Are Italian HX coffee machines a good choice?
Well, that depends. If you buy an Italian HX coffee machine that is referred to as Aus Spec the answer is YES. However, if you buy an off-the-shelf Italian HX coffee machine with 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 Robusta coffee beans. Ever wondered why Italian coffee tastes bitter and a little burnt? Now you know. Its a combination of Robusta beans and high Italian coffee machine brew temperature.
In Australia most of our beans are 100% Arabica - the more expense, fruitier and brighter coffee bean varietal. Occasionally a roaster will put in 10% Robusta to add a little body but even that's pretty rare over here. Our roasts are also lighter than Italian roasts. The ideal brew temperature for medium roast Arabica coffee beans is 93-94 deg C.
Some astute Australian importers get factory modifications to boiler pressures and to thermosyphon (water circulation) systems to reduce brew temperatures to 93-94 deg C. 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.
Choose wisely, and good luck :)
Can anyone make great coffee at home with an Italian coffee machine?
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!
To find out how you can make great coffee at home with an Italian coffee machine please visit my Understanding Espresso guide.
How much so I need to spend to get great coffee at home?
You may be surprised on my thoughts on this one. Don't be. I'm really not here to drain your wallet :)
With a $500 appliance machine and a decent grinder a skilled home barista can get a reasonable coffee. Not great, but reasonable. With a move up to $1k you can get a SB Italian coffee machine which can be steered to produce a very decent espresso. Decent, but not exceptional. The main reason for this is that most SB machines have mediocre thermal stability at best as well as small baskets, fitting only 14g of coffee, not the 22g I need to squeeze out a sublime thick, syrupy espresso shot. Milk is another story. All SB coffee machines have poor steaming power.
Now, let me change the question to: How much would I need to spend to get a setup I could happily live with?
The answer is just over $2.5k for a base HX coffee machine with a Baratza Sette 30 coffee grinder.
NOW HERE'S THE SURPRISE - Spending more that this won't get you better coffee. With the $2.5k setup above I can say, hand on heart, that spending more will have only minor effects on coffee quality. Give me the $2.5k setup and a $10k setup and I'm sure that in a blind test you could 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. Think about cars. The $2.5k setup can be likened to a Ford Falcon. You don't need anything more than a Falcon but for some people it's the BMW that they want to drive.
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.
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 head to 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.
I suggest picking up a $20 power point timer to switch the machine on just before wake up. That's all you need.
Should I choose a vibration pump or a rotary pump?
Vibration pumps deliver a lower flow rate and a more gentle pressure ramp up so they are recommended if you are looking for the very best coffee extraction. However, rotary pumps are quieter. For the best of both worlds look at the Profitec Pro 500 coffee machine which offers vibration pump performance without the "vibe rattle."
Of course, if you want to plumb your machine in you will need a coffee machine with a rotary pump.
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 Training Page.
A secondary reason is that buttons takes away that hands-on manual coffee machine feeling. Driving a powerful manual Italian 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 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.
I'm a huge fan of the Profitec Pro 800 Italian lever coffee machine and had one in my home in what was a very happy year.
Are Italian coffee machines difficult to maintain?
Unlike the automatic machines and appliances, manual machines are beautifully simple to use and very easy to maintain. There are just a few simple things you need to do.
You can see my maintenance recommendations and schedule on my Training Page
Do I need an expensive coffee grinder?
Not at all. The need for an expensive grinder is a myth spread by some retailers.
Even the base Baratza Sette 30 (at under $400) is more than capable of the consistent grinding needed for great espresso. My advice is to start with machine selection, choose your dream machine, then find a grinder to suit your total budget.
Do I need a stepless coffee grinder?
Although steps on appliance coffee grinders can be an issue, with commercial quality grinders step's aren't a problem at all. I have never come across a commercial grinder with steps that cause problems with control of extraction so as far as I'm concerned it's a non-issue.
I ran two Quamar Q50Ps at my home for a long time and pulled brilliant shots, and never felt the need to be in between steps.
What espresso accessories do I need?
Great accessories will ensure that you get the most out of every extraction. There are hundreds of coffee machine accessories on the market. I have chosen a handful of the best and put together some great espresso accessory kits. To view them click here