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.
Are PIDs Effective on HX Italian Espresso Machines?
A PID (electronic temperature controller) isn't necessary for stable brew temperature on a heat exchanger (HX) Italian espresso machine. Any HX espresso machine with a well engineered thermosyphon (water reticulation system) can be stable with either PID or with pressure stat control.
When PIDs first arrived on the scene for HX Italian coffee machines many manufacturers crudely replaced the pressure stats. In engineering terms these machines were a failure as without a thermosyphon modification water in the HX tube would super-heat. This mean't that before pulling a shot you need to flush the super-heated water through the group head. Obviously, the PID on these machines was ineffective for setting of brew temperature control on these Italian espresso machines machines.
This is all different with PID HX coffee machines that have been engineered for a PID from the ground up. With these Italian espresso machines you can get fantastic thermal stability as well as effective brew temperature control from PID adjustments.
Most people will set and forget, but espresso aficionados will love the ability to play with brew temperature. If you want a more chocolatey, bitter-sweet espresso you can set the temperature up into the high 90s. If you want something brighter and more acidic you can set the temperature down in the low 90s. Awesome!
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 espresso 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 espresso machine, grinder and the accessories. Higher quality equipment will last longer, cost you less to maintain and have higher re-sale value. High quality gear is also something you will be proud to own and something that you will really enjoy. There's something magical about making amazing coffee in your own home on quality equipment. Quality is the key reason to choose a high end Italian espresso machine.
The upfront cost may seem high but there is an excellent business case for a domestic Italian espresso machine. If you replace 4 coffee shop coffees per day with your own home coffees, a $3k setup will pay itself back in just 7 months and save you an amazing $50k over 10 years. You can read more about this in my blog
Is Commercial Steam Pressure Important for Home Espresso?
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 and Profitec Pro 700. These machines have true commercial steam pressure at 2 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 Espresso Machines a Good Choice?
Well, that depends. If you buy an HX Italian espresso machine with an Aus Spec thermosyphon (water circulation system) modification the answer is yes. However, if you buy an off-the-shelf HX Italian espresso machine 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 near 96 deg C to suit dark roast Coffee Robusta coffee beans. In Australia most of our beans are 100% Coffee Arabica - the fruitier and brighter coffee bean varietal. Our roasts are also lighter than traditional Italian roasts. The ideal brew temperature for medium roast Coffee Arabica coffee beans is near 93 deg C.
If you are looking for an HX Italian coffee machine make sure that you find one that has been factory modified to deliver brew water near 93 deg C. The modification isn't as simple as just reducing the boiler pressure. The theromosyphon also needs to be modified as well to keep the brew temperature stable. These machines are referred to as Aus Spec.
Before committing to an HX Italian espresso 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.
Are Italian Espresso 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 espresso 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 Espresso Machine?
I'm often asked about heat up time. Traditional HX and DB Italian espresso 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 on an Italian coffee machine 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 espresso machines come with a choice of either vibration or rotary pumps.
Vibration pumps deliver a more gentle pressure ramp up. This means that espresso extraction starts with a gentle wetting of the coffee puck, followed by slow pressure ramping up to 9 Bar, over several seconds. Rotary pumps hit full pressure quickly so the coffee puck is hit harder and faster, increasing the risk of channeling and uneven espresso extraction.
Traditionally rotary pumps had an advantage of being quieter but some of the new Italian espresso machines with Vibration pumps have closed the sound gap by using some clever rubber mounts to eliminate the traditional "vibe rattle."
Because of the gentle pressure ramp up I prefer Italian coffee machines with vibration pumps and I recommended them to all fellow espresso enthusiasts looking for the very best in coffee extraction.
Why Don't These Espresso 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 Espresso Machines the Best Choice?
Manual lever Italian espresso machines give you the ability to control pressure on-the-run. A lever coffee machine won't make a better espresso that a coffee machine with an E61 group. However, with a manual lever espresso machine you can get a great espresso extraction more consistently.
I'm a huge fan of the Profitec Pro 800 manual lever espresso machine. I had one of these in my home for year and enjoyed the lever experience and enjoyed many amazing espressos.
Are Italian Espresso 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?
The need for a really 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 stepless adjustment is the way to go if you are an espresso aficionado looking for the ultimate in grind particle size control and the ultimate in extraction. It's great to have the ability to make tiny grind particle size adjustments between espresso shots.
What Espresso Machine Accessories do I Need?
Great espresso machine accessories will keep your Italian coffee machine in great condition, help your Espresso Workflow and ensure that you get the most from every extraction.
Most Italian espresso machines come with only very basic accessories to get you started so I highly recommend adding high end accessories. To find out more please read my Espresso Accessory Buying Guide.