Great starter machine, fairly priced, solidly built and has the ability to brew great espresso.
Positive Product Points
Small footprint, visible water reservoir, price, easy to understand controls.
Negative Product Points
Took a few months to work out a routine to prepare consistently good espresso. Developed a small leak of water from the end of the steam wand.
LeíLit PL041QE espresso machine and PL53 Grinder
After purchasing the above machines in August 2010 from 1st-Line equipment, I experienced many of the difficulties that have been discussed in various forums. These are my first brewing and grinding machines and my only experience was an afternoon course that I took two years ago at Kitten Coffee in Brooklyn.
Despite the often quoted guidelines for adjusting coarseness of grind, quantity of dose, distribution within the basket, technique and force of tamp along with all the variables of pulling the shot, my drinks were highly inconsistent in quality with a disappointingly high percentage of shots that were undrinkable.
Problems included what appeared to be early blonding (although it was really a lightening of color and not true blonding which includes a thinning of the liquidís density), frequent and considerable channeling, bitterness from too hot an extraction temperature, and a great deal of difficulty controlling extraction volumes.
After a lot of reading (Iím very impressed by the generosity of time that many have put into their informative posts) and much experimentation, I seem to have hit upon a protocol that has resulted in truly delicious espresso with highly reproducible outcomes.
I turn on the espresso machine and allow it to warm up for a minimum of 15 minutes. After starting the machine I run a few ounces of water through the steam wand and then the grouphead to eliminate some of the standing water from the previous dayís use.
I warm the portafilter with its basket in the grouphead while the machine warms up. When all is ready I weigh out 14 grams of beans on a small digital scale (15 grams could not quite fit in the double basket) and grind them into a cup. This recent change of weighing the coffee and grinding into a cup rather than directly into the portafilter has resulted in dramatic improvement. I had earlier tried to eyeball the dose, and tried many techniques of distribution including shaking the basket, tapping it on hard surfaces, stirring the grinds vigorously in all sorts of patterns (WDM), followed by a variety of tamping methods, but none could consistently prevent dramatic channeling as viewed from my bottomless portafilter.
Now, I spoon the grinds into the basket with a small spoon and distribute carefully pushing a bit with the back of the spoon toward the edges, leaving a very slight indentation in the center.
I place the tamper on the grinds and gently press the base with fingers on the tamper base at N/S then E/W. I then tamp straight down with 10lb of force. A polishing twirl is done to finish.
With the machine warmed up and the ready light on, I run water into the espresso cup until the boiler light turns off indicating that the boiler water has cooled and the boiler has turned on (it sounds like some earlier units have lights that do the opposite). I pour the water out of the espresso cup once it has warmed. When the ready light turns back on I run water for 3 seconds to cool the water a bit and then attach the portafilter and turn the water flow back on. With my current grind setting the flow is beautiful with more gradual lightening of the pour, a well formed cone and little to no channeling. I generally run the shot for 25-30 seconds and generate 1.5 to 2 oz of coffee. The end of the shot shows shrinking of the cone and slower, wobblier flow through the filter but this doesnít seem to harm the quality in any way.
Because the grinder is stepless I canít describe the fineness that Iíve hit upon, but my impression is that it is being ground to a very fine powder (as posted comments by Jim @ 1st-line had recommended). I use Bali beans from Rook Coffee Roasters in Oakhurst, NJ (www.rookcoffeeroasters.com) and the results are great.
I hope this helps some similarly inexperienced owners of these machines to make great espresso a lot faster then I learned to.
1-st line (www.1st-line.com) delivered as promised and has responded promptly when I've emailed questions. When the steam wand water leak occurred they promptly sent me new o-rings along with instructions of how to install.
Three Month Followup
The machine still functions very well and with practice I make better and better espressos. I've cut the weight of beans for a double shot to 12g, but continue to spoon grinds into portafilter and push with back of spoon to periphery, creating a central dell. This is followed by 10-15lb. tamp. Channeling isn't completely eliminated but it is minimal and doesn't affect the quality of the shot. All in all, very happy with the machine and would purchase again. Support from 1st line has been excellent. Milk frothing has improved as well with evolution of technique and I'm able to make great microfoam.