...as a well-built, cheap, semi-automatic espresso machine? It would be really cool if I could work on drink mixing and latte art from my apartment when I'm not on the job. I'm sort of new to being a barista, so I'm not too sure of what I'm looking for or where to look. I've caroused espressoparts.com and found some that were perfect -- with exception to price. Could anyone recommend some models, or places I could begin looking?

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If you're looking for a home machine that is both reasonable in price and solid in cunstruction with the desireability of a semi-auto group, you might want to check out the Expobar Brewtus II. It has a two boiler system, which means that your brew boiler is not subject to overheating like the heat exchanger machines. It has a finger lever group, so can actually control preinfusion times before engaging the pump for your extraction. It has a commercial grade pump instead of a vibe pump (if i remember correctly), so your extractions will be consistent in terms of pressure. I would say, though, that cheap is quite a relative term in this world. You might expect to spend 13-1400 on this machine without a grinder. However, it's the next best thing, in my opinion, to spending 7,500 for a La Marzocco Gs3 with similar results.
No help from me regarding home machines... I still don't have one (prob. won't for a while either). BUT there is certainly a thread (or 200?) on this topic over at Home-Barista.com. I'd definitely spend a few hours wading through the stuff over there while you wait for our community here to reply.
Thanks guys, I check it out.
There is always the chance that you might score an Astra Gourmet. They are bulletproof and fairly easy to work on. They are huge, Think a half of a commercial machine. From the factory they are in a fair price range, eBay they are all over the board. If eBay add $250 and a few days work additional. Figure 45min for warm up and a few pulls to get all hot. 20 AMP breaker needed for the home wiring. They make a smaller one that is not quite so well thought of.
Chris and Brady are both correct.
But, if you do not have a quality grinder all else is useless for consistency and quality of your shots.
I've been scoping out a few different models online that might fit my needs, but a grinder will be essential too. All I've got here is a hand-held electric grinder for brewed coffee, and theres no way to adjust or measure a grind with it.

It would seem to me that you get what you pay for when it comes to espresso machines, so I may just wait till I have the disposable income for it.
Gagliardi said:
a grinder will be essential too. All I've got here is a hand-held electric grinder for brewed coffee.

A grinder makes espresso. All a machine does is make the water hot and push it through the puck. Small variances in water temperature and/or pressure are easier to work around than small variances in grind size. Get a good grinder and an Aerobie Press and wait for the machine. the Aerobie and a good grinder is going to make you happier than a LM GS3 and a whirly-blade.
It ain't ezzacky espresso, but it's good, and it has decent crema. My roaster shocked the beans outta me with a quick counter-top demo the other day.
Interesting. That may be the way to go then. Is this aerobie press a new thing, or have I been living under a rock?

Anyone want to shout out some good grinder models?
I couldn't disagree with Chris more on this subject. The only way to have real espresso is to actually have an espresso machine. The pressure of 8.5-9.5 bar is what really defines the pressurized fusion that is so different than other brewing methods. Having said that, it is very difficult to grind correctly for a proper extraction without a good grinder. I would say save your pennies and get a machine and grinder, but until you can afford that I would just wait and be patient.
You must balance. Good grinder + good espresso machine + good beans + good barista = good espresso. No part is more important than any other, and there is no substitute for any part. Your espresso will equal the least of these.

That said, a good grinder will immediately improve all of your coffee, in addition to being necessary for good espresso. Makes sense to buy this now and save for the machine.

I like the Mazzer Mini for a small grinder. Got one on the bar in the shop for decaf (big bro Luigi for standard). The home one is a Kitchen Aid "Professional" burr... ok for drip, vac, and french press, not sure about espresso.
Chris DeMarse said:
I couldn't disagree with Chris more on this subject. The only way to have real espresso is to actually have an espresso machine. The pressure of 8.5-9.5 bar is what really defines the pressurized fusion that is so different than other brewing methods. Having said that, it is very difficult to grind correctly for a proper extraction without a good grinder. .

First, you need to go back and understand what I wrote before you disagree with it. A coupla things, here. I did say that what the Aerobee makes "It ain't ezzacky espresso". What I did say was that you'd get better results with a great grinder and a plastic toy like this than with a great machine and a plastic toy grinder. Which indicates to me that the grinder contributes more to the process than the machine.
And, you can generate 8.5 - 9 Bar with the Aerobee. Does that mean that if you had water at 91-96C, and leaned on your Aerobee enough to get 9 Bar through the puck, that you'd describe that as 'real' espresso?

I'm thinking that you really agree with what it is that I said, but I wrote t in such a manner that you didn't understand how I meant it. It sound to me like we're both saying much the same thing here.
Well if price is an issue, I just may have the solution for you, we have a few machines, the good thing about it is depending on which model you can actually get it for free, only downside is you have to commit to the espresso for a 7month to a year depends on the machine, however you can just out right purchase the machine.I know we have a particular one Racillio, that is $100 cheaper than I have been seeing them. I have a few home machines myself The starbucks Barista, and the Delonghi, my next one I think is the Briel, or Rancillo.. Let me know if I can help you.. http://www.bod.intlcn.org
Interesting. I'll get back to you on that when I have time to look into it some more. You'll hear from me.

GODBOD said:
Well if price is an issue, I just may have the solution for you, we have a few machines, the good thing about it is depending on which model you can actually get it for free, only downside is you have to commit to the espresso for a 7month to a year depends on the machine, however you can just out right purchase the machine.I know we have a particular one Racillio, that is $100 cheaper than I have been seeing them. I have a few home machines myself The starbucks Barista, and the Delonghi, my next one I think is the Briel, or Rancillo.. Let me know if I can help you.. http://www.bod.intlcn.org

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