Frugal Creama
November 10, 2005 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Frugal, finicky, espresso! We are forming a creama cabal at work and would like to communally get a decent espresso machine. The problem is that not everyone is a coffee geek and the maximum budget we could agree on is around $200. So the question is, considering the monetary constraints, and the fact the machine is going to be somewhat high volume (10 people in an office environment), what is our best piece of gear?
posted by PissOnYourParade to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
see, to get "good espresso", I would recommend a minimum of a Rancilio Silvia ($400) / Rocky ($250) combo. this is not automatic in the slightest, either, so you'd have to be dilligent about cleaning and use and maintenence.

I would call someone like Whole Latte Love and see what they recommend, but I think your budget is not going to leave a lot of options past a Bialetti Moka Espress and a hotplate. :)
posted by kcm at 1:35 PM on November 10, 2005

A Saeco Classico, or the Gaggia Coffee Deluxe are probably your best bet at that price point.
posted by Jairus at 1:36 PM on November 10, 2005

Having a coffee machine at work that only some folks can use is just asking for trouble.

Since a fanatical devotion to cleanliness is the key to good brew, do you have the facilities to keep things clean? And the dedication to scrub at least once a day?
posted by Marky at 1:48 PM on November 10, 2005

Or you could call the folks at Home Espresso Repair in Seattle and see if they have any deals on used/refurbished machines. I bought a manual La Pavoni there years ago for about 1/2 what it would have cost new; it works like a champ to this day!
posted by dbmcd at 1:48 PM on November 10, 2005

You need a grinder too, or it almost certainly isn't worth bothering. Look for something second hand is probably your only good option.
posted by bifter at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2005

posted by wilful at 2:42 PM on November 10, 2005

I really second the *good* grinder. For awhile after I bought my Silvia (as per my recommendation above), I was using a cheapo $30 "burr" grinder from Meijer. Terrible results. Almost as bad as preground.

I bought the Rocky after some pocketbook-gnashing and my crema became beautiful, angels sung, and the Earth was good. It was very worth the $250.. in fact, it makes the hundreds you spent on the espresso machine itself worth something in the first place.
posted by kcm at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2005

Coffeegeek has extensive reviews.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:57 PM on November 10, 2005

I bought my espresso maching through the above-referenced guidance of Whole Latte Love, and couldn't be happier with it. Check them out!
posted by onlyconnect at 3:45 PM on November 10, 2005

I checked out the guide at Whole Latte Love for your price range and all I got was a couple of Krups machines. I'm not as much as a coffee nut as the many in this thread, but those things are bad news. You might want to check out those Home Espresso Repair repair people, or look at other options for second-hand machines.

Alternatively, consider having the coffee lovers kick in a bit more. Keep in mind that if you're currently getting your coffee drinks out, the thing will pay for itself rather quickly. At home, an espresso costs me about $.20 and a latte maybe $.50 tops. So you're saving a buck or two per day per person. That adds up.
posted by lackutrol at 4:03 PM on November 10, 2005

If no-one knows enough to realize it'll cost more than $200, no-one will clean it properly even after you get it. In my single-coffee-drinker home I have a Silvia/Rocky set-up that cost me over $1200 (CDN) which I would only describe as "adequate for my needs."

10 people would push the capabilities of my home set up - I doubt it could service a lunch-hour rush without significant delays for heating the boiler and it would need dilligent cleaning.

For a 10-person office, you really want a superautomatic that can clean itself, or you need to rent the equipment from a service that offers cleaning and maintenance.

If you don't spend enough money on an espresso setup, people will just get frustrated with the equipment, or the poor quality of espresso it produces and stop using it. You'll be out the money, and people won't be happy.

I'd almost suggest foregoing the espresso entirely - spend your $200 on a good burr grinder (like the rocky) and a French-press pot. Properly ground (coarse) french press is much tastier than drip. A good grinder won't produce that sludge at the bottom of the pot either. It's not espresso, but people will like it much better than the stuff they're buying by the cup.

Maybe after the office gets hooked on the press-pot, they'll be easier to talk into a nice e61 group-head machine. :-)
posted by Crosius at 6:51 PM on November 10, 2005

Can't even recommend the Starbucks (Saeco) Barista for this job: it wouldn't handle ten consecutive shots. Four shots stretches it too far. The similarly-priced Gaggias and Saecos and such are equally incapable of handling that capacity.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:53 PM on November 10, 2005

Best answer: I think Crosius' suggestions are a bit over the top, but I agree that you'll need to spend more than $200 to get a machine that can handle that much use with grace.

You don't need a $200 grinder to get good crema. If you know how to use a blade grinder (shake it while you grind; don't over-grind; throw out the powder), it'll do fine.

I have a Briel Chamonix ($165 at Amazon), which is one of the cheapest pump machines available. A lot of the parts are plastic, and I wouldn't recommend it for shared use (though it's held up well for more than four years of daily use).

I'd look for something used that retails in the $600 range new, and has all metal parts, for durability and ease of cleaning.

The quality of the crema is not dependent on the machine - any pump machine can give you good crema. All you need is practice and halfway decent beans. I use $3/lb Costco coffee, and get great crema on my $165 machine with my $20 grinder.

Being a snob about espresso paraphernalia is only useful if you enjoy spending money more than you enjoy the coffee. :)
posted by Geektronica at 7:11 PM on November 10, 2005

My problem with cheaper (ie more plastic, less metal) stuff, Geektronica, is that my coworkers have managed to break several drip machines at our office. I have no idea what they'd do to an espresso machine, what with all that wrenching on the portafilter handle.

There is a rebranded Starbucks superautomatic sitting in our lunch room. Its UI (five identical buttons with cryptic icons beside them) is so non-intuitive, no one knows how to use it without the manual (which was lost the second day it was set up). So spending too much money isn't any good either - it intimidates the casual users.

The Chamonix looks like a fine home-kitchen machine, but I'd be concerned that the portafilter would break under the less-than-gentle attentions of some of my fellow employees.

The other thing about it would be thermal stability. There are about 8 pounds of hot brass in a Silvia and over a killowatt of heating, which tends to keep the temperature steady over a few shots - the cheaper machines typically sacrifice metal and thermal power, which will both reduce the rate at which shots can be pulled.

If everyone at the office respects the equipment, keeps it clean and is willing to spread their demand out over the day, go for the cheaper solution. I just know it wouldn't last a week at my office.

Yeah, I am a coffee snob. It's a sickness. :-)
posted by Crosius at 7:42 PM on November 10, 2005

Another gotcha of shared equipment is letting the boiler and water tank run dry. Not sure what would happen in a low-end model but I can't imagine that they include auto shutoffs or anything.

My basic position on quality home/office espresso is that if you're going to spend enough to get a Silvia, you might as well spend a little more and get a heat exchanger (HX) machine.

Mine is even called The Office.

They're made to be left on 24 hours a day, they're solid, thermally stable, can be plumbed into your water system, you can brew and steam at the same time (unlike a Silvia, etc.) and can easily handle your duty load.
posted by turbodog at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2005

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