Minimum equipment to produce good espresso

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#1: Post by lsf »

For the last few months I've promoted great coffee with my Andreja Premium and my Super Jolly. Most of the people really enjoyed the coffee I served them and some asked advice about what machine they could buy to make the same coffee at home.

And that's when the problem arises... most of the people aren't willing to invest 2500$ as I did on my set up. So that brings me to my main question: what's the smallest amount of money someone has to spend to be in the espresso game. I was thinking of a hand grinder since some people seem to enjoy them and maybe a gaggia baby? I know the machine shouldn't have a pressurise portafilter and any frothing device. But I don't feel like there are some many possibility...

So what setup would you recommend to a friend who has a tight budget?

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#2: Post by peacecup »

I agree, a hand grinder and an entry-level Gaggia, or even a Saeco or SB Barista. I don't follow the widely-held belief that pressurized PFs are all bad - they can serve as a good introductory tool in my opinion. Both the Gaggias and Saeco/Baristas can use either pressurized or non-pressurized, so a novice can progress as their skills increase.

I firmly believe a novice can be very satisfied for a few years with the above-mentioned combo, which can be had for <$200 for good used equipment. Case in point, I still use my $125 Estro Vapore (Barista) and hand grinder on the weekends, and after five years of brewing and drinking straight espresso I still find it satisfying.

LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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#3: Post by another_jim »

First rate espresso on low cost equipment will entail a good deal of both learning and time in prep; more expensive equipment has a slightly higher top end, but mostly it adds consistency. If that is not in the cards, they should get a civilized grinder like the Baratza or Infinity and a pressure PF machine. If even that is too much trouble, they should go with a superauto.

If they do want to take the trouble, they should get a Silvia at the very least. Their time has to be worth more than the 50 cents an hour or less that would be required to make the few hundred dollars of a low end Gaggia worth the trouble. The new Silvias have a decent OPV, if you run them at the top of the 100C stat, they'll produce a roughly right shot (just flush the group for a few seconds.) They should get a decent grinder too -- the Cunill Tranquilo remains the low cost standout for both grind quality and convenience. A Lux, Ascaso, Pavoni PGC are also very good, but noisier and clumpier.

As always, no amount of time or trouble will be of the least bit use if the coffee isn't good and fresh.
Jim Schulman

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Randy G.

#4: Post by Randy G. »

lsf wrote:So what setup would you recommend to a friend who has a tight budget?
Does it HAVE to be espresso? The best investment I have found is the Aerobie Aeropress teamed with a decent grinder. The Aeropress can be had for less than $30 USD, and so the budget can be spent on the grinder. Later, when finances allow, they can consider a decent espresso machine and will already have the most important part of the equation- the grinder. Regardless of what the box states, the Aeropress does not make espresso. Alan (the inventor) likes to think so, but (IMO) it doesn't unless you think strong coffee with no crema is espresso. On the other hand, it makes a wonderful cup of really delicious coffee, much like moka pot or press pot, with no bitterness, every time, in about 20 seconds once the water is at a boil.
As has been mentioned, if they want to get decent espresso and they are fond of the supermarket bins, talk them out of the espresso machine.
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#5: Post by cafeIKE »

IMO, a hand grinder is too slow. BTDT

OTOH, given the choice between a hand grinder and a low end grinder, I'll take my PeDe any day.

Entry level Baratza / Solis / Breville / Infinity et al. incorrectly claim to grind "Turkish" when "Far Too Coarse for Espresso" is more correct.

For the 10^3267 time, the grinder is the key. Suffer a lesser machine, but NEVER scrimp on the grinder.

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#6: Post by Psyd »

another_jim wrote: If they do want to take the trouble, they should get a Silvia at the very least. Their time has to be worth more than the 50 cents an hour or less that would be required to make the few hundred dollars of a low end Gaggia worth the trouble.
Let them know that under a thousand is skimping a bit on the gear (including all the water prep, milk toys, tamper, yadyadyada) and that their investment should be in the $1K range if they're serious. $500 to $1K will get them good, but it'll be work, and everything they spend over $1K will be spent on, not better coffee, but making great coffee easier and more with fewer critical failures.
While some may disagree on the numbers (pulled somewhat out of a dark, personal storage) the concept is the same. there is a certain level where 'real' espresso is attainable, and beyond that 'real' espresso is just easier to obtain.
O'course, YMMV...
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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#7: Post by boar_d_laze »

lsf wrote:. . . I've promoted great coffee with my Andreja Premium and my Super Jolly. . . . [P]eople really enjoyed the coffee . . . and asked what machine they could buy to make the same coffee at home.
[Emphasis mine]

On a budget yet.

Tough question, as much economics, i.e., value-adding, as coffee. Fun to think about. Thanks for asking. To return to parsing your question: Same? Ain't happening. Adequate? Definitional.

In espresso as well as a few other disciplines, lower priced equipment capable of good results is crankier and more technique dependent than higher priced equipment.

The low rent end of the equipment market is dominated by tricks like pressure filtering, "turbo" frothing, and coffee pods. These maximize reproducibility and appearance at the expense of quality in the cup. Typically, folks who buy these machines stop using them after a couple of months. They either give up on espresso at home or start lurking here and move up to big buckaroo machines like yours.

The thing of it is, it costs money and takes technique to make decent espresso consistently. $1,000 is within spitting distance of minimum retail (Oh! How I hate that word) for an adequate new grinder and macchina. (Cost of Admission) And every dollar more your friend spends, up to about $3000 for the pair, will be rewarded with simplicty of use, reliability and quality in the cup it doesn't take a golden palate to taste. Although the higher you go up the ladder of price, the less quanta of improvement you see at each rung. (Law of Diminishing Returns.)

Rancilio's Silvia is the least expensive shot at pulling decent demitasses, and the first and most affordable step into real espresso. You can improve reproducibility, avoid some early A.M. hassle, and flatten the learning curve by getting Silvia a PID. The step up to an Alexia, with its better group, and better everything else, is worth it.

For the same price as Silvia there's the La Pavoni Europiccolo, but you shouldn't recommend that to someone who didn't know exactly into which fine kettle of fish you suggested they jump. Not anyone you wanted to keep as a friend anyway.
But for piccolo more, you can get hit the low end of the HX market with a Bezzera. If froth is in your friend's future, the HX difference is worth the extra lira. After all, the greatest achievement of any man's life is a happy wife. (Rule of the Bottom Line. Law of Chicks Dig Lattes.)

Grinders, actually more important links than espresso machines in the alkaloid chain that is caffeine, are a bigger can of worms. Once you've recommended a machine good enough to allow the taster to distinguish the many steps along the continuum of bad to good, you can't suggest a chump grinder. (Weakest Link.) This isn't news to someone who bought a Super Jolly -- on purpose. Again, nod to Bezzera with an h/t to Rancilio's Rocky.

Lots to ponder. Hope this helps,

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#8: Post by peacecup »

I've seen this question come up time and time again, and usually people reply that one needs to spend >$500 to start making "real" espresso. In my opinion this is absurd, and I stand by my claim that a good used hand grinder and a decent used pump machine can make "real" espresso for $150, maybe less.

LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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#9: Post by peacecup »

Just for kicks here is a video of a shot pulled on a second hand Estro Vapore ($125), non-pressurized portafilter, ground by the hand grinder visible in the background. I'll qualify this by saying the beans were oldish French Roast and I did not "dial in" the grinder, so the shot poured quite fast, but its the only video I have on hand. I'll try to get a better one this weekend with better beans.

Anyone want to debate whether this is "real" espresso?

[gvideo] ... 9869&hl=en[/gvideo]

LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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#10: Post by HB »

peacecup wrote:Anyone want to debate whether this is "real" espresso?
Looks real enough to me, but taste is what matters. I agree with you and others who've posted above - moving up the ladder typically means better consistency, capacity, and construction, but that isn't to say a good barista couldn't do well with high-end entry level equipment. Given that many start with Silvia-class espresso machines and later upgrade (poll), it's worth asking what motivated these upgrades and then deciding if the next level espresso machine is worth consideration as a "minimum."
lsf wrote:So what setup would you recommend to a friend who has a tight budget?
The tight budget question comes up frequently (e.g., Looking for a cheap(ish) but decent starter espresso and Best Inexpensive Grinder? from this forum's FAQs and Favorites) and I'm with Randy: Why espresso when French press / Aeropress is far less of an investment, costs less in coffee, and is nearly foolproof?

If espresso is a must, the next questions are what sort of drinks (espresso only, cappuccinos, lattes) and how many people (solo, 2-3 people, dinner parties). Without knowing how the equipment will be used, we can only make general suggestions. If your friend buys equipment on price that's ill fitted to his needs, it will be gathering dust next to the wedding gift appliance(s) in less than three months.
Dan Kehn