Wednesday, Jul 17, 2024

The Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups

So you're thinking of buying an espresso machine, hey? If you're wondering how I know this, don't worry, it's not a case of “Big Brother is Watching” ;-), the fact that you're here on my blog at all is a pretty big clue, but given that you're specifically reading this post about home barista espresso machines and grinder setups, kind of gives the game away ;-).

But before we get into detail, the one thing I don't know – and the one thing that you may not know either, at this point, is what kind of espresso machine you're looking for.

So I'm going to give you a quick intro to each option, so you can determine which kind of setup you're looking for. I've then split the best machine suggestions into these categories, so you can save time by focusing on purely the kind of machines that you're looking for.

Coffee Machine With Grinder

Before I get to the types of machines, I think it's important to make a statement about the “coffee machine with grinder” category. There's a good chance you found your way to this post by searching for this, but this isn't actually a category, as such, it's really a top-level descriptive term which will provide fairly vague results.

This title could refer to an espresso machine with a standalone grinder, although it's more than likely if you're searching for a coffee machine with grinder, you're actually looking for a coffee machine with an inbuilt grinder, but even then, that's not a specific category of machine, as there are different sub-categories for machines with integrated grinders.

So don't be alarmed if what you thought you were looking for was a “coffee machine with grinder” and the fact that you don't see this specific category below, as what you're actually going to be looking for will be one of the more specific categories of coffee machine grinder, and if that doesn't quite make sense right now, don't worry as it'll make sense when you've read through the three sections.

Bean to cup Coffee Machines

This is one of the categories when it comes to coffee machines with grinders, in fact, it's the most popular category. Portafilter machines (more on this shortly) have boomed in the UK over the past few years, and are becoming more and more popular, but still, the “mainstream” machines when it comes to espresso and espresso-based coffees (cappuccino, latte, flat white, Americano, long black, etc.,) are bean to cup coffee machines.

Traditional espresso machines, also known as portafilter machines or traditional espresso machines, have a group, and a portafilter also known as a filter holder, with an espresso basket in, which the user doses with coffee via the integrated grinder.

Instead of a portafilter, bean to cup machines have a brewing unit, a device that automatically doses the internal basket with coffee ground by the integrated grinder, tamps the coffee, and then pulls the shot in partnership with the pump which delivers the brew water, and the brewing unit then dumps the used puck of coffee internally, into the grounds bin.

Bean to cup machines are more about convenience, and traditional espresso machines are more about perfection.

If you're just looking for convenience, and you're not all that fussy about your espresso and your espresso-based coffees, you just want to be able to put coffee beans in the top and get coffee out of the bottom, then you're looking for a bean to cup coffee machine.

I've included bean to cup machines in this post simply to point you in the right direction if this is what you're looking for, as I've written an in-depth post on the best bean to cup coffee machines:

Best Bean to Cup Coffee Machines

Assisted & Automated Barista Coffee Machines With Grinders

If what you're looking for is the middle ground in terms of the best balance between convenience and quality, then what you are probably looking for is an integrated grinder coffee machine which provides barista coffee quality, but with the convenience of a bean to cup coffee machine, and if that's you, then blimey, you don't want much do you? ;-).

If these are what you're after, the good news is there aren't many options to choose from, in fact in my humble opinion at the time of writing there are only really three that fit the bill. The bad news is they're not cheap (see the note below about Sage discount codes) but the good news is that the latest machine of this kind is fairly affordable, compared to the only two previous options in this category.

These kinds of machines are similar in function to bean to cup coffee machines, in that they don't require much barista skill or effort, but the main difference is that they (well, some of them at least, including the ones I've featured in this post) have the potential to produce what I refer to as home barista cup quality.

You'll often find this kind of machine in the bean to cup coffee machine category on the websites of bigger retailers, but they're not bean to cup machines, as they have a portafilter & basket, and not a brewing unit, and this is what makes them more capable of true home barista cup quality vs bean to cup machines.

Home Barista Coffee Machine With Built-in Grinder

If you're not looking for bean to cup machines, or assisted/automated machines, and you want to get into the home barista hobby, meaning that you want to be able to learn to get the very best results with a traditional espresso machine, but you want an integrated grinder, then these are the machines you'll be looking for.

What these are, are traditional espresso machines with an integrated grinder, so how they differ from the above category is that they don't have automation or assistance, which means the learning curve is steeper, but they don't hinder skill development in the same way that assisted or automated machines can.

Again, you'll often find these machines sold as bean to cup coffee machines, but they're not, they're portafilter machines which have an integrated grinder, so the presence of a built-in hopper and grinder are the only similarities.

Stand-Alone Espresso Machine and Grinder Setup

If you're really wanting to jump into the home espresso hobby with both feet, or if you've already dived into (or tripped and fallen into) the home barista rabbit hole and you're looking at upgrading your setup, you're probably looking at a stand-alone espresso machine and grinder pairing.

This would be my recommendation for anyone who's wanting to develop home barista skills. Integrated grinder machines are great, don't get me wrong, they're neat & tidy, they can be (not always, to be honest) space-saving, they can be (again, not always) money-saving, but for me, the pros of integrated grinder machines are outweighed by the cons, so if you were to ask me which I'd go for, I'd go for separates.

I have gone for separates, in fact. My first setup was a used 2003 Gaggia Classic and a Sage Smart Grinder Pro, my current home setup is the Sage Dual Boiler and Niche Zero. I've never actually owned an integrated grinder machine. I've used many, but in terms of buying one and making it my daily machine, that has never appealed to me.

The idea did appeal to me when I was getting started, but when I was getting started I was absolutely skint, my budget was somewhere between sod all and bugger all, and I stretched that budget slightly to get the Smart grinder pro (got it on offer with a discount at the time, for a bargain price) and a used Gaggia Classic back when you could pick them up for about a hundred quid.

Gaggia Classic ReviewSage Smart Grinder Pro Review

Best Prosumer Espresso Machine

This isn't a separate category, but I wanted to give a quick explainer on the “prosumer espresso machines” subject just to ensure that everyone understands what it does/doesn't mean.

The word prosumer is used to describe machines (not only espresso machines of course) that are of a professional grade, pro-level machines aimed at the consumer, it's basically a fancy way of describing higher-end home machines within any niche.

I'm not a huge fan of the “prosumer” term, where espresso machines are concerned, as I think it's a fairly vague term.

If you were looking for a prosumer espresso machine, I'd advise just making sure that you're clear on the type of machine you're really looking for as described above, and keeping in mind that generally speaking, the more you spend, the more your machine is going to have in common with commercial, or “pro” espresso machines.

The Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups

So hopefully at this point, you're more clear on what kind of setup you're looking for, so now let's get into the suggestions for the best espresso machines in each category.

Assisted & Automated Barista Coffee Machines With Grinders

Sage Oracle

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Update: Sage Discount Codes!

If you're in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Switzerland (and most other European countries) and you're thinking of buying any Sage coffee machine or grinder (or any other product from Sage Appliances) I have an active discount code that works so you might want to drop me an email. Click here to join my “Brew Time” mailing list, and then email me ([email protected]).

Read my post on best discount and sage deals:

Sage best deals and discounts

The Sage Oracle is the original machine in this category. At one time, the choice was simply to go for either the simplicity of a bean to cup coffee machine or the cup quality of a home barista machine. There wasn't a middle-ground machine for people who wanted home barista coffee quality without going through the home barista learning curve until Sage came out with The Oracle.

The Oracle is basically the Sage Dual Boiler, but with an integrated grinder and clever automation to take the place of home barista skills.

The dual boiler features in the best home barista espresso machine and grinder setups section of this post, and it's one of the best home espresso machines where performance is concerned, in fact, I don't know of any other espresso machine within the same kind of price tag as the Sage Dual Boiler that I think comes anywhere close.

The Oracle is everything that the Dual Boiler is, but it features automatic dosing and tamping, and auto milk texturing, so it takes away the skill requirement while still giving the user the experience of using a traditional machine. You'll look and feel like a barista, locking the portafilter into the group, unlocking it and knocking out the portafilter into the knock box, pouring your microfoam into your espresso, even mastering latte art if that's something you fancy having a crack at, but you'll be producing mega cup quality from day one, with a very little learning curve.

If you're someone who doesn't want home barista faffery, but you don't mind simply moving the portafilter from the grinds cradle to the group, and then knocking it out into the knock box – in return for cup quality that will rival many coffee shops (as long as you use great quality, freshly roasted coffee beans), and if you have the budget for it, then this machine may have been made for you!

I used the oracle for quite a bit, fairly recently, leading up to writing my refreshed Sage Oracle review post (I wrote a review of the oracle several years ago, but I recently re-wrote it and reviewed it on my YouTube channel too) and it really is a ridiculously good machine.

I'm very lucky, my home espresso machine setup is the Sage dual boiler paired with the Niche Zero, and my main machine here in the studio (which is where I am most of the time, writing these blog posts and creating YouTube videos) is the amazing Gaggia Reale, paired with the Gaggia G10 Evo – a commercial setup. When I was using the Oracle, though, I can honestly say that the cup quality wasn't lacking at all.

Yes, I can achieve more precision and greater consistency with the commercial setup and with the dual boiler paired with the Niche Zero, but the quality of the coffee I was drinking from literally walking up to the machine, pressing a button, moving a portafilter from one place to another and then pouring the milk, was incredibly good, I can honestly say that the Oracle is a very impressive machine!

Does it have cons, yes, but none of them relate to cup quality.

It's outside of the budget that a lot of people would allocate for a coffee machine, that's the only real con. It's not the most expensive coffee machine on the market, in fact, there are some bean to cup machines that cost more, but yeah, it isn't cheap.

Is the price justifiable though, if you can afford it? Well, if you have a fussy palate and a bean to cup machine just wouldn't cut it for you, and if you usually buy one coffee every morning from a chain coffee shop, for example, if we took into account the cost of the coffee, the electricity and the milk (especially so if you use moo juice and not milk alternatives, which are much more expensive), even a machine at this kind of price should have paid for itself within two or three years, or maybe even more like one to two years, depending on how much you currently spend per week on takeaway coffee.

The only other cons I could mention really relate to using it for purposes it's not designed for. For example, if you're really wanting to get into the home barista hobby, there are some cons relating to not having the same precision over the grind that you get with an integrated grinder machine, but that's not really a fair comment, as it is an integrated grinder machine.

The same can be said about the fact that it auto tamps, if you wanted control over tamping then this may be seen as a con, but it's a machine that has auto tamping, so calling this & other similar things out as being cons would really be like saying a con of a particular motorcycle is that it has 2 wheels.

Sage Oracle Touch

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The sage oracle touch is the fancier version of the Oracle, with touchscreen controls and personalisation. Watch me unboxing and setting up the Sage Oracle Touch:

The Oracle Touch is the touchscreen version of the Oracle, to point out the obvious ;-). It's more or less identical to the Oracle, but with the touch screen, although the touch screen does bring features that make it a bit of a different proposition to the non-touch Oracle.

While the Oracle is very similar to using other prosumer or home barista espresso machines but with the skill being replaced by onboard tech, the touch version combines this with a very simple and interactive image-based interface similar to some of the fanciest and priciest bean to cup machines.

For example, although the oracle is very capable of making a distinguishable cappuccino and flat white, it's down to the user to understand what the difference is and to take the required action, otherwise, it's very possible for the user to intend to make a flat white but to actually make a cappuccino. The touch version brings a mixture of automation on the milk side of things, with on-screen guidance to help the user to make their required drink.

So when it comes to you (or other family members/guests) being able to walk up to the machine, swipe the screen, choose the coffee they want & then press a button and walk away with a version of that drink that is likely to be very similar to what you'd expect a pro barista to hand you, the touch version does provide an extra level of assistance which may be more than it may sound by hearing that the Oracle touch is simply the Oracle with a touch screen.

For more on both the Oracle and the Oracle Touch, see:

Sage Oracle & Oracle Touch Review

Sage Barista Express Impress

Sage Barista Express Impress

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As I mentioned earlier, there's a more recent lower-cost solution that offers very similar results to the more expensive automated machines but comes at it from a different and more affordable approach, and that is this machine, the Barista Express Impress.

On the surface, this looks like the Barista Express, but with a tamp lever, the reality is however that there's quite a bit more to it than that.

Firstly, it's not “just” a tamp lever, it's a lever that delivers a calibrated 10kg tamp, and it's done in such a way that requires a very small amount of user effort, but secondly and more importantly, it's the automatic dosing in combination with the calibrated tamp which makes the difference here.

The great thing about the Oracle is that it handles the dosing and the tamping, and with these two variables out of the way, things are far less difficult. The Barista Express Impress takes care of these variables too, but it does it via assistance instead of automation, and it does it at a much more affordable price. Also, the Barista Express Impress can be used fully manually, which makes it a great solution if there are different kinds of users using the machine.

Often I hear from people who want to get into the home barista hobby, but their partner also needs to be able to use the machine and they're about as interested in developing barista skills as they are in watching grass grow, and the Express Impress is a great option for this scenario.

Someone not wanting to faff with things like manual tamping, manual dosing, distribution, and so on, can simply use the machine on auto dosing mode, in the way it's intended to be used, and the budding barista can switch it to manual dosing if they like, and use the dosing funnel (and just unscrew the metal splitter so it fits above the drip tray, or get a bottomless portafilter).

This also makes this machine a great option for someone who isn't sure whether they want to get into the more nerdy home barista side of things or not, or for people who might play around a bit more at weekends when they have a bit more time but want a bit less faff in the week.

Home Barista Coffee Machine With Built-in Grinder

If you're someone who isn't interested in having any kind of assistance or automation, you don't need or want the training wheels & you're willing to fully immerse yourself in the home barista learning journey, then you may be considering starting out with an integrated grinder machine.

Many do start this way, and as I mentioned earlier I would probably have started this way myself if I'd not been on such a minuscule budget when I started out, but it's worth pointing out that there are pros and cons for integrated grinder espresso machines, although they're not deal breakers.

Integrated grinder machines are often an easier sell when it comes to convincing your significant other to let you spend the value of a holiday on an espresso machine ;-), as they're such a neat single unit. They can also represent a money-saving, and a space-saving, so they're often the more obvious choice for beginner home baristas.

The main con relates to upgrading, as the home barista hobby is synonymous with “upgradeitis”, and when you start out with an espresso machine with built-in grinder, the first upgrade you have to make is a double upgrade, as the grinder and espresso machine are integrated.

Most beginner home baristas wouldn't see this as a massive con, though. Well-looked-after integrated grinder machines hold their value fairly well, so if you do find yourself wanting to upgrade, you can always sell your machine and put the proceeds toward your new setup.

Sage Barista Express

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The Barista Express is the original home barista espresso machine with an integrated grinder, and it's been one of the best-selling espresso machines in the UK (and in the US, Australia, and the majority of Europe) since it was launched.

It features Sage's original water heater (a standard thermocoil, vs their new faster “thermojet”), a 2L water tank, pressure gauge, programmable shot buttons (single and double), 54mm portafilter, pro steam wand with single hole tip, a nice big drip tray, a dedicated hot water spout, 18 grind settings – it's really no wonder this machine has sold so well!

When it comes to capabilities for a beginner home barista espresso machine, I think they've got just about everything right, and they've got more right than any of the competition (in terms of similar machines at a similar price point), so it probably deserves to be one of (actually, THE, I think) best selling integrated grinder espresso machines of all time.

The brew temp by default is 93 degrees C, but this can be adjusted. OK, it's not quite as precise an adjustment as with the Sage Dual boiler, but still, the fact it has adjustable brew temperature at all for a machine at this price is quite something.

It has low pressure pre-infusion, as do all Sage machines, which is amazing for machines of this price. It has a 3 way solenoid valve for dumping pressure and water from the basket after each shot. The steam wand is great, it's not the most powerful but this is probably a positive if you're just learning to texture milk, and ghost steaming works really well.

Sage Barista Pro

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The Barista pro is a newer machine in the Sage range, it shares most of the features of the Barista Express but the main difference is the water heater.

These machines don't have traditional boilers, they have thermocoils, which are on-demand water heaters. The Barista pro has the newer, faster “Thermojet” from sage, while the Barista Express has the original, bigger, and slightly slower thermocoil.

As a result, the Barista Pro is faster when it comes to being ready to use (3 seconds, vs around 30 seconds), and is slightly faster when it comes to steam ready time, shot ready time after steaming, and milk steaming speed.

The Pro has a 4 hole steam tip vs the single hole tip on the express, which also helps with the faster milk steaming, but the long and short of it is that if you're making milkies, you'll have your coffee quicker. How much quicker depends on the amount of milk you're steaming but generally speaking we're probably talking a total time saving of 30-40 seconds per coffee, when making milkies.

It doesn't sound like a lot, but over the period of a year, if you make two cappuccinos per day, for example, that's a saving of around 8 hours, so it does add up!

The Pro (and the touch) has 30 grind settings vs 18 on the express, but you can actually set the barista express grinder to half settings, in between two numbers, so in theory, there's not really a big difference here when it comes to the ability to fine tune, it's just that you have more numbered steps on the barista pro. 

The Pro also has an LCD display, with a shot timer, grind settings display, and is easier to get into cleaning cycles and to do things like adjust brew temperature and re-set the shot buttons, although the Pro doesn't have a pressure gauge, which the express does have.

I have to say, other than the steam ready time and shot ready time after steaming milk, I do think that where it really matters – cup quality, the Barista Pro and Barista Express are really evenly matched, and if I were shopping for a beginner home barista espresso machine with an integrated grinder, I'm not completely sure which way I'd go.

The only thing that I think would really tip me over the edge from the express to the pro is the shot timer, because pressing scale timers is a pain, but whether that's enough to warrant the extra money, is debatable. 

Sage Barista Touch

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The Barista Touch is the very imaginatively named touch screen version of the Barista Pro, but it's not just about the touch screen.

The touch, in my humble opinion, is somewhere in between home barista and bean to cup – it's a home barista machine when it comes to the coffee side, but bean to cup when it comes to milk, and also when it comes to coffee selection.

With the touch you swipe through a pretty range of colour images of coffees to select what you're in the mood for, and you have to handle the coffee side of things manually, but when it comes to the milk side, you just put your milk jug down, and the machine steams the milk for you to your specified texture and temperature, allowing you to then work on your latte art.

You can also create and name your own personalized coffees, as you can with the Sage Oracle Touch, but the difference with the Oracle Touch is that this machine handles the coffee side of things for you too, taking away just about any need for home barista skills. For more on the Sage Oracle & Oracle Touch see:

Sage Oracle & Oracle Touch Review Updated for 2023

Stand alone espresso machine and grinder setups

While there are a handful of integrated grinder machines, the majority of the options for home barista setups are stand-alone espresso machine and grinder setups, so we'll talk about these now, starting out with:

Single Boiler & Thermoblock Machines

Espresso machines at the entry-level are usually either thermoblock machines, or thermocoil machines (and thermocoils and thermoblocks are similar, but not the same, see espresso boiler types explained), or single boiler espresso machines.

Single boiler machines have one boiler to deal with both the espresso and steaming milk, which means you can't pull the shot and steam milk at the same time, and it also means waiting in between both processes, for the boiler to heat up or cool down.

Thermocoil or thermoblock machines are very similar, it's just that instead of using a boiler to heat the water they use an on demand water heater, think combi boiler vs traditional boiler for central heating, but a perfect analogy that kind of works.

By the way, re thermoblock vs thermocoil, the difference is that traditional thermoblocks have a coil shaped hole in the block which the water runs through to heat up, while thermocoils have a copper coil inside the block, they do the same job but thermocoils are generally considered to be slightly more effective and more durable.

De'Longhi Dedica Style EC685M

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I do appreciate that some people will scoff at me for including this machine as a “home barista” espresso machine, but I think it belongs here. 

This is a thermoblock machine, not a traditional boiler espresso machine, but it's actually quite a remarkable little machine for such a small amount of money. 

Although the fact it's sold with pressurized baskets and the marketing blurb harps on about how much pressure the pump can produce, does show that this isn't a home barista espresso machine, it is possible to tame this little machine for home barista use, to a certain degree at least.

While the pressure is a bit of an unknown with these kinds of machines (as they usually do have a small plastic overpressure valve but it's very rare that the actual group pressure it's restricted to is listed in the marketing information), I'm told by an espresso engineer that the DeLonghi machines appear to be set to 9 bars, so that's a positive thing.

The only real issue then is the pressurized basket, but you can switch the portafilter or the basket to get away from this, and this machine has adjustable brew temperature and is one of the very rare instances of a machine with a Panarello wand capable of producing decent milk texture.

A Panarello is a sheath over a steam pipe with holes on the side to allow anyone to steam milk, but they usually only create one kind of milk texture, thick foam for what I refer to as old school cappuccino. This machine, though, has two settings on the Panarello which actually makes it capable of decent milk texture capable of latte art.

If you can afford to spend a bit more on something like the Gaggia Classic, Rancilio Silvia, or Sage Bambino Plus, I'd recommend it – but if you absolutely can't, you could do worse than to start out with this machine as far as I'm concerned.

De'Longhi Dedica Arte 

Delonghi Dedica Arte.

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A very new addition to the well established Dedica range, this is the De'Longhi Dedica but with a pro steam wand. Many people have modded their Dedica over the years to add a pro steam wand with a Rancilio Silvia steam wand, in the same way, that people commonly did this with the Gaggia Classic before Gaggia brought out the Classic Pro (below) with a pro steam wand. 

The only negative at present about the new “Arte” version with the proper steam wand, is that it's only available at selected retailers, so deals are thin on the ground. 

Gaggia Classic Pro

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Exclusive Gaggia discounts

Gaggia have given me discount codes exclusively for my fellow coffee botherers. You can find them all here:

Exclusive Gaggia Discounts

I think it's fair to say the Gaggia Classic is “the” original entry-level home barista espresso machine.

When Gaggia released the machine in 1991, I believe they were aiming to make a high-quality traditional home espresso machine. I don't think they had the home barista or prosumer espresso machine market in mind, in fact, this market didn't really exist as such at that time.

But what they produced was perhaps one of the first prosumer espresso machines. Maybe not at the kind of level (and price) many people have in mind these days when using the prosumer or home barista terms, but the original classic was essentially a miniature version of a commercial espresso machine.

It had a full commercial sized 58mm portafilter, an actual brew boiler, 2.1L water tank, 16 ounce (473ml) drip tray, a 3 way solenoid valve & an adjustable over pressure valve, and not much else. So any espresso machine engineer would open this machine up and instantly know what they were looking at and would be able to maintain and repair it, mainly with easily accessible OEM parts.

Over the years huge numbers of home baristas either started out with, or stuck with, a Gaggia Classic, and it developed an almost cult-like status.

Things started to wobble for the Classic from 2009 onwards when Philips bought Gaggia, and promptly moved the manufacture of the Classic out of Italy, and began to make other tweaks.

This ended with the 2015 version which is probably the furthest removed from the original Classic, and probably the least appreciated.

To give them their due, they obviously took note of reactions to this model, and did a complete U-turn, releasing the latest model, the Gaggia Classic Pro.

The pro is probably about as close to the original classic as they could possibly get. The 3 way solenoid is back, it's made in Italy once again, we're back to traditional rocker switches except for the on/off button which looks like a rocker but isn't, they've lost annoying bits of plastic, and have gone back to the original higher quality machine throughout.

Most importantly though for me, they added a pro steam wand, in a nod to the fact that most people buying these machines are using them as home barista espresso machines, otherwise, they'd have just stuck a Panarello wand on as they did with all previous versions.

The water tank is still 2.1 litres, and the drip tray capacity is still the same at just under half a litre, the portafilter is still the standard commercial sized 58mm portafilter.

The only negative I usually read about the classic among the more hardcore Classic fans is that the overpressure valve is no longer adjustable, but this is very easily overcome with a very cheap and simple mod to replace the valve or the spring.

This is the only mistake I think Gaggia made with the new Classic Pro. They ship it out set to 14 bars of pressure, I believe, and they ship it out with both standard and pressurized baskets. I can understand shipping with both baskets, but I can't quite figure out why the higher pressure, I think it might be because this works better with ESE pods, but I'm not 100% sure.

Anyway, I did a blind taste test with two Classics, one at standard pressure and one restricted to 9 bars, watch my video below to see the result.

It's really no big deal though, if you want to set the pressure to the commercial 9 bar, it's very inexpensive and simple to switch the spring for a 9 bar one as I did in the video above, and it's as simple as that, a different spring.

The Classic isn't the best for brew temperature stability, it does waver up and down quite a bit when it comes to the brew temp – something it shares with probably its main competitor the Rancilio Silvia, which I'll talk about next.

The way around this is to get familiar with temperature surfing, or to fit a PID to digitally control the brew temp – and it's not as much of an issue if you're usually only making one coffee at a time vs. pulling multiple shots back to back. I'll talk more about temperature surfing shortly by the way.

The Gaggia Classic pro isn't perfect, it has its quirks, but if you work your way around these quirks you have a great setup at a very reasonable price.

The main quirks are temp stability and bar pressure out of the box as we've discussed, the other is when it comes to milk steaming, but again there's a way around it. As it's a tiny boiler, the steam doesn't last long, but there's a way around it, you just ignore the steam light, start steaming about 7 or 8 seconds after turning the steam on, and the steam power is great & lasts plenty long enough.

Gaggia Classic Pro Review

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Rancilio Silvia

The Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups

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The Rancilio Silvia is a popular single boiler home Barista espresso machine, and for quite some time since its release in the late 90s, this was widely regarded as the best home barista espresso machine.

This wasn't initially intended to be a home barista espresso machine, it was made as a special machine as a thank you for Rancilio's best performing distributors at a time when they had never entered the home machine market and were still purely producing commercial espresso machines.

But “Miss Silvia” was a hit with the distributors who received one, and they quickly realized this machine had great potential for the home espresso machine market.

For years after this, there wasn't a lot of choice among home barista espresso machines at a reasonable price point, the choice was Gaggia Classic or Rancilio Silvia.

The Silvia was usually a couple of hundred quid more than the Classic though, but the cost is closer these days with the newest version of the Silvia only being around £100 more than the newest version of the Classic.

Silvia has usually been regarded by those with experience with both machines, as having a bit more potential for espresso quality, if paired with a capable enough grinder.

The classic has been regarded, generally speaking, as the more reliable of the two over the long term, and with less potential to element burnout due to the fact that the boiler is externally heated.

In many ways these machines are similar, same size water tank, same size portafilter, both have brass groups, both have a 3 way solenoid valve, neither have a PID (but both can be modded with a PID) and they're both operated by simple switches.

They look similar too I think. Silvia is a bit more square, and the steam knob on the Silvia is on the front, and on the Classic it’s on the right hand side of the machine. The Silvia looks and feels a bit more substantial, it has a slightly more commercial look to it I think, possibly because of the all metal finish, whereas the classic has the visible water tank and the plastic drip tray.

The Silvia's drip tray is slightly bigger too, 18 ounces vs 16 ounces, so 60ml more, not a big deal – and a 2 Litre water tank vs the 2.1 Litre water tank on the Classic, so again not much difference there.

The biggest difference is the boilers. The Classic has a small 80ml externally heated boiler with a 1370W element. The Silvia has a much bigger 300ml Brass/Chrome alloy boiler, internally heated via a 952W element.

My personal opinion of the Silvia is that it's a great choice for the beginner home barista, especially if paired with a grinder of the caliber of the Eureka Mignon upwards.

As with the Gaggia Classic Pro, the Rancilio Silvia has its quirks too, but you can work your way around them.

It has the same temperature stability issues as the Classic, and again you can either fit a PID to tame this little beast, or you can use temperature surfing.

Temperature surfing simply means to follow a routine in order to ensure you're pulling the shots at as close to the ideal shot temperature as possible, there are lots of different ways to do this, but in my humble opinion they're all fairly hit and miss, and the only way to get perfectly consistent results with the Silvia or the Classic is to fit a PID.

Steaming is quite a big difference between the Silvia & the Classic Pro.

The steam power from the Silvia is flipping ridiculous ;-), it's literally commercial espresso machine quality steam power. The downside is that it takes longer for the boiler to reach steam ready time on the Silvia vs the Classic, as the Silvia has a much bigger boiler and a slightly smaller powered heating element.

The boiler size means it ends up with a shed load of steam power, and it does steam quicker than the Classic without a doubt, but the overall time including waiting for the steam to be ready is longer on the Silvia vs the Classic.

As with the classic, there are quirks with the Silvia when it comes to steam too. If you wait until the boiler is officially steam ready, and the heating light goes off, then open the steam wand, and you'll blow a hole through your kitchen worktop ;-). Well, maybe not quite but you'll probably blow the milk right out of the chuffing jug.

If you use temperature surfing while steaming too, though, you can get much more usable and consistent steam from the Silvia, and faster too.

There are various methods for this too, but what I've found is that it really just depends on the boiler temperature at the time you switch the steam on, and without a PID it's really difficult to know where you're up to with it.

When I was using the Silvia recently (so I could get to know it before reviewing it), I got into the habit of putting my ear close to the machine so I could hear what the boiler was doing, and that gave me an indication of how long I needed to wait after turning on the steam before beginning to steam milk.

Another quirk with the Silvia, with the latest version at least which is V6 2020 (I've not used the earlier versions), the double basket it comes with is a 14/16g basket, which I wasn't a big fan of. It's a very easy thing to resolve though simply by buying a better basket, I bought an IMS 18 gram competition basket from Shades of Coffee, and I was instantly much happier with the espresso I was producing with this machine.

There's a big hex bolt that holds the shower screen in place, and this creates an indentation in the puck of coffee. I did scratch my head a bit as to why they've chosen such a massive bolt to do such a small job, but I'm told that it's the same bolt they use on their commercial machines, and that apparently it doesn't cause any issues.

You do need to keep the boiler primed, as the Silvia has an internal heating element and no auto refill or level indicator either on the water tank or the boiler, so getting into the habit of making sure the boiler is primed is something you'll need to do, but it's not really a big deal.

I like using the Silvia though, overall. It's a well-built machine for a relatively low price, the portafilter feels nice and heavy, and it's the same portafilter they use in their commercial machines.

Sage Bambino Plus

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By the way, if you're wondering what the heck that mask was all about in the video above, it was a nod to the very strange time we were just entering at the time I published the video, as it was just as we were going into the first UK lockdown.

We've kind of gone from one extreme to the other here, from talking about the much more traditional Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia to talking about the Sage Bambino Plus.

The Classic & Silvia are old school traditional espresso machines, made in the same way (just about) as traditional commercial espresso machines have been made for decades, with easily accessible parts which any engineer or just anyone with a bit of DIY ability, would be fine maintaining and/or repairing.

The Sage Bambino Plus isn't quite like this, it's not a machine that you'd easily be able to take apart, and if you did you probably wouldn't be able to get hold of most of the parts, and you wouldn't be able to use OEM parts either.

So on the positive side of this, you get some great user friendly features from this machine, but on the negative side, unlike more traditional machines, this isn't a machine you're going to be able to tinker with over the years to maintain or repair it. If it breaks after the two year refund or replacement warranty, the chances are you'll end up skipping it and buying another machine.

The good news there is that in my experience if these machines have faults they usually show up within the warranty period, and if they do Sage usually just replaces them, and other than that they do seem to be fairly durable machines, I've had mine for a few years now, and I've never had an issue with it.

With the more expensive Sage machines, by the way, including the Oracle machines and the Dual Boiler, needing a repair outside of warranty doesn't mean replacing, as most espresso machine repair and maintenance firms will work with these, but usually not with the entry-level machines.

This is a very small espresso machine, but it packs a real punch in terms of features, with a very reasonable 1.9L water tank, with a filter that is easy to fit and replace.

As this machine features the newer thermoJet water heater as the Barista Pro and Barista Touch, it's ready to rock & roll in 3 seconds, steam is ready almost instantly, the steam wand auto purges, and you can steam manually or let the machine do it for you automatically.

It has low pressure pre-infusion, with two programmable shot buttons with factory pre-set preinfusion but you can pull the shot manually too including manual preinfusion.

It pulls shots at 9 bars, which is something I've seen people misunderstanding. Yes, the pump is a 15 bar pump which is quite normal, but it has an overpressure valve set at 9 bars.

It has a PID for temperature stability, and OK you can't adjust the brew temp as you can on the Barista express and Barista Pro, but still, it means you don't have to do any temperature surfing stuff to deal with greatly fluctuating temperatures.

So I think you've got to take your hat off to this little inexpensive machine if you're wearing one.

It's practically unheard of for a machine at this price to feature low pressure preinfusion, or 9 bar brew pressure, or a PID, or both auto and manual milk steaming, so to find a machine at this price which has all of these features combined, is amazing.

This machine comes with both pressurised dual walled baskets and standard baskets. If you're looking for a home barista machine, to use with an espresso capable grinder, you'll want to play tiddly winks with the pressurized baskets, or use them for some indoor Frisby fun.

Pressurised baskets have their benefits in terms of allowing the more “standard” coffee drinker to use a traditional machine with a grinder not capable of espresso grinding, or even with pre-ground coffee.

It'll make the espresso look the part with what looks like nice crema, and to be fair the espresso you can get via pressured baskets and a cheap, non espresso capable grinder or pre ground (if you're using decent coffee) is probably going to be acceptable for the majority of usual coffee drinkers.

Speaking of decent coffee beans, I feel a shameless plug coming on… In case you didn't know, and you probably do as I've plastered it all over the blog ;-), I have my own brand of freshly roasted, high quality coffee beans available at The Coffeeworks. This started as a project to just create a handful of coffees that my fellow coffee botherers (coffeeblog readers, so that's now you, too), but it went down so well that it quickly built into the current range of 16 very nice coffees, and more (seasonal single origins) coming soon.

Use discount code CBNC25 for 25% off your first order at Coffeeworks

Anyway, if you're going down the home barista path, pressurized baskets just won't do – and in my opinion, these baskets belong in the very cheap (around £100) domestic espresso machines made for the mass market, and not in entry-level home barista espresso machines.

You can get a really good milk texture with the auto steaming feature, not perfect, but not far off. You can get great microfoam with this machine by using the steam wand manually though as you'll see from my milk steaming tutorial video below.

I've used this machine a lot, I use it at home sometimes, I use it in my studio at times as it's so quick and easy to use, and as it's so small I take it with us when we're on holiday in the UK, along with the smart grinder pro, so I've had a lot of experience using this machine.

The only thing I don't like about it, really, is the little drip tray. It's the only real quirk though, and it's not a deal breaker, you just need to get into the habit of emptying it regularly.

You can reduce the trips to the sink by putting a jug or cup under the steam wand when it auto purges but even if you do this or if you don't steam milk, you'll still need to empty the drip tray after every few times you use the machine.

Sage Duo Temp Pro

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If you took the Sage Barista Express, removed the grinder, the pressure gauge, and one of the shot buttons, and made it a bit slimmer, you'd have the Duo Temp Pro, more or less. The Infuser is basically the Barista Express without the integrated grinder, but the infuser isn't currently available in the UK unfortunately.

The duo temp pro has the original thermocoil as the Barista Express does, and not the newer thermojet that the bambino plus has, so it takes a bit longer to heat up (not much, 30 seconds or so), and it takes a bit longer to be steam ready and then to steam milk.

As with the Bambino plus, this inexpensive machine pulls shots at 9 bars of pressure & features low pressure preinfusion and a PID, so again, a lot of features for not a lot of dosh.

In my humble opinion the newer versions from Sage with the thermojet heaters, are better overall mainly when it comes to faster milk steaming and less waiting around for steam to be ready. If this is the grinderless version of the express, then I'd love it if they made a pro version of this, a grinderless version with the LCD screen, shot timer & thermojet heater.

But they don't, and anyway – if you're on a tight budget and you're not too worried about waiting slightly longer for your milk to be steamed, then the duo temp pro isn't a bad choice.

ECM Casa VECM casa v espresso machine

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The Casa V is a stunning looking home barista espresso machine from German espresso machine manufacturer, ECM.

ECM, which is the sister company of Profitec by the way, another well known high end espresso machine brand, mainly makes dual boiler and heat exchanger espresso machines, and this isn't a manufacturer of cheap espresso machines!

They do, however, make a couple of single boiler machines, and of these, the Casa V is the most affordable.

It'll set you back around three hundred quid more than the Rancilio Silvia, so about four hundred more than the Gaggia Classic Pro, but keep in mind that while these machines need a bit of investment (namely a PID) to tame them for temp stability, the Casa V is temp stable out of the box and generally less quirky.

This isn't a PID machine, but it features a very temperature stable type of group, known as a saturated group, which are known to be better for temperature stability than the more standard ring groups found on the likes of the Classic and the Silvia.

It has a hefty 2.8 litre water tank, a vibe pump, a 400ml brass boiler with a 1200w heating element, and a OPV (over pressure valve) which is very easily accessible for anyone who wants to adjust the pressure from the standard 9 bars.

It has a nice sized (0.9L) drip tray, a very nice looking chrome plated commercial sized 58mm portafilter, and a steam wand on a ball joint with a two hole steam tip, and a pressure gauge.

Steam ready time with the Casa V (or Casa 5 – why do some firms use roman numerals? Weird!) is just 30 seconds, due to the powerful heating element, so that's a clear advantage over the Silvia.

Although I've not used the Casa V yet (I will be doing, and a review is on its way) I'm told the steam power is even more impressive on the Casa V than with the Rancilio Silvia, which is hard to believe to be honest as the steam power is amazing on the Silvia.

So if you were thinking along the lines of the Rancilio Silvia, but you had a few hundred quid more to play with – you'd be investing in better shot quality out of the box without fitting a PID, faster steam ready time, more powerful steam, a bigger drip tray, and water tank, and overall a higher end espresso machine inside and out.

ECM Classika II PID

ECM Classika PID Espresso Machine

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The Classika II is another single boiler espresso machine from ECM, which shares the features of their higher end dual boiler and heat exchanger machines. I assume the ECM Classika was made for those home baristas who want the best both inside and out, but who don't need to steam milk & pull shots at the same time.

So the Classsika has the same E61 group head and the same 975ml stainless steel boiler found in their flagship Synchronika, the same pressure gauge, adjustable PID for temperature control in one degree increments, electronic shot timer, shot lever, so in many ways its the same as their nearly £2500 dual boiler espresso machine, but with the one boiler.

It has a vibe pump vs the quieter rotary pump in the Synchronika, and unlike the Synchronika the Classika can't be plumbed in.

It has the same 2.8L water tank and a slightly smaller (but still huge) drip tray capacity of 1L.

It's undoubtedly a lovely machine, and a very well built machine, capable of great espresso and great milk texture.

Steam power is going to be just as impressive as with the Syncronika, with that nearly 1L boiler, the only negative when it comes to milk vs the Synchronika is you can't steam milk and pull shots at the same time with the Classika as it's a single boiler machine.

It's not all that an expensive machine actually when you take everything into account, it's about another £400 on top of the cost of the Casa V, but it's over a thousand pounds less than the machine it's closer to feature-wise, so I can understand the appeal.

Heat Exchanger Machines

The next type of machine to discuss, after the single boiler machines, are heat exchanger machines.

Heat exchanger machines are similar to dual boiler machines in that you can steam milk and pull the shot at the same time, but they do this in a different way, by exchanging heat from the steam boiler for the brew head – for more on this see single boiler vs heat exchanger vs dual boiler.

There are pros and cons to both heat exchanger machines and dual boiler machines, the main pro for dual boiler vs heat exchanger being precise temperature control, but to be fair some of the latest heat exchanger machines are PID controls rather than having pressure stats as used to be the case, so there is less difference there when it comes to the latest heat exchanger machines.

The main pro for heat exchangers is they're usually cheaper, so they can allow you to get more for your money, and to be honest in my humble opinion with some of the newer heat exchanger machines I can't see a lot of negatives for heat exchanger vs dual boiler.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II

Oscar 2 Espresso Machine.

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The late 90s was the time that prosumer or home barista espresso machines were starting to come to the market, and the original Nuova Simonelli Oscar was released in 1999, the same year as the Rancilio Silvia.

The original Oscar was very popular as a home barista espresso machine, a fairly low cost option given its ability to pull shots and steam milk at the same time, and it proved to be a fairly robust machine, the only negative really was it was a bit of an ugly duckling.

The successor to the popular Oscar, imaginatively named “Oscar 2” is much improved aesthetically, and has some improvements internally too.

It's among the lowest cost heat exchanger espresso machines, and it has some impressive features for the money.

Stainless steel construction, huge 2L boiler powered by a 1200w element, a whopping 1L drip tray, powerful steam from the 4 hole steam tip, and it doesn't take up much space at 30xm wide, 40cm tall, and just under 41cm deep.

As is common with heat exchanger machines, there's a pressure stat to control the temperature, not a PID, so cooling flushes are required before pulling shots, but no big deal.

It has two timed shot buttons which include a factory pre-set pre-infusion time of one second, you can't adjust the pre-infusion as you can with some machines, and there isn't a manual shot button either just the times, but you can get around that by setting one of the buttons to 60 seconds and then just press that button to start and stop the shot.

The manufacturer calls the pre-infusion on the Oscar II “soft infusion”, I'm not sure if that's just their way of saying pre-infusion or if they're avoiding referring to it as pre-infusion as traditionally pre-infusion would be at line pressure, which would require a machine to be plumbed in, which would usually require a rotary pump.

Unlike most home barista or prosumer machines, the steam is started with a joystick rather than a rotary valve, which seems a good idea to me, the less time you're messing about turning a steam knob on and off, the more time you have to focus on getting the milk texture right.

ECM Mechanika V1 Slim

ECM Mechanica V Slim Espresso Machine

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The Mechanika V slim is a lovely looking compact machine from ECM and a heat exchanger with an even bigger (stainless steel) steam boiler than the Oscar II at 2.2L.

This is among the most powerful of the compact prosumer or home barista espresso machines with a 2.2L boiler & just 25cm wide, just under 45cm deep, and just under 40cm tall.

It isn't just the boiler size that is impressive about the tiny ECM Mechanika V1 slim, though.

It's an E61 group machine with a shot lever, as with the Classika PID, and it has a 2.8 L water tank, a drip tray capacity of just over 1 Litre, a dedicated water spout, two pressure gauges (pump pressure and boiler pressure), and very high quality weight balanced portafilters (you get two with this machine).

This isn't a PID controlled machine, but it's known for having good temperature stability, mainly down to the E61 group, and with a simple cooling flush you'll be able to pull back to back shots with very little difference in shot temp. This is a vibratory pump machine so you can't plumb it in, but with a 2.8L water tank, this probably isn't going to be too much of a big deal for most home baristas.

It comes with retro-looking rotary valves for the water and steam, but if you prefer, you can switch these for joystick control.

For any home barista who needs a tiny machine but doesn't have a tiny budget, and wants a powerful machine in a very small format, I think this machine is probably quite hard to beat.

Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

Finally, we're onto the dual boiler machines. As the name suggests, dual boiler machines have two boilers, a brew boiler, and a steam boiler.

The main benefit of being a dual boiler is that you can pull shots and steam milk at the same time.

You can do this with heat exchanger machines too, but dual boiler machines tend to have better potential when it comes to shot temperature precision, stability, and control vs heat exchanger machines, although as I said earlier, newer heat exchanger machines are providing better features in these areas than was previously the case.

Sage Dual Boiler

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In my humble opinion, this is the no1 dual boiler home espresso machine on the market for home baristas for the price, especially where performance is concerned.

Note, I'm not saying it's the best home espresso machine, I'm saying it's the best for the money. I do think there are better home espresso machines on the market, but in my opinion, none of the machines anywhere near the price point of the dual boiler offer any real competition where performance is concerned.

This machine is just ridiculously good, given the relatively low price. The price point puts it in the mid-range for heat exchanger machines, yet this is not only a dual boiler machine, but it's one of the best dual boiler machines on the market where temperature stability and precision, and preinfusion control are concerned. 

In my opinion, the dual boiler even gives the likes of the mighty  La Marzocco Linea Mini which features below, a run for its money (which is around three times the price), and in some ways, it actually trumps that machine, for example where pre-infusion precision and control, and brew temp precision and control is concerned. 

This is my home machine, so I'm not talking about the dual boiler from the perspective of just having used it once or twice. I actually have two of them, one as my main machine at home, for making “normal” espresso and espresso-based drinks (mainly flat white) and another one with the slayer mod for more experimental shots using lighter roasts.

In case you're wondering if I'm loaded ;-), these are both old beaten up machines that were broken, and reconditioned, they had both pulled well over a thousand shots when I got hold of them, in fact I think one of them had pulled close to two thousand shots. 

I use my dual boiler with the Niche Zero, which is a great pairing for the dual boiler, and I think you'll find similar results with the Eureka Mignon Specialita, Baratza Sette 270, Eureka Oro Mignon, Solo DF64, and so on – there are many options at the £400-£500 price point and upwards, however, the best value comes from the Dynamic Duo package. 

For more on the Sage Dual Boiler see my in-depth review:

Sage Dual Boiler Review

Sage Dynamic Duo

Sage Dynamic DuoThe Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups

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The dynamic duo package is the Dual Boiler bundled with the Smart Grinder Pro (RRP £210), and the price is £50 more than the Dual Boiler on its own.

Is the Sage Smart Grinder Pro the best grinder to pair with the Sage Dual Boiler, I'd say no, this grinder is a great pairing for entry level espresso machines, but I don't think it matches the shot potential of the Dual Boiler. But, if I were buying the Dual Boiler, I'd buy the Dynamic Duo, without a shadow of a doubt. Why? Because that is a stonking deal for a great all-rounder grinder.

Even if you don't plan on using it as your main grinder to pair with the Dual Boiler, it's a great little grinder to have for manual brew, and as a backup grinder – and getting it for £50 is an absolute bargain!

Also for people who just want to get started on a relatively low budget (OK, some will argue that this isn't a budget setup, but in terms of price it really is when we're talking about dual boiler espresso machine setups), I think the Dynamic Duo is a great starting point. Just start out with this, and once you get to the point that you're starting to reach a plateau where your shot quality is concerned, and you feel like the setup is holding you back, start saving to upgrade the grinder. 

Re the cost, it's even better when you have a discount code! :-). In case you didn't see my mention of this earlier, I have discount codes to share from Sage Appliances. If you're in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, or other countries within mainland Europe, join my “brew time” mailing list here, then drop me an email, and if you're not in the UK please let me know what country you're in and I'll send you the appropriate code.

ECM Synchronika Dual Boiler PID

ECM Synchronika Dual Boiler PID Espresso Machine.

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The Synchronika is ECM's flagship dual boiler espresso machine, and it's among the most popular dual boiler espresso machines on the market.

This is an E61 group machine, with a PID, so no worries here when it comes to temperature stability. The PID allows independent control of both boilers, allowing you to adjust the brew boiler temp in one-degree increments, and allowing you to adjust the steam pressure.

It has two insulated stainless steel boilers, a huge 2L boiler for the steam, and a 750ml brew boiler, with 1400W and 1200W elements respectively.

The steam boiler can achieve 2 bars of pressure, which is the kind of steam pressure I'd expect from a commercial machine rather than a home barista machine. In fact, the only other home barista machines I'm aware of which achieve this are the La Marzocco GS3 which is nearly three times the price.

There's a 3L water tank, although you can plumb it in if you prefer, thanks to the rotary pump which also makes this a more quiet espresso machine than most, as most home barista espresso machines tend to have slightly louder vibration pumps.

It has two pressure gauges, one for the steam boiler and one for the pump. It's a lever-operated machine as is usually (but not always) the case with E61 machines, it comes with a commercial sized 58m portafilter, and the drip tray capacity is an impressive 1.2L.

It has a shot timer, a large ball-jointed & no-burn steam wand with a 2-hole (other tips available) steam tip, and a dedicated hot water spout (which is also no-burn).

And this is an ECM machine, so we're talking seamless build quality. In a nutshell, if you're looking for a dual boiler machine, and you have a couple of grand to spend on an espresso machine (don't forget to budget for the grinder too), the ECM Synchronica will be on your shortlist, and if it's not it probably should be.

La Marzocco Linea Mini

La Marzocco Linea Mini.

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Now we're getting even more serious, both in terms of the machine and the cost, with a big jump from the ECM Synconika of almost another two thousand!

This is a very well regarded home barista espresso machine, and it's the smaller home barista sibling of the La Marzocco Linea Classic.

This isn't an E61 group machine, by the way – it has an integrated group, meaning the group is integrated with the boiler. I'm guessing this is more to do with size than anything else, as it occupies a very small footprint for such a high-level machine.

It has a stonking 3L steam boiler powered by an 1820 Watt element, and a much smaller 170ml brew boiler with a 1620 W element.

It has a 2.5 L water tank, but as with the Synchronika above, this is a rotary pump machine which means it's quieter than most vibe pump espresso machines and that you can plumb it in if preferred, you can plumb in the waste too, so you'll never have to empty the drip tray!

It has a PID with a pressure adjustment wheel, which allows you to adjust the brew temp in one-degree increments – you can also adjust this via the smartphone app which allows you to do loads of other cool stuff like see the current boiler temp, remotely turn the machine on or off, and even create an on and off schedule!

It has barista lights, which are lights intended to light up the shot to give you a better view of your shot – these turn on as you start the shot, nice little touch.

But given all this power, it really is quite small, 37.7cm tall, 35.7cm wide, and 45.3cm deep.

The general story when you read and listen to the folks who own these machines is that they pull great shots, they do an amazing job when it comes to the milk side of things, they're very simple to use & also very enjoyable to use.

I do see the odd little gripe from owners of the Linear Mini when it comes to just a couple of areas, the adjustment wheel for the PID does seem a bit old school, but then you can easily adjust digitally via the smartphone app.

Also, the steam wand isn't no-burn, which is something I'd probably hope for to be honest if I was spending the best part of four grand on an espresso machine. The brew paddle doesn't give any real control of preinfusion, it's basically a fancy looking on/off switch, and there are no volumetric buttons.

Would these small negatives stop me from buying the Linear Mini if I had the budget for it? Nope, you sometimes have to take the rough with the smooth, and let's face it there's a heck of a lot more smooth here than rough.

What About the Grinder?

I've always been under the impression that you should spend as much as you can on the grinder, and that the quality of the coffee grinder is much more important than many people think, but I've recently been informed that there's more to it than that.

I was chatting to a very experienced espresso machine engineer recently, who works with commercial espresso machines, who told me that the espresso grinder should take priority over the espresso machine!

His argument was basically that when it comes to shot quality, you can spend as much as you like on the espresso machine, giving you all manner of features that “should” give you great espresso, but the only thing that will ensure this is the case, is a decent enough quality grinder to pair with that espresso machine.

I suppose it seems like a bit of an over the top analogy, but would you really buy a McLaren F1 if you couldn't only afford to put a fiesta engine in it?

A less OTT way to put this is, the grinder is very important when it comes to espresso ;-).

For home barista espresso machines, my grinder suggestions would be:

Sage Smart Grinder Pro: Probably the best entry-level grinder capable of espresso grind, not an espresso specialist but a great all rounder which will grind fine enough for espresso with most beans. 

Eureka Mignon Specialita: Great little espresso grinder, lots of power, worm dial stepless adjustment, very quiet.

Baratza Sette 270: Decent espresso grinder, I really like the Macro and Micro adjustments (270 settings!), the only thing I don't like is the volume, ear defenders required ;-)!

Baratza Sette 270Wi: As above but it grinds by weight, with inbuilt Acaia scales.

Niche Zero: The original (almost) zero retention single doser grinder. Stonking burrs, quiet, reliable, and lots of power. No dosing, though, and no auto off, just a toggle switch.

Eureka Oro: This is the first grinder on the market aimed at competing with the Niche Zero which I think has the potential to give it some stiff competition. It's based on the Mignon XL so it has the 65mm flat “diamond inside” burrs.

Baratza Forte: 54mm flat ditting burrs, 260 grind settings via the same micro and macro adjustment as the sette 270, does have grind by weight mode but not with the portafilter cradle in place. 

For more on grinders, see:

Best Coffee Grinders

Kev's Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups What the FAQ

What is a home Barista?

A home barista is someone who sees coffee making as more than just means to an end, and instead wants to develop the knowledge and skill to enable them to make increasingly great quality coffee, not limited to espresso of course, there are many home baristas who focus more on manual coffee brewing. Basically being a home barista means developing similar knowledge and skills to pro baristas, which give home baristas the ability (and over time, also developing the palate to be able to fully enjoy) to produce enhanced coffee quality compared to the coffee made at home by more “normal” coffee drinkers.

What is the difference between a fully manual and semi-automatic espresso machine?

The difference is the presence or lack of a pump. Semi auto espresso machines have a pump that delivers the required water pressure, while fully manual machines such as the La Pavoni Europiccola, deliver the pressure via a lever & a piston.

What are bean to cup espresso machines?

Bean to cup espresso machines is espresso machines for people who don't want the faff or the learning curve associated with using a more traditional espresso machine. They're basically the perfect option for “normal” coffee drinkers who want the freshness and the flexibility that using whole beans provides, but without having to develop barista skills, and without the barista workflow which most people see as a faff.

For more on bean to cup machines see:

Best Bean to Cup Coffee Machines

How much do I need to invest as a beginner home barista?

This is a difficult subject, and the real answer is probably “as much as possible”, given that generally speaking – the more you spend, the better overall experience and better potential for cup quality. If we're talking bare minimum, I'd say (at the time of writing) about £300-£400 for a used setup, or about £500-£600 for a new setup.

Speaking from experience I would say if you genuinely can afford to spend more than this, then I think it makes sense to do so, but if you can't, then you can't, so just start out where you can. I started out with a used Gaggia Classic (back when you could pick them up for a modest price tag), and a Sage Smart Grinder Pro I picked up at a heavily discounted price. I upgraded from there, and my current home setup is the Sage Dual Boiler & Niche Zero.

This is my Gaggia Classic 2003. Cost me £100.
This is my Gaggia Classic 2003. Cost me £100, good luck finding one for this price these days though.

Check Price - Gaggia Direct

Exclusive Gaggia discounts

Gaggia have given me discount codes exclusively for my fellow coffee botherers. You can find them all here:

Exclusive Gaggia Discounts


Can I make coffee with an espresso machine and a blade grinder?

In theory yes, but only with pressurized baskets, and in reality, you're going to find it much easier to get good results with a burr grinder, even with pressurized baskets. If you're looking for a home espresso machine with grinder, I'd highly recommend you go for a burr grinder.

What are pressurized baskets?

Most of the entry level, domestic espresso machines don't come with “standard” espresso baskets. Standard baskets, also known as “traditional” baskets have holes going all the way through the basket, it's basically a coarse mesh made into a basket shape.

With standard baskets you have to grind quite fine, which is why traditional baskets aren't usually compatible with the cheapest grinders – and you also have to be able to make quite small adjustments to the grind size. Pressurized baskets look like standard baskets from the top, but if you flip them over they usually have just one hole on the bottom, through which all of the espresso flows.  

Pressurized baskets are really about looks, rather than being about taste. There's nothing about them that would actually make it easier to get better extraction, and therefore better tasting espresso, all they really do is artificially create crema, which is why Gaggia call them “perfect crema” baskets.

Life is like a box of chocolates, so join my Brew Time list, subscribe to my YouTube Channel, become an accredited coffee botherer (Patreon supporter), try my coffee at The Coffeeworks (use discount code coffeebotherers), follow me on Twitter & Instagram, follow the coffeeblog FaceBook page, and that’s all I have to say about that.

The post The Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups appeared first on Coffee Blog.

By: Kev
Title: The Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups
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Published Date: Sat, 08 Feb 2020 19:38:25 +0000

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