Over the years I worked my way through numerous espresso machines, grinders and manual brewers. My home espresso machine pathway was Pods - Sunbeam - Silvia – self-PID’ed Sliva - ECM Giotto - Rocket Giotto Evo - Rocket R58 - ECM Controvento – Profitec Pro 800. ....and yes, that is an insane number of machines.
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.
Don't be scared off by the need for training. I run 2 hour 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 espresso or latte.
Of course, many home baristas are self-taught. You can find all that you need on forums and on YouTube.
Introduction to espresso machines
You might be considering a number of approaches to coffee at home, including wondering if a pod machine or appliance machine might do the job. Trust me, neither of these are good options. You will be better off with a hand grinder and a plunger.
Firstly, consider pods. The worst part about pods is that with 7 grams of coffee in a pod, coffee is always weak and bitter due to over-extraction. Pods may seem attractive because the machine cost is low. However, coffee in pods can cost you over $100/kg ...and then there's the environmental cost to consider.
Espresso appliances are a slightly better proposition but look a little closer. You’re stuck with proprietary parts and electronics so when it breaks down, repair costs are so high that you'll probably head off to the tip, then go back to the store for a replacement. This is the cycle that appliance manufactures rely upon and plan for – known as “planned obsolescence.”
But what about appliance machines that make an espresso at the push of a button? Firstly, these machines can never produce a quality coffee. Secondly, a $3000 push-button appliance with all the bells and whistles also comes with the "planned obsolescence" business model. In fact, these machines are even more complex than manual appliance machines so expect even more breakdowns.
I have to finish off with resale value. The resale value of a 5 year old appliance machine, if still working, would be close to zero whereas a 5 year old prosumer machines can retain as much as 75% its’ value.
I do not cover appliances in my guide.
Single boiler (SB)
All machines I sell will produce excellent espresso and SB machines are no exception. They suit dedicated espresso and black coffee drinkers, but I don't recommend them for milky coffee drinkers, and they are a nightmare for entertainers. SB machines are very simple internally and if looked after, they will last a very long time with very low maintenance costs.
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 a brass/copper boiler for an HX machine for the best in thermal stability.
A quality HX machine is the dream of most and 90% of sales are in this category.
Dual boiler (DB) | Pressure profiling (PP)
For most a DB or PP machine is overkill. You just don't need to go this far for a great coffee. However, these do have a place for experienced espresso aficionado. To be an aficionado you need to tick off 3 of these 4 criteria:
- You have at least 5 types of coffee brewers.
- Your last thought at night is - How will I have my coffee tomorrow morning?
- You can pick the difference between an Ethiopian and a Kenyan coffee.
- You polish your coffee machine more often that you polish your car.
Introduction to grinders
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.
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 and are great for espresso machine to grinder brand matching. However, small commercial grinders are always better value.
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 - the accessories that I use every day.
Machines come with a range of basic accessories. My recommendation is to add the very best accessories that money can buy and to make this less of a financial hit I have put together a Platinum Package.
Deciphering online information
When it comes to "Buyer's Guides" and recommendations there's no magic formula. A good retailer will find out about your needs and wants, then draw upon their knowledge to give recommendations. Although there are a few who drive you towards their high margin products, most retailers are honest and driven by passion for coffee.
Online there's a mix commercial interests and hobbyists. Although most commercial interests are transparent, you need to understand that some work from the shadows, pushing negativity and misinformation. The more you read, the better you will get at reading between the lines. The good news is that the online community is absolutely dominated by passionate hobbyists. Tap into that community and become a part of it. When things are healthy, different opinions are welcomed and constructively debated with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
6 steps to your gear
- Read my "Buyer's Guide" - tick!
- Click around my website and a few others - create a short list.
- Search the web for reviews for gear on your short list.
- Decide who you want to buy from. Customer reviews are a great place to start.
- At the pointy end, pick up the phone or visit a showroom to see, touch and play with some gear.
- Buy the gear.
Of course, the best way to buy is to buy a package.
Why K Bean?
All of my stock is supplied by Australian distributors, and all of my machines are bench tested before shipping. Machines are backed by an Australia-wide service network and I have a 30 day "change of mind" returns policy.
I have heavily discounted all espresso machines and grinders. If you do find a better deal anywhere, please let me know as I have a price match and service beat guarantee. I also offer free shipping Australia wide and if you are local you get the benefit of free training with any machine purchase.
I am proud of K Bean and I truly 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 - every one of them is 5 stars!
Thanks for reading my Buyer's Guide.