What's the best coffee machine setup for the occasional espresso drinker?
July 8, 2009 6:23 AM   Subscribe

I drink an espresso a day and two or three cappuccinos a week. I want to get a new coffee machine.

I value quality of the espresso and price about equally. And I don't want to turn home coffee-making into a science, so ease of use is important.

What's the most fitting system? Capsules - Nespresso, Tassimo, Illy, ...? A semiautomatic/automatic, with or without a grinder? A manual machine or even a stovetop macchinetta?
posted by insouciant to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
We've tried the Nespresso Cube machines at William Sonoma. The results are more than passable, better than a lot of American coffeeshop espresso in any case (although that's not saying much). I'm not sure it's worth the hefty price tag- hopefully someone who's owned one for a while will be able to say.
posted by ohio at 6:36 AM on July 8, 2009

Best answer: I was hesitant on Nespresso, I am very negative on most things I consider processed/packaged/etc, and I consider myself serious about my coffee.

However, after reading Jeffrey Steingarten's comparison (in It Must've Been Something I Ate) of something like a dozen espresso machines, I was sold. The great industrial design and easy cleanup of the machines was just an extra benefit on top of that.

I had spent about 6 years owning various low end ~$100 espresso machines. For the last year I had even been using a nice $50 burr grinder. However, the time spent setting up & cleaning up often prevented me from using the machine.

Jeffrey Steingarten's conclusion was more or less along the lines of.. if you dont have $1000 to spend on hardware, great fresh beans, good technique, and ample time, Nespresso machines generally beat anything you can make at home on consistency and taste.

Is it the best shot I've ever tasted? Well.. no. Is it better than Starbucks, most of my previous home made shots, and many, many of my local coffee shops? Yes.

It's not cheap, but its not that expensive either. Certainly cheaper than going out for espresso. I got one at my desk at work as well as home, and the one at work has paid for itself in saved coffee runs.

Go to a Nespresso shop if you live in a major city that has one, otherwise go find a Williams-Sonoma or other shop which carries the line. Sample a few shots, take a look at the machines. I highly recommend Le Cube models for design and size.

Milk frothing is a seperate issue however, and they sell a seperate accesory for that which I have not used. I just warm up some milk when I want some milk in my espresso.
posted by gomess at 6:40 AM on July 8, 2009

Oh and one more note-
If you do decide you want Nespresso but don't like the price of the machines, they run a refurb ebay store. Refurbished machines with 6 month warranties @ 60-70% off. I have a new machine at home and a refurb at work. Identical to me.
posted by gomess at 6:42 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Having worked for some time at Williams-Sonoma with a range of high-quality espresso makers, I would not hesitate to recommend this model if you walked into my store:

posted by jefficator at 7:00 AM on July 8, 2009

I've accumulated 4 stovetop macchinetta's of various sizes. I don't think you can beat them + some good quality coffee pre-ground in those vacuum packed bricks. Illy coffee is great but too expensive in my opinion. When I run out of coffee i get from Italy I buy Lavazza. I can't think of anyone in my family in Italy that actually has a machine to make their espresso at home.
posted by Spumante at 7:16 AM on July 8, 2009

Best answer: I think my stovetop Moka pot and ground regular Illy coffee makes a better espresso and cappuccino than 95% of coffee shops. Instead of steaming, I use a Bodum French Press to aerate warm milk/cream and it makes a pretty decent froth. Total cost is less than $50 and both will last for years.
posted by swizzlepants at 7:20 AM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a rancilo silvia fitted with a better thermostat + a mazzer burr grinder. I love them both dearly. The research I did said that was the most cost effective setup around back in '06 when i bought them. I have a real aversion to pods of any form. But economically they are a better deal.

And the reason why no one Italy owns an espresso machine is because on every block there is a caffe selling quality espresso for less then a euro a shot. In the US we don't have that option. If you drink multiple espressos everyday (which I do) then buying a real setup isn't as crazy as you think. There are 16 grams of coffee in a double shot - 28 servings in a pound. .29/cup. An espresso at my local quality shop is 2 bucks. So assuming I drink 400 espressos a year I've nearly paid off my original capital investment in about 18 months.
posted by JPD at 8:22 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have owned three different home espresso machines at various price points and I definitely would not recommend any pod or capsule system. If you're willing to put in a little time to find the best price on the equipment, you can match a pod or capsule system in price and beat it in quality every time. Maybe you value price and time over taste, in which case you might want to disregard my advice.

First machine was a silly DeLonghi toy that was pod only. I bought Lavazza pods at about $.33 cents each. That's as cheap as they come from a food wholesaler. Eventually I was unsatisfied with the quality and the consistency.

Next machine was a used Francis Francis X1. Pods or grounds. Was still paying $.33 for pods, and while it was definitely an improvement, I finally realized the worst part of the whole set up was the pods. Then the boiler on the Francis Francis died.

Was silly enough to get another new Francis Francis X5 off craigslist, but this time also got a used Rocky Rancillio grinder with it. Switched to fresh beans from my local roaster. I am paying about $.30 per shot, but for the best beans that can be had in my neighborhood and quality that equals or occasionally surpasses the best local coffee shop (this took about a month of practice to really get down).

Time in the morning for a cappuccino is about ten minutes total plus an extra ten minutes a week for routine cleaning. I wouldn't say the grinder is especially messy once you have a technique. I would not recommend the Francis machines because they seem to have build quality problems, but my grinder is the best thing ever and will last me a lifetime by just replacing the burrs every few years.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2009

I really like my AeroPress. Previously.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2009

Seconding a Rancilo Silvia & good grinder. The initial buy-in is expensive compared to a Moka pot or the like, but Silvia's output seems to match or better much more expensive machines. I bought mine used so the total cost of machine and grinder was ~$400. I haven't yet put a thermostat on it, but I hear that really helps with flavor and consistency.
posted by gofargogo at 8:30 AM on July 8, 2009

Best answer: I also recommend you check out the AeroPress. It doesn't make standard espresso, but it makes something that's very like espresso, and quite a lot of people actually prefer Aeropress coffee to the traditional version. It's also quite inexpensive - VERY inexpensive, compared with many fancy home coffee gadgets - and easy to use and clean.

I wrote a review of the AeroPress a while ago. I receive no kickbacks if you buy one :-).
posted by dansdata at 8:36 AM on July 8, 2009

Best answer: Get a decent burr grinder and a stovetop Moka pot - simple espresso without the fuss, less cleanup, and better than you will do with most "real" espresso machines unless you are really willing to work out the details. I just heat the milk in a microwave 'cause I'm not a fan of the foam. Throw in a French press and you're set for most any coffee drink you'd want.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 8:41 AM on July 8, 2009

I do the same thing as Fin Azvandi and it's just fantastic. There is a difference between a well-made coffee from a good espresso machine and what I make in my Bialetti, but it's minimal, and there's a certain quality to the stove-top shot that I sometimes prefer. Most importantly, the stovetop pot is very cheap in comparison and takes up very little room.

I've also heard good things about the Aeropress, but never used one.

JPD, I really wouldn't equate the moka coffee with two buck chuck. You've obviously never been subjected to British instant coffee. That stuff is... special.
posted by Magnakai at 10:28 AM on July 8, 2009

Going to chime in and say $50 does not a good grinder buy.

If anything I would recommend against pod-based machines. Not only are the pod things made far away in a foreign land, you likely don't know who roasted the beans or where they came from. Much of the enjoyment I get from making coffee is the social aspect of being able to try different local brands and roasts. Sure it is a little more expensive than pods, but still ridiculously more economical than buying drinks at a cafe (at least I've found so in USA and Japan).

Not to mention, you are much more likely to find a good used grinder/machine than one of those pod things. And coffee beans are infinitely easier to find in your average city.
posted by mezamashii at 8:35 PM on July 8, 2009

I own an aeropress, and I have to say that it's great. I like it better than Starbucks, but not as much as the best local coffeeshops, but that's a good compromise for a sub-$250 machine.

It's not very picky about the grind, so go with a $10 blade grinder. The impact on coffee quality is minimal IMHO, and the price and size difference of the grinder pretty much breaks even. If you're convinced you can taste the difference or want to grind whole bags at a time (not recommended if you're keeping coffee ground for more than one or two days), go for the burr grinder.

For froth, I just use an Aerolatte (No, I didn't choose that brand because I like the word "Aero"), which is a AA powered whisk frother. I know it's not the same as getting it steam frothed, but it works well enough for most drinks and I like it better than most shops (some places have really velvety froth, but that's probably more an issue of experience with a steam frother). Not really important, but a weird little paradox: Skim milk froths more (via steam or frother-whisk) than whole milk or cream/milk mixtures, but high milk-fat is needed for whipped cream, due to obscure science reasons involving lactic acid and lipids. Both seem to bubble up better when cold, so I tend to froth, then put it in the microwave to heat it up.

I like my setup, as it's fast and easy to clean. Its main weakness is when I want to serve a lot of people (I can really only easily make one cup at a time) or have a shot of espresso with a nice cap of crema, which is the one thing the Aeropress does not make. If this isn't good for you, go for a regular espresso machine or one of the other recommendations. If you're willing to risk needing to do a lot of cleaning or replace parts, I've heard good things about finding used machines on CraigsList and at thrift stores.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:22 AM on July 17, 2009

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