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Richard Kilgore

Least Expensive Machine for Decent Espresso?

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To follow up, it looks like Costco also has the Saeco Espresso Machine

Magic De Luxe with 15 bar pump for $674.99.

This one? click

They haven't updated that model for ages. It works pretty well but I'd say that "innards" are the almost the same as the Gaggia -- the Saeco will also take up more counter space. I have a close friend in Israel who uses this machine several times daily. He loves it and I've used it there many many times.


South Florida

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All standard espresso machines from relatively cheap to fairly expensive generally pump at 15 bars. Higher end semi-auto machines buy you more thermal mass which translates into better retention of heat in the brewing head and also better temperature control - less variation in the brewing time and more consistent results.

Higher end superautos do better than cheaper ones in these same areas but the Gaggia and the Saeco should be more or less comparable. On regular espresso machines the Gaggia's use two dissimilar metals for the upper and lower sectionsof the boiler - this leads to boiler corrosion after about ten years but their big selling point is super-fast warm-up time due to a unique boiler heating design (and a heavy duty commercial grade 58mm brass portafilter - most Saeco's use a 53mm aluminum assembly).

Both companies are reputable and are, I believe, among the largest commercial producers of home espresso machines. Either should be fine for a superauto.

The Saeco gets excellent feedback in the

Coffeegeek Consumer Reviews - Saeco Magic Deluxe

but the Gaggia has no reviews - it may be a newer or less widely distributed model but I think Saeco has also been in the consumer superauto business longer than the competition. By the way.... if you stumble on a hot deal or closeout at a Starbucks store on a superauto model - I believe they are selling re-badged Saeco's. I mention this because Starbucks has a stellar reputation for customer service after the sale on their machines. My friend had a Starbucks Athena model espresso machine on which the auto button stopped working, about one month short of the two month warranty expiring. They had discontinued the model and offered to repair it but also advised that he could receive a full refund or full credit toward purchase of another machine. That's what I call bend-over-backwards service.

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To follow up, it looks like Costco also has the Saeco Espresso Machine

Magic De Luxe with 15 bar pump for $674.99.

This one? click

That's the one. They also have some less expensive Gaggias.


I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Points well taken about the mantra of ... good fresh beans... good fresh beans... good fresh beans...

Right after that should come the mantra of clean the machine. No matter what you're using, you won't get the best out of it if there's a buildup of rancid oil residue in it.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I'm looking for something along the lines of what is being discussed in this thread, to replace my first machine, a red Krups(?) I got at a tag sale! Anything new in the good entry level machine arena?

P.S. phaelon56: The topic index rules!


Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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Currently considered by many to be the best buys in their respective price ranges:

Gaggia Carezza at $200 - $230

Rancilio Silvia at $450 to $500

Expobar E61 style machine at $650 - $850 (depending on which model and whether you can catch one on a sale)

From there you jump up to the ECM, La Valentina, Isomac, Salvatore, and other E61 style machines HX (heat exchanger) machines (E61 refers to a certain style of machine grouphead that tends to give very cnosistent results in brew temperature with a minimum of tweaking and fussing - the HX feature allows milk to be steamed immediately after pulling a shot rather than waiting a few minutes).

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The Rancilio Silvia looks nice, and Coffeegeek seems to adore it, but I can't justify the expense atm. Gaggia Carezza could be the winner!

Thanks for the help!


Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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I've had a Gaggia Carezza almost since they were introduced. It is a fine machine that had pulled at least 2 fine doubles a day for me for years, though with a few issues, none of which is exceedingly annoying.

All of the issues are seal and drip related--

1) steam wand drips after shutting off the steam flow. Just turn it so that the drops fall into the drip tray.

2) the group head drips every so often after pulling a shot. Fills up the drip tray pretty quickly.

3) when heating it up to steaming temp after pulling a shot, the group head belches steam and a goodly amount of water, which do, occasionally overflow the drip tray.

4) the drip tray is small and needs frequent emptying.

None of these make me hate the machine, and for the price, it was a bargain and a half. I recall getting it for around $150 as an intro deal or some such, but it was so long ago I'm not sure.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Any views on the Solis SL-90 as compared to a Miss Silivia?

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Solis is a good company who makes a respectable machine. The SL-90 wil produce very good espresso but in terms of overall features it's no match for the Silvia.

Rancilio Silvia:

58mm commercial sized non-pressurized portafilter

Predominately stainless steel construction

12 oz boiler

semi-automatic

Solis SL-90:

54 mm pressurized portafilter

Predominately plastic construction

9 oz boiler

fully automatic

Pressurized portafilter means that tamping does not help produce more consistent shots. The pressure that builds up inside the portafilter asembly is supposed to eliminate the need for tamping and make extraction more consistent. Some manufacturers believe that the lower end commercial market is better served by pressurized portafilters due to the "simplicity" of shot preparation but no home espresso enthusaist I know agrees.

The larger portafilter of the Livia allows a slightly larger volume or weight of coffee to be used when making a shot. This is especially helpful for those of us who seek a really full bodied double shot - it typically takes about 17 grams to achieve the best results but I think the Solis portafilter will hold no more than about 14 grams.

The larger boiler of the Silvia means longer steaming time but the Solis has a higher wattage heating element and smaller boiler and in theory it will recover faster to steam the next batch of milk.

Stainless steel for the body (housing), drip tray etc. vs plastic? It's not functionally superior but from an aesthetic standpoint and from the perspective of "ruggedness"the Silvia wins.

Finally... semi-automatic vs automatic. The Silvia requires that you turn off the brew switch when the desired volume/shot time is reached. The Solis has automatic or programmable volumetric dosing - i.e. it will deliver a specific volume of fluid for each shot with one touch of the button. On the surface it seems more convenient. I'm far from being a Luddite but to me it's another bell/whistle that can (and sometimes does) fail. Semi-auto machines have one less thing to go wrong because they do not have a motherboard or the electronics necessary to control the dosing.

I have not heard of any problems with this auto feature on Solis machines but have a friend with a high end Pasquini Livia automatic (about $1300) and another who owns a Starbucks Athena (which is a Saeco automatic with a Starbucks nameplate on it). Both of them have had the full auto feature fail. They can still use the machines in semi-auto mode but why not just start with semi-auto?

It only takes 25 -28 seconds for the shot to pull - hardly enough time to go do something else. I can and do use the auto feature on the commercial machines I work with in a cafe environment but it's typically because I get 2 or 3 shots brewing and am steaming milk or pouring a cup of drip coffee while the shots are running. I do not have and see no need for the fully auto feature in the home.

So there you have it.... for the extra $40 or $50 that the Silvia costs it is well worth it. There's been speculation for some time that a "Silvia killer" would come along in that price range but it has yet to happen. There have been a few contendors such as the Isomac Venus but thus far none have measured up to the redoubtable Silvia. IMHO it's still the best machine on the market for under $900 price point.

If you already own a Silvia just look around to see who can provide an unpressurized portafilter. Start using that and tamping your shots - you'll quickly see a noticeable improvement. Properly used and equipped , the SL-90 can deliver results just as good as the Silvia but it wouldn't be my first or even second choice in that price range.

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If you already own a  Silvia just look around to see who can provide an unpressurized portafilter. Start using that and tamping your shots - you'll quickly see a noticeable improvement.  Properly used and equipped , the SL-90 can deliver results just as good as the Silvia but it wouldn't be my first or even second choice in that price range.

What's your second choice? The temp control feature in the SL-90 isn't useful?

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Here's a thread from the Home Roaster mailing list that discusses the issue of

Rancilio Silvia vs Solis SL-90

It's a worthwhile read. The short version is that straight out of the box with minimal effort you can expect to get pretty decent shots from the Solis and very good consistency from one shot to the next. The Silvia, OTOH has wider temp swings and with a non-pressurized filter will be a bit more finicky for the inexperienced user. Properly handled it can deliver much better shots than the Solis but there's also greater likelihood of mediocre shots if you don't use the "Silvia temperature surfing" techniques so widely discussed in Internet coffee forums.

If you upgrade the Solis to non-pressurized portafilters (recommended by most people) you'll decrease the consistency factor until you get more experience with it.

I'm not too savvy about electronics and temperature measurement. On the surface the thermistor would appear to be a more accurate way of controlling temperature but I'm not sure it provides much benefit in actual use. Many popular machines use thermistors for the boiler safety valve but nearly all use thermostats for temp measurement of the boiler/brew water. The reality is that with the small boiler size of most home machines there are always inherent limitations to temperature accuracy. People just learn to work around them. On my home machine it's simple - once the machine has warmed up or if it's been idle for more than 10 minutes I just drain off about 4 - 6 oz of water through thebrewhead before pulling a shot. ON the $500 and under machiens the process for gettign ideal shot temp is slightly more involved but not difficult.

Out of the box the Solis SL-90 is known for being set to too low a brew temperaturem (about 190 degrees F). It's done intentionally at the factory. You'll never get great shots unless you do the "hack" which involves simple removal of one resistor from the inside of the machine. Brew temp needs to be in the 200 degree range to really deliver good results with espresso. Baratza, the US distributor, will provide instructions on the procedure but it strikes me as goofy that the end user should have to do this in order to get the right brew temp.

My second choice in the under $500 price range would most likely be a Gaggia but I'm biased because that was the first "decent" espresso machine I ever owned.

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So it sounds like if I want to be a consumer and lazy, I get the Solis and if I want to spend more time I get Miss Silvia. It's not an obvious choice. Sweet Maria's (which sells both) seems to like both.

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  Sweet Maria's (which sells both) seems to like both.

Very good merchant - high on my ist of favorite people to deal with in the coffee business. Call and discuss it with Tom and Maria if you're still sitting on the fence about this - they should be able to help you decide.

I have a friend who owns a Starbucks Athena - cheaper machine than the Solis and it's actually a rebadged Saeco but it shares the pressurized portafilter feature. I've used this machine when visiting there and was never able to get really good shots. I always got acceptabe ones that made a decent latte but never got the rich crema etc. that characterizes a truly great shot.

Here's another way to look at it.... if you want no muss no fuss and minimal effort but want espresso drinks at home that are better than Starbucks.... the Solis and a decent grinder (Solis Maestro quality level or better). The only other imperative is to get freshly roasted good quality beans.

If, OTOH, you are willing to spend a bit more time and effort learning to use the equipment in pursuit of best results and want to produce espresso shots at home that rival or exceed most good quality independent cafes (but not all)... get the Silvia.

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Ok I want to know who might be trying this! I'm suggesting it for those who don't have budget to buy anything from Sylvia up. Keep us informed!

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ok... : ) i've been reading all the espresso threads i can find, plus scouring coffeegeek.com.

i'd like to request some suggestions on appropriate machines, given the following criteria...

1) most of the time this will be for my own use, but i will regularly have company over --- from 1 guest to 12 (dinners) or 20/30 people (max, parties). i could not invest $700 in a machine that could not accomodate my guests as well, in a timely fashion. aside from delivering espresso quickly, it would also need to deliver milk-based drinks quickly. (i know the sylvia has its champions, but i think the above precludes it).

2) while i'm willing to "grow my technique," i still need to be able to produce decent espresso pretty much out of the gate. not anything sublime, but definitely something good. room to improve is fine. :)

3) ideally, i'm looking for something under $1000, or not much over.

suggestions appreciated. i'm not married to any particular brand.

cheers :)

hc

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I see three good options in your price range

A) Isomac Rituale from 1st-Line

B) Nuova Simonelli Oscar from Chris Coffee

C) Expobar Office Pulser from Aabree Coffee

All three vendors have excellent customer service reputations and all three machines will make excellent espresso with a bit less tweaking than the Rancilio Silvia (not better espresso but much tweaking to get most accurate brew temp).

All three have the HX or heat exchanger feature - they can brew and steam simultaneously and therfore are good for milk drinks. I've served up cappa's and latte's for a party of six in short order (about 6- 7 minutes to make six drinks with practice). A party of 12 would be easy enough to handle but you'd want to serve the drinks in groups of four and allow about 15 minutes in total. For a party of 25 -30 I assume people are getting drinks at intervals? If so these machines will be fine but if not you'll need a two group commercial machine to make 25 - 30 drinks in 10 or 15 minutes.

The Oscar is the ugly duckling of the bunch. The Expobar represents IMHO the best overall value and the Isomac is a bit nicer looking than the others and worth the extra bit of money. They are all at or under $1,000.

They will all make, straight out of the gate (with a practice session or two), espresso shots that are better than you'll get in many indendent cafe's. With a moderate amount of experience, good fresh high quality beans and a good grinder.... you'll be making betetr espresso at home which is as good or better than you can get in all but a handful of the best independent cafe's.

You MUST invest in a good grinder. It's not a "maybe". Allocate $170 - $400 for the grinder and you'll be glad you did.

Nemox at the low end for $170... Rancilio Rocky in the mid range for about $275 and Mazzer Mini at the high end fr about $400.

If you enjoy good espresso drinks this is a very realistic investment. About three years ago I purchased an Isomac Tea (less sexy than the Rituale but functionally very similar) and a Mazzer Mini. It was about $1400 at the time - money I really had to scramble to come up with and I cringed at spending that much. Since then I have never ever once questioned that investment. I enjoy great espresso at home with a minimal amount of fuss and this equipment will most likely outlive me if properly cared for.

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owen, thank you. :)

i returned to the reviews and the research, after your recommendations. i've done so much reading on espresso-making lately! it's worth it, 'tho, as i feel i'm in a much better position to make a selection. because the machines can have small variations that make personal use more or less agreeable (everything from valves to drip pans) i just wanted to make sure that i wouldn't have a lot of surprises, given the expense. your suggestions were invalubable, however, as they helped me hone in on what was necessary in an espresso machine for me, and my research on them led me to the andreja premium...so very many thanks! :)

it may (or may not) surprise anyone to learn that after doing all my research i've decided to increase my budget slightly (by about $100-$200, at the budget's upper limit) and get the quickmill andreja premium from chriscoffee.com.

it really is the best match to what i had been looking for...but hadn't looked at it seriously at first because it was a smidgen out of my original budget range.

it won't be an immediate purchase...i have to save some. but i'm pretty sure i'll be very satisfied. i'm the type of person who only rarely regrets making purchases. i don't research them all as thoroughly as in this case...it's just a combination of knowing my needs, my tastes and (when needed) research.

again, many thanks to all the folks who've contributed to these espresso threads.

cheers :)

hc

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your suggestions were invalubable, however, as they helped me hone in on what was necessary in an espresso machine for me, and my research on them led me to the andreja premium...so very many thanks! :)

You're welcome! I would have suggested the Andreja but it is a few hundred $$ above your target price range. That said... you're making a wise choice. When purchasing a good espresso machine a few hundred $$ is not significant as this is a very long term investment.

I'm not a hardware geek but but I do love good equipment and the subtle nuances of improvment offered by better features are always appealing to me. Despite that, I've had no urge to upgrade my Isomac Tea to a better machine since purchasing it three or four years ago. I could get tiny improvements in features but I wouldn't get better espresso by doing an upgrade. Four mornings every week I pull shots on a $15K La Marzocco but I can still make shots as good or better at home on Saturday mornings :biggrin:

One of the benefits of buying from Chris is that you often get features not yet available from other vendors. He has relationships with some of the Italian manufacturers and often demands (and receives) specific improvements for the machine models that he sells. The Andreja Premium has a boatload of upgrades on the internal mechanicals that make it a more robust machine than some of its $1,000 competetitors (including the Isomac that I own).

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I jotted down Owen's suggestions for good espresso makers! Does anyone have any recommendation on automatic espresso makers with busy little Italian men inside that makes excellent espresso by just lifting a finger?! Or are those just space hogging machines not worth investing in? I'm just worried making espresso won't fit into my morning schedule and won't get used much, eventually collecting dust. My budget is around $1000.


ahh where's the button for the fries?

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Does anyone have any recommendation on automatic espresso makers with busy little Italian men inside that makes excellent espresso by just lifting a finger?! 

Can we assume you're referring to the category of machine known as "superauto"?

These are the neat little devices that grind, tamp, dispense the espresso and then discard the used grounds into a bin all at the push of a button.

Even the very good ones are not capable of making "excellent espresso". You could buy an entry level good quality espresso machine (e.g. a gaggia Carezza) for about $225 and an entry level espresso-capable grinder (e.g. Solis Maestro) for about $115. Take that $340 package with freshly roasted beans and a bit of practice and you'll be able to make better espresso than a $2,000 superauto can produce.

But home espresso gear of the traditional variety does require some patience and practice to yield best results, some diligence to yield consistency and also has the "mess factor". Furthermore... it does not lend itself to hammering out a quick latte just before you head out the door on a weekday morning.

Don't rule out the superauto category completely. It has a huge convenience factor and the better machines (typically those in the $1,000 to $2,000 category) will make excellent Americano's or "regular" coffee fresh brewed by the cup and passable latte's or cappuccino's. In most cases, assuming freshly roasted beans and a bit of practice on milk foaming techniques, you'll be able to produce drinks at home that are consistently superior to Starbucks and better than many independent cafe's.

We have a little Saeco superauto in the office at my "day job". I think it was about a $500 machine but we bought it as a factory refurb for about $400. It makes a decent 6 - 8 oz cup of coffee or can be used to make a passable Amerciano but the output is not what I'd call "real" espresso. The steam it produces is so wet and underpowered that we don't bother using it for milk drinks - it's a waste of time. The good news is the fact that it's been cranking out about ten drinks per day, five days per week for close to two years and hasn't given us a bit of trouble.

For $1,000 I think you may want to look at Solis (or possibly Jura if they offer one in that price range). Steaming performance on thoise models should be much closer to what you'd get with a conventional espresso machine and you should be able to make a decent latte or cappa. But if you're looking for the golden nectar of a truly excellent straight espresso..... you can spend less and get more albeit with more effort involved.

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Mr. O'Neil!

Thank you so much for your suggestions. I'm not a skilled espresso maker and knowing my lifestyle and personality I think I will shop for one of those Solis machines. Now I'll have to find where in Canada I can find one! My husband and I spend at least $10 per day on store bought lattes (sometimes Starbucks ugh...) so I think we can justify buying a decent machine if we can make one to go in the morning!

Thanks again for your advice:)


ahh where's the button for the fries?

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Does anyone have any experience with the Saeco Gran Crema? It's a low-end manual machine with a small boiler tank and a pressurized portafilter (yeah, I know...)

Anyways, Costo is running a special on the Gran Crema, and this appears to be a decent price. The CoffeeGeek consumer reviews of low-end Saeco machines are mostly favorable, along the lines of "not bad for an entry-level machine". The only review of the Gran Crema I could find (on the WholeLatteLove site) was not too enthusiastic, but it sounded like the guy's expectations were not so realistic.

The small boiler capacity may actually be an advantage for me, since it comes up to temperature rapidly. I would probably use the pressurized portafilter in the morning - I'm a stumbling zombie before the first cup of coffee. :rolleyes: If I get this thing I'd probably buy a standard portafilter and a good tamper to learn to make "real" espresso when I've got the time. In the morning, quick-and-idiot-proof sounds perfect.

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