They say that they can make good espresso with a cheap machine and a good grinder but they can't make good espresso with a great machine and a crappy grinder. The grinder makes the most difference in the cup. I found it very hard to believe but after upgrading my grinder I have to agree.
The thing that is hard to get if you have never done it is the steps matter. The coffee and water have to make contact at the right pressure and temp and time. The grind is so important that you might need to tweak it a little bit and then you realize that the clicks are just to far apart to do what you need to do. It is so hard to see that until you do it, but trust me when I say you want tiny steps or stepless grinder.
Jon, first of all welcome to CG. Secondly, you have to realize that this is "Coffee Geek," and as such, we are very serious about our coffee. As a result, we are also very opinionated . . . but based upon experience.
No one needs to spends thousands of dollars on espresso, even though many of us actually have. (Go figure!) But you do need to spend something! And, despite the very liberal return policy, Sur La Table is NOT the place to go to buy espresso equipment! To begin with, it's a bit like overpaying for wine glasses at Macy's when the exact same glasses are available at Bed, Bath & Beyond . . . and then there is the issue of scaring you about Prop 65 warnings, reliability issues, and the rest.
Can we start at the beginning?
Standard Questions: 1) What kind of drinks do you like/want to make? (This will tell us what you need in terms of a machine's capabilities.) 2) How many drinks, on average, do you see yourself needing to make at ay one time? (This will tell us what you need in terms of a machine's ability to work continuously.) 3) How many drinks, on average, do you see yourself making in any given week? (This will tell us what you need in terms of a machine's durability.) 4) Can you plumb a machine directly into the water supply, or do you want/need a pourover machine with its own reservoir? 5) Do you have a 20-amp circuit available, or only a (standard) 15-amp circuit? 6) What is your budget for a new machine? Does that also include a grinder? If not, what is your budget for a grinder?
The more specific you can be, the better our suggestions will be.
A couple of more thoughts. I have no idea how much you know about/how much experience you have making espresso, BUT unless you are confident you know all about the various types of espresso machines out there, I would respectfully suggest you may want to read this. Also, in terms of making the best espresso from whatever equipment you (eventually) own, you may want to read this.
Again, thanks everyone for all the really great advice.
I read some rather vehement stuff from a machine repair place about the quality of components (too much plastic and the like) in more recent (post 2006) Gaggia and Saeco machines - in fact they refuse to work on them, so I'm currently trying to bid on a used Starbucks Barista, which I'll then purchase the $60 non pressurized portafilter for. I read that this can be easily and continually repaired due to quality fittings, and might do me for a while. I'll probably then find a far more expensive grinder, maybe the Preciso.
Jason - thanks for the message and sorry I missed it before.
Not that I'm in anyway a huge Sur La Table fan, but in the interests of fairness, I had not seen the prices on the machines in SLT to be much worse than any of the other espresso suppliers - plus they will price match anyway. I was more interested in the lifetime warranty...
That being said, I didn't realize how relatively easy it was to fix one's own machine anyway, and I'd probably rather support someone other than a big chain. They do not have much in the way of semi-automatics in the store but do carry many of the Gaggia's online.
Anyway, enough with the SLT. I probably won't do more than 2 shots a day as I'm not sure I should drink a huge amount of caffeine, and I probably won't be giving up my drip coffee addiction during the week any time soon. When I do have espresso or latte though, I am anal enough (like most everyone here) that I do want it to count and be worth it.
Like I said, from where I'm coming from, anything will be an upgrade pretty much. I have decided to take a step back on the budget though, and gear up at a slower pace - probably $400 total. I'm guessing $200-$250 for grinder and the rest for the machine, hence my attempt to get a Starbucks Barista on ebay.
So, with my wife in tow, I might make 2 milk drinks a day, possibly more at the weekend. Standard kitchen circuit. No plumbing.
Since getting into this last week, I've been reading up quite a bit.
Take your time and research, it will be time well spent before you spend a dime. A Preciso is a good idea no matter what you get for a machine. It is a lot of grinder for the buck. You are CA I and bet you can get a nice used machine local at a moving sale or upgrader. I would personally like to see the machine in action before I bought it and open it up and look for leaks and rust.
This guy says make him an offer on a barely used machine.
Nemox Lux with either Capresso Infiniti or a Bodum Barista
The latter option is actually the cheaper way to go, though that is not my aim.
I figured as the Lux is espresso grind only, I could mod it to be stepless and then dial it in and leave it. I'd then have the other burr grinder available for the drip machine and for if my wife begs me for decaf espresso (no, I won't be drinking it).
Preciso = $300
Nemox Lux = $200. Both the Capresso and Bodum will come in under $100 thanks to BBB 20%
I guess if I thought the Preciso would do as good a job on the espresso and be ok for drip/press, then 1 machine would be best - otherwise I thought the 2 machine way might be a little more precise
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