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Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
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jmreeves
Senior Member


Joined: 14 Feb 2011
Posts: 17
Location: TN
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: pasquini livia
Grinder: baratza vario
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 4:16am
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

There are a few things that are just very difficult decisions for someone who has never owned a quality espresso machine. For example I would really up the grinder budget even at the cost of decreasing your machine budget. It is hard to justify the cost of such a grinder as a "beginner" but you will appreciate the consistency of dialing in your grind for that perfect extraction. The less variability the better as you learn to make great espresso. Make sure you budget for good coffee beans that are freshly roasted as well. For example I roughly spend $50 dollars a month on coffee and you will increase your consumption initially, trust me. Budget, tamps, knockboxes ,cleaning supplies, naked portafilters etc.

Here are a few things that I was less concerned with as a beginner that now would be mandatory on a new machine purchase:
Plumbed in option. This may seem silly but you do go through a fair amount of water from temperature surfing i.e. cooling flush to pulling a "water shot" after each pull to help clean the machine. I go through 4-6oz of water before I even pull a shot and another 4-6 oz after I pull my shot. This also leads to item number 2. A BIG drip tray or one that will allow for a drain.
Some machines are LOUD, how important is it to you? I have small children so rotary pumps vs vibe pumps are something to consider not to say all vibe pumps are loud as engineering plays a role.
How easy is the machine to descale etc? Can I drain the boiler easily? Do I need to tilt the machine while descaling to help get that acid solution above the water line etc. I would also now budget in a water softener system where as I probably wouldn't have initially.
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diggi
Senior Member
diggi
Joined: 28 Nov 2011
Posts: 383
Location: Halifax, NS
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Spaz vivaldi S1 V2
Grinder: B Vario, OE LIDO
Drip: Chemex, Espro Press,...
Roaster: Poppery I
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 5:46am
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

qualin Said:

I've been looking at both idrinkcoffee and Capuccino King.

Posted July 7, 2012 link

I don't want to take business from idrinkcoffee, as that is who I use for my needs.  You are mighty close to espresso tech and I'd suggest you try to check them out in-person if you have the opportunity, given your close proximity. They have a good rep on this site as well.  

qualin Said:

She's more concerned about the amount of counter space it would consume.

Posted July 7, 2012 link

The Spaz is large. I have a separate espresso kitchen cart, so not an issue for me, but it takes up as much space as the microwave. Then add a grinder beside that, and the other supplies and you easily double this footprint.  But it is a great machine.

Probably another reason to tout the B. Vario if space is an issue. There are NO other grinders in the same class that have this footprint, without stepping up to the Mahlkonig Pro M, which costs 3x as much.  No brainer when you are starting out and limiting your budget to a reasonable figure.  As far as build quality is concerned, that is how Baratza brings this little devil in at such a low price. But Baratza has an EXCELLENT reputation for customer support and the truth is, is that home grinders only see a fraction of the use of a commercial-grade machine and don't need to be 'built like tanks' (sorry Mazzer). I doubt you could ever 'wear out' a baratza in a short time-frame; but if you did, they would be there to make it right.  No hesitation to recommend this for home use, whatsoever. Not saying I wouldn't love a Mazzer, but just saw a Robur for 1st time this week (they don't have these out east, and I'm currently in San Francisco), and these are enormous!!! My wife would kill me if I brought one of these beauties home.  

Good luck.
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sn_85
Senior Member


Joined: 1 Dec 2011
Posts: 134
Location: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Quick Mill Andreja Premium
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 7:48am
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

qualin Said:

Isn't the Mini Vivaldi Version I a discontinued machine now? It seems to me that spending the extra $146 is worth it to get better temperature control and dual manometers.

Posted July 7, 2012 link

Right, I was merely mentioning the two because in your other post you stated that the QM AP was only $50 cheaper than the La Spaz.  That would be true if you're talking about the old version I (which 1st-line.com still carries).  If you're talking about the La Spaz Mini V v2 then it's $200 more than the QM AP, more if you get additional upgrades.  I'd clearly get Version II over Version I for sure, but it's not such a clear cut winner over the QM AP given the price difference and trade off on some features.  Depends on your budget and needs.  

***I see what you're talking about now.  I was totally looking at US prices, my mistake.  Seems like the difference really is only $50 for Canadians.  Hmmm.  I mean if you can live with resevoir only and can fit it in your kitchen then I'd would probably go for the La Spaz.  The other stuff like pre-infusion chamber or no-burn steam wands can be upgraded later***

I will say that since the La Spaz's water resevoir is located in the front that it doesn't seem like such a PITA to fill up.  That way you can still put it under a cabinet and not have to move it around if you want to fill it up.  Most other E61 style machines are filled from the top which can be an issue when placing the machine under a cabinet.
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diggi
Senior Member
diggi
Joined: 28 Nov 2011
Posts: 383
Location: Halifax, NS
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Spaz vivaldi S1 V2
Grinder: B Vario, OE LIDO
Drip: Chemex, Espro Press,...
Roaster: Poppery I
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 8:18am
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

sn_85 Said:

I will say that since the La Spaz's water resevoir is located in the front that it doesn't seem like such a PITA to fill up.  

Posted July 8, 2012 link

I have the mini version.  The reservoir fill is not at all an issue for me.  Very large capacity.  Easy to access; you need to remove the drip tray to access the tank, but it needs to be dumped around the same time that you are ready for a fill anyway.

As far as the upgrades go, the pre-infusion came installed on mine (got it lightly used) but don't mind the burn me arm. In fact, I understand the no-burn arms don't work quite as well; at any rate, I see no need to change the one I have.
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Coffeenoobie
Senior Member
Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,040
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 9:39am
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

I was where you are now 7 - 8 months ago but I did not have your budget.  I did the same research you did and came to the same idea, why start small and be frustrated and want to upgrade in a year or less. I like good semi commercial kitchen machines. I had to go for a used because of budget and picked Oscar as best bang for my buck. I then watched craigslist for month or 6 weeks.  I live in espresso land (Pacific northwest) so I knew it would come up for sale in my price range sooner or later.  Oscar is plain and simple but he is rugged and I have had a lot of fun with him and I can take him to parties.  (and I did not even drink coffee when I started this)  
I believe Down East Coffee in NB is an NS dealer, even though you are not considering Oscar or his big sister, Musica. What you can get in Canada and service might affect your final purchase.  When you pick a machine you might ask the company who is a dealer in your area.  Or come own down to the PNW and check out Seattle espresso gear or Clive's. Nothing beats hands on.
Get a good scale that can do .1 grams that will help you a lot.  Also a good tamper and baskets as well as good beans need to be planned for.  Get a few pounds of beans a few days from roast date, so you will not run out just as you get it dialed in. That was a big deal when I was learning. Also a good thermometer and stainless jug for the milk.

 
Coffeenoobie

Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.

My coffee treasure map...
Click Here (maps.google.com)

Oscar trick out: http://s156.photobucket.com/user/GandBteam/story/14231
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Luscombe
Senior Member
Luscombe
Joined: 19 Apr 2009
Posts: 17
Location: Atlanta Area
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: LS Vivaldi S1 V2
Grinder: K30, Zass Hand grinder
Vac Pot: Cona
Drip: TV, Pour Over, Aero Press
Roaster: Drum Roaster-Gas Grill,SCTO,...
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 8:04pm
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

Qualin,

I was where you are about 3 years ago.
I love coffee, have been roasting for about 12 years and have worked through about every brewing method there is. Always wanted to get into real espresso but did not know where to start.

I ended up starting with a used Expobar, HX unit and a used Mazzer, all found on Craigs list. After about 18 months of trying to figure out the HX temperature surfing, I pretty much gave up. I could never repeat the same shot. Had a few really good shots but most were marginal or poor. The real frustration was the inability to reproduce the same shots.

I ultimately decided to increase my budget and and get a dual boiler unit with a corresponding quality grinder. My solution was a the following:

Espresso Machine
-Vivaldi II bought new, set up for 15 amp circuit, boilers can not operate simultaneous, not problem, can always set it back up for a 20amp circuit if needed.  It does have a smaller portafilter which some people immediately discount. I like the larger protafilters but the smaller one was not a deal breaker for me.  I have the unit hooked up to a a pump and expansion tank and use 5 gal bottled water. It comes up to temp in about 15 minutes, I have the ability to hook up the timer but never found the need. I can plumb it in directly to a water line in the future if I choose. Can also plumb in the drain if I want to set it up as a permanent fixture in the kitchen. Right now I have it set up on a double independent cabinet. I keep my scotch in the lower cabinet. :)

Grinder
-Mahlkonig, bought used from a member of this forum. It is stepless and is worth the $1,000 I paid for it.

The combination I have has eliminated my upgradeitis. I have about $3,800 invested and I am totally satisfied with the set up and the quality of the espresso. There are enough variables with the Vivaldi II to experiment with the quality.

I now make sure I have fresh home roasted beans to use as the freshness makes the single largest difference imo.

I still have the HX unit. I like the larger basket,  but still have issues with the temp surfing. I ultimately ended up buying a thermo couple and meter. I drilled and tapped the head and installed the TC in the group head inside the dispersing area above the screen. It will measure the temperature of the water where it enters the basket. I have not experimented with it much as I have lost interest. The Vivaldi II works so well that I don't have to worry about the temp surfing. The shots are repeatable without much effort.

I suspect there are other units out there similar to the LSVII with a larger E61 group head. I was sold on LSVII  based upon my research so didn't look further. I am satisfied after two years of use. Absolutely no problems with it. For me the solution was a double boiler unit. I will never go back to an HX.

Good luck with your search and decision.

Gary
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 662
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 9:56pm
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

Wow.. There are lots of replies. Thanks everyone for your input so far! I'll start off by going through each reply.

jmreeves Said:

For example I would really up the grinder budget even at the cost of decreasing your machine budget.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

OK. I've read time and time again on this forum that the grinder is more important than the machine.. Garbage in, Garbage out. It's something I'll take into consideration.

jmreeves Said:

The less variability the better as you learn to make great espresso.

Posted July 8, 2012 link


There sure are a lot of variables. Grind, Tamp, Dose, etc. Seems to me that it can be difficult keeping them all consistent enough to end up with that "God" shot.

jmreeves Said:

Make sure you budget for good coffee beans that are freshly roasted as well. ........ Budget, tamps, knockboxes ,cleaning supplies, naked portafilters etc.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

There is a local "Roastisterie" here that I've been dying to try their espresso blends. They have one of those six foot tall roasting machines that are designed to roast 50 lb bags of beans
in one shot. It's downright heavenly to sit down in the shop and smell the aromas of those beans being roasted. You bring up another good point about all of those accessories. I guess I'll
have to consider budgeting at least $200-$300 in accessories! So, other than seeing how well one tamped/ground their shot, why would someone use a naked portafilter?

jmreeves Said:

2. A BIG drip tray or one that will allow for a drain.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

I can see this being a pain, especially if the tray fills up without a visual indicator. I'm considering the idea about putting it near the sink and using a drain line, but I'm not sure if that's too wife friendly.

jmreeves Said:

Some machines are LOUD, how important is it to you?

Posted July 8, 2012 link

Compared to my Breville K-Cup maker, I kind of expect the machine to be just as noisy. It appears that rotary pump machines carry a bit of a price premium. I guess for the purist, they are better
but from my point of view, I don't think I could justify spending the extra money just to have a quieter machine. Are vibe pumps less reliable than rotary pumps?

jmreeves Said:

How easy is the machine to descale etc? Can I drain the boiler easily? Do I need to tilt the machine while descaling to help get that acid solution above the water line etc.
I would also now budget in a water softener system where as I probably wouldn't have initially.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

OK, Here's a few things you brought up that I really didn't think about. What are your thoughts on this? I know the Breville DB machine requires "Professional Service" after about 6,000 drinks, it
goes into a lockout mode (At least from my understanding) and then it has to be shipped off to the service depot for scaling. This is something which took away it's attractiveness for me.  

I build computers as a hobby so I don't see any reason why I couldn't bring the machine to the service provider, have them show me how to properly descale the boilers and then do it myself.

Yes, we have hard water here.. very hard water. What would be my expected price to spend on an in-line water softener? Is it more cost effective to purchase one instead of periodically descaling
the machine? I would think that due to the volume of drinks I'd be doing, it would be years before I would have to descale a machine?

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 662
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 10:13pm
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

diggi Said:

I don't want to take business from idrinkcoffee, as that is who I use for my needs.  You are mighty close to espresso tech

Posted July 8, 2012 link

They are in Edmonton, which is about a 2.75 hour drive from me. I don't mind paying slightly extra if it means getting better service from them. It's
considerably cheaper for me to drive to Edmonton and get the service I'm looking for instead of having to ship it off to Ontario if there's something defective with it.

diggi Said:

I have a separate espresso kitchen cart,

Posted July 8, 2012 link

This is an EXCELLENT idea. I don't know why I didn't think of this before. Can you tell me who you bought it from? This may be a much more wife friendly idea and it would
allow me to stash it in a place where I can easily get it out of the way, leaving more kitchen counter space for those more important jobs. :-) I like the idea of wheeling around a
"Crash Cart" with all of my supplies, accessories, etc in it. I could even potentially have it next to the kitchen table. Thank you VERY much for that idea!

diggi Said:

Baratza has an EXCELLENT reputation for customer support

Posted July 8, 2012 link

That's fairly important to me.  There seems to be a lot of good reviews on the Vario and it appears to be very precise, with a very large number of steps. I may consider saving my
pennies for the weighted version to keep the dosing consistent. I understand that underdosing or overdosing a machine can really affect results.

diggi Said:

I doubt you could ever 'wear out' a baratza in a short time-frame;

Posted July 8, 2012 link

If I got 10 years worth of use out of it for that price, I'd think I would have gotten my moneys worth.

diggi Said:

I wouldn't love a Mazzer, but just saw a Robur for 1st time this week

Posted July 8, 2012 link

OK, I just looked it up. This looks like something I would see in a coffee shop. If I owned something like this, my friends would be asking me just how many drinks I prepare
every day and they would probably be recommending that I go to some kind of drug treatment center to break my coffee habit. :-)

diggi Said:

I'm currently in San Francisco

Posted July 8, 2012 link

I was visiting there back in early May. It's a beautiful city. I wish I had known about the coffee shop with the $40k steampunk vac-pot style machine. It was in San Francisco
that I gained a whole entire appreciation for a decently made capuccino, since we spent a lot of time on Fishermans Wharf doing the touristy thing. This is a lot of the motivation
behind buying a machine and going headfirst into this... and quite possibly buying the most expensive cup of capuccino in my entire life. :-)

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 662
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sun Jul 8, 2012, 10:50pm
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

Luscombe Said:

I was where you are about 3 years ago... ...Always wanted to get into real espresso but did not know where to start.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

I can't say how reassuring that is. :-) You know, I'll admit that out of all of the brewing methods I've ever done, Espresso is the most complicated
brewing method I've seen. There are so many variables to consider as opposed to just making drip coffee.

Luscombe Said:

...all found on Craigs list.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

Well, I'm a little iffy on buying on Craigslist. I know I could probably score a really good deal, but again it comes down to the issue of supportability and warranty.

Luscombe Said:

...trying to figure out the HX temperature surfing, I pretty much gave up. I could never repeat the same shot. ... The real frustration was the inability
to reproduce the same shots.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

This is what scares me about considering an HX machine. As a newbie, I'd always be afraid of not being able to pull a good shot because the machine is too fussy
and I'm not experienced enough. Doing cooling flushes looks fairly straight forward, it seems that E61-style  machines have better temperature stability and have a
better chance of pulling a good shot with an inexperienced operator. Was your Expobar an E61 machine?

Considering that the price difference on an E61 grouphead HX machine is only slightly more, it doesn't make sense not to buy one. You are putting in a very good
case to really only consider double boiler machines as an option if one is to "do it right the first time." There's such a big price gap here...

I can see it being very frustrating, keeping the same dose, tamp and grind, yet experiencing different flavors. I wish that there was a coffee geek who lived near
me who could show me exactly what you are talking about. (ie. This is what an overextracted and an underextracted shot tastes like, sour, bitter, burnt, etc.)

Luscombe Said:

I have the unit hooked up to a a pump and expansion tank and use 5 gal bottled water.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

Is there a place where I can see a picture of your setup? That's really something I never thought of doing, but it may be overkill for what I'm trying to accomplish.
I think I'd be fine with a reservoir machine. If I was making a large number of drinks every day, that's something I'd consider doing instead.

Luscombe Said:

Mahlkonig, bought used from a member of this forum. It is stepless and is worth the $1,000 I paid for it.

Posted July 8, 2012 link

I may consider buying used from this forum, only because I know that whomever usually frequents this forum most likely also
looks after their equipment and cares for it. Perhaps someone elses "upgradeitis" may come to my advantage.

Luscombe Said:

I have about $3,800 invested

Posted July 8, 2012 link

OK, that's a little bit of an eye opener. Heh, One step at a time I guess. You know, I shouldn't feel so bad... back in the late 1990's I was hardcore into gaming.
I probably invested a little over $12,000 in computer upgrades in the span of three years. The sad part is, I really have nothing to show for it as all of the computer
hardware I purchased is now garbage. If I had spent that much on coffee equipment, imagine what kind of coffee wonderland my kitchen would be today.....

Thank you very much for your advice Gary!

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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Luscombe
Senior Member
Luscombe
Joined: 19 Apr 2009
Posts: 17
Location: Atlanta Area
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: LS Vivaldi S1 V2
Grinder: K30, Zass Hand grinder
Vac Pot: Cona
Drip: TV, Pour Over, Aero Press
Roaster: Drum Roaster-Gas Grill,SCTO,...
Posted Mon Jul 9, 2012, 10:41am
Subject: Re: Newbie - The best machine for my needs, Recommendations?
 

Hi Qualin,

I too was concerned about all of the variables in making a good shot of espresso let alone the proverbial "GOD" shot.
I did a lot of research on this site and other forums. I was looking to get into espresso on a budget and figured the HX unit was the way to go. Found a used mazzor grinder on CL ($300) that I refurbished ( burrs & paint $100). I then started surfing, pardon the pun, for an espresso machine. Found an Expobar Office ($550) HX in Atlanta from someone on the forum. Got them all home and figured I am ready to go.

I have been home roasting for years so I knew I would have fresh beans.
I could never find the groove with the temp surfing. I tried many different flushing sequences. I became frustrated with lack of repeatability on the water temp.  I think you eluded to this in your statement about Lever Machines.
After my experience with an HX unit I knew the only answer for me was a DB unit. The issue then was which one and what about my grinder.

The financial plunge for me was significant. I am the only coffee drinker in the house as my wife does not like it, empty nesters. I do not drink excessive amounts of coffee but golly, $3k-$4k for a couple cups a day. How do I justify that?

Answ: Buy quality. There is a good resale market for this stuff and you will get at least 50% back if you buy quality and take care of it. So, divide your budget by 1/2.

My machine is not an E61 group head. Great espresso can be made without E61 heads, here come the flames. In some circles, the E61 design is thought to be quite old. Doesn't mean it is not good. I have no opinion on the differences. I bought my LSV2 based upon other parameters. The E61 was not primary for me even though the E61 is on my HX unit.


There are different opinions on the better head and basket size for pulling shots. I found many different perspectives with strong polarization for each type. In the end, great shots can be had with the different heads, it just requires a little different technique. My shot process typically includes a couple of flushing pulls to heat up the head. Either way, you will have to find this out through your own learning curve. I went with a unit that was popular, had the right features for me, had good references, high quality, easy to maintain and had recognized good support after the sale. this was a huge investment for me. I was not price shopping.

The DB unit provides rock steady temperatures for the water and the steam. You will want to balance the boiler sizes to your needs. It takes more energy to operate larger boilers and that can be expensive especially if you do not need the capacity.

So now I only have to worry about the other variables like, grind size, tamp pressure, dose volume, bean freshness, tamp consistency. I do not time my shots as I made a bottomless PF and stop the pull when the cone shrinks and the color blonds. My unit is a semi-automatic but I have full manual override; then best of both worlds.

I kinda fell into the grinder through a series of emails to other board members. Had not really considered an upgrade as I thought the Mazzor would be sufficient. Turns out it might have been but the K30 is soooooooooo much easier to operate and change settings.

Send me your email address and I will send some photos your way showing you how I hooked up an RV pump (Amazon $100 and an expansion tank $75) to plumb my unit. I use the drip tray, it is huge and empty it when required. My water supply is from 5 gallon bottled water, Home Depot or Lowes.

We did not have enough counter space in the kitchen for the set up so I bought a portable cabinet, ($500), could have made one from a piece of butcher block table I found on CL for $15 but my bride encouraged me to buy new. My coffee shrine is located in the laundry room off of our kitchen; for us, it worked out well.

The answer for you will be made up of your budget and your patience for experimenting and the time you have to mess around with the hobby. If you can afford it, go DB with a decent grinder. You will never look back.
Also, I can't stress the importance of fresh roasted beans. If you are not home roasting, you should look into it. It is much less expensive and lets you control a few more variables.

Good luck in your journey and let us know what you decide.
Gary
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