Posted Thu Dec 5, 2013, 10:03am Subject: Re: Best espresso machine for beginner
Budget seems to be the major concern.
The bad news is that $500 is not enough. The good news is that $600 is. Sorta.
Least expensive, but still acceptable combination: Baratza Preciso plus Gaggia Baby -- about $300 each. However, "still acceptable" is not the same thing as "good."
The big problem with squeezing every nickel is that equipment in the "least expensive, entry-level" range is much harder to master and use than equipment which is more expensive. So cheap can be frustrating as well as its other drawbacks.
The idea is to make good espresso consistently -- without jumping through too many hoops or being defeated by the inconsistency of the hardware.
The least expensive machine and grinder I'm comfortable recommending to a beginner are the Crossland CC1 v1.5, $700; and Baratza Vario, $450. They're available as a package for $1000 from Seattle Coffee Gear, which is still twice as expensive as the limit you set. Obviously, you can't spend more than you have, and I'm not saying that if your stuff isn't at least as good as the CC1/Vario combo you wont enjoy yourself or your morning ritual.
A good perspective about equipment choices is that the challenge is finding the right balance between price, capability and all the other factors which go towards making a good fit for a particular person. I have no doubt you'll do so for yourself.
Another extremely valuable perspective is that there's no espresso machine nor grinder that allows you to push a button and get top notch espresso in return. There's a lot of skill involved, even with the most expensive equipment; and the most important skill -- by far -- is learning to taste. Armed with a decent palate, some patience and a good sense of humor, you can make even very inexpensive sing. Just not every time, or for parties, or...
A huge YES!to visiting a really good coffee shop which also sells equipment -- in person. You should be able to find something in the Bay Area which offers an "Introduction to Espresso" class that introduces you to some of the equipment possibilities as well as to the process for making good espresso. Call around and ask. You'll find that this can be something of a bottomless topic and education makes the whole thing much easier.
We can start discussing what makes one machine or grinder better in an absolute sense and/or for a particular user, but I don't want to get too far out front.
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