in and Wow! The espresso is not Flair quality but piqued my interest. Spent some time getting it together but as noted without serious mods as eguy has done the temp surfing etc gets old, but no alternatives here. A friend was traveling to Nicaragua so I asked her to bring a new gasket, valve and spring and found Partsguru had the IMS screen. Installed it today and while not magnificent, a noticeable change requiring a slightly coarser grind and a very decent espresso. I have to disagree with the importance of tamping pressure, at least with a bottomless portafilter. Without a smooth, firm tamp it makes a horrible mess and espresso that is not good at all. The challenge has been worth it.

Luckily an Astoria Compact has shown up for sale at a good price and I'll pick it up in a couple weeks. The political situation here, while not as desperate as Venezuela, still is causing many to close up shop and go somewhere safer. The owner grilled me on if I knew what I was getting into with the Compact, my skills, the importance of filtered water and I get the impression this is painful for her. She will allow me to try it out before I buy and hope it works out. If not, I'll still have the backup.
LMWDP #730