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Help with choosing a machine. Research is just making it more confusing.

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  • Help with choosing a machine. Research is just making it more confusing.

    Hi everyone,

    I have no experience with making espresso at home and have been wanting to purchase a machine + grinder. Currently, I have a (shudder) blade grinder that I use with my french press and am not really happy with it. However, after my research, I believe this unhappiness is because of my grinder. However, I still would like to start making espresso at home. Originally, I was thinking about purchasing a nespress machine, but during my research for it, I decided I would prefer a true espresso machine with grinder for quality and I would say price, but it would take many shots before I would even start to see an equivalency in comparison (and that is assuming I dont upgrade either unit-grinder or brewer- before hitting this threshold where the savings begins)

    Back to topic. I am looking for a grinder + espresso machine for less than $500 if possible (refurb units are welcomed). I understand that they will not be the best, but I figure that after a few years of use, I will become better, see the inefficiences and understand my reasoning for upgrading to a better unit, if needed. I have learned from my research that it is best to have a good grinder in play and I was wanting to put most of my budget toward the grinder and purchase a cheaper espresso machine that will still pull adequate shots until I am more experienced. I will give you a few options I was thinking about below and then have a few more questions. If needed, I dont mind waiting a bit to extend my budget by a few hundred if it will be for a product that is noticeably better (construction, shot flavor, etc...)

    1) Le'Lit combo; true it is actually 700, but would it be something that the average consumer would enjoy for many years, or do most people purchase it and within a year or two decide that it not good enough? I am a little worried about this setup though because it appears the number of places to purchase these units (in the United States at least) is limited.
    2) Rancilio Rocky + refurb Saeco aroma or via venetia (with intention of keeping the rocky and upgrading the brewer in a few years)
    3) any other suggestions

    Questions that I havent really found a good answer to during my research (possibly because the answers are more subjective)
    1) As a newbie, would I need to purchase a unit with a pressurized PF or is it best to just go with the original style PF's and skip the pressurized ones? I do understand that the cheaper units pretty much always have the pressurized PF's, but thought that there may be one in my budget that I am unaware of?
    2) During my research, it seems that on almost every forum or blog, it is almost always noted that even the slightly more expensive machines (referring to $500-1000) just dont pull off good shots. Is this because most of these bloggers are extreme fanatics or can you really taste that much of a difference?
    3) I am worried about purchasing an expensive grinder like the Rocky and then finding out that it will just not cut it in the future when I purchase an $800-1000 espresso machine. Therefore, would it be better if I purchased a cheaper grinder to go with an entry level espresso machine and upgrade both in the future. This doesnt seem like a good idea to me, but if the Rocky will eventually get upgraded, it may be best to go ahead and bypass it as soon as possible (and use a cheaper alternative in the mean time).
    4) Manual/lever machines. I was interested in one of these, but after reading some how to articles, the do seem a little daunting with their steep learning curve, but I was wondering if it is really as hard as it sounds to pull off a good shot. It is also kind of odd that the cheapest units I could find are still much more than the entry to mid level semi-auto brewers. Am I just looking in all the wrong places, or are these manual machines really 800+. If there is a cheaper one, would it be recommended to a newb or are these something that people generally grow in to?

    Sorry for such a long post and thank you for your time

  • #2
    Have you looked on your local classifies? A recent forum member managed to pick up 2 single boiler machine and a good grinder within his budget of $500.

    I think from my recent learning experience, I can tell with my newbie taste the difference a bad grinder to a good grinder. I have a Silvia which in all reviews say is a good machine. But it had produce the most disgusting coffee I ever drank (worst than international roast instant coffee). After many upgrades now I'm using a good grinder it makes it so much easier to pull a good shot.

    So, spend your money on a good grinder.


    • #3
      My first "real" machine was a nemox combi (like a lelit), with fresh decent beans (essential) and good technique it produces excellent coffee. I have upgraded since (I am a tinkerer) but still use this machine at work with great results. Many say a good grinder is worth the $$, and with a combi you are sort of stuck with upgrading the grinder in the future, although you can, just leave the built in one alone, but you can resell the built in one obviously. The beauty of the combi is that its all in the one compact unit, great for travel etc. horses for courses.

      Lots of people are happy with the Compak K3 grinders, they looks like great value for what you get. I now have a Breville smart grinder, and am happy with its functionality and cleanliness, as well as its performance, but have not compared it to a "proper" grinder to see what I am potentially missing out on taste wise.

      Dont use pressurised baskets, use normal ones with freshly ground freshly roasted beans and you will make great coffee, even on a low end machine.

      Do some searching on this site, there is heaps of great info to digest.

      Also keep a lookout on the for sale section, lots of great deals pop up regularly.



      • #4
        Welcome to the CS forum! There's lots of info here although sometimes it takes a while to wade through it all to find your answer.

        I think the most important thing to be aware of is that no matter the coffee machine, its always possible to create an undrinkable brew if you don't take the time to learn how to use your particular equipment properly. As you've worked out, the grinder is an important part of the equation too.

        It seems that the Breville Smart Grinder is the budget favorite here these days at around $200-$240 or the Compak K3P at around $400 if your willing to spend extra. The Compak is a better value more robust machine than the Rocky in my opinion and will definetly be good enough for a future coffee machine upgrade. The Sunbeam EM0480 used to be considered the minimum suitable for espresso but can require frequent cleaning and is not the same build quality as the Breville. It will do the job for a while but won't be as durable and probably has slightly poorer grind quality than the Breville.

        The coffee machines fall into 2 main categories - thermoblock/thermocoil or boiler machines. Sunbeams, most Brevilles etc fall into the first group and alot of people start here. The higher end models such as the Sunbeam EM6910 or the newer EM7000 and the Breville BES840 and above can produce very good coffee but service life can be an issue according to some reports. Pressurised filter baskets that come with these machines are meant to produce fake crema from stale supermarket beans so that the brew looks a bit more like the real deal but do nothing for the taste. Using a single wall unpressurised filter basket with fresh roasted beans will produce the best coffee once you get the technique right and this goes for any machine.

        The choices in boiler machines at the lower end of the price range are mostly the Saeco Via Venezia, Gaggia Classic or Rancilio Silvia. Each has its pros and cons. The Saeco and Gaggia can be had at a good price 2nd hand but need to be checked thorougly to ensure you're not being sold a pup. The Silvia will cost more but the same applies if buying 2nd hand. The main thing with a boiler machine is that the water in the boiler needs to be kept topped up especially when heating to steam. Many people have learnt an expensive lesson in that boiler heating elements can burn out if you don't keep boilers primed. If you understand this and learn to prime your boiler they can produce very high quality brews and offer a good service life. Spare parts are available and they are generally easier to fix though not neccesarily cheaper if you pay someone to do it.

        Buying a Combo machine means if you upgrade your coffee machine at any time, you'll need a new grinder too. I think generally the grinders in combo machines aren't considered to grind as well as a stand alone like the Comapk K3P.

        Look these up on the forum after deciding what you are really willing to spend. Once you do buy a set-up take the time to search the forum on getting your preparation right and fine tuning your brew.


        • #5
          Have you seen this combo for sale, great deal:



          • #6
            I recommend buying a really good grinder that will handle all your future upgrades plus an Aeropress.
            You already use a french press so your improvements will be a more consistent grind and cleaner coffee.
            My wife is a long black drinker and prefers the above setup for coffees rather than me running an espresso shot from my not cheap machine.

            If however you prefer espresso to french press, then go with the recommendations above.


            • #7
              Thanks for the input everyone. I made and error in my lelit option above and am going to clarify. I was thinking about getting the lelit pl53 and the pl041qe. I didn't mean that I was going to get a machine that housed both. I had considered it, but realized that if I upgraded one, I would have to upgrade the other as well. In addition that I believe it is just to many parts that could fail in one machine (maybe I just prefer multiple "simple" machines).

              The deal above with the rocky/Silvia combo sounds like an amazing deal, but I live in the United States and think the shipping would be outrageous. When I originally signed up, I didn't realize this site is based in AU, so I think I may just stick with the great info on here and try and purchase something closer to home.

              The only downfall to the lelit pl53 grinder above is that it is stepless. I realize that this is actually a good thing for espresso only, but I was hoping to use it as dual purpose for my French press too, but if it is compatible to the more expensive grinders, I think I can make an exception.

              I am starting to think it may be best to get the VV with the either the rocky or the compak k3 if I can swing it. My issue with the k3 is that I will also have to purchase a non pressurized PF. Is there an entry level machine out there that does not come with a pressurized PF (I haven't seen one yet)

              another option I am considering is to place my entire budget to a grinder and use it with my French press as stated in an above reply and continue saving for an espresso machine. Would this be a good idea? Or I could go with the higher end grinder and the delonghi ec155 and expect to upgrade in the near future.

              Any thoughts?


              • #8
                You can often take the black plastic pressure bit out of the pressurised PF and then you just need a new basket. If you look at the baskets that come with the pressurised PFs and you will see they only have one or two holes in them, no good with fresh coffee.

                In regards to your grinder, if you put a couple of stickers on your grinder to mark filter and espresso you will be able to swap between the two grinds fairly successfully, although if it were me I would just stick with the espresso grind and not drink filter.


                • #9
                  Apeture82 - I started off modestly with a Via Venezia and then a Smart grinder. I was doing OK espressos and acceptable milk coffees, but not great. However, it satisfied my needs at the time. Doing the mod to make it a non-pressurised basket helped a bit too. However, I soon knew I wanted better coffee and I was learning about the limitations of my setup. I then got some shims and adjusted the grind on my SmartGrinder. But I had hit the ceiling. So recently I purchased a Breville DB and I am enjoying the lift in quality. But the limitation is now in what I know and do in terms of controlling the machine, so I am on another steep learning curve. In time I am sure I will learn to get he best out of my machine and my beans. But I am sure it won't be too long before I feel the need for some proper training, and a better grinder. And maybe a roaster and fresh beans. And so it goes on.

                  Choose what you think will best suit your needs, be happy with it, practice and learn as you go, and experiment with different approaches to using the machine. It will be a great journey and best of all, you get to drink the results.

                  Enjoy the ride!