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Help me choose my first semi automatic
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Discussions > Espresso > Machines > Help me choose...  
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Seacoffee
Senior Member


Joined: 31 Mar 2013
Posts: 11
Location: Seattle
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun Mar 31, 2013, 4:24pm
Subject: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

Hi all,
I'm looking for recommendations for the best espresso machine that meets my budget and needs.
By the way, I'm not a coffee connoisseur by any means. I had a super automatic Seaco Incanto that just died and I'm just ready for something nicer.
My main goal is to be able to make an espresso that's coffee shop like. To help you know what I mean by that, I sampled the espresso from the Simonelli Oscar at a local store and that was perfect for my taste.

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.)
Mostly lattes daily, but espressos a couple of times a week.
I also would like the ability to make a normal cup of coffee, but don't want to compromise on the quality of the shot just to have this feature.


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.)
I usually make 2 lattes at a time in the morning. When I entertain, I may make 5 or 6 espressos, but that's just once a month or so.

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.)
2 lattes a day, 7 days a week. 2 espressos, a couple of times a week. So that will be under 20 a week.

4)  Can you plumb a machine directly into the water supply, or do you want/need a pour over machine with its own reservoir?
I need a machine with a reservoir.

5)  Do you have a 20-amp circuit available, or only a (standard) 15-amp circuit?
Don't know. Standard American household. Does that help?

6)  What is your budget for a new machine?  Does that also include a grinder?  If not, what is your budget for a grinder?  
I'm trying to limit it to $1,500 including the grinder.
I actually have done some reading and the 3 options I've looked at are the Simonelli Oscar, the Breville dual boiler and the Sylvia. But of course I'm open to other suggestions.

I'll also list the pros and cons I noticed for each, that may help you suggest the better option for me.

Breville:
Pros:
  1. Seems more forgiving to the newbie user than the other two.
  2. Has the convenience of the buttons to measure the shots. But that's not that critical for me.
  3. Has a hot water dispenser (for cups of coffee that I wanted)
  4. Has the timer to turn it on early in the morning.
  5. Has the PID, but not that important for me as I may just go for blends.
  6. Ability to steam and brew at the same time.

Cons:
  1. Needs to be descaled professionally, but I don't know if the others are different in that regard. It would be nice to be able to do it myself.
  2. It seems the jury is still out on durability for this one? And that worries me a little. I don't want to spend this much money if it's going to break on me.

Oscar:
Pros:
  1. Seems to be a solid machine, with great reviews and great reputation.
  2. I sampled the espresso and loved it.
  3. Ability to steam and brew at the same time.

Cons:
  1. No hot water dispenser, but I could leave without it if this machine is a recommended better choice of the three. After all, I'm buying it for espresso drinks.
  2. No timer to turn it on early in the morning. This will be a bit of a bummer.
  3. No button to measure shots, but I could leave without that.
  4. Plastic and not as pretty as the Breville, but I don't care about that at all.

Sylvia with PID:
Pros:
  1. A little cheaper than the other two, but I don't want to consider this as a factor.
  2. Has the PID, in case I ever decide to get fancier beans.

Cons:
  1. I can't think of anything that makes it better than the Oscar.
  2. No brew and steam at the same time.

Not sure if there are other things about these machines that I should be aware of that would help make a decision.

Thanks!
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Markarian
Senior Member
Markarian
Joined: 27 Jun 2012
Posts: 658
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 Sun Mar 31, 2013, 6:03pm
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

I'm obviously biased but my choice would be the Oscar between these three. It's a HX machine from a company that deals mostly in commercial machines. Breville's DB is their only decent machine period, the rest of what they make is crap. The Silvia is too old, too expensive, and too limited.

There is a fourth option I'm surprised didn't come up, which is the La Nuova Era Cuadra. While not as heavy duty as the Oscar, it's an E61 HX machine. It pretty much has everything you want, including a vacuum breaker for putting it on a timer, if I'm not mistaken. Anyone want to confirm this for me?
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Iluvdabean
Senior Member
Iluvdabean
Joined: 7 Mar 2005
Posts: 1,271
Location: Kentucky
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: La Nuova Era Cuadra/Gaggia...
Grinder: Baratza Preciso/K-A Pro...
Drip: Bonavita BV 1800 TH
Roaster: Nesco 1010/Behmor 1600
Posted Sun Mar 31, 2013, 10:15pm
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

Of the three youve listed I would go Oscar above the Breville and Silvia. You may want to consider this machine. I love mine and its considered a prosumer machine.
The oscar is a great machine but is in the consumer espresso machine category here where as this ones in prosumer group. E-61 is a real plus. Just my two cents worth.

http://www.1st-line.com/

Iluvdabean: 17526.jpeg
(Click for larger image)
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Seacoffee
Senior Member


Joined: 31 Mar 2013
Posts: 11
Location: Seattle
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun Mar 31, 2013, 10:54pm
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

Thanks. I will read about both suggestions.
Pardon the ignorance, but what is E61? I didn't get that far with my research I'm afraid.
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Iluvdabean
Senior Member
Iluvdabean
Joined: 7 Mar 2005
Posts: 1,271
Location: Kentucky
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: La Nuova Era Cuadra/Gaggia...
Grinder: Baratza Preciso/K-A Pro...
Drip: Bonavita BV 1800 TH
Roaster: Nesco 1010/Behmor 1600
Posted Sun Mar 31, 2013, 11:12pm
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

http://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/2011/01/11/e61-grouphead
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 654
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 Mon Apr 1, 2013, 12:35am
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

I believe what would be most suitable for your setup would be a reservoir operated vibration pump Heat Exchanging machine due to the amount of drinks that you are making.

You didn't mention if your budget also includes a grinder or not. If it does not include a grinder, then I think you would be hard pressed to meet your budget,
since most lower end HX machines start in around the $1200 range and go up from there with the exception of the La Nuova Era Cuadra, which is one of the
cheapest E61 HX machines on the market that I'm aware of at this time. 1St line is selling them for a touch short of $1000.
(BTW, Someone else on the forum may feel free to correct me on this.)

Most espresso-capable grinders start in around the $300 mark. In your case, if you really want cafe grade coffee, I'd recommend the Baratza Vario,
however that grinder sells for roughly in the high $400's. Couple that with the La Nuova and I think you'd just barely meet your budget.

FYI, "La Nuova Era Cuadra Espresso Machine"
Reviews on the La Nuova are in the link above here. So far so good.

Keep in mind that the grinder is more important than the machine. We cannot emphasize that enough.

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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Markarian
Senior Member
Markarian
Joined: 27 Jun 2012
Posts: 658
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 Mon Apr 1, 2013, 12:53am
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

Vario+Cuadra=A handsome setup you won't be disappointed with.

I have to admit, I have my Oscar on a timer because it's heavily modded (thanks, Plindy!) and it's a real luxury that I'm glad to have. I considered the Cuadra several times before my Oscar was modded; I think it's a terrific bargain.
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Seacoffee
Senior Member


Joined: 31 Mar 2013
Posts: 11
Location: Seattle
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Mon Apr 1, 2013, 7:41am
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

Yes, my budget includes the grinder and I do plan to get either the Vario or Rancilio Rocky. But I'm leaning towards the Vario as everything I read so far makes it loud and clear how important the grinder is.

That leaves $1050 for the machine, so all 4 in the running would meet the budget.

I can't seem to find much information on the Cuadra outside of this site and 1st-line. It seems great, but I'm wondering what would be its disadvantage when compared to the Oscar. Support perhaps if it needs to be fixed after warranty ends?
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Jmanespresso
Senior Member
Jmanespresso
Joined: 18 Jan 2009
Posts: 2,109
Location: Westchester NY
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Alex Duetto II
Grinder: Compak K10 - Vario
Vac Pot: Yama-SY5/SY8/TCA5
Drip: V60, Beehouse, CCD
Roaster: Hottop B
Posted Mon Apr 1, 2013, 10:39am
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

The grinder is more important than the machine.  So the Vario is a good choice.  Whatever you end up deciding, skimping on the grinder is the last thing you want to do.  Its a guaranteed waste of time and money, everytime.

Vario=Nice Choice.  FYI, you can get refurbished models direct from the manufacturer, for cheaper than the new price..  And honestly, Baratza is the one of those companies that DEFINES customer service.  They're not huge, you can easily contacte the owners on a personal level, AND, the factory refurbs models are basically a way to get the grinder you wanted for a little less money/

I personally own a Vario that I use strictly for brewed coffee preperations, and I wouldn't hesistate to buy a refurb if I needed another one for some reason.

----

Machine type, based on youir desired usage and budget, should be an entry level HX.  The Silvia/Gaggia type machines aren't going to work very well for you trying to put out two lattes every morning.  Personally, ANYTIME I can tell someone to completely skip those entry level single boiler machines and go for a higher end HX to start, I do..  It is MORE then worth it.


OScar, La Nouva Era Cuadra, AND, have you checked out the Bezzera BZ07(also at 1stLine)?

The Bezzera BZ07 is a nice machine as well.  IT has a unique HX/heated group design which, in the end, leads to very easy and quick flushing for temperature management.  It uses a grouphead design found on higher end Elektra machines, which is known for providing wonderful clarity and seperation of flavors.  read- its well liked by those who own it.


Now, out of the htree machines, Id go with the Caudra.  Im definitely a fan of the E61 brew group when it comes to these machines..  IT is very forgiving and easy to use, and its VERY easy to maintain it over time.  Gasket changes are very simple, and the whole group can be broken down and taken apart with a screwdriver and a wrench.  Not that you need to do so, just, its a nice feature should the need arise.  But most of all, its a grouphead which is forgiving over slightl mistakes in shot prep, includes pre-infusion by design, and plain just makes good coffee.

The Oscar is a nice machine too, and a couple folks here own it so naturally they like to suggest it to newcomers.   Its not my personal cup of tea, I dont like not having a hot water spout, I dont like the small steam wand or the steam control knob, and I dont particulary like the overall look.  BUT, thats why I suggested the Caudra.  The Oscar is surely a nice a choice, IF you choose the Oscar, you would probably be very happy with it.


OH yeah I always forget this.....
-Whatever machine/grinder combo you choose, dont forget to budget about $100 for the needed accessories.

BARE minimum-
58mm Tamper
Backflush Detergent(Cafiza, Full Circle, Joe Glo, Puly Caff/Puro Caff)

-You cant make espresso with a piece of s**t plastic tamper, or one that doesnt fit your hand properly.  No need to splurge for a $80 Reg Barber, Rattleware makes nice, hefty, cheap tampers in both aluminum($~20)and stainless($~30).  And the Detergent is just as important to periodically backflush the machine.  You CANNOT use anything but espresso machine detergent, of the brands that I listed, to do this.

Also you should get:
12oz Frothing PItcher-One Latte at a time
20oz Frothing PItcher-too attempt 2 lattes at the same time(more advanced, but you'll get there)
Grouphead Brush(Pallo Coffeetool suggested)
Knockbox-Trying to knock the spent coffee grounds into a garbage can, or really anything except a knockbox, is a pain in the a**, and messy.

And some Cups.  Drinking espresso and espresso based drinks out of the "wrong" cup kills the experience.  However, only YOU know the right cup.  Miught I suggest checking out Nuova Point brand to start.,

 
Follow Your Bliss

Coffee makes your constantly overcome your prejudices and re-evaluate your own "received wisdoms" when it comes to judging cup flavors. -Tom Owen, SweetMarias
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Coffeenoobie
Senior Member
Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,030
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Mon Apr 1, 2013, 11:14am
Subject: Re: Help me choose my first semi automatic
 

At new price Oscar is not the best for the money, but at less than 500$ used I could afford to start with an HX and skip single boilers.  I knew I wanted to steam.  I have since modded most of the things you can complain about with Oscar.  He is robust and a lot of room in the case to mod.  But if you have the price for him New you might want to look at others to get the best bang for your buck.

 
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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