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Quality espresso on a budget, help me choose

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  • Quality espresso on a budget, help me choose

    I've been looking at getting an espresso machine + grinder, and I've cut it down to three options.

    Breville BES840 + Smart Grinder = ~$700


    Rancilio Silvia (not sure which version) + Smart Grinder = ~$740


    Breville BES870 = ~$700

    I prefer new gear, since I don't trust that people take care of their kit.

    I'm leaning toward the first option because it has PID control, which sounds really handy for consistent shots, and because a separate grinder means I can move to another machine later if required. I'm mainly going to make espresso and the odd cappuccino, but cannot justify a dual boiler (too expensive).

    What other options should I consider with a budget of around $700 for machine+grinder? Is my current decision sound?


  • #2
    Personally I don't consider the Brevilles as a long term investment. The Silvia on the other hand looks, and feels, and has proven to be good for 10+ years of home service. I think the steam capabilities of the Silvia are probably superior also.


    • #3
      does anyone know how good the PID on the BES840 is? it looks like it's a domestic PF so it'd be hard to fit a scace or similar onto it.


      • #4
        Personally i would lean toward the Silvia, but with the following advise which other may or may not agree with...

        Get the Silvia and learn how to use it without the PID, the machine is perfrectly capable of making great coffee by itself without any modifications, you just have to learn how to do it.

        When i first did my research i was using an old Breville Cafe roma, and thought it produced reasonable coffee without being great, then i got the Silvia and at first the shots were varied, but you soon get the hang of it and now can produce pretty much great shots most of the time, use fresh coffee and you should be fine. Honestly it annoys me a little when people look at getting a machine and modifying it with this or that and they have never actually used it, i dont believe it is as hard to use as some make out, same goes with advise given out that these mods are a must have, NO THEY arent, yes they may make life easier and assist in pouring better coffee but not always.

        Look at as being taught to drive an Automatic car before a manual...


        • #5
          Silvia and +1 to the above


          • #6
            PIDs are now cheap enough to be considered a trivial cost/effort mod.

            You can't accurately liken it to an auto/manual car because there are benefits to manual cars (though it'd make a good comparision for pressurised/nonpressurised baskets )

            I liken it to driving with/without a speedo/tacho and with earplugs in so you can't hear how fast the engine's spinning. Yes you can do it, but unless you expect to need to do it there's no reason to learn to do it if you don't want to for the sake of it.

            Blind temp surfing is a skill that is only necessary to make thermally unstable, simple machines work adequately. Temp is an extra variable that can make a huge difference to your shot taste/quality and speaking as a newbie who went through it for the last couple of weeks, it sucks. Waste of time, waste of coffee, no idea whether it's the grind, temp, distribution, tamp or home-roasted beans that's making your shots undrinkable without milk...

            Having an accurate temp readout makes a huge difference when you're trying to get consistent, decent shots on an unstable machine and can't be confident in your other variables. Maybe less so on the Silvia than the Classic, but people seem to readily advise installing PIDs on both so I think the comparison's valid.

            (Mark me down as someone who may not agree, I guess :P )


            • #7
              I think PID is like driving an automatic, gronking is having a tacho, and temp surfing is like having earplugs but you know that you can shift every five seconds if you floor it.

              and not doing any of the above is just randomly shifting and hoping that you don't stall.

              also, I've been having a long think about control algorithms and I don't think that it's possible to have both tight control and good intrashot stability with a thermocoil/thermoblock PID. you'd need some feedforward control at the very least.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Hildy View Post
                I think PID is like driving an automatic, gronking is having a tacho, and temp surfing is like having earplugs but you know that you can shift every five seconds if you floor it.

                and not doing any of the above is just randomly shifting and hoping that you don't stall.
                Without getting into it too deep, I agree with most of what you're saying there.

                As far as the PID-controlled thermoblock/coil it should be very effective, because the nature of a thermoblock/coil minimises mixing of heated and fresh water during the shot (as distinct from a boiler, which is subject to cooling when drawing in fresh water).

                No feed-forward necessary for intra-shot stability; and only a sufficient delay between one shot and the next for inter-shot stability.


                • #9
                  Thanks for the feedback. I take it the Smart Grinder is a good choice, since no one has questioned that?

                  I can definitely see a trend toward the Silvia here, which I kind of expected. I understand that it has a proven track record, which is great. My other concern, however, is which machine will pull the most consistent shots. At the end of the day, I want good coffee, and I don't want to be modifying my machine with enhancements down the track (such as PID etc.), nor do I want to spend months tinkering before I get a decent result.

                  Let's assume, for arguments sake, that both machines are reliable in terms of build quality. Would you still go for the Silvia?

                  Oh, and I found this video comparing the two, if anyone is interested.


                  • #10
                    I would still go for the silvia, especially knowing what I know now re: temp surfing.

                    as for the BSG, I think it's a pretty good choice if your budget is $750. I don't have a lot of insight into what a good $300ish grinder would be, as there are so many choices at this price level:
                    - BSG
                    - Preciso
                    - Iberital
                    - Isomac


                    • #11
                      With the Silvia, where's the best place to get one new?


                      • #12
                        I really would check around for used, dude. Depending on how often it's been descaled there's really nothing to be abused.

                        Heck, there was a Gaggia Classic with all the aftermarket fruit on it for $250 on here not long ago, which would've been a massive steal.

                        If you keep an eye out you might be able to get something sweet.


                        • #13
                          Used means I get no warranty though, which is a concern for me. I've found a Silvia for $499 new, is that a good price? I don't think it's the V3 model though, I'd have to go to the store to check.


                          • #14
                            That's true. I've always been more of a DIY guy myself. That said, you may find that the BES840XL is a better match for your preferences (in terms of getting consistent coffee with minimal effort).

                            My bias stems from going through kilos of coffee failing at learning to temp surf my Gaggia consistently, then fitting a PID and having my troubles vanish overnight. If you want something new, don't want to fit a PID and don't want to put in the time/effort of learning to temp surf, then the 840 may fit the bill.

                            IMO, part of the attraction of the Silvias/Classics is their serviceable/moddable nature, and the fact that you can pick up a used model cheap with the probability being that it'll be good or at least cheap and easy to bring up to scratch. If your concern is ease of use and a warranty, then the appliances aren't really that bad an option.

                            I wonder if any of your local retailers have demo models you might be able to look at or test?


                            • #15
                              The silvia is far superior to the Gaggia classic especially for steaming

                              You do not need to PID the silvia to get good coffee,just a quick cooling flush at the top of the heating cycle ( after the light goes out ) till the steam stops hissing out the group and your ready to lock and pull

                              I think to many people get scared off the silvia because of all the talk regarding needing a PID.