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What make expensive espresso machines better?
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Ceridan
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Ceridan
Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 35
Location: Prague
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic
Grinder: Hario Slim
Posted Tue Dec 11, 2012, 10:19am
Subject: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

Hi!

I wonder, what makes an relatively expensive machine like Gaggia Classic (like ~400 USD in Czechia) better than lets say my current dirty-cheap Roventa Opio (bought used for ~50 USD). I understand things like professional protafilter + non-pressurized baskets, metal instead of plastic, longer durability etc. But in the terms of coffee preparation? Like more stable temperature/pressure?

I'd really hate to buy Gaggia Classic only to find out that my freshly (from a local store) roasted coffee ground in Hario Slim on 4th setting tastes the same as on my crappy old Rowenta :)

Thanks
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MJW
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Joined: 25 Jul 2012
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Posted Tue Dec 11, 2012, 11:24am
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

I think the Classic is not going to be much better, unless you learn to control it really well.

The Classic has some features from high end machines, like a solenoid at the group -- instead of spring valve like yours probably has.  I believe the spring valve robs a little pressure, but that is accounted for in the overall design of the machine.  I don't know if it really matters much but I bet the solenoid design is able to apply more precise pressure at the group.

The main problem low end machines have, is getting the temperature right, and keeping it there.  But the Classic isn't much better unless you learn it well.

It would be much easier to argue that a Crossland CC1 would be better, but that's even more expensive.  The Classic's boiler is very small and it is not easy to control its temperature.

Are you addicted specifically to the taste of espresso?  :-)   Or do you just want to taste really good coffee?
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Coffeenoobie
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Coffeenoobie
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Posted Tue Dec 11, 2012, 1:13pm
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

What makes expensive machine better is consistency.  The temps and pressure are more consistent making the shots more consistent.  The more consistent the variables the more you reproduce the good shots when you get it dialed in.   And lower the amount of sink shots and raise your chances at god shots.

That often mean a larger thermal mass to hold the temps more constant.  Better parts and engineering to hold the pressure constant or allow you to vary that easily.

Cheaper machines with smaller boilers often swing wildly and that makes it harder for a novice to make good shots.  By the time you can control it enough to make good shots you probably want a better machine so you don't have to work that hard.  Single boilers are often small and hard to control the temps on so that is why a lot of people mod them with a PID device.  

Because I did not want to buy something that I would want to mod right away and want to upgrade in 6 months to a year, I decided to skip single boilers and go for a machine that would help me by being more stable to start with.  That is why I started with an HX.  Not counting the 20$ krupps that started me wanting my own machine.

 
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Ceridan
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Ceridan
Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 35
Location: Prague
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic
Grinder: Hario Slim
Posted Wed Dec 12, 2012, 3:12am
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

Thanks for both answers!

MJW Said:

Are you addicted specifically to the taste of espresso?  :-)   Or do you just want to taste really good coffee?

Posted December 11, 2012 link

Well, I prefer bitter "longer" espresso. What I strive to achieve is to make coffee without acid taste. I think it is because I extract coffee for too long? (Usually I let it last for 20-25 s) Or the grind is too fine? And I hate that artificial "crema", that's why I want to get my hands on non-pressurized baskets.
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NobbyR
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Posted Wed Dec 12, 2012, 4:18am
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

The Rowenta Opio has an aluminum thermoblock for heating water, whereas the Gaggia Classic has a boiler, which gives you better temperature consistency. Also it allows you to do some temperature surfing, i.e. using different yet reproducible brewing temperatures within a certain range. Besides that a more expensive machine usually is built more solidly, has better longevity and is worth repairing, while cheap ones are more or less disposable.

 
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frcn
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Posted Wed Dec 12, 2012, 6:44am
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

I think that you received a lot of good answers there. Getting a professional-quality framing hammer does not necessarily mean you will be able to more easily build a house with it nor build a better house. A tool is just a tool, depending on the tool and its user. The other part of the equation is that higher cost may not mean better performance. While it may mean longer life, all the single-boiler, dual-use (SBDU) machines in the consumer range all perform about the same (or at least to say, have the potential to do so). So, for example, an entry-level Gaggia can perform about as well as a Silvia. But as mentioned, an espresso machine with a boiler has much greater potential to make better espresso that a thermoblock machine.

Another considerations is, what is "expensive" to you may not be to another person. The machines that sell in the US for around $1200 and up, with some costing between $2000 and $3000 and more, have features that control the various brewing variables in such a way that allow them to make excellent espresso. But even then, they must be matched with a quality grinder to perform at their best, and, of course, few quality coffee beans.

So while you may do well to spend more on a machine, it depends on a lot of other factors, not the least of which is your taste preferences. While one person may very well prefer the coffee from a $2000 machine, you may have grown so accustomed to the flavor of the coffee from your current machine that you might prefer its product.

 
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MJW
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Joined: 25 Jul 2012
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Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Wed Dec 12, 2012, 3:48pm
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

Ceridan Said:

Well, I prefer bitter "longer" espresso. What I strive to achieve is to make coffee without acid taste. I think it is because I extract coffee for too long? (Usually I let it last for 20-25 s) Or the grind is too fine? And I hate that artificial "crema", that's why I want to get my hands on non-pressurized baskets.

Posted December 12, 2012 link

OK, you prefer a non-acidic taste.  That's perfectly reasonable...:-)  It's difficult to say what may be causing it, since it could be almost any of the variables.  Dosing smaller and grinding finer will tend to extract more, which means less sour and more bitter.  But other variables are important too, and could be the cause.

I didn't know that Opio uses a thermoblock, and that makes the Classic more likely to be an improvement.

There are less expensive machines like Delonghi EC155 (and clones) that have stainless steel boilers.  I use EC270, and when depressurized it can make tasty shots.

Except for the pump, low end machines can be repaired and it is cost effective.  Parts are available and extremely inexpensive.  It could be the pump can be disassembled as well depending on what's wrong with it.  The ubiquitous Ulka pump appears to be identical to the pump used in $1000+ machines.  The vibe pumps in these machines are all Ulka EAX5 or similar spec pumps (fittings are sometimes different).  But the design of the machines are completely different, and the expensive machines have additional parts and larger boilers.

What I'm trying to say is that an inexpensive machine can be worked on too.  They are simple and parts are available.  It's just that when you can buy another one for $60, it may seem silly to repair it.  But, in my opinion that's no reason to spend $500 on a machine!  As long as there is no chronic failure with the cheap thing, the cheap thing is fine.

Personally, I think the EC155 is too chintzy (on the outside.  On the inside it is identical to EC270).  But the EC270 is very nice and I enjoy using it.  I suspect there are issues with the spring valve design, I've had to clean it out once already.  The Classic has a proper 3-way, but I don't like its temperature behavior.  So there are always compromises and it starts getting expensive if you want a good machine.
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Frost
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Frost
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Posted Wed Dec 12, 2012, 5:10pm
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

frcn Said:

..................... all the single-boiler, dual-use (SBDU) machines in the consumer range all perform about the same (or at least to say, have the potential to do so). So, for example, an entry-level Gaggia can perform about as well as a Silvia. But as mentioned, an espresso machine with a boiler has much greater potential to make better espresso that a thermoblock machine.
..............

Posted December 12, 2012 link

I know this is often repeated here that all SBDU machines 'perform' basically the same (shot quality? temp stability? time to wait for steam?) but that has not been my personal experience. Against a tide of opinion though,  I rarely bother to comment on the subject anymore.

The 3.5oz Gaggia boiler is bigger than a thermoblock but still in fact does have significant problems with temp stability during the shot. If you look enough for the work that has been done on this, you will find some who have measured it and worked on solutions to the problem with  'pre-heat' loops, and there is also some excellent work described in the 'mods' section on actively controlling the heater during a shot.

If the Gaggia had a 3.5oz thermoblock (sort of like an Hx loop....) it would solve this problem as well.

If you are looking to improve temp stability over your current thermoblock, I would skip the Gaggia and look for a larger boiler to start. The other currently popular choices all have significant design differences that are likely to make them all behave differently in actual use. (what you will need to do in order to get them to deliver 9 bar 200F water to your coffee)

For the espresso machine shopper who is not interested in steaming milk, the market is not very kind to your needs. The popularity of the steam wand is pervasive.  In the long run, maybe a simple manual lever is the way to go.
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NobbyR
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NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,041
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
Grinder: Eureka Mignon Istantaneo
Vac Pot: N/A
Drip: Melitta Linea Unica de Luxe
Roaster: N/A
Posted Thu Dec 13, 2012, 1:03am
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

Frost Said:

... The 3.5oz Gaggia boiler is bigger than a thermoblock but still in fact does have significant problems with temp stability during the shot ...

Posted December 12, 2012 link

Thermoblock doesn't necessarily mean unstable. QuickMill builds thermoblocks with surprising thermostability like the ones used for the Cassiopeia.

 
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"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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Ceridan
Senior Member
Ceridan
Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 35
Location: Prague
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic
Grinder: Hario Slim
Posted Thu Dec 13, 2012, 5:48am
Subject: Re: What make expensive espresso machines better?
 

Thanks!

Well, on the manufacturer's webpage it is stated that Rowenta Opio is a boiler machine.

DeLonghi EC270 is not sold here in Czechia, but there are many, many other machines (DeLonghi including models like EC330...). I'm going to buy a new espresso machine for a home use (and keep the Rowenta at work), however I really can't make a choice. So far Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia were the two only "safe" recommendations given to me :-/

Maybe a good machine can be identified by that it is being sold with non-pressurized baskets?
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