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Jun 3, 2009 05:20 PM

Espresso Machines: Are my requirements irreconcilable?

I would love to buy an espresso machine. Not sure where to land on the semi-auto--auto--super spectrum. Here are my requirements; are they really irreconcilable?

- I don't have a ton of space, and we want to be able to make coffee as well (same machine or both machines need to be small-ish)

- I don't want a plastic-on-the-inside Piece-of-You-Know-What

- Some kind of scheduled auto-on would be least for coffee

- The idea of some level of control of espresso-making would be nice

- Milk steaming / frothing definitely something we'll be doing

- Not interested in pods

I feel like the auto-on and coffee-and-espresso requirements point to a super-automatic, but are they so restrictive and pre-programmed (e.g. how much water, how much time) that if you don't like their programmed way, you're screwed?

If I get one of the less expensive super-automatics (i.e. <$1000), am I getting myself a low-quality, short-lived product?

Thanks in advance, coffee-hounds!

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  1. Imby, as useful as Chowhound is for general cookware questions, espresso is another world, and for the questions you ask, you need to spend some time reading the reviews at Coffeegeek:

    1. Politeness is right, there are plenty of dedicated sites for more specific information. Along with coffeegeek, you can try home barista.
      You are really asking 2 different questions, though, and the machine that will serve your needs will depend on how you answer them. Is your priority convenience or espresso that is close to what you would get in a real coffee shop (meaning not Starbucks). If you're willing to compromise real espresso quality for a pale simulation (in my opinion), a super automatic can do the trick and will be much more versatile and tolerant of newbie mistakes. If you want to pursue espresso nirvana, with much crema and very high quality espresso, you'll have to sacrifice some of the convenience of the super autos and invest a significant amount of time learning how to make a very good shot. In the latter option, you'll also have to factor in a high quality burr grinder (Rancilio Rocky at a minumum). I have a Rancilio Silvia and Rocky setup and I'm quite pleased with it once I figured out technique and the proper grind. Silvia is a little picky. Also, you'll need to buy fresh beans, ideally roasted no more than a few days before you grind them. But for more details, go to a dedicated espresso site.

      1. i hve a jura capresso super automatic. big and expensive. but you can program the espresso

        1. definitely head to coffeegeek and I think you will find most favor semi automatics so there is more control over the extraction. Here is one of the most important facts. The grinder is more important than the machine in making good espresso. With a 1k budget you will want to get a good espresso grinder and an entry level espresso machine like a Gaggia or Ranchilio Silvia. The Gaggias don't have plastic insides. Plastic outsides yes. The Silvia is the most popular entry level home espresso machine. Don't plan on making regular coffee and espresso from the same machine. Your budget will allow enough to get results just put it in the right place.

          1. I think they're irreconcilable, and for good reason. Coffee and espresso have different brewing requirements. To do it right, you need to specialize somewhat. There's a reason why mobile homes aren't ubiquitous over separate cars and homes, after all.

            But there's a third dimension you're clearly missing here, and that's the grinder. If you're going to drop a few hundred dollars on an espresso machine, unfortunately few (outside of the aforementioned sites from other users) will point out that the grinder can be just as important as the espresso machine. To ignore that is to buy a $10,000 home stereo system and to play it through $20 speakers.

            So whatever you do, don't make the mistake of not getting a grinder that's good enough to get the most out of your investment in your machine(s).