Know any good non-aluminum espresso machines?
May 23, 2004 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for a good and economical (non-aluminum!) home espresso machine? (Google and the 'Net have plenty-o-suggestions, but the volume is overwhelming, and I have come to trust the personal experience of AskMe members.)

I'm not looking for something with a steamwand for cappuccino right now, as that seems to be just too tough. Just a stove-top or electric model that has a real (not over-sized) basket for the grounds, not one of these that holds enough espresso for five shots at a time (and thus makes a bad shot because there's air-space in there with the grounds.) (Those are usually aimed at people who are unfamiliar with espresso and think a shot should be the size of a small cup of coffee.)

As always, t'anks in advance.
posted by Shane to Shopping (24 answers total)
The Starbucks Barista is well recommended.

Although it's not what you wanted, I believe that percolators are one of the worst ways to prepare coffee, as they scorch the coffee beyond recognition. The Barista, among other machines, however, provide for a proper temperature and pressure for excellent extraction.
posted by BlueTrain at 6:50 PM on May 23, 2004

Stay away from cheap( $50-100) machines promising to deliver espresso exactly like the espresso you drink in italian bars : I bought a Gaggia one and I almost threw it out of the window ; I later learned its defect was it just percolated water at an insufficient pressure trought the coffee.

I also learned from an experienced friend that one should look for a machine that is able to prepare the coffee as follows (disclaimer : I'm not a coffee engineer :-)

Final amount of coffee in the cup : 20-25 cc (espresso serving). Temperature: between 85 and 90 degrees celsius
Amount of coffee: between 7 and 10 grams per cup. Water pressure: 9 bar.

One interesting link: Cimbali pro coffee machines

Question: why no aluminium ? I love my Bialetti :)
posted by elpapacito at 6:58 PM on May 23, 2004

I too own a really inexpensive aluminum stove-top percolator - it makes *wonderful* coffee, as long as you take it off the heat as soon as you see steam. If all you want to do is make a shot or two espresso, I think these are the way to go. I bought mine for about $20 at the hardware store. (I can't imagine any reason why a more expensive stovetop percolator would be any better -- though maybe I'm misinformed).
posted by josh at 7:04 PM on May 23, 2004

You didn't say what you consider "economical" but the entry-level Nespresso machine is $199 (plus $.45 per cup! Still less than $tarbucks) and it makes great espresso.
posted by nicwolff at 7:10 PM on May 23, 2004

Response by poster: Question: why no aluminium ? I love my Bialetti :)

Well, there's that persistent claim of a link between aluminum and Alzheimer's. Othrwise I'd search my ass off trying to find the best goddammed machine inna world, an Atomic. I had an Aussie friend who had the most BEAUTIFUL, lightweight, portable (and travel-able) streamlined stove-top Atomic that made killer cappuccino, with plenty of pressure for the espresso and the steam wand. It was similar to this vintage one (currently on eBay -- maybe I should bid?) But, not only was it aluminum, it also had slightly ragged seams on the inside from the casting process, making you wonder about aluminum particles making it into the H2O.

On the other hand, I could use a little Alzheimer's, and an Atomic might actually be worth it.
posted by Shane at 7:13 PM on May 23, 2004

i think the aluminum/alzheimer's link was due to it being in anti-perspirant, which is absorbed into the body. if you make your coffee in an aluminum espresso maker, i dunno how much of it is actually getting in your coffee. maybe someone else here knows more?
posted by Hackworth at 7:33 PM on May 23, 2004

There's nothing wrong with the stovetop thingies, and I have one myself. BUT, mine only works right when the cartridge is jampacked with grounds, and so makes more coffee than I really want at once. I do not think the flavour is the same as "real" espresso, although it is good. I would take mine camping in a heartbeat, but it is retired now, waiting for the day when the little Krups dies.

My cheap and cheerful Krups espresso machine is not bad. It did take a lot of experimentation with the size of the grounds (get yourself a burr grinder if you're really serious), the amount in the cartridge, how hard to tamp it, and how long to let it warm up first. That wasted a few 100 g of coffee while I got it right. Changing my coffee supplier when I moved town meant I had to shag around some more - it's that sensitive. Sooner or later I will splash out on something better and more expensive.

You can get stainless stovetop espress makers if you want. See next para.

elapapacito, josh: do you guys REALLY mean percolator? Because they're evil, pure coffee evil. By stovetop espresso, I mean these things (lookee, stainless steel). Those babies collect the coffee in a separate compartment up top. Actual percolaters work on a different principle and recirculate the "coffee" into the one container, yielding yicky, burnt, over-extracted coffee.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:54 PM on May 23, 2004

I've a Barista. Perfectly happy with it. When I take the care and experiment a few times, I can pull a true espresso godshot, otherwise it's ranges from effing brilliant (rare) to pretty damn good (most often).
posted by five fresh fish at 7:57 PM on May 23, 2004

Hmm. Mine is a little metal guy, with a hexagonal sort of shape. You fill the bottom up with cold water, put a little basket in, fill that with coffee, then screw another hexagonal part up top. Then you put him on the stove, and in a few minutes there's a gurgling sound and steam, and then coffee.

Is that evil? Should I upgrade? Aha -- this is what I have.

And while we're at it, what's up with the french press? This is a great, informative thread!
posted by josh at 8:56 PM on May 23, 2004

No, that's a Moka-style stovetop espresso maker. Since it puts the brewed coffee in a separate compartment, it is not an evil percolator. Percolaters are evil because they recirculate coffee over spent grounds, and they boil the coffee. Moka thingies do not commit either of those sins.

I think french presses are great, and certainly more convenient for making decent coffee for company. I get great coffee from them by using espresso grind. Supposedly presses need coarser coffee grounds but that's never worked well for me. I would never turn down french press coffee.

Google, as always, is your friend.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:17 PM on May 23, 2004

Response by poster: And while we're at it, what's up with the french press?

Supposedly presses need coarser coffee grounds but that's never worked well for me. I would never turn down french press coffee.

That's what I drink now. It's nice. I did the coarse-grind thing for a long time with really good coffee, then I started using mediocre beans and a fine grind. I've learned that the method I've settled into is pretty much the Greek way (or so taz tells me.) I grind the beans espresso-fine, so the resulting coffee has, you know... texture. Texture is definitely the word. And the last cup has silt in the bottom. Mmmm, crunchy bits!

One of the most interesting coffee "preparation methods" I've heard of is the traditional Finnish way: boil the grounds in an open pot; allow to settle. Repeat. Repeat again. Drink. Watch as hair appears on your chest.

joe's_spleen, I think your Moka pot might be a winner (and within my budget.) I mean, who could resist a brewer named "Guido Bergna Ericka"? (Yet still I love the Atomic like a curvaceous WWII centerfold and might endure dain-damage for her sweet embrace.)

Thanks for the suggestions, all. I love coffee-talk -- guess it's my version of the Miguel booze-thread. CoffeeFilter should be next on the list after KittyFilter.
posted by Shane at 10:00 PM on May 23, 2004

Your so-called Finnish way is just how Turkish/Greek/Armenian/etc coffee is made. It's pretty good, too, esp if you add sugar, and maybe a cardomom pod or too. You need a really dust-fine grind though. I have a couple of special pots made just for this that I bought in the shuq in Jerusalem.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:12 PM on May 23, 2004

I have an old (ten years or so) Krupps machine, and no Alzheimer's yet. I'm still clinging to the ideas that Alzheimer's is caused by not using your brain enough.

I really don't think that running hot water over a very hard metal like aluminum could taint your coffee, either, but I'm not a scientist. I seem to remember that the aluminum/senility link was about foods that were stored in aluminum for long periods of time.

Also, the Alzheimer's-aluminum link smells a lot like the link between vaccinations and autism. Both are unproven.

All my brain damage is from alcohol, and I'm okay with that.
posted by interrobang at 10:14 PM on May 23, 2004

Response by poster: I used to work with someone who had done time in the same prison as some Cubans who couldn't get anything near the coffee they liked. They'd take instant coffee and grind water into it a drop at a time. I don't think they could even "drink" the resulting paste, but probably had to eat it with a spoon. Then again, all they probably really cared about was getting seriously caffeined up before weightlifting time.
posted by Shane at 10:26 PM on May 23, 2004

I had one of those little hexagonal stove-top deals and used it for years as part of my tough-guy literati image. Now I have a Hamilton Beach Espresso/Cappuccino maker, and I love it. It has a 15 bar pump, more than enough to produce a nice, smooth creme, and is very easy to clean.

I think most important with making espresso is the quality/grind of the beans. If you're not using freshly ground quality beans no machine will make it good.
posted by vraxoin at 7:44 AM on May 24, 2004

aluminum espresso maker, i dunno how much of it is actually getting in your coffee.
Aluminum when heated can be absorbed into your food. Also the acidity of your food will cause aluminum to leach in. Is coffee acidic?
Deodorants, breast cancer.

Even tap water or rainwater can be acidic. Heating water in an aluminum pot was shown to add 1,600 mcg of aluminum per liter of water, which is 3,200% over the recommendation of the World Health Organization with a limit of 50 mcg per liter.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:03 AM on May 24, 2004

Aluminum is what, the second most-common element? Surely if it were as toxic as all that, we'd already be dead.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:07 PM on May 24, 2004

No one said it would kill you, just give you memory loss; my links never contributed aluminum to Alzheimer. Have heard about men you took large amounts of Rolaids which contains aluminum having short memory loss. Which was regained once they quit taking the Rolaids. fwiw
posted by thomcatspike at 1:32 PM on May 24, 2004

Have heard about men you whom took large amounts
posted by thomcatspike at 2:46 PM on May 24, 2004

Best. Correction. Ever.

Yes, coffee is acidic.

Caustic soda - 13
Household ammonia - 12
Baking soda - 8.5
Blood - 7.4
Pure distilled water - 7
Milk - 6.9
Rain water - 6.7
Average black coffee - 5
Tomatoes - 4.1
Wine - 3.5
Lemon juice - 2.1.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 PM on May 24, 2004

FWIW, I read recently that the aluminum-Alzheimer's link was recently officially declared to have been a false lead due to contaminated laboratory samples. Unfortunately, I can't find a cite for this online (and PubMed shows that aluminum-Alzheimer's research is still going strong, although about one article in four is of the form "we did another study and *still* can't find a definite link, wtf?").

On the other hand, aluminum does weaken your kidneys and bones, if you consume too much of it.

(disclaimer: i'm not a doctor, etc.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:28 PM on May 24, 2004

About the French-press:
"Even the way coffee is prepared can create different compounds with effects of their own. In 1996, Dutch investigators reported that unfiltered coffee made in a cafetière or "French press" raised levels of harmful cholesterol by 9 to 14 per cent, while the same amounts of filtered coffee had no effect. The researchers attributed the effect to cafestol and kahweol, alcohols found in coffee oils (British Medical Journal, vol 313, p 8). It's perhaps not surprising that there is no clear picture of the effects of caffeine on health." (New Sceintist)

The article further discusses health and coffee/caffeine
posted by Goofyy at 1:54 AM on May 25, 2004

Response by poster: Gooffy, I have read similar things regarding the benefits of filtering coffee, I think also in regards to the small antioxidant effect coffee has. But personally, it's the only substance I abuse these days, so I'm all for flavor and Damn the costs!

hattifattener, regardless, I'm staying away from aluminum. You know that slimy gray scum that forms when aluminum is left in contact with air and mositure? It doesn't look too healthy, and I equate it with aluminum intake in any form. I buy salt that doesn't use aluminum as an anti-caking agent and I use aluminum-free deoderant, etc.
posted by Shane at 8:13 AM on May 25, 2004

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