What's really the difference between espresso machines?

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#1: Post by tennisman03110 »


I've looked around but not found a direct answer. So my question, comparing just the finished shot in a cup, what's really the difference in all these machines?

Obviously there's tons of comparisons done on this site. I understand PID is a big thing that might help. But if I mainly drink non-milk drinks, will I really see a difference upgrading from a basic (Duo Temp Pro) to something better, say the Breville Dual Boiler. Or something even more expensive. Not considering steaming (I use it some), workflow, reliability, etc.

Has anyone done this test before? Purely on a single espresso shot. I can't and haven't, as I've got just one machine. But I wonder if it's something to consider. Am I missing out daily on getting the best from my coffee? I buy the best or close to it.

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#2: Post by Jeff »

If you haven't read/watched How to choose an espresso machine and grinder at the "right" price that's a good place to start. (Being close to ten years old, the prices and names have changed a bit)

What you generally get at under US$1000 is a basic, functional machine, that has the potential to make a decent to good cup of espresso most of the time with a skilled operator and a good grinder.

At around $1,000-2,000 you are getting mainly more stability and repeatability, so that those skills are easier to get ("It's not the machine, it's something I'm doing") and, once "dialed in" can turn out a good cup of espresso most of the time, and an excellent one reasonably often.

Above there, the stability gets even better and additional brewing parameters can be better controlled, allowing one to use coffees that weren't blended for espresso with greater ease. These coffees that you might hear called "single origin" and "light roast" are very finicky. They can be pulled with the mid-range machines, but are a lot easier to "dial in" on these more stable, more flexible machines. When that coffee might run $20-30 a bag, and you can't get a second bag (they're sometimes really small lots which often sell out in a week or two), that becomes even more important.
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#3: Post by Bluecold »

You buy consistency, be it in water dispersion, pressure buildup and temperature profile. It's not about getting one thing perfect, it's about getting lots of little things roughly right.
A pid temperature controller is useful for some machines, and less useful for others.

Some machines allow you to tune everything, some are 'this is it'. The this is it machines don't try to confuse you, but if you're consistently trying out coffee outside the comfort zone of these machines, you're not getting the most out of them.

Some machines are handmade in Italy, others in a big factory in China. Espresso is about enjoyment, some take enjoyment in thinking about Rome when they walk into the kitchen, and would hate to think about Alixpress when they're working with their machine. Others find joy in how well their machine performs in temperature tests.

I hope this helps shed some light on the topic. There is no true answer.
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#4: Post by Shojin »

Isn't it like anything in a crowded marketplace? Pretty much any car will get you from A to B, but it'll be a different experience depending on which one you're driving. Lots of things take good photographs, but it's different using a Hasselblad compared to a cellphone. That's all. They all make espresso, but they vary on features, build quality, and ease of use.

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#5: Post by Jeff »

To a point...

A stock, 1961 VW bug is going to have quite a challenge getting to the top of a mountain at over 10,000' / 3,000 m, if at all.

With "comfort roasts", sure. Like driving to the grocery store.

While it has been said that "A poor workman always blames his tools," it is equally true that a wise workman, when offered a job that is beyond his tools, chooses not to accept it. More and more, coffees and techniques are falling into that category as the comfort roasts of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are fading away (how many "I miss my classic Italian / dark roast" threads are going now?) and moving beyond what equipment of that era's design can accomplish (it's called an E61 for 1961).


#6: Post by tinman143 »

If you're the type that enjoys going under the hood, you will care about how a company lays out the components with maintenance in mind (ie how accessible are parts that typically break/wear down fastest). You start noticing components that are selected etc. For that reason, I'm inclined towards German machines like ECM and Profitec.


#7: Post by BuckleyT »

tennisman03110 wrote:Hello.

I've looked around but not found a direct answer. So my question, comparing just the finished shot in a cup, what's really the difference in all these machines?
Responding to the meat of your question, the shot quality will depend much more on the grinder than on the brewer. As others have stated, the brewer gets you to the cup in different ways, the quality of the cup is most determined by grind.

That is not to say brewer doesn't matter; it does, but less so, and less than technique.


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#8: Post by Don Task »

Difference... Hmmm... based on the replies so far you can see how difficult this might be to answer. Even a reply that evolves into a verbose response may fail to provide a satisfactory answer. Manual vs automatic or semi-auto, saturated group head, E61, PID, auto dosing, auto profiling versus manual profiling etc. Listing the difference(s) between espresso machines would be quite a write-up and probably easier to find in a library book or via an online publication versus a response from a forum which more often than not will be based on personal opinion.
BuckleyT wrote:Responding to the meat of your question, the shot quality will depend much more on the grinder than on the brewer. As others have stated, the brewer gets you to the cup in different ways, the quality of the cup is most determined by grind.

That is not to say brewer doesn't matter; it does, but less so, and less than technique.
Good call! I was going to jump on the grinder tangent but you beat me to the punch. Many people new to the world of brewing espresso at home fail to realize the grinder is every bit as important as the espresso machine. The mating is frequently compared to buying a top shelf quality home receiver audio system and pairing it with cheap bookshelf speakers. The system will never sound as good as it could due to the limitation of the inferior speakers. Same correlation with grinders to espresso machines. FACT: With the properly matched grinder... an experienced barista can pull better shots from a sub $1000 machine than a novice can pull using $10,000 machine paired with a whirly-bird coffee grinder.

If you were able to line up all the espresso machines on the market with a panel of world renowned baristas in an attempt evaluate and eliminate them via a bracket system and list the differences... you'd never get all of them to agree unanimously on which differences in the machines are paramount to the delivering the most perfect espresso.
Krups, then Silvia, then Livia 90, then a Techno! Does it ever end? [sigh]

tennisman03110 (original poster)

#9: Post by tennisman03110 (original poster) »

Good thoughts so far. It's very subjective. There's a recent thread about if a HX is worth 5x a Gaggia Classic. No real answer.

I think of it like a chef knife. I've got one that's $15, one that's $150. If I rough chop mushrooms, the nice knife is a waste. The end result is a.....rough chopped mushroom and both do the job just fine (maybe comfort blend?). If clean a whole beef tenderloin into filet steaks, not only is a nice (sharp, etc.) knife easier to work with, the final steaks will have a BETTER chance of being uniform, cleanly trimmed, with little waste. But a pro chef will crush a home cook, no matter who has which knife. Like a rookie pulling single origins in a Slayer, vs. a pro barista pulling a mass produced blend in my Duo Temp (use your imagination?!). Assuming grinder is the same.

In the real world, I have a Sette 270. From what I've read, it's not in need of an upgrade. I have a Duo Temp by Breville. It's fine, but basic. My espresso preferences (generally single origin lighter roasts) taste good, often inconsistent. Me or the machine, who knows. And is my "good" shot just a shadow of what the same coffee and grinder could produce on something better.

I can't compare to the machines I'm thinking about, being (all Lelit for sake of comparison):
1. Lelit PL41TEM Anna ($629)
2. Lelit PL91T Victoria ($1000)
3. Lelit Mara/Mara X ($1400-$1500)
4. Lelit PL92T Elizabeth ($1600)

If my final cup is a 5/10 now, what get's me to a 8/10? 9/10? Is it just the Anna that allows me to get a temp to match the coffee? I know it's really nothing anyone can answer, but it's driving me crazy. I drink 1 or 2 espressos/Americanos a day, have no plans on ever stopping. But don't want to upgrade just because.


#10: Post by jevenator »

My first setup was a CC1 and Sette 270 I sold after 4 months because i was comparing it to my local cafe with a slayer and peak. Could not replicate the same mouthfeel and intensity of sweetness from their espresso blend and I've went through about 8lb of that specific blend in like a month so I had a lot of opportunities to dial in.

Next setup was a BDB and Forté BG. I was very satisfied. Just as good shots and it taught me a lot. Now I moved onto a DE1 and a large flat burr Titan grinder. The improvement in taste is a bit better. Not huge but I am able to extract different flavors with different profiles and all of it makes yummy coffee and is a lot of fun. I feel very happy and relaxed knowing I got some of the best equipment and I'm pretty much at the ceiling. I can't blame my gear for bad coffee. Ever. (Unless something breaks obviously)