Frothy caffeinated goodness
September 13, 2011 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I want an espresso maker. I like plain espresso shots, and I like frothy milk drinks. I am entirely undecided if I want to go for expensive does-everything-for-you-but-drink-it or inexpensive. I don't have a wide space for it (deep, not wide). I would like something that will last, and I don't want pods and I do not want a Moka pot. I will buy a burr grinder if the machine doesn't do the grinding for me.

I have seen this, but I am less worried about cheap. I am inclined towards a more automatic machine on the grounds that I am inclined towards being very lazy, but I am not entirely sure I want to spend near 4 digits on a coffee maker.

So I am mostly open to anything that is good, will last well, easy to use and clean, and not enormous. Ideally there will be a warranty with good service. I don't care if the machine can also use pods, but it should be mostly for ground coffee. Brands or specific models, whichever.

I am in Canada. (Montreal-area specific stores would also be nice, I know there is one around Jean-Talon and St-Laurent.)
posted by jeather to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You want the Rancilio Silvia. It's very well regarded as a prosumer machine by the folks over at CoffeeGeek.

Be sure to get a solid burr grinder too. I'm less sure which one to reccommend to you, but grind is essential to great espresso, so hopefully someone else will chime in here.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 9:16 AM on September 13, 2011

We bought a Dualit Espressivo (around £180/$Can 282) a few months ago and apparently* it makes superb espressos. I keep the cups on the top, the coffee in the refridgerator so everything's to hand and even on lazy days I'll happily go make one.

It's also very easy to keep clean.

I tried the milk steam frother nozzle once or twice, didn't get wonderful results but I think that's a question of practice makes perfect.

* alas, I can't drink coffee.
posted by humph at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2011

As grinders go, we've been using the Baratza Virtuoso for a bit more than a year. We don't do espresso often, and then only in a Mokka pot, but I'm very happy with the grinder. It's very consistant. Here's the coffee geek review of their newest model the Virtuoso Preciso. It seems to be substantially better than the older version we have.
posted by bonehead at 9:24 AM on September 13, 2011

I'm kind of a fan of the Francis Francis X7 - it's a small semi-automatic that brews a really decent standard shot and is ESE pod capable (If you get the illy one you get 20 free ones with it!). For standard shots it has what amounts to a PID controller in it so you're getting proper brew temp. which can be really hit and miss with machines like the Silvia and Saecos. It also looks wicked. Runs about 5/6 hundred.
posted by RollingGreens at 9:26 AM on September 13, 2011

I am quite happy with my Krups (this model a couple of years ago). I paid, what, $150 for the last year's model?

Is it as good as a Rancilio or Faema? Maybe not, but my palate isn't sophisticated enough to tell.

No complaints whatsoever. Nothing to screw up.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:27 AM on September 13, 2011

My experience has been that everything in the $30-$600 price range is pretty terrible. A $20 Bialetti moka pot makes good coffee, same for a $600 Silvia, the stuff in between - not so much. If you like milk drinks, you'll be better off with a machine that has a heat exchanger or dual boilers so you can steam and brew at the same time. Budget another $400 or so for a good burr grinder or get a manual grinder like this one for $90.

I use a moka pot with a zassenhaus manual grinder when I'm traveling or camping and am really happy with the results. It's not the same thing as my flat burr grinder and E61 espresso machine can do, but it's much better than any of the nespresso/illy pod or consumer espresso machines.
posted by foodgeek at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ohohohoh!! I just got this Breville machine last week. It has an easily-cleaned burr grinder (as long as you don't use greasy Italian Roast beans---jam risk), and the 15-bar pump does wonders with the extraction and milk frothing. I've had basically no under-extracted espresso shots, and my soy lattes are frothier than when I was manning industrial espresso machines in my "youth." It's sleek, programmable and gives you various options depending on your "skill," but easy enough to just press the buttons and enjoy.
posted by obscurator at 9:30 AM on September 13, 2011

I use my Aeropress for espresso all the time. It's delicious and rich and takes just a couple minutes. Those milk foamers from Bed, Bath, and Beyond make decent foam for cappucino. They're about 12 bucks.
posted by Elsie at 9:31 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have a Isomac Venus and a Rancillio Rocky. Each works like a tank. Like Foodgeek says, this is either something you want to go really cheap on, or be prepared to spend some good money (and get good coffee in return). I would not bother with those cheapo Krups (or whatever); I'd just switch to tea.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2011

Aeropress ++

Important tip: learn how to almost boil water with a standard kettle (listen carefully for the pre-boil roaring to die down). Properly used the Aeropress can make stellar espresso as well as damn tasty "standard" coffee. And let me tell you about rocket fuel (Cà phê sữa nóng) some time when I'm not vibrating.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:08 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered a Nespresso machine? I have a Pixie, but it sounds like since you like milky drinks, you might be better off with something like the Citiz. My Pixie is tiny, looks great in my kitchen, has a 19 bar pump, warms up in about 20 seconds, and most importantly, makes really, really well-flavored espresso. I can't even begin to describe how much I love that I will never have to deal with grounds again – the entire process from "I want coffee" to having a perfect espresso in my hands takes about 30 seconds, including turning on the machine, warm up, and popping a pod into the machine.

One con is that you can't get the pods in stores, but I get second-day delivery here (in Stockholm) and the prices are quite affordable, especially when you consider the low initial cost of the machine.

I know you didn't specifically ask for a capsule machine, but if you haven't considered it (and if, like me, are likely to end up with another espresso maker sitting unused and making trips to the coffee store instead), you should. I'm drinking tons more coffee at home now *twitch* just because it's so, so easy and so good. Big department stores will be able to let you sample a cup of Nespresso coffee without obligation to buy a machine.
posted by halogen at 10:08 AM on September 13, 2011

halogen: for some reason the poster specifically said s/he doesn't want pods. For what it's worth, though, pods have come a very long way and it is certainly worth trying a Nespresso machine unless you are obsessed with (a) doing a lot of work or (b) total cost of ownership (which is somewhat higher for Nespresso machines).
posted by The Bellman at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2011

Response by poster: I don't mind going to 600 for the machine, though at these prices I might have to wait until I can get it in the US, where the prices and the dollar remain lower. Or I will check up on CL/Kijiji.

Re pods/capsules:

My aunt and uncle have a Nespresso machine. I do not want a Nespresso machine, or any other pod machine. I have friends who have various levels of non-pod machines with fresh ground coffee which is invariably better than their pod espresso, and I have access to fresh roasted coffee. I am not averse to something which also uses pods because my mother only likes decaf at night and I wouldn't mind having a few decaf pods available for her. But this is a secondary preference at best.
posted by jeather at 10:26 AM on September 13, 2011

I have a Silvia and Rocky and would recommend both if you want a non-automatic machine. I think this is a great approach for people that *enjoy* the process of cooking, rather than just the end result. If you'd rather the no-mess, no-fuss approach - totally understandable - then the Gaggia Titanium is a standard intro-level superautomatic.
posted by kcm at 10:48 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

As for the Aeropress, while it does produce good coffee, there's no crema, so it's not really espresso.

It's certainly not "stellar" espresso. Espresso must have crema.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:36 AM on September 13, 2011

I love my Europiccola, but if you want lazy, then Aeropress may be more your style.
posted by roofus at 12:06 PM on September 13, 2011

You would probably like the Saeco Via Venezia ($455 CAN) -- it sounds like it fits the bill. The link, by the way, is to an Ontario-based store I've had good luck with. The advantage of the Via Venezia (made in Italy and once upon a time re-branded by Starbucks) is that it's sorta the best reviewed machine before you get "serious" and espresso making gets overly "fussy." See, the Rancilio Sylvia is great (maybe for your next machine) but it requires decent barista skillz to operate (good grinder, good tamp-style, good beans), while the Via Venezia helps you cheat a bit due to its having a "pressurized portafilter" that compensates for a lack of barista-ness.

I own a Via Venezia (Starbucks branded to boot) and so do my folks and my brother. They're solid. Here are a whole bunch of rather satisfied second opinions. Here's more info and here's some more. The can often be found for cheap on Craigslist, etc.
posted by rumbles at 7:19 PM on September 13, 2011

Another Rocky/Silvia fan here - mine are tanks and have been in daily use for 11 years now.
Miss Silvia is a semi-automatic (you control the brew time/volume), with a commercial grouphead and portafilter handle (it's brass and heavy and wonderful for retaining heat, and it means you can get aftermarket portafilters). It's a single boiler machine (the espresso part shares the same boiler as the milk frother), best if you aren't planning on making a lot of milk-based drinks.
Rocky is a stepped burr grinder, but it has a huge range allowing it to grind coarsely for french press or superfine for espresso and comes in doser and doserless models (dosers are a holding area for ground coffee).
I love Silvia because it's a geek toy! Learning the precise moment when you should pull your shots (temperature surfing!), learning how to pack coffee into the portafilter (tamping!), and learning how to steam the milk just so (microfroth!) is just the start.
posted by soft and hardcore taters at 7:30 PM on September 13, 2011

The go to combo for beginner coffee snobs in Australia is the Sunbeam EM6910 and the EM0480 conical burr grinder. Alas, I couldn't find a North American seller with my three seconds of Googling, but I hope you don't mind me posting in case somebody finds your question later and is closer to (my) home. Here's a comparison with the Rancilio Silvia.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:16 PM on September 13, 2011

I like 1st-line equipment's website for shopping among manual, semi-auto, and fully auto espresso makers. They're authorized in most cases so the warranty is good and in many cases they provide the service too; and prices are generally very competitive.

I have owned more machines than I care to count. Somewhat embarrassingly, my 21 year old Krups Espresso Novo has outlasted them all; was cheapest of all by a huge margin; and I think, after all, I like it better than any of the others. So don't assume that you need an automatic machine or an expensive one to be happy; do assume that there'll probably be a trial-and-error process.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 11:50 PM on September 13, 2011

leaving this link here (home barista) -- as someone who also spent a ton of time looking around online for an espresso machine (ultimately did not end up buying one, mainly because i decided to use the money towards a new computer instead lol) that is the best place to look. also, post in their forums...

FYI the Le'Lit PL041TQE w/ PID is the one i ended up deciding to buy at some point when i make enough to actually be able to justify a nice machine -- and if you post on home barista they are going to tell you first and foremost to buy a good grinder.
posted by knockoutking at 5:23 AM on September 15, 2011

also, dont forget the 4 m's

feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions...
posted by knockoutking at 5:23 AM on September 15, 2011

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