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Expresso maker?

I have a regular coffee maker right now and I would love to buy an expresso maker - one that is good quality, will last and produce delicious starbucks-like combinations:) But also I dont want to spend a fortune. What are some recommendations? If it is too expensive I can always wait for a sale at WS or bloomies but I'm looking for the best but for a relatively good price too. What brands should I look into or stay away from? Any must have features? I don't know anything about the intricacies of expresso makers so any info or help would be great;)

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  1. cups123, Although this is a cookware forum, espresso is a world unto itself, and is a world where strong opinions -- VERY strong opinions -- are rife. The place to find the most expertise (and the strongest of the strong opinions) is the Usenet group alt.coffee, which is a surprisingly resilient community of regulars who have been arguing (mostly very civilly) among themselves about espresso-making and espresso drinking for literally decades. One member of alt.coffee (Mark Prince) started a website, coffeegeek.com, where equipment is reviewed and some of the wisdom (and opinions) of alt.coffee leak through.

    One caution, though: do not go to alt.coffee revealing that Starbucks is your standard; you might as well go to the Louvre or to the Uffizi extolling the artistry of Norman Rockwell; you will be seen by the regulars as lacking couth. (Reason: Starbucks, with its unmatched purchasing power, purchases the best green coffee beans in the market, and then incinerates the poor beans mercilessly to achieve the signature taste -- charcoal -- of Starbucks coffees; that is considered beanocide by espresso aficionados.)

    The bottom line is that the "gateway" model of true espresso machines is often regarded as the low-end Rancilio brand machines like the Silvia; that is a popular, though far from consensus, opinion. BUT! ... But real espresso lovers will tell you to spend at LEAST as much on the grinder as you do on the espresso machine itself; so your first purchase, if you are going to "do" espresso, is to get a good grinder. And that is a Whole 'Nother Question.

    "How to Buy an Espresso Machine" http://coffeegeek.com/guides/howtobuy...

      1. Are you looking for the ultimate shot and are you willing to grind, tamp, steam milk, fiddle around, and then clean the mess after, or do you want a great fast, easy latte and capp with little muss or fuss that's better than Starbucks? If the latter, I LOVE my Dolce Gusto machine. It's about $140, but there are frequent promos. So easy and nothing to clean. Just insert two capsules--one for the steamed milk and one for the coffee and you're done. Is it as good as if you ground, tamped, steamed and frothed--probably not, but if you enjoy it as I do, and it is VERY good, then I think you will be happy with it. Certainly gives Starbucks a run for their money!

        1 Reply
        1. re: blondelle

          okay so maybe I should learn how to spell correctly first:) lol

          I don't mind fuss and cleaning up as long as it's not too much and it is worth the extra effort. When I was in germany over the summer I had a latte in a small coffee shop that I've been dreaming over..it was SO good. If I could make drinks like that I would be soo excited. I'm sure they were using a great coffee product to begin with but I'm sure they have a great machine to go along with it.

        2. As Politeness has pointed out, there are as many coffee opinions on what is best and what is not as there are coffee drinkers. You have the daunting task of wading through all of the opinions and trying to figure out what will work best for you. That said…

          I have trouble figuring out exactly what “price” means for me on any given subject. For an espresso machine, it just did not make sense to me to spend money on a machine that would not deliver premium espresso, no matter how much money it “saved” me. Before my current super-automatic (read “not cheap”) espresso machine, I worked my way through the years from the classic Italian “mocha” machines that are often misidentified as espresso makers, to the electric machines that require you to fill the coffee ground holder, tamp it, screw it back onto the machine, and then brew the “espresso.” Did more than one of those puppies. They are cute, and they impress neophytes, but there is one thing they do not do. They do not make true espresso capped with glorious crema!

          As any barista will tell you, true espresso must have the grounds tamped at proper pressure, be pre-moistened with steam, then have steam at very high pressure shot through it to produce a distillation of coffee that also has the perfect crema capping it off. The only home machines I know of that do that are not cheap. The most convenient are the “super automatics.” But for a bit more money, you can also get those copper and brass beauties that any barista would be proud to brew with, all topped with brass eagles and the like. And you load and clean them manually.

          A super automatic has a water reservoir for fresh clear brewing. It has a hopper where whole coffee beans (of your choice) are stored. It has a waste bucket where spent grounds are dumped. And it has a lovely electronic brain that will follow your directions to a T. When you first turn the machine on, it will spend time heating up, then invite you to push a button that allows it to rinse itself and get ready to make great coffee. Then you tell the machine how many cups to make (one or two?), how many ounces of coffee per cup, and when to start (well, it starts when you push the start button!). The machine will then burr grind (with steel gears) the whole coffee beans to the right texture and place them in the coffee chamber. It will then tamp the beans with the perfect pressure. Then it will pre-moisten the coffee grounds with steam to maximize flavor and crema in the finished cup. It will then generate steam at the proper pressure and shoot it through the grounds to make the best possible coffee from the beans you have supplied. When your cup or cups are filled to the requested amount, it will then dump the spent grounds into the interior hopper (where you don’t have to look at the ugly damp pucks of coffee grounds), rinse itself out to maximize the quality of your next session, and then sit and wait for further directions. If none are forthcoming in a specified period, it will turn itself off and have a nap.

          There are a lot of super automatics on the market today. Some are undoubtedly better than others. I have no idea whether any of them are actually “bad.” I shopped and compared all of the brands I could find when I bought my machine some years back. I ultimately chose a Jura Capresso. They are built in Switzerland, are well designed, and I’ve never had a bad experience with any Swiss products, from chocolates to watches. Mine is an Impressa E9, that I seriously doubt is still available today. It was far from the high end of the product line, but it wasn’t the cheapest either.

          I had a lot of qualms about spending that much money for a machine that “just” makes coffee. Then my very wise son said to me, “Mom, at one cup of really lousy espresso a day from Starbucks, how long will it take for that machine to pay for itself and give you the added bonus of really good espresso?” I ordered it that evening. I have never regretted it. Nor have my friends. They all LOVE my coffee! And all I have to do is push a button! ‘-)

          1 Reply
          1. re: Caroline1

            I was browsing the web to see what's happening with the latest super-automatics and found this website where you can get refurbished machines at incredible savings. WOW! Nooooo, Caroline, you do *NOT* need another espresso machine!


          2. i love my nespresso citiz. . works like a charm. i keep a zojirushi thermal for our morning coffee - i like a big cup of deep dark joe in the morning - and then late-afternoon my perfect shot of expresso done simply. no muss, no fuss.

            1. Good replies here so far. I highly recommend the coffeegeek website, but remember that you're looking at advanced enthusiasts there, and as with many areas of consumer fandom, you can start to get discouraged at people seeming to imply that you're wasting your time even trying to make espresso unless you spend $1500 or more on equipment. But I do think for machine and grinder--unless you find screaming (like half-price) deals--you're looking at somewhere above $500 at least

              For many years I have had a Gaggia Espresso machine, which is identical to the one that my Italian hosts had in their home when I visited them 15 years ago. It is seen in Italy and here in the USA as a capable, entry-level machine. If you treat it right and follow instructions, then you can get to the level of espresso quality that I seek: a smooth crema topped single- or double-shot pretty much as fast as I or even two people will drink them. The important variables in any machine are pressure in the pump and the heft and quality of the boiler and brewing basket. I think that the Rancilio out now would be a step up (but not a big step) from the one I have.

              One reason there's so much room for dispute in espresso circles is that many variables effect the outcome besides the machine, not least the technique of the maker, but also a good burr grinder, and fresh beans.

              If you lack a grinder, you can make do with Illy or some other brands of preground coffee, but you'll find that the espressos are really only at their best the first day you open the can. That gets both costly and unsatisfactory.

              A friend of mine sprung for a fully automated style of coffee maker that cost him at least $1000. I have to say that it made very respectable espresso. Still, I rather like fussing with my old machine and coaxing it to work just right.

              1. Rancilio Silvia is what I would recommend - I know it is "a fortune" but it is well worth it. I went through several "cheaper" machines that broke down and eventually tossed - either because I ground the coffee too fine for the filter on the machine and the pressure did not get released (no protection), or just cheap manufacturing. If you buy one of these machines - it will cost more now, but it will still be with you 10 years and more into the future (others lasted a couple of years max). It will set you back around $700. In the odd chance it does break down - it is serviceable. Mine in Canada (which is still there) has lasted since I bought it 7 years ago, I bought a new one for local use (Bangkok) because of different electrical requirements - shipping costs, etc.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cacruden

                  Oh, BTW, if you get into it you will end up getting a roaster to go with it - then you can roast the beans to your own taste :p

                  1. re: cacruden

                    I didn't realize the prices were higher now across the board. I bought my old Gaggia in maybe 1998. Mine's got a simple black plastic case, retailed for maybe $350, and I got it half-price because some mall cafe was closing out all of its retail shelf, from coffee scoops on up. I'm not sure the owner realized what a hit they'd take in selling that espresso machine that way. Now it looks like machines are clad in pricey stainless steel but filled perhaps with questionable internals.

                    It really does appear that you need to spend about a $1000 for brewing and grinding these days, barring the elusive screaming-good deal.

                  2. As mentioned earlier, there is a huge price range for equipment used to make an espresso... and if you're reading through the coffeegeek site, it's definitely a great resource, but it can (and often does) go to the extremes.

                    I did a fair bit of research and ended up spending about $800 on an espresso machine and grinder. I picked up a used FrancisFrancis! on ebay for ~$250 - the regular prices on those are way overpriced (in my opinion), but they are pretty good machines and seem to be available used for good prices.

                    The grinder I bought was a Macap MC4, which cost over $500 and is built like a tank. I doubt I'll ever need to replace it. I spent more on the grinder because it seems the consensus is that the quality of grind is much more important than the machine itself.

                    I'm very happy with my setup, and the quality of espresso I get is excellent - far better than the Starbucks stuff which I used to think was decent. I suspect it could get better with a higher quality machine, but I don't think it's worth the upgrade at this point, as I'd probably be looking at a machine in the $1000 range!

                    Good luck!

                    1. coffeeggeek is a great resource, but it is SOO much info and so opinionated that it is a little hard to jump into. A helpful threshold issue is what sort of drinks will you be making and how many. I you are focused on espresso, one a single boiler machine will be cheaper and will deliver great espresso (with great beans, a great grinder, and great technique). If you want milk-based drinks, the quality of the espresso will still shine through but it will be more forgiving...however, the steaming ability of an HX or two boiler machine may be desirable (and expensive). I have had various espresso machines and discovered that nuked milk with foam generated by a little bonjour battery operated frother is ok and, at least for my tastes, would be ok for the odd latte or cappa if I had a single boiler that couldn't steam a lot quickly.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: tim irvine

                        The single boiler point is interesting to me. I have made very good espreso for years with my basic Gaggia Espresso machine, but maybe it's important that I only make espresso (no foamed drinks, etc.). The OP was interested in lattes and cappucinos, too, I think.

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          basic Gaggia can make great espresso alright. I don't have a home espresso machine anymore. I now use a Bialetti and the nuked/frothed combo for my morning latte.

                          also, anyone who holds Starbucks up as a standard really does need to try others. Starbucks -- even if you don't get into the burned coffee debate -- makes lattes and cappas that taste like hot milkshakes IMHO. I live in Austin and take folks from the office who frequent Starbucks across the street to Little City where a real barista makes espresso roasted fresh and local, ground on a big Rio, expertly tamped, and pulled on a big Rancilio, and even in a latte they can tell it is an entirely different drink with some real coffee flavor.

                          I am sure you can make a fine cappa or latte with a single boiler, just not several in quick succession. You will run out of steam and lose the ideal temperature, highly noticeable in a straight shot. When you spend any time on CG or other espresso sites you will hear (read) them talk on and on about temp surfing, PID to control temp, etc. I never got that into it but did notice on an old Starbucks estro vapore that the machine being too hot or too cold resulted in either thin or bitter shots.

                      2. Oh yeah, some people who claim to know compare Le'lit pretty favorably with Rancilio Silvias for a good bit less money...

                        and oh yeah again, I had a Solis Maestro grinder and would not get another one for espresso...ok for press and drip, not for espresso, but for drip and press a Capresso burr grinder works ok for less bucks. For espresso, unfortunately, the price point for happiness is higher.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: tim irvine

                          Tim, you hit on a point that I find quite important. The grinder is one of the most important links in the process of pulling a good shot. Unless someone is buying all their coffee pre-ground for espresso they will need a grinder and it's best to start there before moving on to the machine. I agree the Maestro is not suitable for really good shots. Typically the grinder is the variable that you vary when all other factors remain constant like dose, tamping pressure and brewing pressure. It's the grind that you vary to produce the correct volume in the correct amount of time.