Ive been a choice subscriber for many years and I enjoy the tests and reviews that you do.* However, Ive noticed a recurring problem with your espresso machine tests due to your choice of beans for testing, which bothered me enough that I felt compelled to write to you about it (I’ve never written to a magazine about anything before).* This response shouldn’t be seen as a reader “upset because their machine didn’t rate well”, as although I have used machines at every price level including some that you have tested, my current machine is outside the range tested in this comparison.
Basically, the tests are very significantly biased towards low end machines due to their use of pressurised (dual-floor) filter baskets.* As I’m certain your testers are aware (as they must be as barista trainers), it is nigh impossible to extract good tasting espresso from stale coffee beans using a traditional espresso machine.* Anyone who has ever compared fresh beans with typical supermarket-sourced coffee will know by experience that the quality of espresso extraction starts to deteriorate noticeably after the beans reach an age of 3-4 weeks after roasting.* Makers of low end machines obviously realise that typical buyers of entry-level machines will buy their beans from the supermarket (even though fresh beans bought online or from a local café or roaster are often no more expensive), so they supply the machines with pressurised baskets which slow down extraction of stale coffee and give the espresso the appearance of having crema.*
So your test results are valid in a certain limited sense – such as if fresh beans weren’t readily available, or for people who think buying coffee from anywhere other than the supermarket would be too much hassle.* In reality though, fresh coffee can be had by anyone, anywhere, with roasters delivering coffee beans to-the-door within a couple of days of being roasted if you’re not able to pick them up from the roaster yourself.* *It is undeniable that if the test was done using freshly ground fresh coffee beans, that traditional style espresso machines, using standard single-floor filter baskets, would produce better tasting espresso than machines using a double-floor basket.* *
You did mention in the review that better results can be achieved by using better quality beans.* Being quite a vague statement, the simple and likely interpretation of that comment is that better beans will improve the taste of the espresso to the same degree regardless of which machine is used.* Without any further clarification, there is no way for an uninformed reader to know that only fresh beans are quality beans,* and that good fresh beans would totally change the results of the test, moving good machines equipped with single-floor filter baskets much further up the list.* *
This is a major omission, as based on the results you’ve given, people will be led to believe that spending more on a higher level machine is a total waste of money, convincing them instead to buy a basic cheap machine.* I know because I went through this process several years ago, buying a mid-range Sunbeam machine after having been impressed by the review in your magazine, only to realise later that much better results can be achieved with a better machine, a good grinder and fresh beans.* So people (including myself) end up wasting money on low-end machines, in the false belief that the more expensive machines produce inferior coffee.* *Anyone who has used different types of machines will know this from experience, and I’m surprised that your testers didn’t make a point of mentioning this in the review, if only for the sake of protecting their credibility.
Testing machines with supermarket coffee, which were not designed for use with supermarket coffee, and then rating them as ‘ok’, ‘poor’ or ‘borderline for making coffee’ is unreasonable in my opinion.* I would urge you to include some more balanced results, using fresh coffee, in future tests so that your readers are aware that although espresso quality isn’t determined by the price of the machine, spending more on the machine *can* yield superior results as long as they’re prepared to source suitable beans.*