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Espresso/Cappuccino Maker


itch22
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I have talked my wife into getting my an espresso maker, or even an espresso and cappuccino maker, for Christmas. Can any one recommend any good brands or models? Not professional models, but something to be used at home by an enthusiast.

-- Jason

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I suggest starting by reviewing this

Least Expensive Machine For Making Decent Espresso? thread

The short version is this....

- The "steam toy" machines that have no pump and rely on building up pressure from heat alone are a total waste of time and money ($30 - $60 price range).

- Cheap thermoblock pump machines (DeLonghi is one of the better ones) are better but require plenty of practice and are time consuming to use. Under best conditions, with practice, they can deliver a drink about as good as Starbucks.

- $200 to $300 gets you into real genuine consumer espresso machine territory such as the Gaggia Carezza or Solis SL-70. Solis and also the Starbucks machines (which are rebadged Saeco's) will have pressurized portafilters - not good. Add $25 - $30 to get a non-pressurized portafilter.

- $500 gets you into a Rancilio Silvia - a real espresso machine that is capable, with practice and patience, of delivering shots as good as what you'll get in some of the best cafes.

- $700 - $1200 gets you into the "E61 style" machines. These deliver shots as good as the Silvia but with a greater ease of use for the non-tweaker. All in this category are also HX (heat exchanger) machines - a crucial feature if you're making mostly milk based drinks and may want to make several of them at one time or in rapid sucession (e.g. for guests after dinner).

A good whirly blade grinder will suffice for a cheap thermoblock pump machine but an entry level good quality burr grinder such as a Solis Maestro or Solis Maestro Plus at $100 - $150 is a better choice. That level of grinder or better is crucial for best results when getting into "real" consumer espresso machines but the Rancilio Rocky (about $270) or its equivalent is a better choice. You can always put some elbow grease into it and get a Zassenhaus manual mill grinder for about $70. It will be sufficient for all the but the highest end machines.

Don't underestimate the advantages of a good grinder, even with a modest espresso machine - it's a crucial factor in achieving good results. Great espresso machine and cheap grinder = lousy espresso.

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Great summary, phaelon. We made this decision in our house a few years back, and factoring in the money we saved by not getting espresso/cappucino out of the house, found that the Rancilio Silvia plus a Solis Maestro was the best choice.

Figuring this out is the easy part. You then need to embark on a rather involved process of learning how to use the things. Don't be put off by the comments made by some about Ms. Silvia's persnickety temperament; this is a sophisticated machine that, like others, requires time to learn how to use. Once you've got it all down, it's like clockwork.

You'll also need to experiment with beans. For a while, we used our local shop's high end beans for around $14/lb. Then, on a trip to Milwaukee, I found that the standard espresso beans at Alterra coffee were much, much better, and half the price. We now buy all of our beans from them via mail.

This is all to say that, buy buying a real espresso machine, etc., you're making a commitment to figuring out how to use it effectively. It's a very fun and rewarding (though initially confusing and frustrating) process -- or at least it was for us!

Finally, recognize that there is a very big espresso junkie community with very strong opinions. There are lots of options out there, and I'm suggesting the one that made sense for us. Other more assertive folks may have a less flexible notion of what you should do, and will make the case for roasting your own beans, which then go immediately into your $300 grinder, which then go into your $2,300 machine.... Take it all in good humor!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Just one comment about "upgrade fever" and also the wisdom of "should I spend the extra money for an HX machine?".

If you really enjoy good espresso drinks just bypass the low end entirely. I started with an $80 De Longhi thermoblock pump machine and a $50 Braun or Krups (can't recall which) blade grinder. After a few months of practice I was able to get good results... generally a bit better than Starbucks but never great.

At the time $500 was a big chunk of money for me and I just couldn't see my way clear to jumping to $1200 - $1300 for a high end machine/grinder combo. Instead I opted for a Solis Maestro grinder and Gaggia Baby machine combo for about $500. I could get great shots form that gear - no question about it - but it was inconsistent and I was never satisfied with the steam power (Gaggia's have a small boiler) for milk drinks. I regretted not spending the extra $100 or so originally for a Rancilio Silvia but at that point jumping over to a Silvia was just a bit better than a lateral transfer - it would have been an upgrade but not a significant one.

After a year or so with the Maestro/Gaggia I broke down and bought an Isomac Tea with a Mazzer Mini grinder. It set me back $1380 - a huge chunk of money for me then and even today a purchase I'd wince over were it not for knowing what benefits this would bring.

The Solis Maestro is a good grinder but if you grind a pound or two of coffee every week (or more), after two years or so the burrs will show significant wear and a small bit of sloppiness may develop in the burr positioning because it uses plastic mounting assemblies. You'll still get decent shots but they could be better. If you jump up to the Rocky or some of the other higher end grinders in the $200 - $300 range (I think Anfim and Cunillo both make some decent ones) you'll have a grinder whose burrs will last the average person 8 - 10 years before they need replacement and you'll eventually pass the grinder on to your kids.

It's also worth noting, as chrismirault mentioned, that with a bit of practice, the Silvia can make top shelf drinks - every bit as good as machines that are much more money. what it can't do is steam milk while you're pulling shots or even immediately afterward. The ability to make two or more milk based drinks quickly was a big issue from me. I know from both research and experience that the precious crema of a great espresso shot dissipates within a few minutes. Crema is where it's at - that's where the most intense and best flavor components of a shot are delivered. Being able to blend your foamed milk with a fresh shot just after it's pulled will improve your cappa's and latte's. Being able to knock out five or six milk based drinks in short order when you have guests is truly a blessing.

If you stick mostly to straight espresso shots or Americano's the Silvia is all you'll ever need. If milk is your thing just bite the bullet now and get an Expobar for $600. It's the "ugly duckling" of its category (E61 style machines) but all I've heard indicates that it's actually a pretty good looking machine in the flesh and it also takes up less counter space than many of its competitors (all of which range from $900 - $1300 in price). Expobar costs less because it dispenses with having pressure gauges available (I rarely look at mine at home) and is built in Spain rather than Italy. Long term reports form users regarding availability have generally been good.

If you visit a site such as Coffeegeek you'll find folks who discuss the more arcane and esoteric aspects of espresso machines and espresso production endlessly and in great detail. It's fun to read but some of, myself squarely in this camp, are not gadget nuts or tweakers by nature. Al I ever awnted was really good espresso drinks at home and I now have them. After thre years of owning and using my current gear I can hoenstly state that I've never once felt the need to upgrade my equipment - I know it will buy me nothing tangible in terms of improved drink quality.

Bottom line is.... research a bit so that you're sure you're gettgin equipment that will be suitable for what you anticipate using it for, dont cheap out for the sake of saving a few $$ in the short term and understand that there is a short learning curve involved in using the gear. The results are more than worth it. In very little time you should easily be able to make espresso drinks at home that are equal to or more typically far better than you can get in any local cafe. All in the comfort of your PJ's :biggrin:

I use commercial espresso equipment five days per week but still love to stay home on Saturday mornings and make that glrious late that I enjoy in my own kitchen).

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It's also worth noting, as chrismirault mentioned,  that with a bit of practice, the Silvia can make top shelf drinks - every bit as good as machines that are much more money. what it can't do is steam milk while you're pulling shots or even immediately afterward.  The ability to make two or more milk based drinks quickly was a big issue from me. I know from both research and experience that the precious crema of a great espresso shot dissipates within a few minutes. Crema is where it's at - that's where the most intense and best flavor components of a shot are delivered. Being able to blend your foamed milk with a fresh shot just after it's pulled will improve your cappa's and latte's.  Being able to knock out five or six milk based drinks in short order when you have guests is truly a blessing.

Along with the useful coffeegeek.com recommendation, phaelon56 puts this all in the proper perspective. He's right about the crema, for which you will soon develop a massive jones! :biggrin: But the key insight in his advice, to me, is thinking about how many of what kinds of drinks do you hope to make.

The Silvia will allow you to pull two shots in pretty short order (45-60 seconds), and then it takes another 30-45 seconds for the steam to get powerful enough to steam milk. It's pretty fast (maybe 60-90 seconds for two cups of milk), but as you can see, that first shot is now 2 1/2 minutes old. Not a big deal in our house, but the crema is definitely less wonderful....

Gonna make one regularly? You're all set. Two? Pretty well set. Want to be able to make six in a row? She can do it and do it well, but it takes time.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I am not much of an espresso drinker. My hot beverage of choice is tea. However, I do entertain a fair amount and almost all my friends are avid espresso fanciers. Some even fall into the "fanatic" class of being.

Over the years I have had various machines including a Gaggia purchased somewhere in the early 80s that hung on bravely until 1994 - it died on 1/17/94 when the cart on which it was resting fell over at 4:31 a.m. (Northridge earthquake).

I had to rely on the advice of others as I really have not bothered to learn much about the operation of the machines. I worked my way through several smaller machines which seemed to serve the purpose but I really can't comment on the quality of the product produced.

Last March, after being without a machine since the previous Thanksgiving (gave the old one to the son of a friend who is attending college at Cal Poly and "needed" one) I, on the advice of my espresso-loving friends, bought

this one.

It has a much larger capacity water resevoir than a similar one for the same price, and it is supposedly fool proof. Meaning I can work it without having to read a book or practice tamping. Beans and water in one end, espresso out the other.

There was a more expensive one that had a fancier frother, however I already have a bang-up frothing/heating gadget that makes a large pitcher of hot, frothy milk so I didn't think I needed to spend the additional 400.00.

The machine has been used quite often when guests are here. My housekeeper loves it and has no problems operating it and says clean up is very easy (however she is a demon at cleaning so consider the source.) My friends love it and it gets a lot of "action" when I entertain. I bought a coffee roaster to go with it and they bring their own green beans when they come to play.

I don't use it for myself. I have a Senseo that was given to me a few months back and it is small enough that it fits right here on my desk and I can have an instant cup of a beverage that is fine for me. I don't have the discerning taste of a true espresso aficinado so the niceties of the brew produced by the Jura would be wasted on me.

Now if someone came up with another tea brewing machine, similar to the TeaMate which I love and which for some reason was discontinued in this country, I would certainly buy that in a heartbeat.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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There was a more expensive one that had a fancier frother, however I already have a bang-up frothing/heating gadget that makes a large pitcher of hot, frothy milk

Can you share the name, brand, model number of this device? Is it electric or is it a stovetop model? I know of someone who is actively in search of such an item and the ones I've found thus far on the net look cheesy.

The Jura is one of the better super-automatics machines on the market. It does a really good job for being a super-auto no, muss-no fuss machine but a super-auto will never match the performance of a good semi-auto machine and a quality grinder. But the manual route requires the interest and desire and the willingness to clean up (it can be a just a trifle messy but I live with it).

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I have the Froth 'N Sauce shown here.

It is so simple the kids can use it with no problems.

I use it also for making some sauces as there is no chance of them burning with this - It has different beaters for different applications. For instance I make a hot spiced and sweetened cream "sauce" for pouring over bread pudding, baked apples and etc. Foolproof.

The one with the "Sauce" designation has a heater in it.

I love it and so do my guests. The kids are wild about it.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Here is the Froth 'n Sauce in action.

3/4 cup whole milk - I don't use low fat.

gallery_17399_60_1100044593.jpg

Pushed button, everything automatic till it stops.

gallery_17399_60_1100044628.jpg

Finished, a liter of foam from 3/4 cup milk.

gallery_17399_60_1100044654.jpg

And it has good form, holds its shape well.

gallery_17399_60_1100044678.jpg

All in all, I am very pleased with it.

I did get mine at another vendor at a somewhat lower price. I will try to find the invoice, however it may have been a special offer from a vendor I use often.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Rancilio Silvia plus a Solis Maestro was the best choice.

That's exactly what we have and I am very pleased with both of them. We don't use "Miss Silvia" (as the sleepless folks at coffeegeek.com like to call her) for everyday, and we can still turn out great cappuccino. It did take a little while to get the hang of it. I had a Solis grinder w/ the Starbuck's label on it that worked well for a few years. I now have that new Solis Maestro Plus (in RED!) and I like it even better-less static, bigger cup for ground coffee, and larger range of grinds.

We bought our machine mail order from Whole Latte Love. Great service. http://www.wholelattelove.com/Rancilio/silvia.cfm

I bought the red grinder through Amazon (it came factory direct) but I just checked, and it doesn't seem to be there now. Too bad, it looks very cool in red. Edited to add that it looks like Whole Latte Love sells it in both red & black: http://www.wholelattelove.com/Solis/maestrop.cfm#

Enjoy!

Edited by marie-louise (log)
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Will it make milk that has  denser foam with tiny bubbles?  Something more akin to what you can do with the steam wand on an espresso machine....

This is dense foam with tiny bubbles. It has almost the consistancy of whipped cream.

It is interesting that the instructions say that it will not whip half and half or cream but I have tried half and half in it and it whips also, not as much volume at the low fat, but certainly enough.

I think it is really neat, especially since it is so easy to use and there is no danger of being scalded by steam.

However I am a nut case when it comes to gadgets and odd appliances and collect them avidly.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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This is dense foam with tiny bubbles.  It has almost the consistancy of whipped cream......

I think it is really neat, especially since it is so easy to use and there is no danger of being scalded by steam. 

Hi! This is an interesting gadget. Have you measured the temperature of the milk after foaming it? Thanks!

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This is dense foam with tiny bubbles.  It has almost the consistancy of whipped cream......

I think it is really neat, especially since it is so easy to use and there is no danger of being scalded by steam. 

Hi! This is an interesting gadget. Have you measured the temperature of the milk after foaming it? Thanks!

No, but I will. I often use the milk for my tea while my guests like the foam alone or with just a little of the milk. Then there are the cutsey ones who just ladle a bunch of the foam into an empty mug and spoon it up like a dessert with a little cinnamon and sugar or powdered vanilla sprinkled on it. The tell-tale foam on the lip is the tipoff. They don't even bother to look guilty, just grab the milk and start a new batch.

Worse than kids..........

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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