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Machines, what do you get for your money

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In a similar vein to my other thread on grinders, I thought I would put up a thread on machines and what you will get for your money as a little helper for new members and those of us considering an upgrade, I am by no means a standing authority on machines but I have had my fair share of both pump and lever machines.


Firstly I will delve into the different types of machines that are available for you to get your mitts on.


Single Boiler :


This is a pump driven machine that’s characterised by the fact that it only has one boiler to brew the coffee and most of the time the steam function as well (some machines may have a thermo block to take care of steaming), so the forum favourites that sit firmly in this bracket are the Gaggia classic and the rancilio silvia. (There are many others and I will list more when specifically looking at price)


Now these machines are generally regarded as the entry level into decent espresso, they will tend to have small brew boilers (although some like the Vibiemme Domobar have much larger brew boilers) and require some form of temperature surfing in order to get to the correct brew water temperature for a great extraction. (There are loads of threads available on temp surfing)


The single boilers can be modified Using a PID ( Proportional – Integral – Derivative temperature controller) which will essentially keep the temperature much more constant. A down side to single boiler machines in general is the fact that you have to do both the brewing and the steaming in the same boiler. This means that there is a lag when the machine has to switch from the brewing thermostat to the steaming thermostat to get the temperature up to 135 Celsius for steaming; conversely you have to cool the temperature down if reverting back to brewing. The accepted methodology when using these machines is to do your espresso first then steam your milk second.


Single boiler machines are often more compact and more kitchen friendly due to the size and usually pass the significant other test much more easily, they are also the least expensive of the machines out there (in general) and are therefore much more affordable especially when starting out on your coffee journey.


Heat exchange machines (HX):


Again a pump driven machine either by vibratory or rotary pumps, these machines are characterised by the way that they get the water to the correct brew temperature. This is achieved via a pipe running through a steam boiler that is constantly sitting at steam temperature (usually indicated using a pressure gauge on the front panel, accepted ranges are between .8 and 1.5 bar pressure in the steam boiler). Cold water is fed into the base of the integral pipe via the pump, and is forced through the pipe to the group head, simply put, once the water reaches the brew head it has been sufficiently heated from the steam boiler water to give the correct extraction temperature.




One issue with HX machines is that if left to idle for long periods of time the water contained within the HX pipe will get up to steam temp and thus too hot for brewing espresso, so you are required to do a small cooling flush of the group (which means pumping enough water through the group to ensure only fresh water is going through the group) this will stabilise brew temperature again.


A great advantage of HX machines is that you can extract espresso and steam milk at the same time which makes multiple drink preparation much easier, they are also much more temperature stable than the single boiler machines (in general). They tend to be bigger in size (some are very compact e.g the simonelli oscar) and as such take up more counter space, they are also more expensive than single boiler machines and thus are harder to get past the significant other test.


Dual Boiler:


Once again a pump driven machine either by vibratory or rotary pumps, these machines are characterised by having independent boilers that control brew water and steam. One boiler is assigned to steaming as per the HX machines, the other usually PID controlled for temperature stability, control the water for the espresso extraction. The advantages of these machines is no cooling flush as the temperature in the brew boiler remains optimal because of the PID, also temperature is a lot more controllable, so you can play with the temperature that suits different roast profiles. Steaming and brewing can be done at the same time, although because the steam boiler tends to be smaller on DB machines (pro-sumer machines not commercial) you tend to get less steam power.





These are usually the more expensive of the machines out there but tend to be similar in size to the hx machines so take up a similar amount of counter space. These tend to be the most sought after pump machines of the home enthusiasts. With the introduction of the Vesuvius, you can now have complete pressure profiling in a dual boiler as well.


Lever machines:


In general there are two types of lever machines, sprung levers and hand pressure levers.


Hand pressure:- the user exerts the pressure on the puck by pushing down on a lever, these tend to be direct fed systems, whereby the water for the espresso comes straight out of the steaming boiler as per a la pavoni. When the lever is raised the piston goes past an entry hole in the group, steam pressure in the boiler then forces water into the cylinder and saturates the puck with water (pre infusion) pressure is then applied to the puck by pressing down on the lever, slow consistent pressure is essential to get a good extraction.





A disadvantage to most hand pressure lever machines is that the machine relies on the group to reduce the temperature of the water, however after pulling a few shots the group will absorb more and more heat and eventually become over heated and thus needs to be cooled down by switching off or using a wet towel. They are the cheapest of the lever machines (in general, cremina excepted) and usually have a small footprint. A wonderful advantage of this type of lever machine is the connection to the process however they can be difficult to master, users often become more frustrated by hand pressure lever machines than any other machine. But once mastered is capable of amazing shots of espresso. Milk steaming is usually taken care of by an outlet valve and is usually done after the espresso has been pulled. This type of lever machine tends to be the entry level


Sprung levers:- with these levers the pressure exerted through the puck is controlled by a spring in the group, when the lever is dropped down the spring is compressed, water again saturates the puck under boiler pressure (dipper) or via a HX or thermo syphon. When the lever is raised the spring applies pressure to the puck and steadily declines in pressure as the spring relaxes. This makes for a very repeatable process with many less variables and produces exquisite shots of espresso (I am a little biased here)




These tend to be more expensive and cover a wide range of machines from classic ones like the faemina to modern elektra models. The more expensive they get the better they get. The Londinium 1 regarded by many as the ultimate in home lever machines is close to £2000. Declining pressure and temperature profiles which these machines do naturally are sought after by many of the top end pump machine manufacturers.


Steaming and shot extraction can be done at the same time and usually the boilers are slightly bigger with bigger elements so plenty of steaming power, they tend to have a bigger foot print but not in all cases. The older lever machines are beautifully designed and still going strong (old examples can still be easily found).


What do get for your money?


Used or New?


The time old dilemma! Do you want peace of mind in the form of a warranty or do you want more bang for your buck by getting used or do you want a complete bargain you have to put time and effort into restoring?


Brand new machines will of course offer you a warranty which is more important with machines as there is a lot more to go wrong, especially the more complicated you go, a warranty will give peace of mind and usually back up when needed.


Buying from a trusted source, i.e forum members, means you will probably get a machine that has been cared for and has many years of life left in it, it will come at a much better price and more machine can be had for your money.


Buying from auction sites is a bit of a lottery when buying used but bargains and well looked after machines can be had, doer uppers can also be had, but be warned restoring machines can be very expensive and very timely, make sure you know what you are getting into before jumping in.

Edited by coffeechap
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I will break this down into price brackets to sum up


Up to £500 –


What this gets you is the forum darling the Gaggia classic ether used (50 -100) or new, although older ones were better made, a rancilio silvia used (£250) or new, used simonelli oscar and used fracino cherub both HX machines (£350- £500)

Used La Pavoni europiccola or Caravel hand lever (£200- £250), used pontevecchio, Elektra microcasa or older faemina £300 - £500. All used machines will depend on condition and love, forum purchased ones tend to get better money as they have usually been properly cared for.


£500 - £1000


Plenty of choice in this bracket, lots of new HX machines to consider, too many to list, used dual boiler e.g. Expobar DB (£800) used La Spas S1 (£850) New elektra Microcasa sprung lever and many other entry spring levers, used cremina or even a used BOSCO !!


£1000 - £2000


Again lots of choice here most of the brand new DB range as well as the top end HX machines Alex duetto and Qm Verona (£1800) Used L1 £1500 or new £1950 New Bezzera strega (£1350) You may even get fabulous single group commercial levers in this range (caution commercial levers and pump machines have much bigger boilers and are more expensive to run)


Above £2000


The world is your oyster, the new Vesuvius is a great buy at around £3000 (non pre order price) a Used or new GS3, a slayer one group if you have this sort of money it opens a lot of doors but be careful your wallet needs to be big for the rare lever machines.


This list is by no mean exhaustive and just gives you an idea what is out there, it is also only a representation of general pricing of used equipment, some folk have got amazing bargains on equipment. I am sure many will express differing opinions but please feel free to add to this thread with your thoughts the more info out there the better, but again most of all, enjoy the machine you have and the coffee you make and dont rush into buying something you wish you had waited on.

Edited by coffeechap
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  • 2 months later...

Excellent thread just wish that I'd had this to hand before I dived in. Not that I'm complaining about my Gaggia as it is a good starter machine on which to learn, but I'm wondering I may have paid well over the odds for mine which was over 5 years old even though it did have a PID and silvia wand fitted.


No matter, I know where to come if and when I ever get to be able to afford to upgrade. Oops! not forgetting....allowed to upgrade.

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  • 1 month later...
I'm wondering I may have paid well over the odds for mine which was over 5 years old even though it did have a PID and silvia wand fitted.

Don't know what you paid and won't ask but mine was a one-year old one with the Silvia wand, OPV, mesh screen and top of the range Auber PID. Came with (only) a naked PF and I think I paid about 200 quid. The PID retails at about US$125 on its own don't forget.

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