Post By Ronin
Young beginner Espresso makers
As a young coffee enthusiast, I wanted to hear a bit about how other people stretch their money and make cheaper equipment work.
Improve your technique.
Sounds simple, but the human factor is the most inconsistent in coffee IMOP.
Even budget machines can do a reasonable job if you know what's going on.
Welcome to the forum.
That's a very open question. There are so many answers, I'm a bit surprised you have not had more replies. Perhaps because it is way too wide open and that is what is putting people off. My reaction is that I just don't know where to start (or finish).
Perhaps if you were to tell us something about your current level of coffee equipment and experience, and whether you are handy with tools, or have any electrical know-how, we might be better able to give you some useful advice.
Welcome. I think part of the answer really depends on what sort of coffee you're making. If you're predominantly making a small number of black coffees (so multiple shots and milk steaming are not relevant) then you can really make your money work in terms of machine. A relatively cheap lever or single boiler dual usage pump machine will work well for you. The one area that is hard to skimp on is the grinder. When I first upgraded my grinder it made an enormous difference even though I continued to use the same (cheap) pump machine. I agree with Ronin that barista skills are of primary importance. Dose, distribution, tamp are key and also take time to develop. I also think that home roasting will take you further. This is especially the case when you have more time than money. You can set yourself up with a popper or corretto and not spend an arm and a leg and develop strong knowledge about the different characteristics of coffee from different regions, different varietals and the varying types of processing.
I have experience making lattes and whatnot with a drip machine and a mason jar for foam. I have a good knowledge as far as making things and electronics. What I'm really wondering is how much you can improve an under $100 machine, or if it's better to save for one in the 2-3 hundred range.
In response to kwantfm , I've been researching and the steam and multiple shots are necessary to what I want to be able to make.
First, IMO you are better using a $100 machine and a $300 grinder than vice versa. Being able to 'dial-in' the right grind will be of much greater benefit and being able to adjust 0.1º temps for the group head. (I have no idea if there ARE any machines out there that can adjust that finely, just an example... )
Learn all you can about the process; some of the site sponsors offer training or you can find others in your area. Come back here and ask about them though - there can be some that don't give a lot of detail on the basics and mainly teach how to do pretty pictures on top.
If you are doing multiple shots regularly, or if you're looking to move into barista work, IMO you are better to get yourself a system with steam and water as separate systems. While many of the members are content to perform obeisance rituals to the caffeine gods to get their coffees, doing so after every coffee when you have numerous ones to provide will quickly get you blood pressure rising.
With my machines I have poured 9 coffees one after another with no discernible difference in quality. (I didn't drink them all, but they poured alike and had good crema from #1 through to #9)
Single boiler machines have the issue that when you make steam you need a different temp than when you make espresso. Making either changes the pressure and temp in the boiler. I could be corrected here but I also think that single boiler machines don't make coffee and milk simultaneously.
The twin boiler machines are expensive. I have a Sunbeam EM6910 twin thermoblock I picked up, with a Sunbeam EM0480 grinder (waiting for the groans ) for $350. With some trials and tribulations (see http://coffeesnobs.com.au/brewing-eq...w-machine.html for details) I am producing coffee at a level better than most cafés I have paid good money to.
And the trials taught me a lot so don't be put off by having to work your way through issues.
Get a naked PF. The lessons you can learn from watching how your coffee pours through the bottom of the filter will be very useful. The only time I use spouts now is when friends are around and I'm pouring more than 2 coffees.
Upgrade your filters - there are Precision filters available that some members swear by and there are VST ones that I think are the best invention ever. The VST's are more expensive but my coffee made an immediate improvement in depth of taste when I got them. I haven't used the Precision ones so can't comment on them.
Go get some cheap beans from Coles or similar and practice making coffees. Never mind the taste so much, you will be learning your machine and how to get a decent looking shot while not wasting quality beans. I managed to get quite drinkable coffees for friends who are happy drinking Nescafé instant from Vittoria beans from Coles. Nothing like what I can get from fresh roasted from our local roaster, but probably better than 70% of the café coffees I have had over the years.
Work on getting your process consistent. If your dose and tamp are the same every time it is much easier to work out the grind for a particular bean. There are more tamping techniques than fill, level and heavy tamp - find which one you like. I use a progressive tamp for mine. I found it much easier to be consistent when i am using about 3kg of pressure than when I am pressuring at 15kg.
Gaggia classic, second hand, cheap Chinese pid, hario hand grinder until you can afford a smart grinder or better.
+1 for this, but see also my post in thread below for a slightly cheaper & simpler alternative to the PID :-
Originally Posted by Dragunov21
BTW the small hand grinder in the corner of the first pic is a Hario Skerton.
At the end of the day a sub $100 machine, regardless what you do with it, will have little to no temp stability and make repeated consistent shots difficult to produce.
Originally Posted by nerdyone12
The more shots you make in a row the more the temp will drop, increasing the sourness in the shot. As a general rule, the hotter the machine the more bitter/burnt flavors will be produced, the cooler (not hipster cooler tho) the machine produces more sour shots. Either to an extent can be better through a large milk drink tho depending on flavor preferences.
Not really sure if a machine in the $200 - $300 range will be much better really. I think the only difference in these price ranges would be the fit and finish of the machine.
Also any in this price range would be unable to make espresso and milk at the same time.