Help me find a nice espresso/coffee machine.
January 24, 2014 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I would like to replace my mom's Gaggia espresso machine, but I am not sure if there are cheaper options out there that have all the features that she wants. Requirements inside.

My mom has this ridiculously expensive Gaggia machine, and it really makes an amazing cup of coffee. However, it is starting to act up (sometimes brews only 1/2 a cup instead of a full cup), and the milk island is pretty much broken, held together by crazy glue. I would like to find a new machine for her, but I am lost. Does it NEED to be so crazy expensive?? She also had a Saeco machine in the past, but I don't know which one. Is there a slightly cheaper machine out there that has the following features, or is $1000+ standard for something like this:

- Only need to press one button to make coffee - no grinding coffee, no measuring it out, just press a button and walk away. The coffee beans and water are in there already and she only refills them as needed. Same with cleanup. Once the waste container is full, she empties it, but doesn't need to do it on a daily basis.
- The milk island, or some kind of frother/steamer is a must. However, it was the first thing to break, so I guess just a steamer wand would be OK too, since that is more durable.
- Delicious coffee. This machine has a million settings you can program, but she never needed to. So I guess it is important that the machine can make good coffee if it doesn't have any adjustable settings. Or it should have easy to use settings.
- One cup at a time is OK, it's mostly just her drinking coffee.

Do you have any recommendations for a good, reliable, machine that makes an amazing cup of coffee from whole beans? Thanks!
posted by to Shopping (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, this is not a direct answer, but since you're also asking for cheap versus performance: the cheapest long-term solution is to get an authorized repair service re-furbish that machine. This is a prime brand, so that would be doable.
posted by Namlit at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Good-quality espresso machines are expensive. Especially ones that do all the grinding, tamping, etc. Namlit has a good suggestion...Find a place that can refurb mom's existing machine.

As for possible replacements, you might want to dig-around at Coffee Geek and see what they suggest.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:25 AM on January 24, 2014

The term you want to search for is "super-automatic" I'd guess you could find something for quite a bit less than that - like $500 or so.

But yeah - have the machine looked at. This isn't some quasi disposable krups coffee maker.
posted by JPD at 8:31 AM on January 24, 2014

Also came to recommend poking around the Coffee Geek Forums. That link is to a recent thread about super-autos.

And yeah, ridiculously expensive is kind of what you're in the market for, I'd say $1000 and up. I'd also pursue Gaggia for repairs, though it might involve shipping it away for a while.

There is a new competetor in this niche, though not exactly the same: Nepresso is like the super high-end k-kup machine including milk frothing. You don't grind coffee, you use sealed capsules which you need to subscribe to. They run more like $300-700 depending on how many features you want. Sur la Table and a few department stores sell them, so you can take your mom to a demo and sampling if you determine the Gaggia to be a loss.
posted by fontophilic at 8:46 AM on January 24, 2014

This is a very good machine. Get it fixed. That is also probably your cheapest option in getting a comparable machine.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:50 AM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing repair. That is a solid piece of kit from a reputable brand.

I highly recommend the very, very competent Chris' Coffee Service.

I have an Isomac Venus--a full manual unit--and I buy parts from Chris.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:07 AM on January 24, 2014

Anecdote to what others said, every few years we have to send in our Jura. For $200 it comes back working like new, clean, and with scratched small plastic parts replaced.
posted by ftm at 9:07 AM on January 24, 2014

The Illy Pod Machines make MARKEDLY better coffee than any other pod machine that I have ever tried. (Nespresso, etc) You can buy a Francis-Francis for about $200. The pods run about 80 cents a pop. I think any other system that makes espresso as good or better would probably start at about $600. On top of that, Illy offers a paid recycling program for their used pods. They have single shots, and "Lungos" (long). Both are quite good. Add a frothing stick, and you are in business.

I have owned higher end espresso machines, but they were a lot more work to use, clean, and maintain so I tended to use them less over time. I use this one multiple times daily, and actually end up saving money vs going out to coffee stores. Friends who have given samples to are shocked that a machine of this price could make espresso this well. In particular, it makes fine crema, and the Illy coffees are famous for their quality.

I would never go back to a higher end machine. I think you might be able to make the argument you can get a better pull from some of the higher end machines, but frankly you would have to pay a lot more money and spend a lot more time and effort to get what is likely only a slightly marginally better product. Most importantly, try for yourself, you might agree, in which case you will save a lot of money and time going forward. kind regards.
posted by jcworth at 9:21 AM on January 24, 2014

Super-Automatic machines are expensive. More to the point, an espresso machine isn't like most other things in the kitchen, where a highly skilled cook can get a great result out of crappy equipment. Espresso is a technology-driven product and you get what you pay for. It is impossible to make great espresso with a crappy machine. It will be hard to find a new all-in-one super-auto machine of high quality for less than $1,000, so I would echo the recommendation to get the Gaggia Swing Up repaired.
posted by slkinsey at 9:24 AM on January 24, 2014

We have a Gaggia that is at least 10 years old, possibly 15. I would get your mom's machine cleaned and serviced before tossing it.
posted by mogget at 9:35 AM on January 24, 2014

Response by poster: I like the idea of getting it serviced. Any chance someone here knows of a good place to go to in Brooklyn?
posted by at 9:45 AM on January 24, 2014

I am not aware of any in Brooklyn. Most of my experience is with 1st-Line in Freehold, New Jersey, who I highly recommend. There is also Cerini on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
posted by slkinsey at 9:55 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Espresso machines are expensive. While $1000 sounds (and is) steep, the reality of espresso is that it was invented to produce coffee on a mass scale. The only really good espresso machines* are commercial-grade machines. For a certain sort of person who can afford that and really loves espresso, it's worth spending $1000+ on a proper espresso machine.

I agree with everyone who is saying to look into getting the Gaggia serviced, since again, these machines are designed to crank out thousands of shots of espresso per day, for years and years. It's not a $65 home appliance from Target that is basically disposable.

Re getting it serviced, maybe call up your local coffee shop and ask who services theirs? Calling a local Gaggia dealer also wouldn't be a bad idea.

*As opposed to an aeropress or a moka pot, which it sounds like she does not want.
posted by Sara C. at 10:16 AM on January 24, 2014

there is someone in Inwood Queens- Liamco. No idea if they work on that machine. I've taken my Mazzer grinder to him.
posted by JPD at 10:32 AM on January 24, 2014

I highly recommend the Seattle Coffee Gear website.
They sell refurbished machines that come with a warranty, and have entertaining shop-made videos showing how the various machines work. We recently bought a refurbished Saeco Syntia SS for 400, a little less than half-price of new, and it is awesome. Grinds, expresses, expels the puck.
We pdo have to steam our own milk, but once you know the secret (keep the tip of the steam wand just below the surface of the milk, the sound being made should be a loud "shhhhhhhhh", and not the screeching you sometimes hear in coffee shops), it's easy to do.
posted by dbmcd at 10:35 AM on January 24, 2014

Getting it serviced is the way to go. While you're at it ask them about what routine cleaning it needs. We have a less automated Gaggia and it works like a champ but needs to have special cleaning stuff run through it monthly. NYC water is far softer than ours so probably less of an issue but may still be one.
posted by leslies at 10:59 AM on January 24, 2014

I'm a little late to the party but hopefully this helps someone, if not the OP.

I've been repairing consumer espresso machines off and on for about 5 years, mostly super-automatics like your Gaggia but just about anything that comes through the door. That machine is definitely worth getting assessed for repair, especially if that's the machine she likes and is used to. Dispensing less than normal is usually a sign of an internal leak, possibly running back into the water tank and not yet noticeable; if I had to guess I'd say it's the steam valve, as the gaskets the machine shipped with aren't good for more than a few years (less than 1, in some cases). On a fancy machine like that it's important to get a small leak fixed before it becomes a big leak and kills an expensive circuit board. It's possible it doesn't need anything more than a tuneup which should run you $200 or less, and it's normal for a superauto to need a service like that every 3-6 years depending on shot volume, oil level of the beans used in it and what regular maintenance has or hasn't been done.

Speaking of that regular maintenance, for super-autos that means taking the brew group out and rinsing the coffee grounds off of it once a week, and descaling when the machine tells you to or every couple of months, depending on water hardness. Do not use vinegar or lemon juice or any other secret recipe that big business doesn't want you to know about that you saw on Facebook; vinegar will kill your pump and lemon juice usually has added sugars and/or pulpy bits and both are less effective then the just-as-cheap best option: citric acid. Bulk citric acid works perfectly well, but if you don't have access to that use Dezcal or Durgol or a similar ESPRESSO machine cleaner. Most products marketed as COFFEE machine cleaners will not do the trick, and this is unfortunately what's most often sold at Starbucks, Bed, Bath and Beyond and similar brick and morter stores. Dezcal will run you about $1.50 per application from Amazon, so you're talking less than $5 a year in maintenance costs to keep your $1000-$3000 machine healthy. Do it, please.

In terms of brands, I mostly recommend the Delonghi super-autos as they're very reliable and have great after-sale support (they send you a box, packing materials and a pre-paid label if you need to send it in for warranty service). They don't change much inside the machines from model to model so parts are easy to come by, even for older models, and they're pretty quick and easy to fix. They don't make an amazing shot, but they're consistent and they have models with built-in milk frothers that do a pretty good job. If you can get your hands on one of the older Saeco Italias that was a very solid line, and why they threw away all that good engineering for the steaming pile of crap that was the Odea/Talea/Primea line I'll never know. Older Gaggia super-autos are likewise nice, probably because they were made by Saeco.

Which machine makes the best shot by "industry standards"? The old Gaggia in our shop probably produces the most consistently good shots I've seen out of a super-auto, great crema and body. Jura machines can dose more than most other brands so the turn out strong shots, which is often equated with "good". Delonghi and Saeco are about on par with each other and I haven't worked on enough Brevilles to say either way. One thing that they all have in common is that you're always going to get a slightly better shot out of a machine that's clean, pre-heated and using freshly-roasted beans. Pre-heat your cups too.

Which machine will make a "real", "true", or the best tasting shot? The one you like. Seriously, everyone in this thread talking about pods vs hand-press vs commercial equipment being the best, if you found a machine that turns out espresso that you like, that's awesome and I hope it makes every day a little brighter for you. Really. In the last 20 years I've owned a moka-pot, a La Pavoni, a Starbucks Barista, a Rancilio Silvia with a PID, several different drip coffee makers, several french presses, a toddy pot, a fancy pour-over setup, those little drip pots for making cafe sua da and most recently, a Nespresso. I'm probably forgetting a few, but my point is, I've been able to make coffee that I like with every one of those contraptions and it didn't have a damn thing to do with how much they cost or how manual/automatic they are or what other people think of them. Aside from caffeine delivery, espresso is all about enjoying the taste, and taste is subjective. There is no right or wrong. Drink what you like, and let others drink what they like, and let's all just be happy that espresso exists.

(feel free to memail me with your special snowflake machine questions if they don't fit in this thread)
posted by bizwank at 9:41 PM on January 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

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