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Thread: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

  1. #1
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    Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    Ok so heres my story.

    Bought a Cafe Roma on the recommendation of a "Choice" style of magazine (testing of consumer machines to find the one to "rule them all").

    Got it home, bought my supermarket pre-grind knowing that freshly ground was better but also knowing that all grinders in my price range were useless, so I figured pre-ground would be better than poorly-ground.

    Anyway, for a long time I convinced myself that my espresso was excellent, and was better tasting than some cafes in town.

    Recently I saw a second hand Sunbeam EM69xx which made me consider an upgrade, and to cut a long story short I still have the Roma but bought a used Mazzer Super Jolly instead.

    Now once again I feel like Im on top of the world, and think that my fresh-ground fresh-bean espresso is better tasting than many of the "GOOD" cafes I have tried.

    Im not particularly fussy with my food and drink - Ill eat almost anything for example. So do you think that my high opinion of my coffee is due to a subconscious belief that spending money on my setup improves the coffee?

    Or is my Roma actually making an excellent espresso so I dont have a strong reason to need to upgrade?

  2. #2
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Oh no, you said the "C" word!!!! :D

    Using cafes as a benchmark generally isnt too hard to surpass.

    I had some pretty good results out of my old Sunbeam 5800. Fresh beans and a grinder is the key, sounds like youve got that covered! :eek:

    The measured thermal stability of that machine was actually very good.

    The only real downsides were speed (no 3-way valve, poor steaming power) and reliability (sent one back under warranty)

  3. #3
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt King link=1226983882/0#1 date=1226984420

    The only real downsides were speed (no 3-way valve, poor steaming power) and reliability (sent one back under warranty)
    Id add consistency to that list. Cheapies can sometimes pull great shots, and of course the right raw materials are essential, but they may not do it every time. Things like thermostability play a big part in that (i.e. the ability of the machine to produce water at the same temperature every time), and aluminium thermoblocks dont tend to be good at maintaining a constant temperature.

    All that said, yes they can do it, just be aware of the limitations. Which is why the machine always sits lower down the list than things like a grinder, fresh beans and technique.

    Greg

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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Pullman link=1226983882/0#2 date=1226986034
    Things like thermostability play a big part in that (i.e. the ability of the machine to produce water at the same temperature every time), and aluminium thermoblocks dont tend to be good at maintaining a constant temperature.
    I reiterate that the thermal stability I had out of my old 5800 was very good. Starting temps within ~second crack, temperature drops during the shot of about second crack. Repeatedly.

    I cant speak for every thermoblock out there, but as I recall thats a damn sight better than (say) a Silvia can do without surfing.

    PS for our NZ friend, I found Atlas Power Coffee beans from the supermarket to be really good. (Only ones Ive ever seen that printed a roasting date, so reach to the back of the shelf and find the freshest packet! usually they were only 1-2 days post-roast)

  5. #5
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Of the "cheapies" that seem to do a decent job (if everything else is up to par), is the SB Ristretto and the Breville Ikon.... Both machines use boilers instead of T/Blocks and with judicious operation, are able to pull very decent espresso, maybe not great but certainly very good....

    Mal.

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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Mal where does the Roma sit on your list? :p

    And Matt, the supermarkets in our quaint village dont stock "fresh" coffee. Only old beans in one-way valve packs with "best before" dates on them.

    I will find it easy enough to go to a local roaster where I had an excellent first purchase experience, and will keep going back as long as I am sure I am buying only the freshest coffee (they roast directly behind a shopfront window well into the evening on a daily basis so it all seems to bode well). And they allowed me to buy only 100g of beans which is perfect for a 1-coffee-drinker home.

  7. #7
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Fair enough, I was living in Auckland...

    Cant remember their name but I got my machine (VBM) and for a while got my beans off an internet retailer who were based in north shore suburbs of Auckland. Fairly good value as I recall.

  8. #8
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    I owned a Cafe Roma for two years and was quite happy with it and got some good shots. Just decided to upgrade.

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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Grab a popper or make a corretto. <$50 and youll never be out of fresh beans again.

  10. #10
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Quote Originally Posted by ahmadnz link=1226983882/0#5 date=1226987953
    Mal where does the Roma sit on your list? :p
    My eldest son (also a CSer) used to have a Roma. While it was able to produce drinkable coffee with milk (but not the espresso) the (intra-shot) temperature stability of the machine was its greatest downfall in my opinion which nearly always resulted in under-extracted, sour-ish shots that could only be consumed with milk.

    The Thermoblock design is the main culprit I believe as water temperature is highly dependent on water flow rate in these machines and as a result, if the shot is a little fast the water temp heads South at a great rate of knots and if a little slow, the shots are almost acceptable. I know that some people try to cheat the Brew Cycle by selecting Steam mode briefly, before going back to Brew and pulling the shot. Because of the small size and thermal inertia of the Thermoblock, this is a very hit & miss way of trying to control brew water temp and maybe sometimes it works (sort of) but mostly its just pot luck as to the quality of the shot you end up with.

    Quite a few people have had great success with the little Sunbeam Ristretto and maybe even more people with the Breville Ikon. With a decent grinder, freshly roasted high quality beans only ground immediately before brewing, it is possible to pull some pretty decent shots from these babies, if you do your part. Another bonus with the Ikon, is that the Boiler Temperature is electronically controlled and once the warranty runs out, it would be a simple matter to rig up a pretty effective temperature control with a minimum of components and time. Might be something to think about.... ::)

    Hope some of this is helpful mate..... :)

    All the best,
    Mal.

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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Pullman link=1226983882/0#8 date=1227009198
    Grab a popper or make a corretto. <$50 and youll never be out of fresh beans again.
    Greg, now you are getting ridiculous. You already have some explaining to do to she who must be obeyed about that monstrosity of a tank that suddenly appeared on the benchtop! ;)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mal link=1226983882/0#9 date=1227084974
    Quote Originally Posted by ahmadnz link=1226983882/0#5 date=1226987953
    Mal where does the Roma sit on your list? :p
    My eldest son (also a CSer) used to have a Roma.

    Hope some of this is helpful mate..... :)
    I know what you are saying about the Roma (well as much as Im able to understand!), and Ive always noticed that shots are fast on this machine. But as I said, my first (Yirga) pull with my new Mazzer SJ and fresh beans was completely FREE of any sourness. Maybe (probably) I just got lucky, but I was trying to be as "picky" as possible and really didnt expect my first shot to be that great (I was adjusting the grind based on "feel" and comparing it to a pre-grind that seemed to work ok with this machine)

  12. #12
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Hi again ahmadnz,

    Yeah, it can be tricky. I think the best you can try for with this type of machine, is to slow the shot down (finer grind, higher dose, etc) so that shots take about 30-35 seconds rather the usual 25-30.... This seems to allow the t/block to maintain a temperature throughout the shot that hovers within the 88-92C range and therefore produce sweeter tasting shots (based on measurements using the Scace technique with a similar machine, and my palate ;)).

    You still have to do all the normal things, like allowing the machine (with PF locked in lightly) to heat up properly; probably at least half an hour... Only grind immediately before loading the PF..... Leave the PF locked in to the Group until the last second prior to dosing, distributing and tamping (light tamp only when using pressurised baskets).... Lock the PF into the Group and start brewing immediately, dont allow the PF to cool down too much.... Make sure your cup(s)/glass(es) are hot so the espresso doesnt cool down too quickly.

    As you get to know the limitations of the Roma, youll be able to fine-tune your technique accordingly. One thing though, when you eventually upgrade to a better designed machine, youll be stoked at just how much easier it is to pull consistently excellent espresso, so all the hard work put in now isnt really wasted.

    Have fun mate (thats the main thing) and Happy Brewing..... :)

    Mal.

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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Hi again Mal,

    How dry is the basket supposed to be before I dose?

    I find that I spend ages drying the basket (its that OCD coming through) and I can detect it cooling as I do this.

  14. #14
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Re: Can a "cheap" machine make a GREAT espresso?

    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Quote Originally Posted by ahmadnz link=1226983882/0#12 date=1227169699
    Hi again Mal,

    How dry is the basket supposed to be before I dose?

    I find that I spend ages drying the basket (its that OCD coming through) and I can detect it cooling as I do this.
    I had a laugh.... Forgot to mention that one :-[

    I just keep a box of tissues handy mate, takes but a second or two to dry the basket out "bone dry"... 8-)

    Mal.



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