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Recos for an espresso machine appreciated...

Well, my wife & daughter just got back from Europe, and apparently even the most humble train station from Portugal through Spain to France have amazing coffee.

Short of spending a small fortune, what models have you all used?

As a point of comparison, she's gone around tasting a few cups of espresso from the chains and not surprisingly they all flunk. I think the best cup she (& I) had before she left was our fist visit to Intelligentsia in Pasadena. If we can replicate that, I think we have a winner.

Of course, a machine in the $200 range would be ideal, but it seems from a cursory glance from Amazon that it'll take some $600-$800 ones. Your feedback is GREATLY APPRECIATED!

Thanks!

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  1. Unless youre ready to plunk down some serious cash for an espresso machine and a quality grinder, you should stick to some good ways to brew conventional coffee. Figure $800-1000 for something like a rancilio silvia and grinder. On the other hand you can pick up a swiss gold filter for less than $20 and brew a nice cup of coffee. Other options include french press and aeropress.

    1. You better start your search for a good espresso capable grinder before you look at espresso machines. Read the tutorial at coffeegeek before making any decision.

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

      1. I agree with the above posters that duplicating great espresso is not easy. The above mentioned of the Ranciio Silvia is probably the least expensive one can go that will produce a decent shot. Add a good burr grinder and it will be close to $1000.00. After the equipment comes the practice, buying fresh beans, etc. Even after all that, one still might not get the great espresso that is so common in Spain and Italy. That is one reason the pod and capsule are so popular.
        I wouldn't rush out and purchase a machine as I've known enough friends that after a few weeks packed their machine for storage or sold it at Ebay and go back to their drip.

        1. Obviously you and your family are among the initiates who understand that "espresso" is a method of making coffee and not a bitter nasty black coffee bean. '-)

          Through the years I have worked my way up from the aluminum stove top Italian jobbies with the cute little guy enameled on the side of the pot, to those not-really-espresso machines that have the pod you pack by hand and screw to the bottom of the steam spewing part that eventually drips coffee into a tiny cup, then requires that you do it all over again for more. Those machines do not have the pressure required to make true espresso.

          About six years or so ago, I finally saw the light, decided I was sick of all the long hassles (some like to call it a ritual) required to get a half way decent cup of espresso and went for the real thing. For six years I have enjoyed fantastic coffee at the push of a button. My Jura Capresso machine grinds the coffee, tamps it, pre-moistens it with a blast of steam (a step you cannot accomplish with the screw-on mini cup machines), then shoots high pressure steam through the grounds producing absolutely perfect crema every time. Then it dumps the gounds in a bin, rinses itself out, and is ready to brew another perfect cup of espresso the next time I push its button.

          As far as I know, ONLY the super-automatics (there are more brands than Jura Capresso, but I think it is the best) produce perfect crema every time. None of the super-automatics are cheap, but if you want really good espresso every time, in the long haul, they deliver, thereby paying for themselves. I drink from one to three cups of espresso daily. Just think what that would cost from Starbuck's on an annual basis!

          For the record, there are now some websites that offer refurbished Jura Capresso machines at an amazing saving, and according to the websites, they come with a good guarantee.. But if you have your heart set on really espensive coffee, go for the pod machines. I just can't see those after having a real espresso machine.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Caroline1

            Second a Jura. I'll buy another one if my current one breaks down. I've had mine for 2 years now.

            Sur la Table is doing a discount on Ena 5 because the new Ena 9 is out. It's now sold for $900 and not many pieces left. I was also being told that Ena 9 is exclusive to SLT until June 1.

            It's a cute little machine but the water tank maybe too small if you have more than 2 coffee drinkers in the house.

            http://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/
            These people offer lots of knowledge on different units from $200 to $10k. Check out their YouTube channel.

            1. re: Caroline1

              Caroline1, super-autos are, indeed, the easiest to use. A friend recently got the latest Saeco Odea Giro & it makes good coffee in a fraction of the time of either a fully auto or semi-auto machine:
              http://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/Saec...

              Which beans do you find work the best in your machine? Have you tried these?:
              http://www.jlhufford.com/ProductDetai...

              Unfortunately, crema production is not the best measure for gauging any machine's brewing capabilities. Very inexpensive machines can produce wonderful crema using "mechanical tricks" incorporated into the parts (i.e., a pressurized portafilter). I don't mean to say that crema isn't an important part of espresso brewing, only that it's not the best criteria when choosing a machine.

              I've got a Quick Mill 0930 semi-auto & have found that crema production is more a function of bean selection & freshness than it is my machine. For my setup, I've found that Italian blends work best for producing gobs of crema. Here's a picture from when I first started using my machine, a little over 3 yrs ago:
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/87144500...

              1. re: Eiron

                The ONLY espresso I've ever tasted from a super automatic has been from my own now elderly (like me) Jura Capresso Impressa E9, which they don't even make any more. It has served me well, and continues to do so. Some friends drive for miles just to have coffee with me. I don't know a thing about any other brand of super automatics, but I do recommend Jura with no reservations. Swiss made, extremely reliable, and you are in control. Great cappuccino, great espresso, great any kind of coffee you can think of EXCEPT Turkish or vacuum coffee. I still have my Cona coffee maker that I break out every once in a while just for the joy and nostalgia of it. And I still own the brass hand-turned coffee mill for turning whole coffee beans into powder to make Turkish/Greek coffee that I've been using since 1957. But I rarely use it any more, thanks to the lousy damned arthritis that has interfered with much of my joy in cooking! But hey, I still have great memories, and my housekeeper is a loving and willing sous chef!

                For as long as I've been making Turkish coffee (1957), I have been a user of whole coffee beans. In Turkey, I was able to buy green coffee beans (I can buy them in the U.S, but I don't know the sources that well) and roasted them myself. No... NOT in an expensive coffee roaster. Enough beans at a time for one pot roasted in a cast iron skillet over an alcohol burner. When you have a gifted instructor, you can achieve perfection with this method. You also have to let the beans cool to room temperature (about an hour) before grinding them. "Instant" coffee is a foreign concept with this method.

                Whole coffee beans freshly ground are critical to optimum coffee. I was taught never to grind the beans before the water is boiling to make the coffee. For many years, we simply used the "tea making" method for brewing coffee. Preheat a china pot with hot water. When the water for coffee is freshly boiling turn off the heat, pour the water out of the china pot, grind the coffee beans and add them to the pot, pour in the no-longer-boiling water, stir once with a spoon and set aside to steep while the grounds settle to the bottom of the pot. Pour and enjoy! It does make a great cup of coffee, but at my age and with the arthritis plaguing me, I no longer have the tolerance for the ritual. When I get up in the morning, I love just pushing the button for a great MUG (Yes, you read that right!) of freshly brewed espresso.

                When I last lived in California thirty years ago, I had a whole coffee bean source in San Diego, where I would formulate my own blend of beans. 50% Mocha, 40% Java, 10% French roast for color and a subtle undertone. When Proposition 13 passed in California, and my husband was forced from the arms of academia into the world of missile engineering in the private sector, we were SUPPOSED to move to Iran, but ended up in El Paso, TX when the Shah fell. There was only one shop in town that carried whole coffee beans, and their supply was highly unreliable. I tried buying fresh roasted beans in Mexico for a while, but they were roasted to the point that they exuded great amounts of oil and would clog my Kitchen Aid burr grinder. But there was a local market that carried a great deal of food stuffs from Germany (El Paso's Fort Bliss is home to the largest Luftwaffe wing permanently stationed in the U.S.) and found some GREAT whole coffee beans from Germany there. In time, the market went belly up, and by then Walmart (of all places!) was stocking a large variety of whole bean coffees. Unfortunately, they have cut back to less than half the variety of whole bean coffee they used to stock, but I still find it the best coffee for a surprisingly reasonable price. I vary the type/origin of bean I use and most often use decaf now by necessity. My favorite coffee beans come from Africa, Yemen, and the eastern Pacific. I'm not very fond of Kona, or coffee from any of the Americas. I personally find Jamaican Blue Mountain to be greatly over rated and it no longer tastes like it did forty or so years ago. But then, what does? Damned little, truth be known.

                The ONLY shortfall I can attribute to my Jura Capresso machine is that it always makes a GREAT cup of coffee. The problem with making "great" your "norm," is that it becomes incredibly difficult to have coffee anywhere else -- friend's homes, restaurants, fast food, anywhere! -- and have it come close to your expectations. Everything has a price. '-)

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Caroline1, great commentary, thanks!

                  Our experiences & tastes run very similar:
                  ________________

                  "Through the years I have worked my way up from the aluminum stove top Italian jobbies ..."

                  I, too, started out making moka pot coffee in a Bialetti alu pot. Back in 1980 I bought my first "expresso" machine ($150!!), which, in reality, was an electric stainless steel moka pot! That contraption only resided a couple of years in my house (a total PITA to clean!) & I returned to my alu Bialetti & enameled briki, along with the "best" whirly grinder I could find & a wonderful Braun auto drip maker (I didn't have the patience at that time to follow my mother's practice of a Melitta manual pourover). About 15 yrs ago I upgraded to a stainless moka pot. About 7 yrs ago I upgraded to a Solis 166 electric burr grinder.
                  ___________________

                  "Enough beans at a time for one pot roasted in a cast iron skillet ..."

                  This is the only way I've done it myself, except that the skillet was cast alu (also Bialetti). I've only done it twice, however, so I haven't become as proficient as you, by any means!
                  _________________

                  "For many years, we simply used the 'tea making' method for brewing coffee."

                  I use a French Press at work, several times per week. The "free" coffee provided isn't worth drinking, even for free. So I pre-grind (I know, I know) a week's worth of beans & keep it in an airtight container at my desk.
                  _________________

                  "My favorite coffee beans come from Africa, Yemen, and the eastern Pacific. I'm not very fond of Kona, or coffee from any of the Americas. I personally find Jamaican Blue Mountain to be greatly over rated ..."

                  Almost exactly my tastes as well. Burundi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya (Bourbon only) & Yemen are my favorite regions, & I also like Mocha Java blend. I have enjoyed Costa Rican Terrazu, but I don't usually buy it for myself (my dad likes it, so I buy it for him).
                  _________________

                  "The problem with making "great" your "norm," is that it becomes incredibly difficult to have coffee anywhere else ..."

                  LOL, that's exactly what I discovered when I started making my own as well (as do most home baristas & brewers). Everything else now tastes "okay," when it used to taste "great"!
                  _________________

                  You might give these guys a try for green beans:
                  http://ourcoffeebarn.com/estore/index...
                  I buy all of my fresh roasted drip beans from them & have never been disappointed. I also highly recommend their Italian Style blend; it's a medium roast & my favorite espresso of theirs. Their regular/FTO espresso blend is just OK for me & roasted med-dark, so it pushes my roast-limit envelope. Their Latte & Raging Bull blends are dark, oily roasts, so I don't like them at all.

                  You didn't say which beans you like best in your Jura?

                  1. re: Eiron

                    I'm ALWAYS shopping! As I mentioned, the most reliable source for whole beans I've found in this area is Walmart. Occasionally I'll order something by mail, but always a specific bean, not a blend. If I want a dark "espresso" type roast (even though espresso is the method I use to make coffee, not the beans I buy) I roast it myself. I can get less bitterness that way, and if any burr grinder has an enemy it is oily coffee beans! I usually have at least two or three types of beans on hand, sometimes hermetically sealed (FoodSaver) in small batches to preserve their freshness.

            2. jacknhedy, as suggested, a super-auto will take most of the guess-work out of making good espresso. It's not the least expensive, but it is the easiest in terms of plug-n-play. The advantage to separate components is that you can pretty easily out-perform any consumer super-auto on the market.

              I wouldn't recommend a Rocky/Silvia combo for someone just starting out, only because most people comment on the touchy-ness of getting a good shot out of it. I think that might cause more frustration than satisfaction for someone new to the genre.

              I do agree that the grinder is most important. For a decent shot, don't expect to spend less than $200 (new) just for the grinder. You can get away with more grinder for less money if you're willing to buy used & refurbish it yourself. As unsatisfying as it sounds, the more money you spend on the grinder, the less you can get away with spending on the espresso machine itself.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Eiron

                "I do agree that the grinder is most important. For a decent shot, don't expect to spend less than $200 (new) just for the grinder. You can get away with more grinder for less money if you're willing to buy used & refurbish it yourself. As unsatisfying as it sounds, the more money you spend on the grinder, the less you can get away with spending on the espresso machine itself."

                As they say in the internet message board biz.......+1

                1. re: poser

                  Like the OP, we recently decided that it was time for a home espresso machine. We were lucky in that we know two fellows locally who are well versed in such things and so we asked them both (separately) what they would recommend. When the smoke cleared, they (independently) agreed that a Rancilio Silvia and a Baratza Vario combo would be the best bang for our buck. Both our advisors also stressed the importance of the grinder, one saying it is the most important component.

                  When we went to look at machines at our local coffee machine specialist (we are lucky to have one nearish by), I was struck by how bulky, lumpy and generally kinda butt-ugly a lot of the espresso machines on offer are. Esthetically, I quite like the look of both the machines we bought, which you do have to think about unless you are planning to stash them away after every use. Since they both weigh a ton, that was not really an option for us.

                  We've had the machines a couple weeks now and the SO (who is the home-barista-in training, I haven't touched the thing except to clean it) is putting out some very creditable looking and tasting espresso drinks. Our pocketbooks are about $1300 lighter with everything factored in which sounds expensive till you realize that he was paying about $4 a day for third-wave coffee drinks. Rough numbers say we'll have made our investment back in about a year. The SO rather enjoys "geeking out" with a new acquisition, so he's been trying various settings on the grinder and tweaking things. He's even had the top off the Silvia and been poking around inside it (eep) which I'm not so sure about.

                  For us, it was like the difference between buying a manual and an automatic camera back in the day (showing our ages). We were willing to accept a learning curve as part of the fun, and to have a bit more control over the final product.

                  Whatever you decide, have fun and enjoy, jacknhedy. I'm looking forward to reading about your final pick.

              2. I currently use a Gaggia Classic and a Hario manual grinder. The two make beautiful espresso together, with a nice thick crema and the ability to produce fairly decent foam. The downside to the one-boiler machine will always be that you can't steam milk immediately after you pull your shot, but that's what you get unless you're shelling out four digits. I'm convinced this is the only thing preventing me from pouring latte art, though people with more experience have said it's possible with a Gaggia Classic.

                My final decision on machine came down to a sale on wholelattelove.com. I was going to get either the Gaggia Classic or the Rancilio Silva (which is a little more), but the Gaggia went on sale and the difference became several hundred dollars, so I jumped on it. Price being equal I would have picked the Rancilio.

                Caveats: the Hario is a $50 manual grinder, made in Japan, ceramic parts. It works just fine for my usual mornings. About a minute of grinding gets me enough espresso for myself. Obviously, this is NOT an ideal or permanent solution, nor is it very efficient if I have any guests over. I'm saving up for a good burr grinder, but for now the Hario is perfectly serviceable. It actually is capable of grinding the beans too fine for an espresso machine, so you'll have to tweak it every time you change beans.

                Sounds like you're in LA: FWIW, so am I, and with my combo I'm producing lattes better than most of the chains in LA: Urrth, Peet's, Coffe Bean & Tea Leaf, S**bucks, etc.

                1. Hey everyone, WOW - THANK YOU so much for the responses. Our heads are still in somewhat of a blur....

                  1. Reporting back. Again, thanks so much to the very detailed (& passionate) responses from all of you. My wife's palate was the one to please. After doing our bit of homework & reading reviews, while taste was going to be paramount, ease & convenience was just a hair behind, and then price was going to be, well, under $1000...

                    To our surprise, doing a quick Amazon search of espresso machines, and sorting them by review scores, showed all the Gaggias and other brands mentioned, with the exception of the Nespresso Essenza. Long story short, we stopped by the local boutique, tried it on the spot, and my wife gave the thumbs up. For the convenience and ease, it was worth the slight compromise of 'almost' as good as the European cups she had. Our unit came today, and with the Aeroccino Plus combo we just enjoyed our first cup whipped up in our own kitchen.

                    Thanks again!