Coffeenoobie Senior Member Joined: 11 Dec 2011 Posts: 3,023 Location: PNW Expertise: I like coffee
Espresso: N S Oscar Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Tue Mar 12, 2013, 11:25am Subject: Please read before you post New Machine buying question.
Welcome to CoffeeGeek!
You have come here for answers and this post has a lot of them along with some questions. After you read this post and answered your questions please post a new thread with your answers and ask for buying advice based on your needs and budget. You do not have to read the whole thread just this post. (There is beginner barista advice, buying used equipment and HX flush advice/video at the bottom)
We get a lot new threads every week that start with "I want to get a cheap, good quality, long lasting espresso machine that I will not outgrow and I will not spend over X number of dollars". Most people don't want to spend over $300 dollars on the machine and have given no thought much less have a budget for a grinder. Espresso is not the only way to get very high quality coffee, and is probably the most expensive route. Other options (from most expensive to cheapest) include high quality automatic drip machines and single cup brewers, vacuum pot/siphon pots, moka pots, French press, Aeropress and manual drip cones, among others. All of these options will also need a good grinder suitable for the brewing style, but this is generally cheaper than a good espresso capable grinder. Whatever your brew method, the biggest improvement in your coffee may well come from using freshly and well roasted high quality coffee beans, ground just before brewing. (suggested by Dyqik)
Here's the "Little Rule of Fifteen" I learned from this site: (suggested by Darkow)
Green coffee is good for about 15 months from the day it was picked Roasted coffee, whole, is good for about 15 days from the time it was roasted Ground coffee is good for about 15 minutes from the time it was ground
Hard Fact Number One, buying an espresso machine is more like getting a refrigerator or dishwasher or a high end stand mixer than it is like replacing your Mr Coffee Machine. It has a boiler, under pressure and has a lot of metal in it. So it will not be like a cheap mostly plastic drip coffee maker. It can't be because of how it is made and what it is made out of. And frankly a boiler under pressure could be dangerous if not well constructed.
Hard Fact Number Two, you need a grinder. Not just any grinder will do. Not every grinder that says it can do espresso really can. And just because it has one setting for espresso doesn't mean it is good for espresso. You need a range of settings on the grinder because beans change over time and you have to change the grind to compensate. You will want that range to have small adjustments so you can tweak it as the beans age. Large adjustments or steps make it hard to make the fine changes needed to keep your cup constant. Consistency is the name of the game and everything you try to do is all for the sake of keeping the variables consistent.
Hard Fact Number Three, the grinder is more important than the machine. The grinder affects the flavor in the cup more than the machine. You can have a $3,000 dollar machine and a $30 blade chopper grinder and not get good espresso. But you can have a $1,000 dollar grinder and $400 machine and get good espresso. It is not uncommon to spend more on the grinder than the low end starter machine. Good espresso electric grinders start about $350. You can get hand grinders for $40 that will work. Getting your coffee ground at the shop and taking it home will not give you good espresso. You have to be able to adjust the grind for your machine and in 15 minutes the coffee is stale and you will not get the crema you would with fresh ground coffee.
A bit more information would help us help you.
These 6 questions and the overview of machines below are from JasonBrandtLewis repasted with his permission. Question 7 & 8 suggested by Sune
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 any 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 pour over 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? 7) Are you willing to buy used or do you need new equipment? Do you or family member have the skills to repair used equipment? 8) Do you have the essential accessories (decent tamper, knockbox, the works), otherwise budget about $100 for these.
"So, let's start at the beginning, OK?
ONE way to classify espresso machines is by their method/mechanism/capabilities for producing the shot.
-- Manual machines do not have a pump. They rely on the operator to force the water through the puck by use of a lever. With some machines, the lever is controlled manually by the operator -- like with the La Pavoni Europicola, or the Olympia Cremina. The operator lifts the lever up and pulls it down, pushing the water through the puck. With other machines, the lever may be spring-operated, like with the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva, the Bezzera B2006AL, or the Rancilio Class 6 LE models, in which the lever is controlled by a spring -- the operator pulls the lever down, and then a spring draws the lever back to the "up" position, moving the piston and forcing the water through the puck.
-- Semi-automatic machines have a pump to force the water through the puck, but the operator turns the pump on-and-off. Examples would include the machines like Gaggia Classic, the Faema Legend (the original E61 machine), or the Izzo Alex Duetto II -- which are, respectively, an SDBU, an HX, and a DB machine -- all in semi-automatic formats.
-- Full-automatic machines, also known as volumetric dosing machines, have a pump to force the water through the puck, like a semi-auto, but after a certain volume of water is dispensed (programmed by the operator), the pump will shut itself off automatically. HOWEVER, the pump can also be shut off manually, just as with a semi-automatic. Examples would include the Bezzera BZ07sde, the Elektra Sixties T1, and the La Marzocco Linea AV models. Each of these , by the way, is also produced as a semi-automatic -- the Bezzera BZ07spm, the Elektra Sixties A3 (now discontinued, although plenty of other semi-autos are still made by Elektra), and the La Marzocco Linea EE models.
-- Super-automatic machines do everything for the user, who merely has to push a button, wait, and drink. These machines will grind the beans, tamp the puck, push the water through the grounds, froth the milk . . . everything. Examples include everything from a Gaggia Titanium, the Jura-Capresso Impressa S9, and the Faema X3 Prestige.
THEN you can classify machines by their boiler type (and please note, I am ignoring thermoblock units):
-- Open boiler machines are relatively rare, and date back many decades. These can heat the water for espresso, but cannot build up any pressure to steam milk. To the best of my knowledge, this are all manual lever machines, and include machines like the Arrarex Caravel and the FE-AR La Peppina.
-- Single Boiler Dual Use (SBDU) machines are the most popular machines for home use. These have one boiler and two thermostats; the boiler will either heat the water within to brewing temperature or to steaming temperature. The operator must wait for the boiler to move up/move down before continuing, i.e.: the machine can only brew or it can steam milk -- one or the other -- at a time. The best known example, at least here in the States, would be the Rancilio Silvia
-- Heat Exchanger (HX) machines also have one boiler, but it is permanently set to steaming temperature. Cool water, either from a built-in reservoir ("tank") or from a water line ("plumbed-in" or "direct connect"), is then flash heated to brew temp via the use of a heat exchanger. Examples would include machines like the Izzo Alex II, Quick Mill Anita, or the Vibiemme Domobar Super.
-- Double Boiler (DB) machines have two boilers, one for heating the brewing water, the other for making steam. Examples would include the Izzo Alex Duetto II, the La Spaziale Vivaldi II, or the Vibiemme Double Domobar v.3.
ALSO, machines can be classified by their components, if you will, and their target market.
-- Consumer machines are just that, designed for home use by the consumer.
-- Professional (or commercial) machines are designed for high-volume use in busy cafés, restaurants, etc. They use more robust parts than consumer models, able to withstand their heavy, constant usage.
-- "Prosumer" machines fill in the gap; they are actually low-volume commercial machines that can also by used in a home environment.
So you can have a commercial lever machine, or a consumer lever machine; a full-automatic HX prosumer model, as well as a full-auto HX commercial model, and so on and so on and so on . . . .
Beginner barista advice:
Get a scale that can read out .1 grams and use it to keep the amount of grinds in the portafilter consistent. You can even weigh your shot after (subtract the cup weight or tare) and know the ratio of water to grinds to know what drink you are getting in your pull. Weight is better to judge output than volume because the crema can be very thick.
Use a timer and time the shot from anywhere from 25 - 30 seconds, I aim for 27. I use a dollar store kitchen timer set for 27 seconds. I use 18g for my doubles with an 18g VST filter.
The more you keep the variables consistent the easier it is to trouble shoot what is going on.
Good HX flush advice from boar_d_laze:
The processes of "dialing in" for temp, then successive temping are a little more involved than "a really long flush."
But, it's true that the machine must be fully preheated before you can develop consistent control. Depending on the type of machine and group, and whether or not you're around to push a little water through the system as it nears equilibrium to hasten the last part of the process that usually takes somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes you do have to fully preheat.
Here's how to start: Fully preheat the machine; Remove the pf from the group head; Turn on the brew pump and flush about three seconds worth of water though the group, then stop the draw. Note the hissing sound which came from "flash boiling." That's a result of the super-heated and pressurized water (pressurized because it's above 212F in a closed system) de-pressurizing and cooling. As the heat exchanger opens at either end, and cool water flows into and through the heat exchanger, the pressure is released and the temperature drops.
The next step is to use this knowledge to establish a baseline temperature: Allow the machine a couple of minutes to return to its "hot" idling temp -- this is the temp you'll most often begin each session so we might as well learn to start from there; Now remove the pf from the head again, and draw water until you can't hear any flash boiling. That's your baseline. Most likely the water coming through the head is around 206F -- I'm giving you a temp because that's something most people want to know. But it's critical to realize that the exact temp isn't important. What is important is that you're very consistent about noting the end of flash boiling and stopping the pull at that moment. That's your baseline.
With the baseline established: Start another flush immediately, keeping track of the time by counting to yourself. Depending on your machine and group, it usually takes four or five seconds to get to the commonly appropriate brew temp of 200F; Immediately, lock in a preheated, prepped and dosed pf and draw a shot; Use the water temperature to control the balance of bitter and sour characteristics; Note The shorter the temping "cooling flush," the hotter the water and the longer the flush, the cooler the water. Hotter water makes coffee taste more bitter. Cooler makes coffee taste more sour; and further Note that there's nothing magic about whether you're at 200F exactly or 200F itself. There is no such thing as a "right" temperature for all coffees or even a right specific temperature -- at least not to the nearest degree for any -- coffee. The best you can do is get the temp in the right range (usually around 4*, i.e., plus or minus 2*) to get the characteristics you want.
The first part of temping is part of "dialing in." The process of "dialing in" means establishing the best grind, dose and temp for a particular coffee, with "best" according to your taste. It is entirely palate driven. You have to learn to recognize what you're tasting and learn how to use the variables of grind, dose and temp to vary it to get the best you can out of a given bean.
The second part of temping is learning how to consistently return close enough to the best temp so that you can draw consistently good shots. With most machines that's a process of uncomplicated technique, paying attention and simple counting. One cappuccino, two cappuccino, three cappuccino.
Unfortunately, there are no add on devices, thermometers, or mechanical shortcuts which can perform with anywhere near your own built-in sensory apparatus. It takes a lot of coffee and practice before your palate will prove reliable. A class at a good roaster or a few hours spent with a knowledgeable barista can make the process go faster and easier.
We can go into more detail about any of this stuff if you like. If you ask a question here and I don't get back to you reasonably quickly, contact me by e-mail.
Hope this helps, BDL
Flush video from Calblacksmith
Good morning guys, (and gals as it applies :D) There is a lot of confusion of what does a flush look like, how much water do I use, when do I do it. I made a quick video of my brew this morning. Two quick videos, total of about two and a half minutes. First is the cooling flush after the machine was on for my hour warm up, then a quick flush before brewing a double shot. Simple and easy to see when the water stops flashing to steam and is ready to brew. If anyone wants to link to it for an example please feel free to do so
I have some used rules that I go by. (I just made them up as I went along but they are a good place to start thinking about your own rules)
Price: I would not pay over half the new price. I know there are some collectors machines that sell for more than new price but I am not in that market.
Parts: Unless it is dirt cheap so I don't care if it lasts, I want a machine that has standard or easy to get part so I can fix it. Even good condition machines will need parts over time. Aim for easy to work on and reasonable priced parts. I don't want to pay to import rare parts to keep it going.
Features: I had a list of things I wanted and I waiting till the machine that fit that with the price I wanted in the condition I wanted showed up. I know that not everyone lives in the PNW and so has access to so many used machines. But like used cars, I feel informed shopping for used equipment is better than going to the used car lot and falling for the first shiny car you see you can afford.
Condition: You want no leaks, rust, corrosion and it should heat up. If you have all that at a good price, with affordable replacement parts, then you can fix the rest.
Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.
Budget: Do you own a grinder: What are your needs (choose all that apply): Multiple consecutive shots, milk based drinks, Ultra-control, low profile, occasional use, must be pretty. what is your experience: Where are you located: Etc.
we could make a basic check box form, that can eliminate a lot of confusion and make matching a lot easier, and clearer to explain.
Posted Tue Mar 12, 2013, 1:48pm Subject: Re: Please read before you post New Machine buying question.
That's very good, and hopefully will help.
Since this is CoffeeGeek and not just EspressoGeek ;) , I'd consider adding in something to the effect of "Espresso is not the only way to get very high quality coffee, and is probably the most expensive route. Other options (from most expensive to cheapest) include high quality automatic drip machines and single cup brewers, vacuum pot/siphon pots, moka pots, French press, Aeropress and manual drip cones, among others. All of these options will also need a good grinder suitable for the brewing style, but this is generally cheaper than a good espresso capable grinder. Whatever your brew method, the biggest improvement in your coffee may well come from using freshly and well roasted high quality coffee beans, ground just before brewing."
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