I need a new setup and have a $700 budget for the grinder & machine. Ive researched for days but there is just so much info, it gets overwhelming. At this point im leaning towards the Rancilio Rocky w/ Gaggia Classic.
I primarily drink espresso or cafe cremas with the occasional milk based drink.
About 2 drinks per-day on average.
I only need it to make one drink at a time.
I would prefer it's ready to use quickly in the morning.
Reliability is of course important.
I just want to achieve some semblance of the quality I had drinking espresso while visiting Rome. Doesn't everyone though...
Given your requirements I'd have to agree with the others. The Classic would be a great machine if you are making one drink at a time and are not concerned with back to back shots or excessive steaming. Out of all the machines people on here would more than likely recommend it also has the fastest "boot up time" given that it has a smaller, easier to heat boiler. As to the grinder there are many better options than a rocky. You should decide whether you want doser, doserless, or grinds bin. Those options when weighed will narrow down your search on a decent grinder that may even last into your next bout with upgraditis.
Back to back shots need about 4 - 5 minutes between if left entirely to OEM machine mechanics. Steam switch surfing, boiler thermometer and/or PID can cut that down. Here is mine with PID, "back to back"
Consistently good espresso is a matter of good beans, and good control of temperature, pressure, dose and grind. That's not an opinion. It's an "is."
Temp You can make something which is recognizably espresso with machinery which doesn't allow consistent pressure in the right range, insufficiently fine control of temperature and insufficiently fine control of grind. Sometimes you get lucky, and it's good. But you can't make it good on purpose or consistently good without a certain level of competence from your machinery.
If you absolutely, positively must buy now and your budget restricts you to an SBDU, plan on adding a PID as part of the purchase, because "temperature surfing" using the lights -- no matter how much practice you have, or whether you use "advanced" techniques like "reverse surfing" -- is just not good enough if you have any kind of palate. By that I don't mean some sort of super-duper, golden palate (which I don't possess) -- but that you can recognize "too sour," and "too bitter," as things which are unpleasant and best avoided.
Pressure Fortunately, the Classic has an OPV, so too much pressure isn't an issue. You can avoid too little, by prepping your baskets your baskets well enough to avoid serious channeling.
Dose For dosing, you'll need a scale with 0.1g nominal accuracy (0.25g is really all you need, but good luck finding it, and since 0.1g scales are cheap -- why the heck not?).
Whether or not you "single dose" by weight, you'll need the scale. And if you don't, but use the grinder's hopper, you'll probably want some sort of timer to time dose; so you don't have to weigh every darn dose before grinding.
GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER Not many grinders in your price range include timers; so if you're looking at a grinder which doesn't, factor the lack of a timer into your consideration.
The Rocky (no timer) used to be the best grinder in its price range. Now there are much better for less. Setting aside the difficulty of finding the exactly right setting with any stepped grinder (the Rocky may be modded to be stepless) the Rocky's particle size distribution range -- pardon the jargon -- is far too wide for an espresso grinder.
The Baratza Preciso (stepped, timer) and LeLit PL 53 (stepless, no timer) are both significantly better than a Rocky for espresso grinding, but each is barely adequate.
The Vario (timer) is the least expensive, good grinder. It's also one of the most user-friendly grinders available at any price.
Three things to remember are that (a) as long as the machine is minimally competent you'll see a lot more "in the cup" difference between grinders than between machines; (b) money invested in grinder performance will pay a hugely bigger dividend, than the same amount of money invested in the machine; and (c) any SBDU, expressly including the Gaggia Classic, without a PID -- and maybe with one -- falls below that minimum threshold of competence -- which ought to tell you something.
Other Stuff Steaming is not an essential part of espresso per se. But it does matter to a lot of people. The Classic, like every other SBDU is a piss-poor steamer. If capps and lattes are big parts of your plan, you may want to wait until you can afford a hybrid or an HX.
Steam or no steam, if you're in a position where you can delay buying until you've saved another $300, The combination of the Crossland CC1 + Vario is enormous value for the money.
But 50% more than you budgeted is a LOT. If you can't wait, and have made up your mind on a Gaggia Classic, consider some form of consistently accurate temperature control a necessity. (A PID kit is certainly the most common, but I understand there may be a couple of other ways to skin the cat.) If you can't control temperature, you can't teach yourself how to make good espresso. The best you can do is learn inadequate work-arounds.
If you've decided on the Classic, don't get less than the PL 53 or Preciso, but don't waste your money by getting anything more expensive than a Vario. With or without a PID, an SBDU is too limited to take advantage of a better grinder.
Finally, my opinions about SBDUs are just that -- my opinions. You can certainly find plenty of people who feel otherwise, and will tell you that on the basis of their experience, SBDUs are just the thing for the espresso junky on a budget. But you'll find that most people with a lot of time and experience with espresso, especially those who moved on from SBDUs, agree with me.
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