Espresso maker advice?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Aaron Reynolds, Aug 15, 2006.

  1. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    My wife's 30th birthday is fast approaching. She's notoriously hard to shop for.

    She was a barista in her high school days and is excessively picky about her coffee. We had an espresso machine for a short while that she decided was absolutely inadequate and subsequently we gave it away.

    She's hinting that she'd like a new espresso machine for her birthday.

    I have no clue about what to buy. All I know is that it must be able to foam milk. Can anyone give me options or ideas?

    Pricewise, I'd like value for money, but it doesn't have to be cheap.
     
  2. Dave Hahn

    Dave Hahn Second Unit

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    Aaron,

    You might want to head on over to coffeegeek.com and have a look around in the forums section. You can post your question there and get some good advice, but I'd suggest doing some searches first to get a better idea of what you're looking for.

    One surprising thing you'll find out is that a good coffee grinder is as important, if not more important then a good espresso maker. You'll need to spend $200+ for a good grinder. The Cunill El Cafe' Tranquilo and the Baratza Virtuoso are often suggested.

    As for espresso makers, any of the entry level Gaggia's are excellent. The "Espresso," "Carezza" and "Evolution" are priced about the same; they look different but have similar features and the interior workings are the same. They go for around $150 to $300.

    The big difference between most home machines offered by brick & mortar stores like Macy's, Bed, Bath & Beyond, etc and "real" espresso machines is that "real" espresso machines don't have a "pressurized" porta-filter, the cheaper machines, (and many expensive machines), do. The porta-filters on the Gaggias are not pressurized.
     
  3. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Aaron, a price cap would be most helpful. After you give one, I'll recommend some machines to investigate.
     
  4. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    Under $500 certainly. Under $250 if possible, but not necessary.

    Thanks, both of you.
     
  5. Jim_F

    Jim_F Screenwriter

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    I can't speak from experience, as I'm a superauto kinda guy. The Rancilio Silvia is the hot machine right now. Coffeegeek.com is an excellent resource for all things coffee.
     
  6. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    I was going to second the Rancilio Silvia. It used to be under $500 (just barely) but it may have gone up in price. I've like coffeegeek, and I've dealt with www.wholelattelove.com and had a good experience.
     
  7. Buzz Foster

    Buzz Foster Second Unit

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    I've been using the Saeco Via Veneto for about five years, now. My ex bought it for me off of Overstock.com for $125 back in 2001. Don't see that one around any more. But I'm sure there are a few others by them that are as good or better. My Via Veneto came with a pressurized portafilter, but I replaced it with a non-pressurized portafilter long ago. It makes great coffee.
     
  8. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

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    I have a superauto also (Saeco Italia, now called the Incanto) and highly recommend both web sites listed for shopping, information and techniques (I could never get good froth until I learned from these sites). Under $500 you are probably looking at a manual (semi-auto) machine (although the Saeco Vienna is well thought of and under $500). The manual machine will take a bit of learning and dialing in, but will actually give a better pull than a superauto at 2x, 3x the price. However, for ease of use, nothing beats a superauto. Just add whole beans and water and it will grind, tamp, pull, and eject the puck, all while heating up water for froth or steam.
     
  9. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    I agree with Jeff's point. It's all about how involved your girl wants to be. Personally, as a former barista (in my youth) I like experimenting and dialing the machine in and getting the grind and tamp just right. Nothing is as rewarding as seeing the right amount of crema come out with a beautiful steady flow of liquid black gold (all apologies to oil). If I were buying a machine today (I own an entry level Gaggia from a few years back) I would buy the Rancilio Silvia.

    But if she wants the machine to do the work, then definitely check out the superauto machines.
     
  10. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    No matter how good an automatic machine is, I'm sure she'd be dissatisfied because she's not involved in the nuts and bolts of the process.

    It's like me and automatic photographic exposure -- I can't accept that there's a program line that's more advanced than my brain.
     
  11. Dave Hahn

    Dave Hahn Second Unit

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    Well, if, "she'd be dissatisfied because she's not involved in the nuts and bolts of the process." then you probably don't want an auto or super-auto machine.

    I agree with Carlo, wholelattelove.com is a great place for information and to shop. Many senior members at coffeegeek.com, including the owner, think that the "dream" starter setup is the Rocky Rancilio Grinder & Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine combo. You can see it here: http://www.wholelattelove.com/Rancilio/silviabar.cfm

    A couple more tips:

    1. Again, a good coffee grinder is essential. It doesn't matter if you have a $5000 espresso machine, if you don't have a good grinder your espresso will never taste good, never mind the delicious black gold that's possible from a good home setup. A doserless grinder is better for home use as you don't leave ground coffee in the grinder, which will go stale.

    2. On that note, once you have your espresso machine and grinder, find a local source for fresh roasted coffee beans and buy weekly as needed. Fresh roasted beans, (no more then a week old), are the second essential component to good espresso.

    3. You'll also need a good tamper of the proper size. Your wife may have her own from her barista days, if not you'll need to get one that fits the filter basket of your machine. You also may want to get a "knock box," steaming pitcher, and thermometer.

    As you can see, a decent home espresso setup is a little expensive, but if you and your wife presently buy an espresso or cappacino every day, your setup will pay for itself in no time and you'll find that what you make at home is much better than what you can get at 95% of the cofee houses out there.

    Good Luck!
     
  12. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

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    Great suggestion. A stainless pitcher and a thermometer should cost < $15 and will help immensely for lattes and capos. Then again, your girlfriend is a former barista, so she's got it all under her belt already. Me, I had to suffer through for a few weeks with either scalded or lukewarm milk combined with big honkin bubbles or no foam at all.[​IMG]
     

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