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What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
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Discussions > Espresso > Machines > What's the best...  
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NobbyR
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NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,041
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
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Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 1:24am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

tglodjo Said:

I've begun thinking about upgrading from my Rancilio Silvia to a prosumer heat exchanger or dual boiler. I would love to get everyone's thoughts on what the best machine to get it ...

Posted October 23, 2012 link

Ask five experts, and you'll get seven opinions for an answer.

As a general statement I dare to say that all prosumer machines are capable of brewing excellent espresso, given that they are paired with a capable grinder, fresh beans and an experienced (home) barista. Now, which machine will be the best for you is a completely different matter, because it depends on various factors such as your needs, expectations, and budget.

Some technical facts: A DB doesn't make better espresso than a HX machine, it just works differently and makes it easier to influence brewing temperature. A larger boiler means better thermostability and greater steaming power.

If you read the consumer reviews of different espresso machines, you'll find that there are fans and critics of any machine, and that they all have pros and cons. What I did, when I was in your position, was to browse those reviews and GC threads as well as the homepages of retailers and manufacturers in order to compile a shortlist. Then I went to different local dealers and took a live look on all the machines on that list, before buying the one I liked best as far as handling, design and value for money were concerned. You can't really go totally wrong in that price range, and more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. Sometimes you just have to pay a surcharge for a prestigious brand, for example.

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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Markarian
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Markarian
Joined: 27 Jun 2012
Posts: 656
Location: Seattle Area
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: ECM Technika IV Profi WT-WC
Grinder: Baratza Forte AP, HG One
Vac Pot: Bunn Trifecta MB
Drip: Moka, Aeropress, Hario V60
Roaster: Behmor 1600
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 5:08am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

Indeed, there's a lot of opinions on here. I will gently recommend from personal experience the Nuova Simonelli Oscar. Mine has stood up to spectacular abuse from the former owners and some aggressive repairs on my part to correct them and keeps on trucking. Sure, it doesn't have a vacuum breaker stock, but one can be installed if you're handy. But honestly, I leave mine on 24/7, per the recommendation from NS themselves. I haven't had any problems with doing so and it's always waiting for me whenever I get the craving. The price point of the Oscar gives you some wiggle room in buying accessories, such as a naked portafilter or high end baskets. As said before, all the machines recommended to you are going to make great coffee when paired with your Baratza and some practice. Good luck!
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TriHard
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TriHard
Joined: 24 Feb 2011
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Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Rocket R58
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Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 5:56am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

I just wanted to throw my 2cents in about HX machines.  If you are unfamiliar with them, I HIGHLY recommend you read up on them before you purchase one.  There are many good articles and threads about HX machines and how they work.  The reason I am saying this is because they can be tricky to use as far as temperature control is concerned, and if you are the kind of person who wants everything to be perfect, it can be a huge challenge to use.  There are all kinds of theories and procedures you can do with cooling flushes and installing Eric's thermometer in the group head to try and achieve temperature control, but I can tell you from experience it can be a frustrating experience no matter what.  That doesn't mean it will be a problem for you as there are tons of folks who love their HX machines, but if you are used to a non HX machine, it is vastly different and you want to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you leap.
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calblacksmith
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calblacksmith
Joined: 25 Nov 2007
Posts: 7,734
Location: Riverside, Ca, U.S.A.
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: ECM Vene. A1, La Cimbali M32
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Roaster: gave it a try, decided no
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 6:05am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

The basics have pretty much been hacked out here.
In short, when thinking upgrade, buy the most machine that meets your needs, buy the machine that you love the looks of, don't try to save a little when a little more can make a big difference in ease of use features.

To echo above, DB or HX are the same in the cup, where it counts. The way you work more or less determines which way to go. In a nut shell but not a fit all statement, if you use one coffee all the time and do not change much, you might be better served with a DB. If you like to play a lot with different coffees, or even tweak your shots on the fly with the same coffee, a HX may be the better choice.

A PID on a HX machine is not going to improve the shot but may last longer than a Pstat. A PID on a DB is mandatory due to the way the machine works.

When entertaining, the plumb in will come into it's own, allowing you to move seamlessly from drink to drink without a thought of filling the tank or emptying the drip tray.

Volumetric dosing allows you to be very consistent in your shots and makes dialing in the machine a snap while manual dosed machines require more attention from you while pulling a shot. Either can be stopped ANY TIME you want to, there is no difference in the cup, the difference is in ease of use.

A HX machine will tend to be better to fit on to your electrical circuit as it has only one heater while a DB has two heaters and the total load tends to be higher but some machines have a load balancing circuit built in to alternate the heaters so that only one is on at a time.

A vacuum breaker is in MHO a mandatory component to allow you to put the appliance on a timer, in contrast to a statement above, the primary reason is not because a vacuum is an insulator (yes, a perfect vacuum is but even in a worst case, we are a LONG way from a perfect vacuum in an espresso machine.) The short answer is that in a machine that operates on a Pstat, a machine without a vacuum breaker the Pstat will sense a false pressure due to the trapped air in the system developing pressure before the machine is to operating temp thus the need to bleed the false pressure on warm up. You can add a vacuum breaker to a machine, it isn't a big deal but it will void the warranty if you do it yourself.

A vacuum breaker bleeds this false pressure from the system by staying open and letting the slow buildup of pressure to vent from the system until the water in the boiler starts to boil and develop pressure faster than the breaker can vent thus causing the breaker to close  and the system to heat properly without a false indication to the Pstat to shut the heater off before the boiler is to temp. A PID does not take pressure into account and so it will heat the boiler to the desired temp independent of the boiler pressure.

At least that is the way I understand the system, I could be wrong I suppose but I think I am much closer to correct than not.

Pretty much any machine in this price range is going to be built solid, and most will use pretty much standard, off the shelf parts so repairs will not be a problem well into the future. The glaring exception to this is the BDB which uses lots of custom parts and it was not designed to be properly serviced, you need to send it back to the factory to have it descaled. Brevelle  says the inline filters take care of the need to descale but my PERSONAL comfort with such a system is very low.

The Oscar is a good, basic machine and like Jason said, it does not have a vacuum breaker from the factory. I owned an Oscar and it is a good machine. I added a vacuum breaker to mine and ran it on a timer with no issues. The plastic case takes the need to polish the SS a non issue as there isn't any SS on the outside of the machine to any extent thus making cleaning as easy as a wipe with a damp cloth.

The second hand market for single group commercial machines (which are nearly all plumb in) brings the price down to a reasonable level but they may require you to do some cleaning and minor repair to bring them up to "new" looking. You may or may not be interested in a used commercial machine.

EDIT: HX machines are not hard to use and are MUCH easier than the temp surf thing you do on a SBDU. They can bang out drinks one after another and are very temp stable in this use, when pulling slower than back to back you have the advantage of being able to adjust the temp for each shot if you wish. EVERY MACHINE REQUIRES A FLUSH both HX and DB, if for nothing else than to clear spent grounds from the brew group between each shot. A cooling flush is only a second or so (or less) more of a flush than a cleaning flush, it isn't a big deal but it is a little more effort than close your eyes and hope for the best.

 
In real life, my name is
Wayne P.
Anything I post is personal opinion and is only worth as much as anyone else's personal opinion. YMMV!

Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
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NobbyR
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NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,041
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
Grinder: Eureka Mignon Istantaneo
Vac Pot: N/A
Drip: Melitta Linea Unica de Luxe
Roaster: N/A
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 7:14am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

calblacksmith Said:

... In a nut shell but not a fit all statement, if you use one coffee all the time and do not change much, you might be better served with a DB. If you like to play a lot with different coffees, or even tweak your shots on the fly with the same coffee, a HX may be the better choice ...

Posted October 24, 2012 link

Wayne, don't you think it's rather the other way around? Dual boiler machines, which are mostly equipped with a PID, make it easier to adjust brewing temperatures like for different coffees!?!

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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GVDub
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Joined: 25 Jan 2008
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Espresso: Londinium I, Arrarex...
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Roaster: Behmor 1600+
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 7:35am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

NobbyR Said:

Wayne, don't you think it's rather the other way around? Dual boiler machines, which are mostly equipped with a PID, make it easier to adjust brewing temperatures like for different coffees!?!

Posted October 24, 2012 link

Nobby, the amount of time it takes for the entire machine to stabilize at a new temperature makes quick adjustments in temperature between shots impractical on a DB. If you want to pull three shots in a row, one at 198, one at 200 and one at 202F to decide what the best extraction temp for a particular coffee is, you can do it pretty quickly on a HX machine that you know, by flushing accordingly. On a DB, you'd have to wait between changing settings for the temperature to stabilize. Worst case would be starting at the highest temp and working your way down, since you have to wait for the entire system to shed energy and stabilize at a new, lower temperature.

So, if you want to play with shot temperature on the fly for either different coffees or different notes in the same coffee, an HX is much quicker and easier to do so. Provided that you know the machine and have charted out, in some way, what the flush times are for specific temps at the group.
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emradguy
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emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 3,056
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, Macap M4 x2, VDD...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 7:35am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

NobbyR Said:

Wayne, don't you think it's rather the other way around? Dual boiler machines, which are mostly equipped with a PID, make it easier to adjust brewing temperatures like for different coffees!?!

Posted October 24, 2012 link

Although I'm not Wayne...I'd say yes, and no...

yes: it's very easy to get into the PID programming and adjust the group temp (at least in the Duetto).  It's a no-brainer, once the machine has the time to restabilize at the new temp.  If you're changing coffees on a daily, semi-weekly or weekly basis, this is great!

no: it takes a while for the machine to stabilize at the new temp. if you want to make a few shots of one coffee, then switch over to a new coffee, or like to single dose with different coffees, you can't do it on the fly on a DB.  You can do this easily on the fly with HX (once you've learned how to master your flushes.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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GVDub
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Joined: 25 Jan 2008
Posts: 853
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Londinium I, Arrarex...
Grinder: Gaggia MD85, Dienes Mokka,...
Drip: Behmor Brazen, Abid Clever
Roaster: Behmor 1600+
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 7:39am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

The ideal, of course, is to have two machines. An HX for experimenting with shot parameters and a DB for the coffee that you'll be sticking with mostly, so that, once you've gotten the temp dialed in on the HX, you can set the PID on the DB.

At least that's the argument I'll be using on the comptroller if I'm ever in that situation. :-)
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JasonBrandtLewis
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JasonBrandtLewis
Joined: 9 Dec 2005
Posts: 6,382
Location: Berkeley, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Elektra T1 - La Valentina -...
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Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 7:39am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

Bud, I don't want to get side-tracked into a discussion between the two of us, rather than trying to help the OP, but let me say just a couple of things in response to your lengthy and well-intended post.

Regarding the Oscar not having a vacuum breaker, you wrote

qualin Said:

Wow, I didn't know that. I guess now that I think about it, while a smaller heat exchanging machine would be adequate for MOST of the daily needs specified, those times when there is company over, the machine will be struggling to keep up with you and will need time to recover. The larger a Heat Exchanging boiler is, the faster the machine can recover because it has more thermal inertia. However, this comes at a disadvantage in some circumstances because that also means it has more thermal mass, which means it takes longer to heat up.

Posted October 23, 2012 link

I would simply say that, when offering advice, I try to pay attention to the the needs of the poster, rather than merely my own personal opinion and/or needs.  

Also, the greater the thermal mass, the more stable the machine is.  Here is where a timer is essential, and a machine without a vacuum breaker cannot be on a timer.  Even a consumer SBDU machine like a Silvia isn't ready to go just because a light goes off (or on, depending upon the machine).  Just because the boiler is up to temperature in, say, five minutes doesn't mean the machine itself has reached a state of thermal stability.

Regarding the Bezzera Magica not being sold in the US, you wrote

qualin Said:

It is in Canada, but a vendor here has suggested that the Quickmill Anita is a much better deal for the money anyway.

Posted October 23, 2012 link


If you recall, I took careful note of where you lived, and only provided links to Canadian vendors when you were asking about what machine to buy.  The OP's location is something I also pay attention to; no point in recommending a place in the US when the poster is in Norway, for example, nor is recommending a vendor abroad when the OP is in the U.S.

Regarding vacuum breakers, you wrote

qualin Said:

The problem is, when a boiler is hot and it cools down, it creates a vacuum. Unfortunately, vacuum also acts as an excellent insulator. When you put the machine on a timer and the machine turns itself off overnight, then turns on in the morning, you'll get vapor lock. The major symptom is that you'll go to open the steam valve, there won't be any pressure and the boiler won't be hot. I haven't personally experienced it myself, but it is a major problem with espresso machines that don't have one.

Posted October 23, 2012 link

Yes, this is precisely why a vacuum breaker is essential.  This is why I (almost) never recommend machines without a vacuum breaker, and why I always recommend putting a machine on a timer.  This is why I said that I've never had to replace a vacuum breaker.  

qualin Said:

Most heat exchanging and double boiler machines need at least 30-45 minutes of warm up time before they can produce a stable brewing temperature for a shot. You can try to pull shots early once the heater light goes out, but you'll most likely end up making sour shots.

Posted October 23, 2012 link


I think 45-60 minutes is far more likely to be the minimum, and with larger boilers, it's more like 90 minutes.

Regarding the need for a machine with a quick recovery, your wrote

qualin Said:

This all depends on how long the user wants to wait on the machine when it is making back to back drinks. If it is a casual environment, it may not be an issue. If it is a party or social environment, it won't cut it. In all honesty, the price difference is so little that it's just worth it to spend the extra money, instead of getting fed up with the machine and upgrading it soon afterwards anyway. Think of it as buying a Hyundai Accent vs a Hyundai Sonata Turbo. The latter costs more money, but has one heck of a lot more acceleration. Both will get you from point A to point B! :-)

Posted October 23, 2012 link

Bud?  When you have company over, how long do you want to wait?  Again, it's a matter of taking the OP's requirements into account.

tglodjo Said:

I make about four drinks a day (on average), but I do a lot of entertaining, which means a lot of milk-based drinks.

Posted October 23, 2012 link

If the OP does a lot of entertaining,a machine with quick recovery is, IMHO, essential.

Regarding plumbing in the machine . . . While I cannot imagine not plumbing in a machine ever again (if circumstances permit), I know there are situations where plumbing is not an option.  For me, the OP's comment -- "there is no need to plumb" -- put an end to the subject.

Cheers,
Jason

 
A morning without coffee is sleep . . .
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NobbyR
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NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,041
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
Grinder: Eureka Mignon Istantaneo
Vac Pot: N/A
Drip: Melitta Linea Unica de Luxe
Roaster: N/A
Posted Wed Oct 24, 2012, 7:41am
Subject: Re: What's the best prosumer espresso machine?
 

GVDub Said:

... If you want to pull three shots in a row, one at 198, one at 200 and one at 202F to decide what the best extraction temp for a particular coffee is, you can do it pretty quickly on a HX machine that you know, by flushing accordingly. On a DB, you'd have to wait between changing settings for the temperature to stabilize. Worst case would be starting at the highest temp and working your way down, since you have to wait for the entire system to shed energy and stabilize at a new, lower temperature ...

Posted October 24, 2012 link

I get your point.

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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