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Richard Kilgore

Least Expensive Machine for Decent Espresso?

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I'm not familiar with this model. I was involved for about six months with some folks that were investigating the home espresso machine repair arena (they actually launched the businsess on a trial basis but it proved not to be profitable enough). We saw a much larger number of requests for repairs to Saeco than for any other brand of machine, most of the problems being due to leaks. It's worth noting that, in the $250 and under price point, Saeco's are probably sold in much larger numbers than other brands here in the US. That might accoutn for the larger number of repair requests, but it's still enough to cause caution.

The Gaggia Carezza is currently $199 with free shipping at any number of online espresso machine specialty retailers. It also has a small boiler and a fast warmup time but already comes with a non pressurized portafilter. IMHO it's worth the extra money - Gaggia has a well proven track record as a very reliable machine and one that can deliver great shots for the money - definitely more capable than the Saeco with pressurized portafilter. It's important with any machine, but especially with Gaggia, to use filtered water. They use dissimilar metals for the boiler and the base assembly to which it attaches. High mineral content in the water will exacerbate and promote corrosion of the seal between those two parts. Filter the water and you'll be fine.

Don't forget to get a good grinder. By the way - did I mention that you'll need a good grinder? :biggrin:

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Thanks, Owen. The reason I'm looking for the cheapest entry-level machine is that my budget is limited and I need a better grinder as well. (My cheap-o Braun just doesn't cut it any more, even for use with a stovetop Moka or my Yama vacuum pot). My plan is to get a top-quality grinder (Macap? Mazzer?), which should hopefully last me for years, which leaves precious little for an espresso machine. I may just put that purchase off until I can afford a better machine, but the Costco Saeco deal sounded tempting. Maybe a low-end Gaggia is the way to go (for now). Decisions, decisions... :hmmm:

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If you're operating under the assumption that you'll probably upgrade in a couple years to a better espresso machine... you could save the $30 now but resale value of the Gaggia will be better 2 - 3 years from now. I know it's a tough call.

When I bought my Gaggia Baby and Solid Maestro grinder years ago I had set a limit of $450 - $500 total. If I knew then what I know now I might have waited until I could spend the $1400 that I eventually did for a really good E61 style machine and Mazzer. But then again... I was tired of spending $4 every day for a mediocre Starbucks latte and driving 5 miles to get it.

As for grinders... I'd say save the $30 now by buying the Saeco and shop around for a Mazzer Mini. The Macap appears to be a good machine but the Mazzer still has some advantages and it's very well proven. They show up on eBay now and then but mostly what you'll see on eBay are used Mazzer Super Jolly's that are decommissioned Starbucks grinders. Those can be a good deal but typically need cleaning, adjustment, a set of burrs at $40 - $45 and a fe small parts like the doser mechanism spring. If you're even moderately mechanical the used Super Jolly can be a good choice but it's pretty darn massive for a home grinder - don't expect it to fit under a cabinet on your counter top - even if you have a shortened bean hopper.

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I have the Expobar Office Pulsar teamed with the la Cimbali Jr grinder. You would never buy espresso outside of your home with the results this combo gives you, except in Italy. A tiny bit of practice is all that is needed to pull espresso shots that would make anything made ouside your home taste like swill. As I stated above the only time I have had better espresso than my own in the last 4 years has been in Italy. :)

I do not get espresso when I am out anymore. Once you make a God shot at home your ordering "espresso" out will be over. Trust me.

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Nobody has really discussed lever machines here. We are considering a La Pavoni pro-lever link. (Actually, there is no direct link on the LaPavoni site, but specifically we are considering the PL Professional Lusso. It doesn't really fall into the category of "cheap" although the ones with european voltage are significantly cheaper than the american models.

Anybody have experience with these? Coffeegeek consumer reviews were generally good except for the occasional slam. Wholelatte love reviews are mainly positive. Also, I think we will need a burr grinder. We were planning on the Solis Maestro but from what I'm reading it may not be capable of a fine enough grind?

We used to have a semi-automatic, currently have a superautomatic we got as a gift. We are both huge espresso geeks and are willing to put in the work if it means a life-affirmingly great cup of coffee. Thoughts?


Edited by Behemoth (log)

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Here's the thing about lever espresso machines: It is theoretically possible to get the best shot of espresso with a lever machine, because the barista (you) can completely control the pressure, extraction, etc.

But (and it's a big but) the learning curve is 100 times steeper than it is with a semiauto pump machine. So, unless you are willing to invest a lot of time building and maintaining your technique, you are actually unlikely to ever produce a shot that is comparable with everyday shots from a machine like the Rancilio Silvia. I have friends who have been using a lever machine for years and swear by lever action, and yet I have never had a shot from their machine that is as good as the shots my Rancilio was producing after only one week of tweaking.

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What kind of a job does the rancilio do with steaming milk?

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The Silvia does a good job of steaming milk but it's not an HX (heat exchanger) design thus you'll need to wait about 1 - 2 minutes after pulling a shot before you can steam milk. Doesn't sound like a big deal and for many it's not but if you have four or five dinner guests and want to serve cappa's to everyone.... it really adds up.

Sam has already very ably pointed out the issues with lever machines. The fact is that a pump will typically deliver more consistent pressure. I love the romance of a lever machine and will own one some day but to me it's like having an old British sports car - great fun to use but not something you'd want to to rely on for daily transportation.

Another issue with lever machines is that they have an optimal window after being turned on - after a certain amount of warm up time you'll get your best shots but then they get too hot and you'll need to shut off and do a cool down (so I'm told).

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Yeah, I've read about the heat issue. Apparently they added some coating on the inside of the water tank (or something) to slow down the heating, so you can get a couple more decent cups.

I'll probably defer to A on the issue, as he has been keen on one of these for a while. I like the craft aspect of it (I bake all our bread at this point, among other things...) so that part doesn't bother me so much -- I drink a lot less espresso than he does per day, and if this slows him down a little it might not be a bad thing :wink:

In terms of lever machines, the ones with spring-loaded levers seem to have an advantage of giving a more even pull. Are there any that don't have eagles on them?

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In terms of lever machines, the ones with spring-loaded levers seem to have an advantage of giving a more even pull. Are there any that don't have eagles on them?

Some Elektra models come with an aqua Mulino glass ball instead of the Eagle. Looks really sharp atop an all-chrome machine. Unfortunately, it appears the only way to get it on a lever model is to buy the transportable unit with the aluminum case and interchangable caps. You could always try contacting a dealer or the factory and asking.

Before buying a lever machine or even a Silvia, you should make sure you won't often be making milk-based drinks for a crowd. If you entertain a lot and like to offer cappuccinos at the end of the meal, a heat-exchanger or double-boiler machine is the way to go.

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Some Elektra models come with an aqua Mulino glass ball instead of the Eagle. Looks really sharp atop an all-chrome machine. Unfortunately, it appears the only way to get it on a lever model is to buy the transportable unit with the aluminum case and interchangable caps. You could always try contacting a dealer or the factory and asking.

Thanks carswell, I'll have a look at it. We will be in Munich so there is some possiblity of getting it closer to the source..

Before buying a lever machine or even a Silvia, you should make sure you won't often be making milk-based drinks for a crowd. If you entertain a lot and like to offer cappuccinos at the end of the meal, a heat-exchanger or double-boiler machine is the way to go.

I never offer cappucinos after dinner, only espresso. Or possibly tea if you don't drink coffee and I really really like you...

Speaking of which: Let's say I have 8 people over for supper. To make 8 espressos out of what ought to be a 16-cup capacity tank, only the first (let's say with the recent improvements) 4 will be okay before it overheats, and then I have to turn the thing off to cool it down, then turn it back on again. How much time are we talking here? That might be the dealbreaker...

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Speaking of which: Let's say I have 8 people over for supper. To make 8 espressos out of what ought to be a 16-cup capacity tank, only the first (let's say with the recent improvements) 4 will be okay before it overheats, and then I have to turn the thing off to cool it down, then turn it back on again. How much time are we talking here? That might be the dealbreaker...

For the Pavoni lever machines, four is pushing it; many users claim that the first shot is good, the second best and the third a little bitter (from overheating) and the remainder write-offs. It takes 15-20 minutes for the machine to cool down sufficently for the next round, unless you resort to heroic measures like wrapping the group in towels that have been soaked in ice water.

Am not sure about the heat issues with the Elektra, which I've never used. Maybe Coffeegeek's detailed review or alt.coffee discuss the problem. I'd check for you but I've got to split for a Thanksgiving dinner.

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If you get a good E61 style (refers to the grouphead design that many brands share) HX machine you can pound out espresso shots almost as fast as you can grind, tamp, lock in portafilter and pull the shot. And if you have guests you can even shock them by offering cappa's after dinner!

Or if you don't plan on steaming milk but your husband is a tweaker... tell him to Google PID and Silvia. That'll keep him busy for awhile.

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Addendum to my above post. I now have the Macap M4 grinder and a Nuova Simonelli Oscar espresso machine replacing the above equipment. If anyone wants to come byt for some coffee LMK. ;)

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Addendum to my above post. I now have the Macap M4 grinder and a Nuova Simonelli Oscar espresso machine replacing the above equipment.  If anyone wants to come byt for some coffee LMK. ;)

Where were you when I was living in Rutherford with no fellow coffeegeek's nearby to share a shot with?! :biggrin:

How are you liking the Macap? It's an interesting looking grinder and seems to get good reviews.

I've been lusting after one of these

Macap M7 with built-in dynamometric tamper

Yeah.... next time I have $1,000 just burning a hole in my pocket!

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Addendum to my above post. I now have the Macap M4 grinder and a Nuova Simonelli Oscar espresso machine replacing the above equipment.  If anyone wants to come byt for some coffee LMK. ;)

Where were you when I was living in Rutherford with no fellow coffeegeek's nearby to share a shot with?! :biggrin:

How are you liking the Macap? It's an interesting looking grinder and seems to get good reviews.

I've been lusting after one of these

Macap M7 with built-in dynamometric tamper

Yeah.... next time I have $1,000 just burning a hole in my pocket!

The Macap M4 is great. The only difference vs the Mazzer is the stepped grinder settings. The doser is much cleaner than the Mazzer Mini too! This tank will last forever. I wish never(dare I say) need an upgrade in the grinder department!

If you ever travel back throguh just LMK and I will be sure to set you up with some awesome shots!

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Addendum to my above post. I now have the Macap M4 grinder and a Nuova Simonelli Oscar espresso machine replacing the above equipment.  If anyone wants to come byt for some coffee LMK. ;)

Where were you when I was living in Rutherford with no fellow coffeegeek's nearby to share a shot with?! :biggrin:

How are you liking the Macap? It's an interesting looking grinder and seems to get good reviews.

I've been lusting after one of these

Macap M7 with built-in dynamometric tamper

Yeah.... next time I have $1,000 just burning a hole in my pocket!

The Macap M4 is great. The only difference vs the Mazzer is the stepped grinder settings. The doser is much cleaner than the Mazzer Mini too! This tank will last forever. I wish never(dare I say) need an upgrade in the grinder department!

If you ever travel back throguh just LMK and I will be sure to set you up with some awesome shots!

Wow, a year with no responses on this thread!

A question for the mighty caffeine hounds: Is it possible to use one of these after-market non-pressurized PFs with a machine that's a different brand but the same PF size?

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Yes - as long as it fits. And by the way - if you have certain Starbucks models (e.g. Athena or Barista) they are rebadged Saeco and are the same machine. BUt the key issue with portafilter assemblies is simply that they lock on properly.

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Gracias!

Incidentally, I don't think this is likely to come up; I'm getting a KitchenAid ProLine, which I imagine just has a "crema attachment" rubber ring rather than an actually pressurized PF, since it's a rebadged Gaggia in essence.

(Incidentally, I highly envy these people who can spend such mad cash on their espresso fixes; I'm getting my machine for $200 and am probably looking at a grinder in the same range, and that hurts me plenty!)


Edited by Mayur (log)

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If the Kitchenaid is in fact a rebadged Gaggia rather than a rebadged Saeco - then I agree that it's not likely to have a pressurized PF. And with a budget of under $500 I'd do exactly what you're doing - spend as much on the grinder as on the espresso machine. By the way - if that Kitchenaid machine lets you use it without the "crema filter" by all means discard it. Use a good espresso blend - fresh (less than ten days past the roasting date) - a good grinder and practice your technique. You'll get real crema that's satisfying rather than that weird brownish foam that looks like crema yet lacks its good qualities.

When I finally bit the bullet and bought a high end home espresos machine and a really good grinder I initially winced and had second thoughts about spending that much money (which seemed an extravagance at the time). Within two weeks of that day - over five years ago - I changed my mind and realized what a good investment I'd made. And I haven't changed my thinking since then.

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If the Kitchenaid is in fact a rebadged Gaggia rather than a rebadged Saeco - then I agree that it's not likely to have a pressurized PF.
Reviews said so, anyway; as it turns out, I have the machine in front of me and it does indeed have the easily-removable (and now removed!) rubber ring thingy.
And with a budget of under $500 I'd do exactly what you're doing - spend as much on the grinder as on the espresso machine.  By the way - if that Kitchenaid machine lets you use it without the "crema filter" by all means discard it.  Use a good espresso blend - fresh (less than ten days past the roasting date) - a good grinder and practice your technique. You'll get real crema that's satisfying rather than that weird brownish foam that looks like crema yet lacks its good qualities.
Much obliged for the (excellent) advice! I have a number of excellent procurement sources for roasted coffee (my local favorite being Rohr's on E.85th St) and substantial experience pulling shots off lower-end home machines (I've never owned anything over $100 in price). However, it will be interesting playing with new stuff!
When I finally bit the bullet and bought a high end home espresos machine and a really good grinder I initially winced and had second thoughts about spending that much money (which seemed an extravagance at the time).  Within two weeks of that day - over five years ago - I changed my mind and realized what a good investment I'd made. And I haven't changed my thinking since then.

I can totally understand that. I'm the sort of person who hunts around endlessly for bargains, and I've never spent over $1000 on anything except my computer. Some day, though... :)

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any suggestions for an old Piston-lever machine.....I've always thought that this would be the only way to achieve ultimate control in your technique and have been looking around for a model.

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any suggestions for an old Piston-lever machine.....I've always thought that this would be the only way to achieve ultimate control in your technique and have been looking around for a model.

La Pavoni Atomics seem to be cropping up on eBay on occasion; the last one (from a science lab, no less!) went for $280, which is molto cheapo for one of those.

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La Pavoni Atomics seem to be cropping up on eBay on occasion; the last one (from a science lab, no less!) went for $280, which is molto cheapo for one of those.

Atomics were made by Brevetti, not La Pavoni, and although they fetch high prices, are not a piston lever machine. They're no different really to any other Moka pot (aka, erroneously, as a "Stovetop Espresso"). There's also a suggestion that fake vintage ones are now being sold.

La Pavoni do make the Europiccola (among others) which is generally thought of as the entry-level lever machine. Other well-known lever machines are made by Elektra and Gaggia (but there are countless others, including the peerless Olympia).

If you're really interested, and for more info than you are ever likely to need, check out the Lever Machines forum at Home Barista.

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La Pavoni Atomics seem to be cropping up on eBay on occasion; the last one (from a science lab, no less!) went for $280, which is molto cheapo for one of those.

Atomics were made by Brevetti, not La Pavoni, and although they fetch high prices, are not a piston lever machine. They're no different really to any other Moka pot (aka, erroneously, as a "Stovetop Espresso"). There's also a suggestion that fake vintage ones are now being sold

I think we're talking about two different atomics. Presumably, you're talking about the Brevetti:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ATOMIC-COFFEE-ESPRESSO...1QQcmdZViewItem

The ones I saw on eBay were called "Pavoni Atomics," and were actual lever machines, including the full lever assembly and a plug-in for heating:

http://cgi.ebay.com/Vintage-PAVONI-Italy-E...1QQcmdZViewItem

But they may have been mislabeled.

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