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Decent grinder + beans + cheap espresso machine = good coffee?


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Hi coffee lovers!

 

This is my first post on here. I looked for forum rules regarding posting possibly stupid questions and couldn't find any, but if this is a silly question, apologies in advance!

 

So, I have owned for about 3 or 4 years, a Delta espresso machine (15 Bar) purchased from Aldi for about £20.

 

I'll pause here for a bit whilst you all stop laughing! ....

 

It has worked without fault during all this time (with not one single descaling) and still continues to work. Having read scores and scores of reviews of people who have had multiple failures of big brand machines, I think for £20 nobody could complain.

 

With regard to the coffee it produces, I use pre-ground lavazza espresso coffee (the one that comes in the vacuum packs), and I would say the coffee tastes OK, but not as good as coffee shop coffee. The steamer is useless though and may as well not be there.

 

Anyway, I want to upgrade to get better tasting coffee so I am looking at the options. I do not want to spend too much money so I am tempted to go second hand.

 

But the thing I am struggling to comprehend is how a more expensive espresso machine would produce a better cup of coffee. As far as I am aware, these manual espresso machines simply force heated water through the ground coffee beans at around 9 bar of pressure. I do not know the actual pressure my Delta machine achieves but it definitely does force hot water through the coffee at some kind of pressure!

 

Thinking about it like this, I can see why people say that the beans and the grinder are perhaps more important than the espresso machine itself.

 

So for my upgrade, I am tempted to perhaps first buy a grinder and some highly recommended coffee beans and make coffee with my Delta machine to see if the results are better than using pre-ground Lavazza coffee (which is not ground fine enough I don't think).

 

Then, hopefully somebody can explain how the more expensive machines themselves can contribute to the quality of the espresso produced?

 

I suspect if I upgrade my machine, I will immediately fall into the realm of diminishing returns. I mean, I paid £20 for my machine. If I buy a Gaggia for £200, I can be sure the coffee won't taste 10 times better (I think!).

 

So, to summarize, if I buy a 'decent' grinder and good beans, I imagine the coffee my Delta machine produces should be significantly better?

 

If then I upgrade to say a Gaggia Classic or suchlike, would there be another significant jump in quality?

 

Sorry for the long post!

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What is your budget?

 

with a £120 grinder + good beans you will get good coffee with your machine

 

spend another £150 on a refurbed classic and you'll likley see another jump. I am not familar with you machine and without putting a negative on it, i can't imagine it is actually that good.

 

Give us a budget and 10 people will jump in :)

 

Good start with recognising the importance of the grinder

Gaggia Classic : Vario : Espresso Gear Tamper

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I think I am willing to spend that much on a grinder if it will improve the coffee taste.

 

With regard to my Delta machine, I think it is normal that people think it isn't any good considering the price.

 

But what is it about more expensive machines that will product better coffee?

 

I assume my machine has lower quality components inside, but my thinking is that higher quality components would aid longevity more so than taste?

And as I mentioned, my machine has been running for almost 4 years without a hitch.

 

I would like to have an understanding of how/why a more expensive machine produces better coffee?

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I imagine the step up from £20 to £200 is similar to the step up from £200 to £1000+.

Basically there are several key principles involved in brewing a perfect espresso (temperature stability, water flow distribution, pressure and some more that aren't as important) and the price ranges available make trade-offs to get the best for that budget.

Your £20 will use a pressurised basket which means its more tolerant to grind size. If you use unpressurised baskets you'll need extremely consistent grind size.

The pressurised baskets build up the pressure internally, forcing the coffee through a small hole. This gives very uneven extraction (relating to water flow distribution) and not great tasting coffee. The temperature fluctuation whilst brewing on cheaper machines will be huge also, having an adverse effect on the taste of the espresso.

 

I could go into much more detail but to I think what you need to know is that the step up to a gaggia classic (even second hand) will give you good temperature stability due to the commercial brew group (also using a trick called temperature surfing) and good flow distribution due to unpressurised baskets and a commercial style 4 hole group holder into a shower screen. What you should know is that buying a classic won't instantly improve you're coffee. You'll need to get that consistent grind size by using a decent grinder, as well as distributing the ground coffee evenly and tamping properly.

 

I would suggest you get a classic to start your journey to great tasting espresso but be prepared to also buy a decent grinder, tamper, scales, naked portafilter and many other accessories.

 

Hope this helps.

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Hi coffee lovers!

 

So, I have owned for about 3 or 4 years, a Delta espresso machine (15 Bar) purchased from Aldi for about £20.

 

I'll pause here for a bit whilst you all stop laughing! ....

 

It has worked without fault during all this time (with not one single descaling) and still continues to work. Having read scores and scores of reviews of people who have had multiple failures of big brand machines, I think for £20 nobody could complain.

 

 

First of all, I'd like to say I had a similar dilema 15 years ago - in fact I am in a very similar position now. I had a cheap 9 bar machine and found that the coffee it produced was really smooth and velvety (I was already buying decent fresh coffee at this time) and when I moved 'up' I was even a little disappointed at how much I had to work to get a decent espresso. But, with practice and a little adjustment to my techniques, I soon began making really good espresso (IMO).

 

What I suggest you do first is buy a grinder. Now you can go 2 ways on your budget - a new MC2 or a bargain MDF from e-bay. There are sellers of factory returns on e-bay and you can find some decent bargains for grinders. Use the grinder with your current machine. If you love it, don't swap, but if you're curious, save up for a refurbed Classic, which for a little more than 100 pounds is a bargain and will produce great espresso (there is a very reputable seller on these boards and I know a lot of people have bought machines happily from him - I think his name is Gaggiamanualservice). If you like lattes etc, you'll have to swap out the frother which is cheap and easy to do and you will never look back!!

 

Good Luck!

Edited by xiuxiuejar
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Another one here for the grinder. A decent grinder and fresh beans will see a much greater improvement than an upgrade on your machine. The machine really depends where you want to go on your coffee journey. I would suggest around £150 on a grinder and look for some recommended suppliers of beans online (they will be roasted no more than one or two days before you get them, store bought beans could have been roasted weeks before). See how much you enjoy making coffee once the grinder is covered and then decide how much you want to get into it. If you are happy with what you are producing it, then stick with what you have.

Modded Fracino Heavenly | Eureka Zenith 65e | 15g/18g VST's | Made By Knock 58.35mm Tamper | Torr 58.4mm Tamper | AeroPress | V60 | NotNeutral Mugs | A cupboard full of stuff

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Some great advice on here and your logic sounds good. I think upgrading the grinder and coffee first is definitely the way to go. You should notice a marked improvement from using good beans and grinding fresh, even with your existing machine. You will notice another step change improvement when you upgrade your machine.

 

Your current machine probably has a pressurised portafilter as Fatboyslim suggested. This will constrain your ability to control the amount of pressure within the coffee puck. Pressurised portafilters have very constrained outlets and so restrict the water flow and create pressure within the coffee puck. On higher end machines, the portafilters are not pressurised and so it is up to the Barista to control the water resistance and hence pressure within the coffee puck. A Barista will control the ressitance by adjusting the grind and dose of coffee within the basket.

 

Better machines may also have a three way solenoid valve which will alleviate pressure from the coffee puck after the shot so that you can remove the portafilter immediately after pulling a shot without any portafilter "sneeze". It also means the puck is much dryer as any excess water is sucked back up up after the shot.

 

Your current machine probably uses a thermoblock to heat the water. This is a block of cast aluminium or plastic with a rather torturous channel through the centre for the water to travel through. The block is heated with the idea being that the water is heated to the desired temperature as it travels through the block. Higher end espresso machines will feature a boiler instead, which provides much better temperature stability and will allow the build up of steam pressure for steaming milk. Thermoblock designs tend to pulse short bursts of water through the thermoblock using the pump which produces very wet steam with very little force.

 

So to summarise, a higher end machine like the Gaggia Classic, will allow better control over brewing the espresso, give better temperature brew water for the shot (and consistently so), be much better at producing steam for steaming milk and be more convenient for making back-to-back shots.

Edited by jimbow

Compak K3 Touch, Fracino Cherub, VST 15g & 18g filter baskets, Reg Barber Tamper (58.4mm flat and 58mm c-flat)

Baratza Virtuoso with Esatto attachment, Hario Buono, V60, Kalita Wave, Chemex, Aeropress, Porlex Mini

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First thought is, seems you must like espresso because despite being happy with the equipment and pre-ground that you have, the espresso cannot be as good as it would be with fresh, ground on demand, extracted with a good machine. So from the outset you're a perfect candidate to appreciate the improvements you'd get from upgrading.

 

What difference would it make? Once you got it right (there's a learning curve) it would be a revelation. Completely different. Creamy. Smooth. Sometimes Sweet. Brown not black. Under your skilled control. And that's just the espresso. Bubble-free textured milk and microfoam (texture affects taste). Latte art hearts for fun.

 

There are so many ways to justify an upgrade. BUT you're lucky... You like what you already have. So it's not essential... it's a bonus!

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Top answer from Mike, to a good question (not a silly question in any way at all!)

 

Some of the cheaper machines perform quite well.

 

I'd also advocate buying a grinder first - as no matter what machine you get in the future you will need a decent grinder

Home Barista Training - contact me to discuss your requirements

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Thanks for all your replies! Some very good advice.

 

With regard to my current machine, I don't know how to tell if it has the pressurised basket or not. But from your comments I guess it is.

 

I have taken some photos and will add them here soon, I'm sure you will be able to tell from looking at it.

 

When I made my original post, I completely forgot that there is one problem with my machine. For some reason, the portafilter has a hollow handle. There is a removeable cap at the end with a rubber seal. This cap has cracked so no longer fits, meaning when I use it, I have to tilt the machine backwards to raise the portafilter handle, otherwise coffee runs out of the handle when in use! I'm so used to this that I had completely forgotten about it. The other downside of this rather silly design, is you need to flush hot water through the handle after each use otherwise you get a build up of stale coffee in there which as you all know, doesn't taste too good.

 

So I guess this is an excuse to upgrade the machine anyway at some point.

 

Being a bit of a geek, after making my original post, I decided to open up the machine and check out the innards. But it has these really annoying screws with a triangular recess instead of the usual postdriv type screw. This means I can't get it open. Very frustrating! I've searched on google for a suitable screwdriver but I can't seem to find one.

 

I am going to keep my eyes open for one of those MC2 grinders, see if I can get a second hand one in good condition.

 

Its funny, I mentioned to my colleague at work that I am thinking of buying a coffee grinder and it will probably cost over £120. His face was a picture. He is happy with instant coffee though, so I guess I'm not surprised.

 

I do like espresso (I used to work at Disneyland in Paris and got used to drinking espressos in the canteen for 30 cents) but now I also like cappuccino. Since the steamer on my machine may as well not be there, I bought one of those Aerolatte milk frothers, but it's nowhere near as good as the frothed milk you get in a coffee shop.

 

I'll add some pictures soon when I can find my memory card reader.

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Very sensible question, and lots of sensible advice. A few months ago I was in a similar situation to you - I had an 15 year old but still functioning Krups machine (with non-pressurised pf, but otherwise unremarkable) and was making reasonable espresso from Lavazza and Illy pre-ground. The machine went wrong a few times but I managed to fix it, albeit sometimes in a Heath Robinson way. (Not sure what sort of screws you are facing but a good tool shop should be able to help out.)

 

Then my machine died and I decided to go the whole hog, and bought a Silvia and Vario. I ordered freshly beans from one of the online roasters mentioned a lot in this forum, and prepared myself to be blown away by wonderful coffee.

 

Result: for the first 2 weeks I was making completely undrinkable espresso, either too sour or too bitter. It took me a while to realise that (a) I was used to Italian-style espresso, but the beans I was buying were never going to make that kind of coffee, and (b) a powerful semi-automatic machine can make wonderful shots, but it can also make stuff that is only fit for the sink, if you don't get it right.

 

Three months later: my espressos are often better than the high street stuff, and cappuccinos are great (even the other half, who is quite fussy about her coffee, is now happy with my extravagance). But it was quite a journey, and still there is a long way to go.

 

My 2 cents: unless you have a lot of time to spare and frustration to bear, change only one variable at a time: start with a grinder, buy beans of the style you're used to (start with the ones you know - there are lots of threads in this forum discussing Italian-style beans - you might try Union Revelation, which you can even get from Waitrose). Then experiment with other sorts of beans and discover your likes and dislikes. Then get yourself a better machine, when you can afford it and have decided that it's worth your while.

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Hello 50Cent,

 

If I could offer you what little knowledge I have gained over the past few months of trying to achieve a great expresso on a dismal budget.

 

I started off with Lavazza pre-ground much like yourself. I was using them in a Gaggia machine and could not wrap my head around why I was getting such plain black liquid-y shots. After alot of reading I had started to suspect it was because of the pre-ground supermakret beans.

 

I have a very tight budget with these things and it takes me a long time to save up for expensive things, so over £100 for a grinder seemed crazy to me. I eventually settled on a Hario hand grinder for little over £20 and some freshly roasted beans from http://www.coffeebeanshop.co.uk. The difference this made was staggering, the flavour changed, the shot suddenly had lovely crema and the taste was transformed.

 

I had to attach a drill to my hand-grinder because of how long it took, and eventually I replaced this with an Iberital MC2. I have also bought some other bits and bobs, like a proper tamper and a botemless portafilter, but these are incremental changes, the beans are the key thing.

 

I read a good analergy in my resurch. If you have a loaf, or even a slice of bread it can remain fresh for days, break it into crumbs and it has a matter of minutes before it becomes stale. The same principle applies to your beans, but they are much finer than breadcrumbs.

 

If you want to get an idea of what a difference the freshly ground beans will make, take a look at http://www.coffeebeanshop.co.uk/. They will roast the beans the day before, grind them and put them in the post so it is no more than a day between grind and coffee. Its not ideal but it will give you a much better idea of wether to spend a bit of money on a grinder.

 

D

 

p.s. for your tool

if it is like the mitsubishi sign then its a 'tri-wing' screwdriver'

otherwise, just a 'triangle screwdriver' http://www.sourcingmap.com/swivel-cap-black-rubber-grip-t23-triangle-screwdriver-tool-p-169738.html?currency=GBP&utm_source=google&utm_medium=froogle&utm_campaign=ukfroogle

Edited by Dylan
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  • 4 years later...

i think coffee is like photography - a £50 fully automatic point and shoot will usually take reasonable photos, and £2000 dSLR can take fantastic photos, but also can make a right mess, if you don't know what you are doing.

 

I was exactly where you are a year ago, preground coffee into a basic delonghi machine. first thing was a grinder and fresh beans, that improved things even with the same machine, and then i went and got a second hand classic, and it's improved more - but the variation also increases, lets say the old setup always made 5/10 coffee - i can now occasionally get things right and 8/10 but also get 2/10 if i do it wrong. I know my setup won't let me get consistent 9/10 otherwise no one would spend £3k on a grinder and machine, but until I get consistent 7/10's I know I am the weak link and it's pointless upgrading more.

The more I learn, the less I know!

 

Rancillio Rocky:) Gaggia Classic :) 18g VST

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Thanks for your response Graham. Yes, I totally agree, I've upgraded my grinder to Graef CM800 which for me is working brilliantly and enabling me to put fresh ground coffee beans into my cheap machine which was my initial aim and I'm also using unpressurised baskets which is going well and making decent coffee IMHO. I'm also aware that like most hobbies the constant search for the next tweak and upgrade can become all consuming! I think I'll give my current £25 Aldi machine a chance to prove itself while ultimately accepting that I'll be getting a Gaggia Classic as my next step sometime soon. I'm interested to note you did find the Classic to be a worthwhile upgrade to hone your barista skills on!

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