FAQs for the New Home Barista
After several years selling Italian coffee machines, grinders and accessories I now have a fair idea of the question in the heads of new buyers.
Please flick through my coffee and grinder FAQs below as I’m sure that many of these will help you with choosing the very best coffee Italian machine, grinder and accessories for your home.
How much do I need to spend?
How much do I need to spend? Let me change the question to "How much would I need to spend to get a setup I could honestly enjoy every single day?" The answer is just over $2.5k for a quality Italian coffee machine, grinder and accessories.
Ready for a surprise? Spending more that this won't get you better coffee. Give me a $2.5k setup and a $10k setup and you would never pick which coffee came from which setup. So, why spend more? The reason for spending more is about quality of the equipment and the experience of making coffee on great equipment. It's not about the quality of the coffee.
The upfront cost may seem high but if you to the maths you can see that there's an excellent business case for a home espresso machine. If you replace 4 coffee shop coffees per day with your own home coffees a $2.5k setup will pay itself back in just 6 months and save you an amazing $50k over 10 years. You can read all about this in my Business Case for a Coffee Machine blog.
Is commercial steam pressure important?
Full commercial steam pressure is nice to have but certainly not necessary. It's easy to make great milky coffees at home with any quality Italian espresso machine and all machines I sell are more than capable of great steaming with typical steam pressures near 1.3 Bar.
However, if steaming like a barista is important to you take a look at the Profitec Pro 600, Profitec Pro 700 and La Marzocco Linea Mini. These machines have true commercial steam pressure at 1.8 Bar along with valve control for steam pressure adjustment on-the-run.
To learn about milk steaming and latte art please take a look at my Milk Workflow.
Are Italian HX coffee machines a good choice?
Well, that depends. If you buy an HX coffee machine with either PID temperature control or with pressure stat control and Aus Spec modifications the answer is YES. However, if you buy an off-the-shelf Italian HX coffee machine with pressure stat control, set at Italian factory settings the answer is likely to be NO.
The reason for this is that Italian coffee machines are setup at the factory to run at 96-97 deg C to suit dark roast Coffee Robusta coffee beans. Because of the high brew temperature setting of this type of machine, the water in the thermosiphon (water circulation system) super-heats when the machine is sitting idle. This means that before pulling a shot you need to flush the super-heated water from the group head.
In Australia most of our beans are 100% Coffee Arabica - the fruitier and brighter coffee bean varietal. Occasionally a roaster will put in 10% Coffee Robusta to add a little body but even that's pretty rare. Our roasts are also lighter than Italian roasts. The ideal brew temperature for medium roast Coffee Arabica coffee beans is 93-94 deg C.
If you are looking for an HX coffee machine make sure that you find one that has been factory modified to get brew temperatures of 93-94 deg C. The modification isn't as simple as just reducing the boiler pressure. The theromosyphon also needs to be modified to eliminate the need for the cooling flush and to keep the brew temperature stable. These machines are referred to as Aus Spec.
Before committing to an Italian HX coffee machine ask your retailer "is the machine Aus Spec?" If the retailer doesn't know what this means then let the warning bells ring. The second question to ask is "what brew temperature is the machine set to?" Again, the retailer should know.
To get the best of both worlds choose an HX machine with PID temperature control AND a thermosyphon that has been engineered to ensure temperature stability at lower brew temperatures. With these coffee machines the PID will let you choose your preferred brew temperature. If you want a chocolatey, bitter-sweet espresso you can set the temperature up into the high 90s. If you want something bright, acidic and fruity you can set the temperature down in the low 90s. Awesome!
Are Italian coffee machines easy to use?
Yes, absolutely - It's surprisingly easy, and many home baristas are self-taught. You can find all that you need to get started on my Training Page ...and if you are a Melbourne coffee machine customer you get Free Training with me, 1 on 1.
I have run hundreds of these training sessions and have no problem taking anyone from "pod novice" to home barista. I have even trained up my 10 year old son, and he really enjoys making an espresso for his Dad and a latte for his Mum on the weekends!
How long does it take to heat up a manual coffee machine?
I'm often asked about heat up time. Traditional HX and DB Italian coffee machines have an E61 group (the Star Trek looking thingy out front). The boilers in these machines heat right up in about 5 minutes, but allow another 20 minutes for the E61 group to reach thermal equilibrium before pulling your shot.
I use a $20 power point timer to switch the machine on just before wake up. Of course, if you are in a big rush you can run heating water through the E61 group, then pull a decent shot just 10 minutes after switching on. I often do this myself.
Never give up an E61 group for the sake of saving a few minutes during heat up. The E61 is legendary for good reasons including thermal stability and gentle pressure ramp up during brewing.
Should I choose a vibration pump or a rotary pump?
Italian coffee machines come with either vibration or rotary pumps. Vibration pumps deliver a lower flow rate and a more gentle pressure ramp up so they are recommended if you are an espresso enthusiast looking for the very best in coffee extraction. However, rotary pumps are generally quieter.
Why don't these coffee machines have buttons?
For home coffee machines please avoid buttons. The primary reason for this is that for truly great espresso you need to extract by colour, not by time or by volume. This may sound tricky but don't be concerned at all - you can read about extracting by colour on my Understanding Espresso page.
A secondary reason is that buttons takes away that hands-on manual coffee machine feeling. Driving a powerful manual coffee machine is a lot of fun - like driving a V8 !!!
Are manual lever machines better than traditional machines?
Manual lever Italian coffee machines give you the ability to control pressure on-the-run. A lever coffee machine won't make a better coffee machine with an E61 group. However, with a lever machine you can get a great espresso extraction more consistently.
I'm a huge fan of the Profitec Pro 800 lever coffee machine. I had one of these in my home for year and enjoyed the lever experience and enjoyed many amazing espressos.
Are Italian coffee machines difficult to maintain?
Unlike the automatic machines and appliances, manual coffee machines are beautifully simple to use and very easy to maintain. There are just a few simple things that you need to do to keep your machine clean and healthy. To find out more take a look at my Italian coffee machine Maintenance Guide
Do I need an expensive coffee grinder?
No, not at all. The need for an expensive grinder is a myth spread by many retailers who enjoy big margins on big grinders. My base grinders are more than capable of the consistent grinding needed for great home espresso.
My advice is to start off with choosing your Italian espresso machine. Choose the right machine for you, then find a domestic coffee grinder and accessories to suit your total budget.
Do I need a stepless coffee grinder?
Although steps on appliance coffee grinders can be an issue, with compact commercial coffee grinders step's aren't a problem at all. I have come across a few people who have blamed their tools though, but after a little guidance and training to improve their Espresso Workflows I have always been able to get them back on track.
Of course, having step less adjustment is the best way to go if you are an espresso aficionado looking for the ultimate in grind particle size control and the ultimate in extraction.
What espresso accessories do I need?
Great accessories will keep your Italian coffee machine in great condition, help your Espresso Workflow and ensure that you get the most from every extraction.