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Thread: Cheap Espresso Machine Tweaks

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Cheap Espresso Machine Tweaks

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    Ive written this post more as a newbie guide to buying and tuning a cheap espresso machine. *I have tried to put everything in it that I have found out. *This is NOT a review, its more like a what-to-do. *It should relate to ANY cheap machine - and if you follow the same steps I believe you could produce a really decent cup of espresso.

    What I have:
    - Sunbeam Risterro espresso machine ($100)
    - Grinder (I was recommended the Emile - I think its about $100) *I currently have a Spong & Co. that needs upgrading.
    - Thermometer - essential! *Get a digital thermometer, either the stick type ($30-35), which are good, and come with a milk jug clip. *Or get the DMM one from Jayco if you want to use it for roasting tempratures too (see thread I posted asking about thermometers)
    - Small jug or bowl to collect water.
    - Styrofoam cup
    - Cloth for wiping up stuff

    The Group Handle (where the coffee goes!)
    Otherwise known as the PortaFilter, or PF for short.

    Pack it as full as you can with coffee! *If you dont you will get water "pooling" in the handle when you finish the brew. *What you need to do first, before you even turn on the machine is to grind some coffee and tamp it in - then put the handle onto the machine but DONT run any water through it. *When you take it off you should see the outline of the shower in the coffee grinds. *You dont have to super heavy smash tamp, but dont skimp - if you can see the shower outline youre on the right track. *The "puck" should come out pretty much dryish, and should be able to be knocked out. *If you get water pooling then you need MORE COFFEE! (thats not a bad thing!)

    The grind should be fine, and when you end up making espresso it should take about 25 seconds to pull through 30ml with the single basket. *If it takes longer try grinding finer. *Consistent fine grind is a key - blade grinders wont cut it because its not consistent enough.

    Temprature Surfing
    1. Get a styrofoam cup and put the thermometer in it, or through it. *
    2. Hold it right under the shower so you can read the guage while the cup is up against the shower. *
    3. Run about 15-20 seconds of water into the cup.
    4. Check the temprature.

    If you do this just after the machine "warm up" light goes out I bet its too cold! I would get about 80-81 degrees (celcius) every time. *It needs to be 90 (+-2) to get things right.

    People have talked about not being able to get a consistent temprature every time with a cheap "steam" machine like this. *So I wanted a reference point to be able to produce a consistent 90 degrees. *I use the "warm up" light as this reference. *I have a jug handy, and if the machines been warm a while I just run about 10-15 seconds through the shower into the jug without the group on. *This turns the warm up light on. *When the warm up light goes off, thats the reference point. *I roll the steam dial round to pre-heat for steam. *I count off 10 seconds, then turn off the steam. *I then re-surf the temprature. *Im getting a consistent 90-91 degrees if I use this method. *Ill retest again each week, and see if its changed. *All you need to do is count off the amount of time it takes till you are surfing 90 (+-2), then use that count for brewing coffee.

    Water & Warm
    Make sure you use filtered water, you can buy it from the store in 10 litre containers, this is essential. *Also - make sure the machine is warm, and the cups are warm (I pre-heat them with hot water, then onto the heating pad). *Having warm bits is very important! *I also warm the group handle before I fill it with coffee by putting it on the machine while it warms up.

    The Espresso
    Now Ive done the temprature surf, I know I can get the right temprature throught the machine every time. *So I simply wait till the machine "warm up" light goes out, then go to steam mode for 10 seconds, then I give the shower a quick wipe with my trusty cloth (coz it drips a bit when it goes to steam mode). Then its on with the group and run the water through the machine! *Ive been told that if you arent running 30ml in 25 seconds, then you need to grind finer... but I cant be sure because Ive not got the grinder yet... but I assume this is true. *I am running through in about 20 seconds, so I think the grind could be a little closer to powder than I can make it. *(mine is burr, but hand grind)

    The Result
    I get espresso that is much smoother than the stovetop, and with a crema (which returns when I stir in suger). *I was so excited when I started getting things right compared to the watery coffee, pooled water puck mess I first started with! *Its very satisfying to see the brown crema swirling round in the glass! *Superb.

    The Milk
    Ive only just started this, but its great having the thermometer for this too! - just go to coffeegeek and check out the milk frothing article... man-o-man is THAT a comprehensive article! *Plus... I dont drink mine with moo-juice so I dont care that much! :P

    The Competition
    Now - compared to some picks of the "God shots" that Ive seen on the net, well... its certinly not there. *But I have only spent $130, and they have spent $1100. *So Im pretty happy. *For me its probably a "Buda shot"... hes not quite as dogmatic, but hes got a fat belly and hes smiling his head off! ;)

    I am new to espresso, but I thought I could share some knowledge for those of you who dont really want to spend big. *I have only been roasting my own coffee since christmas, but I wanted to get an espresso machine on the cheap while I save for a better one.

    Firstly I think Alan Frew from has hit the nail on the head with a few reviews he has done - and definatly its well worth reading his archived articles on *So armed with this knowledge I brought the Sunbeam... and then got extremely fustrated!!!.... Then... after calming down I got some more advice from FrenchBean on this forum. *I must say that FB really knows his stuff and I wanted to thank him again for such good posts. *I also got some excellent advice from Ken on this forum. *Ken owns this machine too, cheers Ken.

    Ive tried to keep it short, and simple... and include EVERYTHING I learned in the whole process. *So if you do decide on a cheap machine, then you can forgo some of the fustration I did.
    Cheers - Andy

  2. #2
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Warwick, QLD

    Re: Cheap Espresso Machine Tweaks

    Hi Andy,

    Great Post. Will be a boon to all newbies as you intended. A lot of Coffee Machine manuals also refer to this (Quote below) as the "PortaFilter" too or PF for short. Might be worth including this alternative common name in there as well.

    The Group Handle (where the coffee goes!)
    Wonderful inspiration for other would-be contributors without doubt. Sure are a lot of excellent people on this forum, a very positive place to be.


  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Re: Cheap Espresso Machine Tweaks

    Cheers Mal - hopefully it will help a few people for sure.

    Good point about the Portafilter. Ive updated that now too.

  4. #4
    CoffeeSnobs Owner Andy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004

    Re: Cheap Espresso Machine Tweaks

    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Great post Andy ;D
    ...good name too ;)

    Yes you can get great shots out of lower-end equipment, far better than most our local cafes can produce. Steaming milk seems to be the let down with smaller machines and I found that with the old Breville (shock horror) microwaving (more shock horror) the milk for a flat white worked a treat, it still releases the sweetness of the milk and keeps the whole cup at right temp too. Give it a try it on your visitors that aint quite up to drinking double shot espresso.

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