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  1. #1
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    Starting into coffee - Espresso? Pour Over? French Press? Grinder?

    I'm trying to increase the quality of my coffee experience.
    My budget for this year is around 600$, this means that whatever I buy this year will total that amount.
    Right now, all I have is a 20$ KitchenAid percolator, which is to say, not much.
    I doubt I can find both a decent grinder and Espresso machine setup with a 600$ budget, so what should I focus on buying this year so that I can both improve the quality of my coffee, and be able to build up on the purchase for the next year.
    I'm thinking that this year I should at the very least buy a good thermometer, grinder and scale, and that next year I can add to it a decent entry level espresso machine.
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    You are lucky because you really do have a blank slate. I have done a fair amount of research on espresso and given my limited budget I decided that the most cost effective way to get into espresso was to go with a manual lever espresso machine and a good grinder that would be solely dedicated to espresso. For this I realize that I really need a minimum of $1,000. That amount would buy me a Cafelat Robot Barista and a Niche Zero grinder. I have yet to pull the trigger on this combination for reasons that aren't really relevant here. But that's what I'm buying when feasible.

    Since your budget is $600, I would suggest not pursuing espresso but instead go for a different brew method. I might suggest french press and pour over. No reason you can't pursue both. A good quality french press is inexpensive. There are lots of good ones and a simple google search will give you some lists with the same ones coming up in each list. My own preferred french press is an older vintage model not made anymore, Bodum Bistro, which is an 8 cup coffee maker. It's made of glass, which I prefer. I like to be able to see the coffee for some reason. They can be found on ebay. I like french press because the process itself is fairly simple and the taste in the cup can be made to be full bodied with tons of flavor. Since the "filter" is a screen, the oils from the coffee grinds end up in your cup. Once you get the process down you can make some pretty darn good tasting coffee.

    Another brew method to consider is pour over. I don't have a pour over myself but I'd probably buy one of the ones that uses a permanent metal filter so some of the oils make their way into the cup. Paper filters have a tendency to prevent those oils from ending up in the cup. I may buy one myself and would go for another Bodum product, their Pour Over with permanent filter and cork band, 34 ounce/1 liter.

    But the most important purchase you will make is a grinder suitable for your chosen brew method. And if you decide to go for both french press and pour over, I'd suggest the one that I have. Baratza Virtuoso. It's a quality grinder from a company that really understands customer service. You'll find that all grinders will need service and parts replaced along the way. And when that happens you want a company that stands behind their product. Their grinders are quality and they won't break the bank. The Virtuoso runs about $250 new. The grind size is easily adjusted and it produces a fairly consistent grind. I bought it because it excels at the larger sized grinds needed for french press and it would also be suitable for pour over.

    Some other things you might consider getting are a scale so you can weigh your beans and dial in your coffee to water ratios. That will have a big impact on the coffee in your cup. Another possible purchase would be a goose neck kettle. You can go either stove top or electric. The electric ones are easier to control the temps with but the stove top ones can also come with a thermometer built in. If you like milk drinks, you may want to buy a milk frother. There are inexpensive manual ones that you plunge up and down and they look like a small french press for about $20. I have one and use it all the time. I suggest one with a metal pitcher so you can heat the milk on the stove, rather than a glass beaker. And you'd want a thermometer for the milk. The glass ones can break and you end up microwaving the milk. There are also electric ones that cost a bit more, around $100. You may also want to buy something to hold your beans in.

    So, all in with the grinder at $250, both pour over and french press at about $80 ($40 each), scale at about $20 or less, gooseneck kettle at around $50 for a stove top version, manual milk frother for $20, thermometer for about $10 and coffees storage for about $30, you would have spent less than $500. That will leave you about $100 to $150 left over with which to put towards your savings goal of another $1,000 to buy a manual espresso set up.

    The problem with going with cheaper espresso machines that you might hear about such as the Gaggia Classic Pro or the Rancilio Silvia is that they can be extremely finicky in terms of being able to draw consistently good shots. And they aren't cheap either. The Gaggia runs about $450 and the Rancilio runs about $735. Don't get me wrong. They are both good machines but it will take time and patience to dial them in. And considering your budget, even buying the Gaggia will use up most of your budget and a good espresso grinder will cost you much more than the espresso machine. Ultimately, no matter which brew method you choose, the grinder for your chosen method is the most important purchase. Because if the grinder isn't any good, even the best top of the line machine won't be able to brew a decent cup or shot of coffee with poorly ground beans.

    Lots of options for you. I'm sure others will chime in with some good suggestions. Good luck. More importantly, have fun. It's a fun hobby.
    Absurdity is the only reality - FZ

  3. #3
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    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed response! You really helped me map out a better image of what are my options. It's especially nice that like you pointed out, a pour over will give me a different quality than a French press so I'll have plenty to explore even without an espresso machine. I'm still new to all of this, but now that you gave me some direction, I really feel excited for what's ahead!
    Cheers!

  4. #4
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    Not a problem. Any of us who take the time to weigh our coffee beans and grinds and water and who set timers for the different portions of the brew process has several screws loose. So talking about our obsessions has a therapeutic impact on our existence. Don't hesitate to reach out with questions along the way. But most of all, have fun.
    Absurdity is the only reality - FZ

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by IFixJura View Post
    Well, I don't know others, but my coffee experience starts with instant coffee, $10 machine with ground coffee in a can, ..., ..., ...,
    So I believe this is the only way to appreciate good coffee. Otherwise, how could you even know/tell? The reason you hear so many postings here asking "what is the difference between..., ..."
    I'm sure we all started with instant coffee. Back in college that's pretty much all I drank, becasue I didn't know any better. And just because someone made coffee in a machine that costs $10,000 and ground the beans in a machine that cost $5,000 doesn't mean you are drinking good coffee. The person using the machinery needs to know what they are doing. Regardless, I assume we have all had coffee from many different places, brew methods, different quality beans, etc. since coffee is served pretty much everywhere. That means we are all pretty well capable of appreciating good coffee.
    Absurdity is the only reality - FZ

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by IFixJura View Post
    Well, it's the difference between the same person using a $10 machine and a $10,000 one.
    I assume "It's" was meant to be "what's"? If so, I'll just say that a knowledgeable barista with extensive experience in brewing coffee a million different ways and on a million different types of machines and equipment can brew a decent, if not good, cup of coffee from pretty much any machine while someone who limited experience brewing coffee will most likely ony be capable of brewing a pretty mediocre, if not terrible, cup of coffee using the most expensive equipment.
    Absurdity is the only reality - FZ

  7. #7
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    Regarding budget... if you're comfortable buying used there are lots of great deals to be had. Of course it's good to have a general idea of what to look for, how to replace a part here/there, general cleaning, etc. and you can be up/running for a fraction of new price. I know some like to buy new for the warranty, but I'm not one of those as most warranties can be more trouble than they're worth when I can easily fix anything as good as a 'licensed' tech and of course can source parts at fair prices and not be without a machine/grinder for more than 1 day doing it myself. Decent espresso setups aren't cheap, but don't have to cost a small fortune either. My entire setup (home built roaster included) might have cost me $1,500 and has long paid for itself. Now with home roasting my average 19 gram double is costing me around .32 each, so a very affordable habit to say the least and what I roast/extract is suited to my taste, not the swill others are cranking out for 6-8x the cost.
    I'm a legend among my own kind... you my friend are just a legend in your own mind. Later!

  8. #8
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    Espresso is probably one of the hardest to do well, and requires a little skill, but if that's the kind of coffee you're going for, you can go for it right now. The Gaggia Classic is $450. Its a great machine that can do pressurized (ideal if you don't have a good grinder), and non-pressurized. It's not going to rival a machine that costs thousands, but it is going to be better than your DeLonghi or similar that only uses pressurized baskets. The Gaggia Classic is a popular machine, so its possible to get accessories (like a naked portafilter) for it. An okay entry level grinder Baratza Encore or Capresso Infinity will get the job done. Not very precise, and you'll ultimately want to upgrade, but for starters, it can do good espresso. I had the Capresso, and it is capable of doing grinds from Turkish to French Press, which can't be said about most grinders. I used mine in the Gaggia Classic, unpressurized. It took a bit longer to dial in, since it doesn't have any precise timing function, but it is absolutely possible to use and get consistent results using a scale. the Capresso is $100, the Baratza Encore is $140. I upgraded the Capresso to a Baratza Sette 270, and it was a worthwhile upgrade for sure, but the Capresso did the job while I was waiting for a new budget, and I got my money's worth out of it. Sold it for about half what I paid for it after two years, and sold it same day as listing.
    A day without coffee is like... just kidding. I have no idea.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by IFixJura View Post
    Used equipment is good for experienced users. But for beginners, better to use new ones. Otherwise, they can't even tell if the bad taste is due to the equipment or themselves...
    I can somewhat agree, but it really depends on the user. I am the type of person that can just figure anything out by looking at it/doing it. My first machine was used, etc. and I just tweaked things until they tasted like I wanted it to be. Most go into espresso thinking there's a specific way it 'should' taste when there are SO many variables involved there is no right/wrong. I simply tell those starting out that espresso is an amplified version of the coffee used to create it... nothing more or less. What one person loves is battery acid to the next person in line.

    One thing I find hilarious and neverending is when people on forums encourage very expensive first time setups. Then the easily influenced person spends thousands on the suggested setup and chases their tail for weeks to months trying to figure things out as espresso may not be what they were expecting/hoping it would be. I highly suggest starting out on the lower tier to see if you even like the heavily involved process of espresso, different tastes, etc. Using cheaper equipment might not get fantastic results consistently, but it gives you a sense of how things work and each use will teach you something new one way or another. Then if you want to upgrade for hopefully better results then by all means go for it and maybe sell the beginner setup along the way.
    I'm a legend among my own kind... you my friend are just a legend in your own mind. Later!

  10. #10
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    This might be too late but I found myself in your exact situation a few years ago, Id highly recommend the Breville Barista Express, its an incredible bang for your buck. It comes with capable grinder and can pull some very good shots. From there you can always upgrade.

 

 

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