Over the years I have worked my way through numerous machines, grinders and manual brewers. My espresso machine pathway was Pods - Sunbeam - Silvia – PID’ed Sliva - ECM Giotto - Rocket Evo - Rocket R58 - ECM Controvento – Profitec Pro 800 - Profitec Pro 500 ...and yes, that is a little crazy.
Although espresso isn't the only way to make great coffee, it is a truly magnificent way. I love the feeling of "driving" a powerful espresso machine. I enjoy the "logic" of the science and love the "magic" of the art ...and the feeling you get when you pull that "god shot" is out of this world.
My Buyer's Guide focuses on espresso machines, grinders and accessories that will get you to that perfect ristretto, espresso or latte. It doesn't cover everything, but it will give you the confidence you need to get started.
Before I move onto espresso, here are a few words about coffee beans. Without quality beans you simply can't make great coffee. Beans must be high quality and they must be fresh. As beans age, oils seep to the surface where they oxidise, so beans are generally best consumed before they turn 21.
The biggest jump I made on my own coffee journey was home roasting. Home roasting turned a small hobby into a life passion. If you are interested in roasting your own beans see the Behmor roaster.
Don't be scared off by the need for training. I run training sessions and these are free with any machine purchase. I have run the sessions more than 100 times and turned many "pod novices" into home Baristas. My success rate is 100% - I have never had anyone leave my training without the ability to make a decent coffee. Of course, many home baristas are self-taught. You can find all that you need on forums and on YouTube.
You might be considering a number of approaches to coffee at home, including wondering if a pod machine or an appliance machine might do the job. Firstly, consider pods. Pods are expensive, bad for the environment and with 7 grams of coffee in a pod, coffee is always weak and bitter due to over-extraction.
Next consider appliance machines. These all have proprietary parts so when they break down repair costs are high. You'll end up back at the appliance store for a replacement. This is the cycle that manufactures plan for – known as “planned obsolescence.” But what about appliance machines that does it all at the push of a button? These machines can never produce a quality coffee and they also come with the "planned obsolescence" business model.
If you want truly great coffee as well as a machine that will last you 15+ years, go for a true a prosumer machine. Prosumer machine categories are listed below.
Single boiler (SB)
SB machines are a great starter as they are cheap, simple and durable. They suit dedicated espresso and black coffee drinkers, but steaming milk is a little painful so I don't recommend them for latte drinkers or entertainers.
Heat exchanger (HX)
The boiler of an HX machine is brought to steaming temperature, and a tube runs through the boiler to heat tank brew water to brew temperature on demand. Most HX machines come with the legendary 5kg brass e61 group (the Star Trek looking thingy on the front). This group is now the industry standard for prosumer machines. Benefits of this group are high thermally stability as well as gentle pressure build up.
With HX machines there are vibration and rotary pump options. Rotary pumps are quieter but vibration pumps deliver a more gentle pressure build up, so I recommend a machine with a quiet vibration pump for best performance. I also recommend brass boilers for HX machines for quick recovery time between shots.
A quality HX machine is the dream of most home baristas and 90% of sales are in this category.
Dual boiler (DB)
A DB machine has separate steam and brew boilers. These are usually PID controlled which means that you can quickly adjust boiler temperatures. For Latte drinkers these are overkill and most espresso drinkers (including me) are happy with a quality HX machine. However, DBs do have a place for the espresso aficionado who enjoys playing with brew temperatures.
Pressure Profiling (PP)
A PP machine give the user control over extraction pressure. The most common machine in the category is the manual lever. The advantage of a lever is the ability to control pressure on-the-run. This means that you can slow down extraction by holding back the lever if you grind too coarse or speed up extraction by pushing the lever if you grind too fine. A lever machine won't make a better coffee than a quality E61 machine. However, with a lever machine you can get a great extraction more consistently.
With prosumer machines the extraction speed is determined by back pressure from the coffee puck. Adjustment of the coffee particle size is the “lever” used to control the back pressure. It follows that a grinder with consistent particle size from shot to shot is essential. If you’re a newbie don’t let the tech talk freak you out. If you’re not a newbie you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The good news is that you don't have to spend an obscene amount of money to get at great grinder. Although most appliance grinders aren’t up to the task, all commercial grinders are. You can make amazing coffee with an $500 small commercial grinder and your coffee really won’t improve if you spend more. More good news is re-sale value. Re-sale value if high because commercial grinders are simple, timeless and last a lifetime. Grinder categories are detailed below.
These are planar burr grinders designed for light commercial use and they are the most popular choice for the home. Durable, simple, timeless with great performance.
High end domestic
These are designed for home from the ground up. They are usually a little more compact than small commercial grinders and many are great for espresso machine to grinder brand matching.
These are designed for high throughput cafes and there are planar and conical burr options. The particle size distribution produced by a conical burr grinder is larger than that of a planar burr grinder, resulting in a more complex and brighter espresso. I prefer the more rounded notes of a planar burr grinder.
Espresso is not all about machines and grinders. Great accessories will help your espresso workflow, keep your machine in great condition, and ensure that you get the most from every extraction. There are many hundreds of accessories on the market. I have chosen a handful of the very best accessories. To view them click here.
Why K Bean?
All of my stock is sourced from Australian distributors and backed by a service network. I offer free shipping and if you're local you get the benefit of free training with any machine. I am proud of K Bean and I love what I do. This means that you can expect a buying experience that is second to none. Please read through some of my 60+ Google reviews. Finally, I am a forum veteran and a sponsor of both Coffee Snobs and The Coffee Forum.
Thanks for reading my Buyer's Guide.
Cheers, Paul :)