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waingro
Senior Member


Joined: 16 May 2010
Posts: 29
Location: Canada
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 11:19am
Subject: Questions about learning curve
 

Hello everybody,

I am new to the CoffeeGeek and amazed with the wealth of information on subject. Thank you!

I am about to buy my first espresso machine but have questions that I cannot solve on my own and could not find answers in the threads I read.  I hope I am posting in the right forum.

Initially, I was considering a super-automatic machine. I am ready to have just good shots but to have the convenience they offer.  But after long hours of reading over the Internet, I am looking at a semi-automatic one.  I want reliability; ease of maintenance & repair the semi-automatics offer.  I could not find a super-automatic one that would be as reliable as a good semi-automatic (steel & brass instead of plastic). If there is one below 2,5K, I would seriously consider it.

What I’d like to have with a semi-automatic is
- reliability as mentioned and
- as much ease of use as possible. A gentleman wrote in his review of Izzo Alex Duetto that he does not see his machine at home so easy it is to use. That’s exactly what I’d like to have!

My major concern is the learning curve. It is because of time. Time is something that is always not enough in my life.

From your experience, how hard is it to learn to produce not great but at least decent shots with a semi-automatic?
How much the learning process might take? If we are talking about something over a month and a half or two months, it is probably not for me.

I browsed Internet extensively on the subject and found tons of praises and passion for semi-automatics but I also read the reviews of the people who returned their semi-automatics to the store. The machines worked perfectly well but the folks found them too complicated to use. I wouldn’t like to end up in the second group due to the uneducated decision on the purchase.

The factors that would make easier to address my concerns:
- I am planning to have 2 espressos/cappuccinos in the morning; the same 2 cups a couple of hours later and the same in another 4 hours
- I am considering buying a high end machine like Izzo or QuickMill from the start. I read a lot about fighting with machines like Silvia. I hope that a high end machine will make the learning process easier and faster and let avoiding “the fighting” as it is definitely not for me.

Thank you for your time!
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wideasleep1
Senior Member
wideasleep1
Joined: 19 Feb 2005
Posts: 1,399
Location: Tiburon,Ca
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: VBMDoubleDomo
Grinder: Mahlkoenig K30 Vario
Vac Pot: nope
Drip: Bodum Press
Roaster: IR1 and 2,SC/TO,Behmor
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 11:57am
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

Howdy Waingro, and WELCOME to CG! :D

There is always a balance to achieve great espresso, and it indeed takes learning; educationally, and refining your skills and training your palate. It's definitely not a plug-it-in, heat it up, and get great espresso! We refer to is as a journey, as you are growing and changing with time and experiences. With that said, preparing yourself with good equipment puts you ahead in that journey, and you WILL reduce your learning curve using a well-paired, high end grinder for the better machine you choose (we tend to focus on grinders and fresh coffee a bit more than machines around here!). With a known performing grinder, and a higher end machine, I would estimate your learning curve to be short, but more importantly, your satisfaction with your coffee will be swift and engaging...enough that you won't even notice the learning curve. It will all just come together and you begin to understand how subtle changes can be reflected in the cup. You are already on the path, and have already found the proper guidance here at CG.
You will find few detractors here for any of the better machines...offerings in the 2K range are all very good machines, reliable, professional components and mainly differentiate themselves by unique features, capabilities, aesthetics and 'personality', if you will. It's quite difficult to make a mistake in this range, but it would help you to decide what's best for you to narrow your selection to 4-5 machines, and begin researching/asking questions about their 'personality'...the answers you get will be quite illuminating. Enjoy your journey! :)
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waingro
Senior Member


Joined: 16 May 2010
Posts: 29
Location: Canada
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 12:20pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

Thank you for your prompt reply! It sounds very reassuring and I am happy to read the words. You could probably feel that the decisions have been made -:))  but I am a little concerned.

Could you please advise whether PID controller & 2-boiler system would bring any benefits to me based on the amount of coffee I am planning to brew.

PID. Will having it facilitate the learning process and, more importantly, producing good shots? Or it is mostly for the cases when the machine is on for a long time to keep the temp. stable?

Two boiler system. Is there is an advantage of such a system in my circumstances (4 to 6 cups a day). As far as I understand, the shots will be of the same quality with either 1-boiler machine or 2-boiler one as the second boiler works for frothing. If it is correct, a 2-boiler machine would bring benefits for those who make lots of cappuccinos in a row but not in my case.

The answers will make my choice easier: Izzo Alex Duetto or QuickMill Andreja/Izzo Alex II. Once I pick the devil, I'll need a good grinder, no doubt.  

Thank you!
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tek
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Feb 2010
Posts: 180
Location: WA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Changes daily
Grinder: Kafa-Tek Monolith
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 1:28pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

If you are after ease of use and getting quickly to good shots, double boiler with PID hands down is the right choice. Pick good grinder with it, like Baratza Vario AND don't forget the 0.1 gram scale so you can weigh your shots before grinding (single dosing). You weight say 16 grams of beans and put them in grinder, then you grind.

Weighing your beans will bring huge consistency to your espresso making. Get fresh beans and you'll be making good shots within days. Find pointers on dose and volume here or on home-barista.com

So in short get:

  • Double-boiler machine with PID (Chris Coffee is good vendor with good after sale support)
  • Good grinder, like Baratza Vario (Chris Coffee has it)
  • 0.1 gram scale (often called jewelery scale, you can find it cheap on Amazon)
  • Espro click tamper so you know what 30 lbs push is like and you can do it consistently (Chris Coffee has it)
  • Fresh coffee (Klatch classic espresso, Counter Culture Espresso Aficionado or Toscano, Intelligentisa Black-cat)
  • Small notebook so you can write down the doses, grind setting, temperature and flavor profile as you go so you can tune your parameters

In couple of days you should be making good shots.

Good luck and post how you get on :-)

 
www.10000shots.com
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tek
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Feb 2010
Posts: 180
Location: WA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Changes daily
Grinder: Kafa-Tek Monolith
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 1:39pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

Oh, I forgot. You should also get bottomless portafilter. Once you have good grinder, machine and coffee your biggest problem will be how evenly (or don't) you distribute ground coffee in basket. Bottomless portafilter will help you with that since all flaws will be immediately obvious. Also learn about nutating tamp ;-)

 
www.10000shots.com
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waingro
Senior Member


Joined: 16 May 2010
Posts: 29
Location: Canada
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 1:43pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

Thank you very much! For me to understand what is what, could you please explain why double boiler with PID would produce better shots?
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canon
Senior Member


Joined: 9 May 2006
Posts: 418
Location: North Carolina
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Faema Legend
Grinder: Monolith, Compak K10 Fresh,
Roaster: Hottop B
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 1:43pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

A year ago I was in exactly the same position as you.  I started looking at super automatics and ended up buying an Alex Duetto II as my first machine.  I say first because I have on order my third machine.  Just as it is with any new learned skill perseverance is the key.  It would be my suggestion to focus on the process first and choose a machine that will allow you to do what you want to do.  Some machines are easier than others in my opinion and don't allow aesthetics to dominate your decision.   It would be my suggestion to buy a copy of Scott Rao's book and wear it out reading it.

http://www.professionalbaristashandbook.com/scott-rao.html

Go to youtube.com and watch those videos as well.  Seattle Coffee has a very extensive library of youtube videos on the products they sell.  Endurance is needed.

There is an analogy that I would like to make.  The program PHOTOSHOP is huge.  If a new person tackles Photoshop without good instructions and a lot of patience they will be overwhelmed.   However, if you extract the pieces of it that deal with exactly what you want to do the process become much easier.  Focus on the important things such as; grind quality, water temperature, loading a portafilter, tamping and adjusting these elements to achieve a consistent pull of 20-30 seconds.  Of course steaming milk may be important to you as well.  These are the very basics of what you need to know.  Maintenance of machine is essential as well.  There may be some that I have missed and I am sure others will add to it.

From the perspective of an espresso newbie I would suggest that you visit as many coffee shops and retail operations as possible and ask a lot of questions.  Read the forums and ask a lot of questions and take lots of notes before making a final decision.  You will find that most will be extremely generous with their time and knowledge.

Enjoy the venture!

Bob



waingro Said:

Thank you for your prompt reply! It sounds very reassuring and I am happy to read the words. You could probably feel that the decisions have been made -:))  but I am a little concerned.

Could you please advise whether PID controller & 2-boiler system would bring any benefits to me based on the amount of coffee I am planning to brew.

PID. Will having it facilitate the learning process and, more importantly, producing good shots? Or it is mostly for the cases when the machine is on for a long time to keep the temp. stable?

Two boiler system. Is there is an advantage of such a system in my circumstances (4 to 6 cups a day). As far as I understand, the shots will be of the same quality with either 1-boiler machine or 2-boiler one as the second boiler works for frothing. If it is correct, a 2-boiler machine would bring benefits for those who make lots of cappuccinos in a row but not in my case.

The answers will make my choice easier: Izzo Alex Duetto or QuickMill Andreja/Izzo Alex II. Once I pick the devil, I'll need a good grinder, no doubt.  

Thank you!

Posted May 16, 2010 link

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tek
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Feb 2010
Posts: 180
Location: WA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Changes daily
Grinder: Kafa-Tek Monolith
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 2:05pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

waingro Said:

Thank you very much! For me to understand what is what, could you please explain why double boiler with PID would produce better shots?

Posted May 16, 2010 link

It will not produce better shots but it will be easier to live with since you are steaming milk every single day couple of times a day... Single boiler dual purpose machine gets tiresome very quickly if you steam milk daily. Trust me on this one.

 
www.10000shots.com
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wideasleep1
Senior Member
wideasleep1
Joined: 19 Feb 2005
Posts: 1,399
Location: Tiburon,Ca
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: VBMDoubleDomo
Grinder: Mahlkoenig K30 Vario
Vac Pot: nope
Drip: Bodum Press
Roaster: IR1 and 2,SC/TO,Behmor
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 2:36pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

waingro Said:

Thank you for your prompt reply! It sounds very reassuring and I am happy to read the words. You could probably feel that the decisions have been made -:))  but I am a little concerned.

Could you please advise whether PID controller & 2-boiler system would bring any benefits to me based on the amount of coffee I am planning to brew.

Posted May 16, 2010 link

Yes! Some may feel a PID is overkill, but honestly, I don't think anyone would pass an opportunity to use a PID'd machine over a non-PID'd machine. That becomes more of an argument about cost, which is less compelling than it was  just a few years ago: PID's are cheaper and now almost de rigeur as 'state of the art'. HX doesn't benefit from a PID, since the cooling flush determines output temps, but a PID'd DB simply needs to be set, pre-heated for about an hour, quick flush (preheat cups, rinse PF) to bring the slightly cooled group up to temp, and CONSISTENCY shot after shot.

PID. Will having it facilitate the learning process and, more importantly, producing good shots? Or it is mostly for the cases when the machine is on for a long time to keep the temp. stable?

Both. PID will help you dial in temps when a coffee seems 'off'..you learn a lot about about best temps for various SO/Blends by trial and error, hopefully with less error. :) PID will also keep boiler temps VERY stable over time, the only remaining concern is the group, which a quick flush resolves...about as easy as it gets.

Two boiler system. Is there is an advantage of such a system in my circumstances (4 to 6 cups a day). As far as I understand, the shots will be of the same quality with either 1-boiler machine or 2-boiler one as the second boiler works for frothing. If it is correct, a 2-boiler machine would bring benefits for those who make lots of cappuccinos in a row but not in my case.

DB's have the PID advantage over HX which means less 'work' at temp control, and the steam boiler means no waiting over a Silvia-like SBDU machine. A PID'd DB resolves many of the day-to-day frustrations encountered by the budding barista...plus allows you to gradually experiment with  parameters in a measured way.

The answers will make my choice easier: Izzo Alex Duetto or QuickMill Andreja/Izzo Alex II. Once I pick the devil, I'll need a good grinder, no doubt.  

Thank you!

I admit to going from SBDU (Silvia), then PID Silvia directly to a DB, bypassing the HX tech, so take my advice with that in mind...many are quite happy with their HX machines, too. I say if the small cost increase doesn't bother you, the PID'd DB pays for itself very quickly with consistent quality in the cup. :)
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egoodman
Senior Member


Joined: 3 Apr 2010
Posts: 37
Location: Victoria BC
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Quickmill Vetrano
Grinder: Macap M4  </step> </doser>
Vac Pot: Bialetti Stainless
Drip: Melita Cone
Posted Sun May 16, 2010, 2:49pm
Subject: Re: Questions about learning curve
 

Just to clarify, (sorry if you know this already)
A double boiler machine works by having one boiler at brew temp connected to your brew group, and the second stays at steam temp connected to your steam wand.  
A PID is a fancy temperature controller that keeps your boiler at exactly the right temp.   So a double boiler machine with double PID (one for each boiler) will keep your brew and steam temps exactly where they should be.  

This removes some trickiness from making your morning espresso, as it'll be ready to go without having to temp-surf (single boiler type machine) flush (Heat eXchanger type machine) or wait for steam to build when switching from brew to steam modes (single boiler).

In short, DB shortens your learning curve by removing some machine-based variables,  then you will only have to worry about your own technique in dosing, tamping, and figuring out grind settings.
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