When I was first investigating my "entry-level" setup, going a step above Silvia/Rocky meant spending about double - an outlay I wasn't willing to invest at the time since I first wanted to learn as much as possible about pulling a proper shot at home.
Exactly right. This is the issue everybody with a "home barista" aspiration has to wrestle with.
If you mainly want better AND cheaper milk drinks than the ones you get at *bucks, it's not hard to do. Your Gaggia or your Breville, some supermarket beans, a decent though low-end burr mill and you can easily learn to enjoy yourself more and add up all the payback from your investment over the cost of all those damn lattes you used to buy every morning. Cool. I did that happily for many years.
If you go to one of the specialty bars proliferating around the country where espresso is carefully made (beware of pretenders), or the home of a skilled, well equipped aficionado, and experience a truly proper shot, you will suddenly find that you can't get there from there. Then what?
There is another, possibly a bit discouraging but I think wise argument that bears consideration here, that goes along with the "start on the second floor" point of view above. A lot of effort and money is wasted trying to learn to make high quality espresso on less-than-prosumer equipment. For people with more taste than money, this can be important. Instead of spending 400, 800, or even $1000 on espresso machine/grinder kit, this argument goes, spend your money exploring the most delicious coffees you can find, brew them up in a french press or manual drip rig, and froth your milk in a milk frother. Enjoy your wonderful coffee having embraced the fact that home espresso is an equipment intensive hobby, and you are saving your pennies for the day when you can afford the right stuff to explore this particular culinary space properly.
The crux here is the heuristic experience. Much of what you learn from lower end equipment is how to conform to the limitations of the equipment to maximize its effectiveness and laboring to avoid making something icky - not learning the nature of different coffees and the different results you can obtain. It may not look it from the bottom of the slope, but it's much easier to concentrate on making the drink and not attending to the hardware with higher end stuff. I jumped from very cheap equipment to full-fledged semi-pro stuff not exactly in one leap but pretty close to it, and I'm glad I did, so I think this is worth considering if you have the espresso bug, want to learn the skills involved, but are frugally minded like me.
I think this argument detracts not at all from the experience of those who ventured into Silvia and Rocky land and have learned to do good things there. One of the good things about Silvia and her friend is that their resale value is really great! (Just a hint contained therein
Edited by earlgrey_44, 30 November 2011 - 09:46 AM.