Illy Espresso Makers -- Are they worth it? Would you recommend one particular model, or another brand?
Let me start by admitting that I like making espresso the old fashioned way. I prefer to grind my own beans and tamp my own grinds. I also prefer a regular espresso, maybe occasionally a ristretto, when I am ordering at a coffee bar. Pods and capsules are of no interest to me, as I will not be able to control the strength of my coffee by varying the amount of coffee grinds used, nor will I be able to select my own beans. Once in a while, I may choose to foam milk, but that is about once a week. The llly machines are gorgeous, and I would love to hear that they make great coffee. However, I don't want to be seduced by their looks.
I have been eyeballing machines for a while. There is no need for me to spend more than $1000, as I am the only one in the house who drinks any kind of coffee. I live in Texas, and after dinner coffee seems to be unpopular. I'll blame the heat. Therefore, it would be rare for me to need to make four cups at once.
There are many conflicting reviews out there. I thought I would start by asking Illy users about their experiences with their machines. If you don't have an Illy, but like to brew your own ground espresso and have a great machine to recommend, please feel free to recommend one. Thank you.
Spending some time at coffeegeek is a good idea although they probably over emphasize the high quality grinder a bit. If you are interested in pulling straight shots of espresso and looking for the ultimate in taste and appearance then yes a high quality grinder is important. Anything less than that and a step down in grinders is possible. The site has all the information you'll need.
Before buying consider the size of the machine and grinder. Many are much larger than the kitchen top appliances we are used to and won't fit under the cabinets. If that's important to you.
Also, consider used and refurbished equipment. There is a huge markup in what is for many kitchen eye candy.
Finally, consider that it takes lot's of practice (months not hours) to develop the skill to pull a great shot. And many will give up long before achieving their goal. Which is why used equipment is such an attractive option since it's hardly been used. Good luck.
checking Coffeegeek is a good idea. Based on your self described leanings, after getting a great grinder like a Mazzer mini or a Macap, I'd check out lever machines. Coffeegeek has different boards for lever and non-lever machines. When I win the lottery if I don't go all phiianthropic, I'd could see an Elektra casa a leva in my kitchen.
Illy doesn't make espresso machines. Looking at their site, I see machines from five or more manufacturers - which one were you looking at? (If you were taken by their good lucks - I'm guessing you were looking at the Francis-Francis machines. "Beauty is only skin deep" applies to espresso machines, too.)
I think you'll find www.coffeegeek.com a better resource than chowhound for this kind of information. Have you spent some time perusing that site?
Nevertheless, I'll throw out two thoughts:
If you're want to make espresso "the old-fashioned way", you're going to need a good grinder. In the $1000 range, you can get a Rancillio Silvia packaged with a Rocky grinder that should be perfect for you. Many people recommend this combination. Several online retailers carry this package.
My personal take, based on my own experience, is that if I had $1000 to spend, I'd actually spend more on the grinder, and less on the machine. I'd get a Mazzer Mini grinder for $500 - $600, and a Gaggia New Baby for around $400.
I've had a Mazzer Mini for about seven years now, and I love it as much now as the day I got it. I can't imagine having anything less. For an espresso machine, I have a bottom of the line Gaggia that's about five years old that cost $200. The Gaggia is a bit cranky, and tends to leak through the group head until it's fully warm. To get it to $200, Gaggia cut corners wherever possible - but not in the most critical areas. It makes a good cup of espresso, though it takes a little work.
I'd upgrade to the Rancillio, or a better Gaggia, if I could afford it. The Mazzer Mini, on other hand - I want to be buried with it.
Thank you. Yes, I actually meant Francis! Francis! when I said "Illy" I will definitely check out your link.
There are some nice looking Gaggia's out there too, and the Gaggia Classic seems to be highly regarded. I think it sells for between $400 and $500. I am pretty picky about a grinder too, but will consider an upgrade. I have an old Braun burr grinder that allows me to choose settings easily, as well as a cheap blade grinder "for emergencies" (more like, for vacation). I totally agree about grinding consistency. I really wonder if it is worth upgrading my Braun? I've had it forever -- literally.
As for $1000, that is not my goal. I want to spend less, as I am the only one using this espresso maker. I am going to take a longer look at the Gaggia line. The Baby seems to be their newer model, but I have to go read more reviews. Thank you for your recommendation. I will definitely check out coffeegeek.