Posted Sat Nov 16, 2013, 9:57am Subject: Re: Lineup of 4 prosumer machines:
We're working off of a lot of assumptions here, some of which aren't particularly strong, all of which require examination. I'm not going to take on all of them, just a few.
Comparing HX apples to HX apples and DB oranges to DB oranges, "prosumer" machines in a given price range tend to be far more alike than different in terms components used, construction quality, and quality in the cup. That's true for a lot of reasons, the culture of the industry is probably most significant.
Certainly, there are features you particularly want which may be available in one machine but not in another (line/reservoir convertibility, for instance); but by and large the decisive differences between machines are more often ergonomic and aesthetic than performance. Which means, by and large, they aren't particularly amenable to spreadsheet analysis.
Speaking of convertibility, one of the nicest things about convertible machines is how easy they are to descale. Line only machines are a colossal, time-consuming, messy pain.
A well designed DB is a real boon when you're banging out shot after shot, too pressed to temp each shot, let alone give the machine sufficient recovery time to work off an accurate baseline. However, the most basic, most important, and most difficult part of temping is not shot to shot, but "dialing in." And, dialing is -- if anything -- slightly quicker and therefore easier with an HX than a DB (the operative word is "slightly"). I suppose that a DB is very slightly more convenient once dialed in, but only in the sense that counting to three, four or five while flushing an HX is inconvenient.
Some older DBs used to take a long time to stabilize brew temp after adjustment, so long that dialing in was pretty inconvenient. As I understand it, most of the new generation are quick enough so that's not an issue -- but it's something you want to ask about any particular machine you're considering.
I'm not selling you on the idea of buying an HX instead of a DB. But you do need to understand going in that a DB with a digital readout won't help you figure out the right temperature for any given coffee. The process is almost entirely palate driven, having very little to do with equipment -- specifically including a thermometer. As long as your machine can temp quickly and consistently (no Sivlias need apply), it doesn't much matter.
For any reservoir machine a vibratory pump is as good as a rotary -- but noisier.
For a home user, boiler size (or sizes in the case of a DB) is less important than stability and recovery time. Larger sizes tend to mean more stability and quicker recovery -- but not always. Unfortunately, you won't find the information on retailers' or manufacturers' web sites. It's something you have to ask about.
Pre-infusion can render harmless slight flaws in distribution, placing less pressure on the barista to make every puck perfect -- especially if the machine is a rotary which slams channels into the puck by going from dry to full pressure instantly. Pre-infusion perhaps "blooms" the coffee, but other than the differences from a better puck, my palate isn't good enough to detect anything positive or negative.
All you really want from pre-infusion is expansion, you don't need full saturation. On the other hand, it's saturation is easy to see and won't hurt anything.
P-stats are on the way out, and PIDs are the future of HXs. They are more reliable making them better for you and MUCH better for the manufacturer and retailer; and ultimately less expensive.
The GS/3 is not a "prosumer." It's a true commercial in every sense other than it happens to be small enough to fit in a residence. Typical of a LaMarzocco, it makes coffee as well as coffee can be made given it's feature set. And, as far as I know, it's also the least expensive true commercial DB.
If you're thinking about a lever you want to include the Strega with the L1 in your considerations. I'm not a lever guy, but the buzz on both machines is very strong.
If you're worried about the R58's PID controller spending most of its time disconnected and hiding in a drawer -- that's the point.
GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER
With good barista technique and good beans, any of the machines you're talking about will expose the weaknesses of any grinder. You want something REALLY good.
And finally, don't lose sight of the fact that no equipment is good enough to compensate for an uneducated palate. What makes one piece of gear better than another from a barista standpoint is consistency and control. But let's give it some context. Consistency is nice only as long as it isn't consistently bad. For control to be valuable, the user has to know what to do with it. That takes awhile, and should be your first priority.
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