onlydreamweaver Senior Member Joined: 17 May 2014 Posts: 3 Location: Nevada Expertise: Just starting
Posted Sat May 17, 2014, 7:38pm Subject: Attention: Coffee Lovers -- Please help me select a machine!
Hello to my fellow coffee lovers!
This forum has a wealth of information and your help is much appreciated. I've learned a lot already.
What I need 1. I work from home and my household consumes 2-6 drinks/day. We like Espresso, Cappuccino and Americano. 2. RELIABLE RELIABLE RELIABLE. I don't have time for broken machines! 3. EASY to use. 4. I'm going to buy the Baratza Vario grinder separately, so my budget is$1500 for the machine itself (prefer to stay around $1000 but don't mind paying the extra few hundred bucks for reliability/ease). 5. The water where I live is very hard. I don't mind getting water bottles though.
My Answers 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.) All 3: Espresso, Cappuccino, Americano
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.) 2-4 drinks at one time. Time is valuable to me. I don't want to be waiting forever for machines to heat up.
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.) 2-6 drinks a day (14-42/week). I need a very durable and reliable machine. That is extremely important to me. The less time I spend cleaning, replacing parts, etc., the better.
4) Can you plumb a machine directly into the water supply, or do you want/need a pour over machine with its own reservoir? Reservoir is much more practical
5) Do you have a 20-amp circuit available, or only a (standard) 15-amp circuit? Not sure about this. Would prefer a machine that is flexible and can work on most standard outlets.
6) What is your budget for a new machine? Does that also include a grinder? If not, what is your budget for a grinder? Budget really depends on the machine/grinder reliability, speed and taste. I can spend roughly $1000-1500 on the machine, prefer to be on the lower end. I'm going to go for the Baratza Vario 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? New only. I can probably repair the machine but prefer something that is extremely reliable. I'm busy :)
8) Do you have the essential accessories (decent tamper, knockbox, the works), otherwise budget about $100 for these. I will purchase these as well. $100 is not too bad.
z0mbie Senior Member Joined: 26 Sep 2013 Posts: 346 Location: Online Expertise: I live coffee
Posted Sat May 17, 2014, 8:48pm Subject: Re: Attention: Coffee Lovers -- Please help me select a machine!
Gee, it sounds like you want it all.. :) Fast heat up, reliable, great coffee, all on a low budget!
Grinder is as important and many would argue more important than the machine, *if* you're after quality espresso. I suggest you read up on the resources on this website. Mark Prince, the proprietor, has provided buying guides for this very situation. There are MANY tradeoffs in the espresso game, even at higher budget ranges. I assume your max budget to be ~$2000, given you said you'd get the Vario, a $500 grinder, on top of your $1500 max budget for the machine itself. Believe it or not $2000, while it is a lot of money, is a relatively low budget for an espresso setup.
If you don't have time to read and understand all of the trade offs and are just looking for some recommendations, I would say on your specific budget, get the following:
Rancilio Silvia (aka "Miss Silvia") It's around $700+tax. They've been around forever and the Silvia is a tried and true machine. I've read only good things about the machine. There is an aftermarket PID version (a fancy temperature controller) but with proper technique, don't really need it. I recommend you watch Mark's demonstration of his flush 'n go technique. @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhxvDusY3jk
Spend the rest on the best grinder you can find. The Baratza Vario is an adequate espresso grinder, but given you don't want to waste too much time on preparation, stepping up to the Forte model so you can get automatic weight-based dosing, a much sturdier, higher quality build and motor.
All told you're looking at $900 (grinder) + $750 (machine). 1650. Spend the rest on some good coffee and accessories :)
Posted Sat May 17, 2014, 10:08pm Subject: Re: Attention: Coffee Lovers -- Please help me select a machine!
It's sort of rare the Silvia gets recommended around here, but it still does. You pay a lot of money for a machine that once warranted it, a machine that has now fallen from grace to the feet newer technology (some may say). Please please please, before you spend $750 on a Silvia (or whatever link I see with a Breville name on it). look at these: *I'm not endorsing any company selling the machines...they were just most easily accessible:
Prices vary a little between those options, but it seems you have room to move a little as well. This is just 2 examples of machines working in a niche between consumer and prosumer. Just.....please don't spend MSRP on a new Silvia. They are built with quality and will put out quality coffee (when use properly, of course), but espresso has just come such a long way pretty quickly. Also, you seem to want things done quickly, there will be significant lag between brewing and steaming.
Posted Sun May 18, 2014, 6:06am Subject: Re: Attention: Coffee Lovers -- Please help me select a machine!
The Breville 900XL and 920XL get mixed welcomes around here for a few reasons.
The possible negatives about them is the construction isn't nearly the same as the brass/copper/stainless steel built Italian machines which could translate into sooner repairs. And while that is a reasonable assumption, with parts now available for those repairs I wouldn't think it a huge deal. Just my opinion of course. I think it reasonable that for home use the 900/920's will hold up quite well over a fairly long time. I fully expect my new 900XL to work trouble free for at least 3 years and with relatively minor issues, long after that.
There is a lot to like about the Breville 900/920 machines. Fast warmup (less than 10 minutes from cold), superb brew temp control and much less 'fiddly' to operate. They do a good job of steaming milk though it is a bit slower at it than some of the Italians.
I also have the Baratza Vario and find it to be excellent for home use. Personally I think it will last for many years for the relatively light use that it will see in my home. I do 3 brews a day for info. Occasionally more.
Posted Sun May 18, 2014, 8:22am Subject: Re: Attention: Coffee Lovers -- Please help me select a machine!
Rise of the Machines I hate to disagree with Scotty (Weebitnutty) whom I consider both knowledgeable and a friend, but the Silvia is a HORRIBLE choice. I'm actually kind of shocked to see it mentioned. Without a PID it's an obsolete, piece of junk which can't be temped well enough to make consistently adequate espresso. With one, it's a decent shot puller and a terrible steamer. Overall, it's not nearly as good a machine as a CC1 -- which costs about the same as a new Silvia with the PID mods dealer-installed.
The CC1 is an okay machine overall, and a lot of bang for the buck. It has some nice features, is an okay shot puller, but not much of a steamer (much better than the Rocky) and cant do much in terms of production capacity. The Quick Mill Silvano is more or less the same thing, but a little heavier built, will handle a slightly heavier load, and does a little bit better as a steamer.
The BDB 920XL is the standout both for performance/price = value and for pure performance in your price range by a large margin. It is a feature-packed, and extremely user-friendly machine.
If you want heirloom build quality at the price of comfort and competence, there's a raft of compact HXs in the $1250 - $1500. When push comes to shove, they're all good, none great, and -- because they're compact HXs -- all about the same. I kinda like the Expobar Office Lever Semi (and Plus) at one end of the price range, and the Faema Cuadra at the other. But there's a half-dozen or so machines which are pretty much fungible.
Unless you have a major need for steam, I suggest overlooking the NS Oscar, at least new. Even though it's plastic on the outside, it's extremely well built (can't kill it!) where it counts. But, without modification, it's very unfriendly -- overheats, the pump goes nuts, no pre-infusion, no vacuum breaker. Bought used, in good shape, at a good price, then user-modified with gicleurs, an OPV and a vac breaker valve, it's a helluva deal -- but still no pre-infusion. Otherwise -- pass.
GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER Rule of Thumb No. 1: Buy the best grinder you can possibly afford that you can possibly cram into your space.
Rule of Thumb No. 2: Given a certain level of machine competence, every dollar you put in to a better grinder will pay far greater dividends in the cup than the same dollars you put into a better machine.
The Vario is the least expensive, "good" in the cup grinder you can buy. Good is better than adequate, but is not so good as very good, and a ways from excellent. It is plasticky and lightly built. It is among the few easiest and most user friendly grinders on the planet. In that respect, the Forte's a little -- but only a little -- better.
The Forte is a better built Vario. Same internal engineering, same burrs, same motor, same extreme user-friendliness -- but metal instead of plastic. The Forte's built in scale is kind of a dead issue for two reasons. First, the Vario-W model has exactly the same scale as the Forte. Second, the scale is not really practical for espresso because you can't use it with the grinder's espresso forks. That means that when you grind for espresso with the Forte or any Vario you'll most likely single dose by weight or time-dose with their excellent built-in timer.
The bottom line on either grinder is that there's nothing easier to use on the market at any price. Whether the Forte's better build is worth an extra $400 to you, I can't say. It wouldn't be worth it to me, nor to most home users -- but I know several people whom I greatly respect who graduated from Varios to Fortes and love their Fortes. There's no right answer, unless you're planning on using the grinder "all purpose" instead of espresso only or if you do a LOT of grinding. Then, it's Forte ftw.
However... when you're talking about spending close to a $1000 on an espresso only grinder, there are a few choices with some pretty decisive advantages over the Vario/Forte in the cup.
Let's start with the maybe not so decisive "very good" class. There's a group of Baratza lovers who argue that the Vario is the equal of the Mazzer Super Jolly (and others of its "very good" class) in the cup; some of whom will argue the issue as though it's proven. Not that there's any way to prove it one way or the other, there's no consensus either.
While I think the Vario/Forte are very close to the SJ class, I think they give up a little in the cup to the larger grinders. Cup for cup, ground and pulled by someone else, I'd rather drink coffee ground in an SJ than a Vario/Forte. Choosing between which I'd rather face every morning for doing my own grinding... the Baratzas are so much less PITA that I'm damn glad it's not a choice I have to make.
However, there's no question (in my mind, anyway) that at the next step up, the "excellent," big, 75mm and 81mm flats give you a lot more mouthfeel, separation, nuance, clarity and top end than the 58mm Baratzas. On the plus side, they're better grinders; on the minus, they're not only a great deal more money they're also a great deal more huge.
For $1100ish you're looking at grinders like the Anfim Super Caimano, Ceado E10, Ceado E37s, Compak K8, Mazzer Major, etc. To my mind, the money is well worth it. To your budget... well it's YOUR budget.
Whatever you buy, remember that if it doesn't have a timer for time-dosing, unless you're already committed to single dosing by weight, you'll probably want to add one. You can use an electronic darkroom timer (there are a lot of good, used on the market, ~$50 - $150), or a purpose built timer like the Auber ($100, and a great deal better looking in the flesh then in the catalog).
Contrary to what's been posted above, I would not recommend you buy a Rancilio Silvia. While there is no questioning its reliability, it is waaaaayyyyyyyy overpriced for what you actually get. There are far better SBDU machines out there for less, but you are much better off with an HX or DB machine.
(NOTE: if you are not positive that you understand these abbreviations, or terms like "semi-auto," full-auto," "super-auto," etc., please take a minute to read through these definitions.)
Based on personal experience, I am not a fan of Breville generally, and specifically many of their early efforts at espresso machines, but -- contrary to the rest of their line -- I do believe that their DB machines (the BES900xl and/or the BES920) are worthwhile options to consider. That said, I try to base my opinions on personal experience, and this opinion is based on limited personal use, and mostly on the opinions of others who post here. Take whatever grains of salt you deem appropriate.
Aesthetics is something that plays a far larger role than most people think it does. Thus, while one of the machines I would recommend is the Nuova Simonelli Oscar, I respect your opinion regarding its appearance.
I'd also take a look at, in alphabetical order, the following machines:
Posted Mon May 19, 2014, 3:33pm Subject: Re: Attention: Coffee Lovers -- Please help me select a machine!
EDIT: I typed this reply up yesterday afternoon, and just found it here waiting to be submitted, so I hit submit. I think some of the contents has already been mentioned.
Warm up time is something you're just going to have to deal with. ALL machines need to be warmed up. Saying you don't want to have to wait for that is like saying I want an oven that will be 350 degrees as soon as I turn it on.
Now, having said that…you can work around this by leaving you machine on all the time, while plugged into a programmable timer - depending on what you buy. Ro do this, you absolutely must have a machine that will autofill the boiler. That means Silvia is off the table. It should be off the table anyways. When I had my Silvias I paid $450 and $500 for them, both brand new. At that time, there were no equally as good or much better machines on the market for the same or less money…ah, but now there are, so buying a brand new stock Silvia is a mistake - in my opinion. Heck, if you're got 1k to 1.5k to spend on a machine, there's no reason to look at a Silvia - whatsoever.
I have my timer set to turn on the machine at 5:30am every day, then off mid-late morning, depending on the day. It has a manual bypass, so that I can turn it on anytime I want to. They're readily available at Home Depot, Lowe's etc.
There are many excellent vendors out there, and we often will recommend several of them at any time. However, I never see anything for sale on Chris' Coffee Service's site that is not very good, if not excellent, quality. They have impeccable customer service and the techs are even available to help you over the phone during repairs, if needed.
Regarding your comment that using a reservoir is more practical. Well, maybe that true in your situation, but plumbing in a machine is generally much more practical and efficient than not, in almost all situations. If you can't plumb directly into a real sink and drain, then the next best solution is to use a bottle system under your bar/cart or whatever. Let me tell you, refilling the reservoir every day, taking it out to clean it a couple of times a week, etc gets really old, really fast. If there's a way for you to "plumb" your machine, you should do it.
You have said many times in your post how important reliability is to you. The Baratza line of grinders are said to be of excellent quality in the cup. The company has incredible customer service. However, their grinder are very much plastic, except the Forte. However, there are at least a couple of users here who have the Vario and have never once had a single problem with them, so I'm not at all saying you shouldn't get one. But I am saying you should strongly consider looking for a used Mazzer grinder. They are built like a tank. They typically only need a thorough cleaning and a new set of burrs. I'm sure you can spare a couple of hours from your super crazy, hectic life for that. You're not the only one on this site who's busy…trust me on that one. Time is something one allocates based on priorities.
. Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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