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Feb 2, 2008 09:53 AM

Espresso machines. Help!

Must I sell a kidney to enjoy a decent expresso. I have seen machines listed from $249.00 all the way to $.3000.00 for a "home system" I am not opening a Starbucks. although that BMW designed machine looks great. All I want is a fine cup of expresso we have had in Portugal or Spain. What are the differences between a $12.000.00 Francis Francis and a $399.00 Briel Pro?And do I need 18 bars of pressure to enjoy a expresso? Help.

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  1. There is an excellent web site "" which sells machines, coffee etc. They have an excellent sales staff which can guide you to the perfect machine for you. (I am not connected to them in any way!) I finally bit the bullet and bought a grinder and espresso machine for a total of about $900 and have been in heaven ever since. Should have done it a long time ago.

    1. No one can really answer that question as well as you can answer it for yourself. I can share my personal experience with expresso machines, but it's a tale of what worked for me. Long story short, I worked my way up from a top-of-the-stove Italian two piece aluminum pot with the little blue cartoon guy stenciled on the side through a series of non-automatic electric espresso machines to my current Capresso super automatic that was over a thousand bucks. I consider it a lifetime investment. I've had it for a couple of years now, and I'm still as happy with it as I was the first day I got it.

      Do you need 18 bars of pressure? Well, depends. "Espresso" is not a blend of coffee, or even a roast of coffee. "Espresso" is a brewing method. Afficianados and experts insist that to make "true' espresso, the beans must be ground fresh, tamped into the cup, premoistened, then high pressure steam must be shot through the grounds to distill in the grounds and come out as "real" espresso. That takes a whole lot of pressure. Oh! And for "real" espresso, you have to have good "crema." The foam on top. I never got crema from the aluminum pot with the cartoon guy on the side. I never got crema from the fifty and hundred and two hundred dollar department store "espresso" machines. But they were cute toys. I've given them away. My Capresso does all of the things the experts say has to be done to brew "real" espresso, plus it grinds its own beand and rinses itself out and pays attention to hygiene. I do have to empty the grounds bucket, fill it with beans when they're all used up, and fill it with fresh water every morning. And I can adjust it to make small, strong shots of hit-you-in-the-brain-with-caffien espresso, or I can adjust it to make a calmer, more friendly 8 ounce cup of "normal" coffee. Or cappuccino, or latte, or whatever.

      I tried several super-automatics before I settled on Capresso. There are some super-automatics that keep the milk cold for hours in case you want cappuccino in the morning and afternoon, but don't want to get the milk container out of the refrigerator for that afternoon cup. There is a "built in" super automatic that is plumbed with water, but it doesn't have a drain so you still have to empty the grounds yourself. When it comes to super-automatics, it all depends on how lazy you want to be and how much you want the machine to do. Oh, and how much you want to spend figures into the equation too. Rule of thumb: the more the machine does for you, the more it costs. I don't know of any machine that disposes of its own used coffee grounds, or I' probably be lusting after it. Do I think a $5,000.00 machine makes better espresso than a $1,200 dollar machine, or a $600.00 machine? If you want crema, you've got to try whatever machine you're thinking of buying and see if it makes coffee the way you want it.

      Oh. And there is NO machine that will make good coffee with bad beans. '-)

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        1. Have you ever tried using an aluminum stove-top espresso pot? It's not quite like "uma pica" but it's not that far off. It's the equipment I saw used in most homes in Portugal and Spain.
          The trick is to use a coffee that's already perfectly ground and roasted for this style. Spanish and Portuguese roasts might be easier for you to find than for me. I opt for illy or Lavazza and am pleased every time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: scarmoza

            I have a little macchinetta (stovetop) and love it - but mostly for its ritual and design. But as an espresso maker, I can attest to Caroline1's post above - it doesn't create enough pressure to produce the crema. I flood my coffee with steamed milk, so I'm not so concerned. But if you are looking for a stovetop, I definitely recommend the Giannini design - no need to screw in the top and ruining the threads.

          2. this is a very personal decision and you will find a lot of opinions on here. You can do some research on sites like whole latte love and home barista. It's true, as you say, the choice can be daunting. For some people, the moka stovetop pots will be enough, whereas others will only settle for true espresso (fyi, re: Starbucks doesnt even grind anymore, at least in my area; they use pods). Caroline1 makes a great argument for the automatics and it sounds like she is making great coffee relatively effortlessly. Good for her. Many coffee lovers, me included, have taken an approach that requires that you invest time and patience into to getting it just right with more manual machines, like the Rancilio Silvia, which goes for around $500. Keep in mind, you'll need a good burr grinder too, maybe not a Mazzer or Macap (around $500), but something like a Rocky (around $300). The other variable is the freshness of the beans. Only get beans that have been very recently roasted. Working out the grind and the idiosyncracies of Silvia will require some patience and some time, but once you get the maching tuned in properly, you will be making crema rich, delicious espresso, with plenty of steam for making lattes or caps. Like others have said before, it all depends on what your priorities are in terms of your taste and temperment and how willing you are to invest in learning the art. For me, and I suspect most who choose this route, the process is at least as gratifying as the result.