I know that as a coffee shop owner, i might not want to recommend home espresso machines to my customers but they ask and I'd like to be more prepared to answer when they do.
Home espresso machines are like stationary bikes or the old rowing machines....they seem like a good idea and a way to save money but truth is....no home espresso machine is going to match the drink made by someone else at the local coffee shop. (nor will someone work out more if their stationary bike is sitting in their living room!)
So, what brand, price, pressure, etc would you recommend? Thank you in advance for any input!
Eugene Coffee Company
Coffeetards who for example developed the equipment and procedures used to certify all USBC and WBC competition espresso machines...Coffeetards who developed pressure profiling espresso machines BEFORE Strada etc. came onto the seen... indeed a worthless resource - not!
Coffeegeek is like high school compared to PhD level Home-Barista. (I've been involved on both for over a decade)
Can't agree as Home-Barista is nothing more than a group gathering of egotistical, anal retentive coffeetards. CoffeeGeek is a bit better and WholeLatteLove don't know their a$$ from their hand.
My point exactly.
Wow, way to be constructive in our critiques, folks. How about we don't just attack an entire organization with a couple of flippant sentences, instead maybe focusing on a single issue at a time. I do have some complaints about said websites, but nowhere near the number of similar complaints I have about mainstream society as a whole. Trust me, more good than ignorant/egotistical/anal-retentive. Just more of the "squeaky wheel syndrome," the louder, more vocal members make the rest seem the same. Tons of sweethearts on all three sites. There's room for many tiers of passion/dedication/knowledge in coffee. There's even room for the a$$-hats. I will agree that some discussions on home-barista.com aren't accessible to the average beginner, but they're happy to engage - also, check the FAQ on any of these sites, as your particular question may have already been answered there.
I like what Randy Glass had to say. Introducing the idea that a base-level setup is pretty hard to do for less than a grand is a great way to weed out cheapskates.
Personally, there are many options and setups that could do the coffee a lot of justice, depending on what they have in mind. Are they just looking to make one or two espressos on weekend mornings? Do they host people a lot and hope to successfully make 5 or 6 lattes while entertaining in their kitchen? There are many levels of home-usable machine out there, at all levels of price. Here are a couple of solid grinder/machine combos I've tried myself...
Baratza Vario ($500-600 range) is the most high-quality, affordable consumer-level grinder available. Easy to use, modifiable, with great customer support both online and on the phone. It's what most professional baristas I know wish they had at home, if they didn't already.
Mazzer Mini ($600-800, with many options) is ok, and even looks like a baby version of commercial espresso grinders, but oh man the clumps! And the heated grounds! Not to mention how long an 18g dose takes to grind.
Rancillio Rocky ($300-500, w options) is pretty good, durable and has ok speed and grind quality. If you can find one used for less than $250, it's a great deal.
Hario Skerton Handmill ($30-50) for the quasi-luddite or constant camper. Completely human-powered, takes about 5 minutes to grind 40g of coffee, but boy will your arms be toned! Great little grinder, as far as grind quality goes, with ceramic conical burrs and simple construction (the grinder/crank section can fit on top of a medium-small Mason jar) with glass grounds catch.
There are tons of grinders out there, but these are the few to which I've had access.
As for the extraction machines:
Mypressi Twist ($100-200) For the espresso-only set with good attention to details. There's a learning curve, a little difficulty in setup and cleanup, but a damned-good espresso is more than possible. I've even had Excellent espresso from one. No power necessary, just a steady supply of Whip-it! cartridges (about 4 double espressos with each cartridge, and be sure it's N2O, not CO2, as CO2 will make it taste funky). A bit of preheating is necessary, and the 53mm basket really only works with the plastic tamper that comes with it, unless you can plunk down $50-100 for a custom metal tamper.
Rancilio Silvia (enough comments on this machine, nothing's been omitted as far as I know) Pretty good machine, though hosting more than a couple of latte drinkers in your kitchen will turn into good comedy as they watch you struggle with steaming milk and pulling shots while temperature surfing, etc. Espresso geeks can finesse great espresso from a Silvia, but it's a bit of a challenge (albeit a fun one).
Nuova Simonelli Oscar ($1000-1500 range). The underdog! Produces commercial-level espresso drinks, pretty consistent temperature, steaming and pulling shots simultaneously is not a problem. Not to mention the company itself has some of the friendliest customer service around. 58mm portafilter is a big plus. I have a couple of complaints, mostly aesthetic (plastic, boxy, etc), and the valve control knob for the steam wand feels a bit cheap.
Ascaso Steel Duo ($800-1200). I loved using this machine. 58mm Portafilter, simultaneous steaming and shots, dedicated pumps for separate boilers. There's a novel steam boiler solution that requires a minimal amount of water to operate at full pressure. I made lattes and espressos for a group of 12 people during a weekend cabin trip, and though a 2 group commercial machine would have made it easy, this little one just kept producing without complaint. The temperature gauge isn't the most accurate, but most of these machines don't have a gauge at all. My only complaint was that it was a little noisy, but again most home machines (especially with vibe pumps) are.
Pasquini Livia 90 and Livietta ($800-1500 and up). Great machines, 57-58mm portafilters, simultaneous shots and steaming. Best aesthetics (in all honesty, I'm a sucker for stainless and/or brushed metal) and great espresso is possible with these machines. A great machine for a Coffee Lab, a kitchen where guests are common, a place making less than 50 drinks a day (bakery, office, etc).
There's much more, but I have to stop somewhere. I'll end with this:
So much training, practice and effort goes into the proper espresso that's served in quality cafes that one must not underestimate the patience necessary to get up to speed. Also, commercial machines are in constant use and that's where espresso performs best. Many aficionados will find that it takes about 3 or 4 shots before things are "warmed up" or "seasoned" properly. Also, cleaning and maintenance should not be underestimated. Just to know what you're in for.
Apologies for being so long-winded...
I call it like I see it whether people like it or not. OTOH, nice long-winded post with lots of great useful info.
I like Will's rundown, and would only add Baratza's Preciso model to the mix. At around $300 (compared with $450+ for the Vario or $550+ for Vario W) it is a very capable home espresso grinder.
Let's keep our discussion focused on the original topic going forward, please.
My apology for bluntness but you obviously have no clue what you are talking about. There is a huge underground of passionate home baristas that have equipment equal to and in many cases better than those found in most coffee shops. They have the time, money and the motivation not only to learn to use the equipment properly but many roast their own beans as well. It would be my suggestion when someone asks you for suggestions that you direct them to forums that specialize in information specifically for the home barista. There are two popular ones; www.coffeegeek.com and www.HB.com.
"no home espresso machine is going to match the drink made by someone else at the local coffee shop."
Hi my name is Mark I have worked at Wholelattelove for 8 years. I do know a few things about coffee. I appreciate your kind words about us. I would be willing to bet my whole hand that I know an ass. Said in the most sincere and humorous way.
For some reason, I stopped getting email notices that new people had replied to my original question but recently looked back to gather more information on home machines. Thank you so much to those of you who offered many great suggestions. This will help me in my suggestions to customers. And to those who didn't answer my original question but instead spent time correcting my question, judging it/me and telling me I have no clue what I am talking about....well, I expect more from this forum and its members. I thought this was a place to ask questions and gather information from each other in a helpful, constructive way. Guess there are some in every crowd. Onward!
I bought mine and a nice grinder over 10 years ago and it is still going strong! Love it. If they are serious about espresso at home - this is my machine of choice!