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Is there such a thing as a good, well-priced cappuccino maker?

I'd really love to be able to make good cappuccino at home. From everything I've heard and read about the mass-marketed machines, I'm not even going to begin to experiment with them. I do understand that a large and important part of making cappuccino is learning how to make a good espresso -- how to grind the coffee correctly, how to measure and tamp it (if that's the right word), etc. In other words, it's as much a science as an art. I'm willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to do it correctly. But I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on equipment. What's the minimum amount I'd have to spend? What do I need to know in order to be a savvy shopper? Where should I shop? (One person told me that Chris Coffee Service has an excellent reputation.) This is uncharted territory for me.

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  1. Great topic. I swear by Bialetti, but not the Mocha Mocha. Too hard to clean. I had a cup from a Faema this week and I swear this was the best cup of coffee I have ever had. I am going to purchase one on Saturday. I will keep you posted.

    http://www.faematoronto.com/frames.html

    1 Reply
    1. re: theresah

      Are you referring to the stove-top model? I bought one of those several years ago, but it was impossible to use on my old Jenn-air electric cooktop. Now that I have a gas cooktop, maybe it's worth dusting it off (if I haven't given it away).

    2. We were all newbies once, don't be intimidated or afraid to ask questions. Chris Coffee is a good resource, and so are sweet maria's and whole latte love. For information, I'd suggest home barista or coffee geek. First off, you'll need to factor a quality burr grinder into the equation, and those can cost nearly as much as the machine. From what I've heard, Gaggia makes a decent entry espresso machine. The Rancilio Silvia is widely considered a good entry level machine; they retail for around $600. You might consider one with a PID right off the bat. It will help you gauge the proper temperature for pulling a shot, which is one of the variables for making great espresso. Count on spending at least $400 on a good grinder like a Rocky. If you're willing to invest around $1,000 in the equipment as well as the time and energy to learn to operate it properly, you can get some very good results. But with espresso, it's about the journey as much as the destination. good luck

      2 Replies
      1. re: chuckl

        Can you please define: (1) PID, (2) "pulling a shot." Remember, this is a newbie you're talking to and I don't yet know the lingo. :))

        1. re: CindyJ

          PID: proportional–integral–derivative controller. A computer-controlled unit that, per Wikipedia, "attempts to correct the error between a measured process variable and a desired setpoint by calculating and then outputting a corrective action that can adjust the process accordingly and rapidly, to keep the error minimal." In this context, it measures the brew water temp and makes continuous small adjustments to keep it as close as possible to the ideal.

          Pulling a shot: making a cup of espresso. Based on the old lever-operated machines, where the barrista generated the pressure that pushed the hot water through the coffee by pulling on a lever.

      2. CindyJ, one of the last active not (too) spammed Usenet newsgroups, alt.coffee, is the place to find people who really know and really care about such issues. Alties, as the participants call themselves, are a civil and (most of them) knowledgeable group. What you will or would find if you visit there is the prevailing wisdom that the quality of the grinder is more important than the quality of the machine that actually makes the espresso. It is possible to go seriously overboard on a grinder; you will get serious disagreement about what the minimum level grinder can be. Personally, I would set the level at or near the Baratza Virtuoso, but if I made this suggestion on alt.coffee, immediately there would be multiple responses politely disagreeing with me, citing cogent reasons why I was wrong. As H.L. Menken used to say in his standard acknowledgement card to critics who wrote him to disagree with his writings, "Dear Sir or Madame: You may be right."

        Similarly, as to espresso machines, you may want to visit the site http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews where many Alties -- and others far less knowledgeable -- post their reviews. There will necessarily be a process of separating the wheat from the chaff in the authoritativenesss of the reviews. The coffeegeek site also has editors' reviews (usually more in-depth than the consumer reviews), but necessarily they cover a narrower range of products, tending toward the higher end, than the consumer reviews. The base standard -- comparable to the Baratza Virtuoso and every bit as subject to spirited argument -- among espresso machines might be the Rancilio Silvia. You can check that out, then work up or down from there.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Politeness

          Another question from the uninformed -- how, exactly, do I get to alt.coffee?

          1. re: CindyJ

            CindyJ, that's a fundamental question. Your ISP -- the company through whom you buy access to the Internet and who bills you for it every month -- probably has a means to access "News" or "Usenet." Like the World Wide Web or email, Usenet is (newsgroups are) a component part of the Internet. Newsgroups were the predecessors of special interest boards on the World Wide Web like Chowhound, but the messages come through like email, and, instead of landing in your virtual mailbox, they end up in a newsgroup -- which displays the messages sort of in the manner Chowhound does. There are thousands of special interest newsgroups, some quite kinky, and if your ISP offers Usenet ("News") access you choose which groups you subscribe to, and will see nothing from the newsgroups you do not subscribe to.

            Most Usenet newsgroups are NOT moderated, which makes them easy to spam -- and that is what effectively has killed Usenet.

            How YOU can subscribe to the alt.coffee Usenet newsgroup is something that you need to ask your own specific ISP, because the newsgroup subscription procedure varies among providers. Most ISPs are happy to assist you to access newsgroups.

            OR. You can go to groups.google.com and look for group:alt.coffee (no spaces around the colon). That is a clunky way to access alt.coffee, because you get all the messages ever posted to alt.coffee, unthreaded. It is hard to follow a discussion that way.

        2. Check out www.coffeegeek.com. Lots of good info there.

          The first thing you'll have to decide is whether you actually want to make good espresso. Yes, the best cappuccino is made with really great espresso, but that's no small undertaking.

          You don't need to spend thousands of dollars, but you definitely need to spend several hundred. First you're going to need a good grinder. You don't need to drop $650 on a Mazzer Mini, but at a minimum you should count on spending at least $150 for something along the lines of a Barratza. Then there's the espresso machine; there are plenty of good units in the $600-800 range; the Rancilio Silvia is a classic favorite.

          But IMHO making really good espresso at home is best left to the true obsessives. For under $50 you can get the equipment required to make an acceptable cup of cappuccino. Rather than espresso, use coffee made in a moka pot or an Aeropress. Heat the milk in the microwave and froth it using something along the lines of an Aerolatte. $30 for the coffee maker, $15 for the frother, and you're done.

          Of course, a good grinder always helps. And then there's the cost of home roasting equipment... Did I mention the obsessives?

          13 Replies
          1. re: alanbarnes

            I've known an espresso-obsessed person or two, and I know from whence you speak. Fortunately, I'm nowhere near that place myself, so maybe my generally forgiving nature will make this process a little easier for me.

            Just this afternoon, someone recommended the Rancilio Silvia with a dealer-installed POD option to me. As I understand it, that would eliminate the need for a grinder, and, when my skills are better honed, I can remove the option and use it in a more traditional way. I do understand that the tradeoff is that my coffee won't be freshly ground. Maybe for now, though, it's a worthwhile tradeoff. Don't even get me started on home roasting machines!

            1. re: CindyJ

              Oh, God, no. Bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. Let me go a step further, at the risk of being downright offensive: anybody who puts a pod portafilter on a Silvia is a philistine. A poseur. A palate-impaired consumerist hack who's doing nothing more than putting bling on the kitchen counter in a lame attempt to impress the neighbors with the ability to pay $600 for a coffeemaker. Because it sure as hell won't make good coffee.

              You will never, ever get good coffee from beans that aren't fresh. You know how good fresh-roasted coffee smells? What you smell is their the flavor dissipating into the air. You know how much that smell intensifies when you grind the beans? Same deal. And every bit of flavor that ends up in the air will never make it to your cup. Roast whole-bean coffee starts to deteriorate markedly after ten days; at two weeks it's marginal. Once ground, it goes rapidly downhill in minutes, not hours.

              There are lots of places to cut corners. But you're drinking COFFEE. The coffee itself is the last place you want to settle for a third-rate product. And coffee pods are a third-rate product. At best.

              Use an Aeropress. Or a moka pot. Or a cold-brew system. Or a vac pot or a filter cone or a Chemex or a French Press. Hell, use a used Mr. Coffee from the Goodwill or your grandmother's percolator if that's all you can swing. But please, please, please grind the beans fresh.

              1. re: alanbarnes

                Okay! Okay! I promise I won't use the "P" word again! :)

                1. re: CindyJ

                  I get a little carried away sometimes. ;-)

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Not carried away -- just passionate about your coffee. :))

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      now my Nespresso system has me embarressed

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Wow, Alan, why don't you tell us how you reallly feel??? Got me nervous and I don't even make the damn stuff!

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Funny that you use the word "bling". I have ogled (literally) the Francis! Francis! models now, in all of their beautiful colors, almost any of which would look great on my counter, for a couple of years now, but the pod thing is what seems to be what prevents me from doing it. I only grind beans fresh, and I think I can taste stale coffee beans from a mile away. I also, of course, have no idea if this kind of coffee maker is good one, but it IS expensive and darn pretty. Bling!

                      1. re: RGC1982

                        remember milk covers a lot of sins. How do you think Starbucks got as big as they did?

                        1. re: scubadoo97

                          "How do you think Starbucks got as big as they did?"

                          By only grinding fresh beans for every other cup and only serving 50% of their customers what they paid for?

                          1. re: Fritter

                            are they using pods all over for their espresso based drinks?

                  2. re: alanbarnes

                    Baratza Vario Grinde is Baratza's only real contender for an espresso grinder and it ain't cheap. I paid less for my Mazzer Mini but that was a few years ago.

                    This is one of the lowest price espresso machines that is getting good feedback from coffeegeeks.
                    http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/con...
                    http://www.1st-line.com/machines/home...

                    Better to buy this type of machine and spend more money on a grinder. The grinder will be the most important component of the whole set up.

                    Two lower price grinders with good feedback from coffeegeek
                    http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/gri...
                    http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/gri...

                    But bottom line. Don't skimp on the grinder

                  3. First of all Chris Coffee service is better than great. I trust their advise 100%, they are the best. As for buying a machine, don't forget save an equal amount of money for your grinder . You won't be sorry. Coffeegeek has a really great tutorial on how to buy a machine.
                    With all due repect, I really recommend
                    you sign up and post this question on their forum.
                    Any way here is the link to coffeegeek on how to buy an espresso machine.

                    http://coffeegeek.com/guides/howtobuy...

                    http://www.chriscoffee.com/