Hello, it's Paul here.
I start every day with a double espresso. I love the feeling of driving a powerful machine. I enjoy the "logic" of the science and the "magic" of the art ...and the feeling you get when you pour that "perfect shot" is out of this world. One of my goals is to bring this daily ritual to your own home.
My Coffee Machine Buyer's Guide provides an overview of machines, grinders and accessories. It doesn't cover everything but it does have all that you need to get started.
What about a pod machine? With just 7 grams of coffee in a pod, coffee is always thin, weak and bitter due to over-extraction. Pod's are also expensive and bad for the environment.
What about an appliance machine? These are "designed-to-fail" with proprietary parts, so when they break down you will end up back at the store for a replacement....and of course, these machines struggle to produce a decent espresso.
What about a prosumer machine? Well, if you are chasing thick, syrupy espresso, silky smooth milk, as well as a machine that will last you 20+ years you're reading the right web page right now.
Main types of prosumer machines
Single Boiler (SB) These are set to brew temperature for pulling shots, then with a flick of the switch and a short wait they are ready to steam milk. I have never recommended these in the past as traditional SB machines were tricky to use. This changed when the Lelit Victoria arrived. This one is packed with some great new tech which makes it very simple to use and very effective at delivering quality brews.
Heat Exchanger (HX) The boiler is set to steam temperature and tank water runs through a tube in the boiler to reach brew temperature on-the-run. Most HX machines come with the legendary 5kg brass E61 group with has the benefits of high thermal stability as well as gentle brew pressure build up. HX machines with E61 heads are found in many commercial machines and these are the dream of most home baristas.
Dual Boiler (DB) These have separate brew and steam boilers. Most are PID controlled which means that you can adjust boiler temperatures. For most these are overkill, but as they do allow tweaking of brew temperatures, these do have a place for the espresso aficionado.
Over many years I worked my way through dozens of machines and I know most like the back of my hand. When recommending machines I ask myself "What I would buy if my budget was x?"
- Before the Lelit Victoria arrived I wasn't a fan of SB machines. ...but now I am. This one is just so well built, designed and most importantly, clever. This is my choice out of all machines available under $2k, so it's really great value at it's price point.
- In the $2-$2.5k range another Lelit takes the prize. The Lelit Mara is a magnificent E61 HX machine packed with high end features. The very compact size is just a bonus.
- The Profitec Pro 500 is my premiere machine and it outsells all of my other machines combined. This machine has a first class reputation worldwide and the Aus Spec unit takes it up a notch with a number of factory changes. This one is my own choice for home for good reason.
Why is a quality coffee grinder important?
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 sub-$250 appliance grinders aren’t up to the task, there are many great grinders at $500-$750 and your coffee really won’t improve if you spend any more.
Main types of prosumer coffee grinders?
High End Domestic Because these are designed for home, from the ground up, these are well suited to home use.
Small Commercial These are designed for light commercial use but they are also great for home - durable, simple and reliable.
Large Commercial These are designed for high throughput cafes and they are generally overkill for home use. For home I recommend choosing either a high end domestic grinder or a small commercial grinder.
As with coffee machines, when making recommendations I ask myself "What I would buy if my budget was x?"
- I have to start with the Baratza Sette 30. This innovative unit is very solid and reliable. It's not the best looking unit but the grind speed and grind quality rivals commercial grinders.
- The Quamar Q50P is my most popular grinder. It's a great performer and it outsells all of my other grinders combined. The funnel on the front is an empty chamber designed to break up clumps and remove static from the grind. This results in low/no mess fluffy and clump-free grind. This is my choice for home and it's my recommended grinder under $1k.
- At the high end I love the Profitec Pro T64. This is the ultimate home grinder. Quiet, elegant, compact and powerful with the engineering you would expect from a grinder designed and built in Germany.
Can anyone make great coffee at home? YES, ABSOLUTELY - and many home baristas are self-taught. You can find all that you need on forums and on YouTube. Of course, a little training helps. I have run hundreds of training sessions and have no problem taking anyone from "pod novice" to home barista. My success rate is 100% - I have never had anyone leave without the ability to make a decent espresso or latte. ...and if you're local you get this training free.
What accessories do I need? Great accessories will keep your machine in great condition, and ensure that you get the most from every extraction. There are hundreds of accessories on the market. I have chosen a handful of the best and put together 4 great espresso accessory kits. I want you to have the very best, so all of my accessory kits are listed at 20% off RRP. To view them click here
Integrated v E61 group? Machines with integrated groups are ready to brew in 10 minutes whereas machines with E61 groups are Latte ready in 15 minutes and espresso ready in 25 minutes. My advice is to never sacrifice the legendary E61 group for the reason of heat up time. A power point timer to switch the machine on 30 minutes before you wake up is all that you need.
Is a PID useful on an E61 HX machine? No... opposite in fact. PID's on E61 HX machines are a marketing gimmick. Why? Firstly, brew temperature can't be accurately controlled via a PID on an E61 HX machine. Secondly, E61 HX machines are at their best when the machine's internals are optimised for a set boiler setting to get a an effective heating/cooling thermosyphon. Playing with temperature with a PID upsets the thermosyphon which ultimately upsets the thermal stability of a machine.
Lever v touch pad control? For home machines I don't believe in touch pad control. The primary reason for this is that for truly great espresso you need to extract by colour, not by time or by volume. If this sounds tricky don't be concerned at all - you just need a little home barista training. The secondary reason is that having a touch pad takes away the magic of hands-on manual operation.
Vibration v rotary pump? Vibration pumps deliver a lower flow rate and a more gentle pressure ramp up which helps with coffee extraction. Bottom line is that unless you need to plumb in a vibration pump is the best choice.
Copper boiler v stainless steel boiler? Over recent years some manufacturers have moved to SS boilers to reduce manufacturing costs. Although copper is expensive, it is clearly the best material for HX machine boilers due to it's high conductivity. Of course, SS boilers are fine for DB machines where conductivity isn't a critical factor.
What about manual lever machines? Manual lever machines give you the ability to control pressure on-the-run. 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.
Are machines difficult to maintain? No. Unlike the automatic machines and appliances, manual machines are beautifully simple to use and very easy to maintain. You can see my maintenance schedule on my training page.
Do I need an expensive grinder? No, not a lot. All grinders I sell are capable of grinding for great espresso. My advice is to start with machine selection, choose your dream machine, then match with a grinder to suit your total budget.
Thanks for visiting.
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