Non-connoisseur who can't make up his mind (new espresso machine)


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Jun 24, 2020
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Hello all,

Just registered here and with a mission. I have had Nespresso machines for many-a-year and for my less-than-refined taste buds it's been just fine. But over the last year or so I've found myself yearning for something a little better and, with my current machine being pretty aged now, have started to research "proper" espresso machines (I understand that "proper" is subjective).

As I suggest in the subject line, I am NOT a connoisseur of fine coffee, so don't want to overstate this. But I do like a nice, rich shot and have become so used to various types of Nespresso pods that they are all much of a muchness now.

As background, I don't drink too much coffee - a single shot in the morning and perhaps a cappuccino at lunch time. But since I work from home, that's pretty standard each day of the week, so probably approaching 60 - 70 uses per month. I am pretty much the only user. So the number of coffees is not a factor here - my enjoyment of them, including the making of said coffee, IS a factor.

That said, I appreciate the good things in life, so don't mind spending a little more on a unit here. I am thinking in terms of a budget of around $1,000. And, yes, I am aware I can easily spend a LOT more than that It's a fair amount, though, relative to my $200-$300 Nespresso machines.

Here are some things that are important to me (in no particular order and at least right now), with some references to machines that caught my attention, in a good or bad way, to each of these:

  • Integrated grinder. I've had separate grinders in the past and would like to avoid that with my next purchase.
  • Avoid tamping. I don't necessarily want to be tamping, but will if I find a great machine. I can see myself enjoying the "process of making an espresso" but tamping seems like it's easily avoided in many machines (they take care of this). The Breville Barista seems a BIT more hassle than I would like, but open to this if I get the sense that it's an excellent option in general.
  • Great taste. This is obviously very subjective, but I was looking at the Philips 3200 with LattaGo but saw some comments around indicating that the espresso produced was "watery" (I understand that this could depend heavily on the settings chosen, of course, so not sure if that is anything that can be assigned as a general comment to that machine). Not really sure how to assess this part without physically trying each machine.
  • Milk frother. I was looking super-automatics, but now rethinking this. I want milk prep to be pretty easy and simple and prefer not to mess with separate jugs, etc. I am going back and forth on this one though since it's not a decisive factor.
  • Repairs. If something has to be replaced so be it be it, but I read - for example - that it can be a pain with Gaggia, since they have one location for repairs in New York (I am north of Seattle) and they are not particularly customer friendly in terms of cost to repair. Again, no idea if that is true but would imagine that other manufacturers might make this a little more streamlined.
  • Ease of use and cleanup. I've read a few comments that the Breville Touch, Barista, etc, for example, can be pretty messy when arranging / smoothing the ground coffee. Not a massive factor, but something I'd like to minimize as a factor if possible.

Yes, I am waffling here! But also using this to collect and arrange my thoughts - and, of course, ask for opinions.

Thank you.
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First off - regarding built-in grinders... grinders are the chef knife in the coffee world. You have to get up in price in order for them to be of great quality and last long. I run a Mazzer Mini at home... at the time I purchased 15 years ago it was one of the few 'inexpensive' grinders for espresso. But the fact I'm still using it should tell you how long your investment will last if you buy quality. You can now find a good grinder between say $4-600. So decision #1 - built-in or not - that will dictate really the direction you go. If you require built-in then your limited to the Breville's around the $7-1000 mark. I know there a LOT of those units out in the world and people seem to be generally happy with them. Tamping - its a piece of cake really... but when you go to manual espresso extraction you control the variables - good and bad. I personally think this is a non-issue. Again - if this is a deal-breaker you have the Breville's and then you move up into the Super Espresso by Jura, etc. All great, but you will never have the true artisan espresso with a semi-automatic. (opinions vary). A good semi-auto espresso would start around $700 for a Silvia and go up to $1600-1800 for a HX machine (much better steaming). With all that said.. under $1000 your options are fairly limited to the Breville's. To get a good semi-auto setup your looking at $1200-$1800
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With all that said.. under $1000 your options are fairly limited to the Breville's. To get a good semi-auto setup your looking at $1200-$1800
Thank you. I really appreciate the response. I would like to check on one aspect of your comment. Is your last comment based on opinions/experience with Breville's being the only one I should really consider in that price range? I ask because I have seen quite a few other manufacturers that seem to have options in that price range, so wondering if your comment is more just a statement that Breville is the only one worth considering in this price, even though others exist.

Thank you again.
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Tamping - its a piece of cake really... but when you go to manual espresso extraction you control the variables - good and bad. I personally think this is a non-issue.
No disagreement there. I can't say that it is a pain to tamp but, for my middle-of-the-road quality needs, I am somewhat attracted to at least some of the process being "push button simple". My perhaps simplistic thinking here is that if I have some control over the grind, water used and so on then I can get what I want.

I would assume/guess that my taste buds don't have what it takes to be able to tell that perfectly ground coffee came from a separate grinder - so if I can avoid a little extra work and a bit more mess, them I'm all in! But, as I say, open to thoughts on all this.
I'm unaware of a lot of choices with the built in grinder function... certainly a bunch without. I don't stay super informed about consumer models (there are others on this board that are).. but it seems like Breville seems to be the most popular within the 'espresso enthusiast' market. When looking at non combo models the key driver in price point is the boiler. You have single boiler machines that have one boiler for both espresso extraction and steaming. You then move up into an HX machine which is a bit of a hybrid. Hybrids have a LOT more steam power but jump in price.
Good advice here. Not sure what espresso machine you are thinking of but with your budget, I'd say you should probably consider a Baratza Vario. I think they run about $500 but from what I've read they are probably the cheapest quality grinder for espresso you can find. Then spend the rest of your budget on the espresso machine. With about $500 left over you could do nicely with a manual lever machine like the Cafelat Robot. Or you could go for something like a Gaggia Classic.