The Best Home Barista Espresso Machine & Grinder Setups

This is a post about what I believe to be the best prosumer espresso machines, or to use a term I’m more comfortable with, best home barista espresso machines (and grinders).

A quick note about this, some people use the term prosumer to describe the higher end “professional consumer” espresso machines. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the term.

I prefer the term “home barista machine” – as most of the people using these kinds of machines are home baristas, and I think the prosumer term can be a bit misleading. 

So, anyway, whether you prefer to call them prosumer machines or home barista machines, this is what this post is about.

But before we continue talking about the various options for home barista espresso machine and grinder setups, I have a question for you:

What kind of espresso machine user are you?

This is a really important question, and without answering it, you may well end up with completely the wrong kind of home espresso machine. 

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to espresso, there are two types of home espresso machine user, home baristas and bean to cup espresso machine users.

In a nutshell, bean to cup espresso machine users want an espresso machine as means to an end, and are happy to put convenience first and taste second.

There’s no doubt that home barista espresso machines will produce better coffees, but only in the hands of someone who has developed the necessary skill, and there’s more to that than many people think.

Bean to cup coffee machines will usually make OK espresso (as long as you use decent coffee beans) straight out of the box, without much of a learning curve, so if you want “OK” espresso & espresso based coffees & you don’t want to take up a new hobby, a bean to cup coffee machine may be perfect for you. 

Best Bean to Cup Coffee Machines

So what is a home Barista?

While bean to cup machines will produce OK espresso straight out of the box with little experience or skill, there’s no doubt that there’s the potential for significantly better coffee with a traditional espresso machine, also known as “prosumer espresso machine”, or “home barista espresso machine”.

Depending on the skill of the user, along with the capabilities of the espresso machine, and the grinder it’s paired with, a traditional espresso machine has the potential to produce stunning espresso. 

The Italian word “Barista” literally translates to “Bartender”, but it’s used specifically to describe someone who is trained to use an espresso machine and to prepare & serve espresso based coffees.

Barista Dritan Alsela with his 4 group lever machine.

Barista Dritan Alsela with his 4 group lever machine.

So the term “home barista” is used to describe someone who has developed the skills to enable them to prepare espresso at home, using a traditional espresso machine.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s more to this than many people think. If you’ve not used a traditional espresso machine before, you’ll be in for a learning curve. It’s not just a case of sticking some coffee in and pressing a button – that’s what bean to cup coffee machines are about.

Once you’ve honed your craft, though, you’ll be able to consistently produce fantastic quality espresso and espresso based coffees that you would only get from some of the best, indie coffee shops, and way better than you’d get from any chain cafe’ in my humble opinion.

By the way, when I say “traditional” espresso machine, this can be a fully traditional lever machine such as the La Pavoni Euripiccola, or a semi automatic traditional espresso machine, which uses a pump to deliver the pressure rather than a piston.

Most espresso machines these days are semi automatic, although piston machines are still available.

The La Pavoni Euripiccola is one of the rare affordable lever machines, it’s like taking a step back in time to the original lever machines, it’s just a boiler and a lever, and it’s an amazing machine – but there is a bit of a steeper learning curve to learning barista skills on a lever machine, so it’s not for everyone. 

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By the way, if you do get a La Pavoni Euripiccola, just beware, I still have a fairly large scar on my forearm where I lost a chunk of my skin when I reached behind it!

My own fault, what can I say, I’m an idiot ;-), but there’s a lot to be said for having a housing on an espresso machine which prevents the user from touching the boiler.  Anyway, I won’t do that again in a hurry!

There are lots of options when it comes to home barista espresso machines, but the one thing that you won’t find in the box with any of them, is the required skills to make great espresso. This will come with practice, and this is what sets apart bean to cup users and home baristas. 

There’s no two ways about it, being a home Barista is a hobby.

Hobbies can be expensive, both in terms of money and time. I can tell you from personal experience, that once you catch the home barista bug, you have a hobby for life – a rewarding hobby for sure, but it can be an expensive and time consuming hobby too.

This isn’t for everyone, and this is why I said at the beginning of this post, that what kind of espresso machine user you are is a really important question.

If you’re just expecting to be able to press a button, and you buy a home barista espresso machine, you’re likely to end up frustrated really quickly.

Conversely, if you buy a bean to cup machine, and then discover that you’ve got the home Barista bug, you’ll probably be on the market for a new espresso machine fairly quickly, and listing your bean to cup machine on eBay or Facebook marketplace.

Now with all that said, I’ll start talking about what I believe to be the best setups for the new home barista.

Why am I talking about Grinders, too?

If you came here just looking for a home barista espresso machine and hadn’t thought about the grinder, here’s a quick explanation on why you’re also going to need a grinder, unless you’re going for an integrated grinder espresso machine of course.

I do realise how strange this may sound to the uninitiated, as this was me only a few years ago.  I do recall thinking something along the lines of  “why buy an expensive grinder when you can just buy it for about the same price pre-ground?”

Once you get familiar with the espresso process, however, you realise that you could never use pre-ground coffee for espresso, not if you want properly extracted espresso.

This is an area of confusion due to the fact that there are espresso machines that are sold as being able to work with pre-ground coffee. Most of these machines aren’t home barista machines, they’re something else entirely.

Most of the machines which are made to work with pre-ground coffee are cheaper domestic espresso machines which look something like traditional espresso machines and appear to be the same, but they’re really not.

These kinds of machines pull shots at higher pressure (usually 15 bar, sometimes 19) and force the espresso through a small hole in the bottom of a dual walled basket to mimic the crema that you get with traditional espresso machines, even with pre-ground coffee. 

What these baskets can’t mimic, though, is the taste of a properly extracted shot of espresso, so don’t be fooled, you can’t make great espresso with pre-ground coffee, even via pressurized baskets. 

I say “most”, buy the way because some of the machines I class as entry level home barista machines come with pressurised baskets as well as standard baskets, enabling them to be used by “normal” coffee drinkers, and home baristas.

Properly extracted espresso means that thanks to a number of factors including the grind size, the espresso has been extracted as desired, to produce the very best result with each coffee bean.

Grind isn’t the only important factor to a properly extracted espresso, but it’s certainly one of the most important factors.

Each coffee bean needs grinding to a slightly different particle size, and with a grinder you will need to “dial in” to get the correct grind size with your espresso machine.

This means adjusting the grind finer if the shot is pouring too quickly and therefore under extracting, or adjusting the grind courser if the shot is pouring too slowly and over extracting. 

When you buy pre-ground coffee, you can’t dial in, you just get what you get, and unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’re going to end up with either under-extracted or over extracted espresso, both of which tastes bad.

You’re likely to get better tasting espresso style coffee from a nespresso machine or a lavazza machine or other pod machine than you would get with an espresso machine and pre-ground coffee, so there’s just no point. By the way, I say “espresso style” because pod machines don’t make espresso – see Espresso vs Nespresso.

I’ll talk more about the specific grinders I’d recommend, a bit later in this post. 

So what are bean to cup espresso machines?

Bean to cup espresso machines are espresso machines for people who don’t want the faff or the learning curve associated with using a more traditional espresso machine.

If you just want to take a machine out of a box and press a button, but you want the fresh taste and the aroma of grinding fresh vs using a pod machine for example, then a bean to cup machine is what most people would go for. 

In fact, I don’t know the exact numbers but I’m fairly sure that masses more bean to cup machines are sold than home barista machines. Most people value convenience above everything else, and most “normal” coffee drinkers are more than happy with the results from a bean to cup coffee machine.

You won’t get perfect extracted espresso from bean to cup, but the majority of the population don’t care about that and possibly wouldn’t be able to detect the difference in the cup anyway. But if you do care about perfection, and if you are looking for perfectly extracted espresso, and if you’re up for a hobby rather than just wanting a coffee machine as a means to an end, then you’ll be better off steering clear of bean to cup. 

Bean to cup espresso machines aren’t home barista machines. Being a home barista is about seeking as close to perfect results as possible, and you’re not going to achieve this with bean to cup machines. 

For more on bean to cup machines see:

Best Bean to Cup Coffee Machines

But if you’ve already caught the home barista bug, or if you’ve already experienced the difference between a traditional espresso machine in the hands of a competent home barista and that of a bean to cup machine, and now you can’t go back, then you’re going to be needing a home barista setup.

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. At least.

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 say this because spending more money doesn’t just get you a fancier brand name, or a shiny badge.

Spending more money gets you things like better particle uniformity when grinding, better temperature stability, better steam power for steaming milk, and so on – and all of this makes for a better experience and better coffee.

But as I say, if your budget is low – just start where you are.

If you ask people who know their stuff, and if you look for forum threads on this topic, you’ll likely end up getting advice that you need to spend a fairly significant sum of money to start out with a proper home barista setup. If you get this advice, I would recommend that you ignore it, as I did.

People mean well when giving advice, but some very experienced and clever folk unwittingly give wrong advice, because they’re forgetting that they’re advising someone else, at a completely different level to them.

This happened to me when I started, some folk who I spoke to, including people who I respect a lot, who really know their stuff, told me I needed to invest a minimum of a grand, some told me higher than this, and this was a few years ago too, when you could get a bit more for your money.

What these people were forgetting, is that I was a newby home barista, with a very limited palate in comparison to theirs, and my standards at that point were definitely not at their level, so they needed to put themselves in my position in order to advise on what setup may be acceptable, and this is something that people don’t tend to do.

While someone who’s much further along the home barista journey, or someone who’s a pro in the industry, who can detect the subtle difference in a coffee depending on whether the coffee has been ground with conical burrs or flat burrs, for instance, may not be happy with the results that you can get with an entry level setup, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be happy with them. 

This is my Gaggia Classic 2003. Cost me £100.
This is my Gaggia Classic 2003. Cost me £100.

I started out with a used 2003 Gaggia classic, which cost me £100, and a smart grinder pro which I think cost me about £130 if I recall correctly.

I spent about £15 on the Rancilio Silvia steam wand mod – so under £250, and I was VERY happy with the results from this setup as my first home barista espresso setup.

I was lucky, the Gaggia Classic does tend to hold its value a lot more now than it did back then, so if you’re looking for a used classic now it’ll probably cost you a bit more. 

I was able to learn the basics with this setup, and pull shots that my palate was very impressed with, and I was able to texture milk to make milkies that I was incredibly happy with.

If I’d have started out with a £3k setup, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to me in initially, at least in terms of taste, and I probably wouldn’t have begun to experience the fairly subtle benefits that a setup of this calibre may have provided, for at least a couple of years. 

By the way, I still have the old gaggia classic, and the smart grinder pro, they’re both still going strong.

I still now get results with this setup that I’m happy enough with, OK when I’m using much more expensive machines (which I’m usually using for review purposes) I can get better results, but the differences are fairly subtle, and whether you’d even detect them would depend on how good your palate is.

OK so with all that said, if you’re decided on going down the home barista setup route, I’ll now start to talk about the various setup options. 

Integrated grinder espresso machines

Integrated grinder espresso machines are a popular choice as first home barista setups.

Often mistaken for bean to cup machines, having an integrated grinder doesn’t make them bean to cup machines, they’re home barista espresso machines with integrated grinders.

There are pros and cons for integrated grinder machines, in theory I prefer stand-alone machines to integrated, but at the entry-level, for the cost, I can’t deny how impressive the Sage Barista range are.

These are the best selling integrated grinder espresso machines in the UK at the time of writing as far as I’m aware, quite possibly the world (under the Breville brand) and they’re clever machines. 

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If you’ve been looking into home barista espresso machines for a bit already, you’re more than likely already very aware of the Sage Barista Express, a very popular machine for beginner home baristas for obvious reasons. 

Those obvious reasons being the price point (given that it includes the grinder) the amount of great reviews you’ll find online for it, and the well known brand name. 

A quick word on the brand name, while we know them as Sage machines in the UK, they’re made by Breville in Australia, and sold all over the world, but they sold that brand name in Europe in the 80s, which is why in the UK we know them as “Sage”. 

The Express is the lowest cost of the three machines in the range, and for the cost (especially the cost you can get it at when there’s a deal on offer) I think the Barista Express offers great value for money, although I have to be honest and say I’d stump up the extra hundred quid for the Pro, which I’ll discuss shortly. 

A quick word on the deals – Sage sometimes give me discount codes to share with my fellow coffee botherers (my term for my loyal coffeeblog readers), so if you’re thinking of buying a Sage machine, click here to join my “Brew Time” mailing list, and then drop me an email, if I have a code I’ll email it to you. 

See also  How to Make Coffee Without Electricity?

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As I’ve just mentioned, the Barista Pro is a newer machine in the Barista range from Sage, or Breville. 

These machines have very similar features, 2L water tank with a water filter (in the UK at least), a nice big drip tray with a storage tray behind it to keep your extra baskets, backflush disk etc., and they look similar. 

The main thing that separates them, is that the Pro (and the touch) features the newer ThermoJet water heater vs the original Thermocoil of the Express. 

The main benefit of this as you’ll see if you watch my comparison videos is, in my humble opinion, the 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. 

From the tests I did, 37 seconds quicker, including the time saved waiting for steam to be ready, and the faster steaming time, although that doesn’t account for the Pro being ready to pull a shot again after steaming milk so it’s probably a bit more than this if you’re making back to back coffees.

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 8 hours!

The next most important thing for me is that the Pro (and the touch) has 30 grind settings vs 18 on the express, so better ability to dial in (achieve the perfect grind size as part of the process of “dialling in” to get as perfect an extraction as possible).

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 has lost the pressure gauge present on the Express.

As you’ll see in the video above, there are many pros for the newer pro, and if you were to ask me which machine I’d buy from having used them both quite a bit, defiantly the pro. 

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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. 

Stand alone espresso machine and grinder setups

While there are a handful of integrated grinder machines, the majority of the options for home barista machines 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 but it 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. 

Although with its 15 bar shot pressure and pressurized baskets, it’s really made as a domestic espresso machine AKA “cheap espresso machine” it is possible to tame this little machine for home barista use, to a certain degree at least. 

You can’t get away from the 15 bars of pressure, which is admittedly a hindrance, but you can switch the portafilter or the basket to get away from the pressurized basket issue, 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. 

New gaggia classic 2018 19

New gaggia classic 2018 19

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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 that 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, 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 status. 

Things started to wobble for the Classic from 2009 onwards when Philips bought Gaggia, and promptly moved 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 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 over pressure 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. 

They’ve no doubt done this to serve both the home barista market and the standard consumer market, but this is a mistake, in my humble opinion. If they wanted to serve both markets, they should have made a new standard version and a pro version, I reckon. 

The “standard” version should have had a panarello, as “normal” machine users probably don’t want to mess around trying to figure out how to use a pro steam wand, and this version would have been fine being set at 14 or 15 bar or whatever they find works best with pressured baskets. 

The pro version, with the pro steam wand, should have been set to 9 bars, and should have shipped with only standard baskets. 

That’s what I think, anyway, but who am I to tell Gaggia what to do?

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, and it’s as simple as that, a different spring.

Being a ring group machine, it’s not the best for brew temperature stability – 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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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 of both, 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 has a slightly bigger drip tray, 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 Alu 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 calibre of the Eureka Mignon upwards. You do need to keep on top of descaling with the Silvia though, with the element being inside the boiler, and you need to make sure you keep the steam boiler primed.

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, 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, 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. 

See also  Coffee: From Seed To Cup

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, and I found it really odd, I couldn’t get to grips with it at all, and I’ve heard others saying the same.

This is 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. 

Probably the biggest quirk, for me, is that the Silvia has an internal heating element and no auto refill or level indicator either on the water tank or the boiler. This means that every time you’ve steamed milk, you have to prime the boiler by opening the steam up and pressing the shot button or hot water button to top up the boiler. 

If you don’t do this, the element will end up exposed, and it can burn out.

Again, there’s a way around it, you just get into the habit of priming every time you use the machine, and it’s really not a big deal, I’m just surprised that given the fact it has an internal element they’ve not thought it wise to fit a level indicator to tell you when the tank or the boiler needs topping up, or both. 

I like using the Silvia, it’s a well-built machine for the relatively low price, the portafilter feels nice and heavy, it’s the same portafilter they use in their commercial machines, but as I’ve said ideally you’d probably want to fit a pid to get the most from this machine with the least effort.

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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 replace 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 replace 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 which 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, 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.

But 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 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.

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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.  

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

ECM, who are the sister company of Profitec by the way, another well known high end espresso machine brand, mainly make 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 accessed 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 PID Espresso Machine

ECM Classika PID Espresso Machine

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The Classika 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 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 its 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 exchanger 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 great deal of negatives for heat echanger vs dual boiler. 

Oscar 2 Espresso Machine.

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 call 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 Mechanica V Slim Espresso Machine

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 V 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).

See also  How to Use a French Press Coffee Maker – How to Brew with a Press Pot

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 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.

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The Sage Dual Boiler is one of the most popular dual boiler espresso machines on the market, which is no surprise given the features vs the price.

This is a very low-cost machine, comparatively speaking.

At RRP it’s just under £1200 which is only slightly more than you’ll pay for the Oscar II, and you can get it even cheaper if you find an offer or have a discount code.

I sometimes have discount codes to share from Sage Appliances in the UK, by the way… So if you’re in the UK and thinking of buying any Sage coffee machine, join my “brew time” mailing list here, then drop me an email, and if I have a current code I’ll send it to you.

Just check out some of the features, and you’ll understand why it’s such a popular machine at this price:

  • 2.5L water tank
  • 300ml stainless steel brew boiler
  • 950ml stainless steel steam boiler
  • PID for adjustable & precise brew temperature (+/- 1⁰C) 
  • Automatic and adjustable low-pressure preinfusion
  • Saturated (heated) group
  • Fast warm up time 
  • Pressure reading at the group head
  • Slayer shots possible with very simple mod
  • Commercial sized 58mm portafilterac

Although this is one of the most popular dual boiler espresso machines on the market in terms of sales, the Sage Dual Boiler wasn’t really fully appreciated by the home barista community initially.

This is a rapidly changing scenario however, as more of the well-known home barista crowd are explaining what they’ve come to learn about the potential of this low-cost machine. 

I think this is understandable, as home baristas we generally expect the best dual boiler espresso machines to look a certain way, be made mainly of stainless steel, to have an E61 group, and to be made in Italy or Germany, and to have a price tag of at least a couple of grand. 

So when a machine came along at almost half this price, which is “designed in Australia – Made in China” – looks more like a kitchen-grade consumer machine, doesn’t have an E61 group, and seems not to be made of standard, easily accessible parts, many people were sceptical.

This scepticism has proven to be unfounded, though, now that they’ve been around for a good few years and have found their way into the hands of some very knowledgeable folk within this time, some of who have come out with nothing but praise for these machines.

I think this opinion is shortsighted anyway, as it’s too focused on what this machine doesn’t have or what it isn’t vs what it does have and what it is. 

It’s not an E61 group machine for example, and E61 machines are very popular due to their temperature stability – but this Sage DB has a saturated group, which is kept at a constant temperature via the PID controlled boiler, and this scenario has the potential to be even better for temperature stability than an E61!

And in terms of focusing on what it is rather than what it’s not, no it’s not an Italian made machine with retro looking rotary valves, but it’s a PID controlled dual boiler espresso machine with adjustable brew temperature, manual and auto pre-infusion, 58mm portafilter, big drip tray, big water tank, and it’s only just over a grand!

Having said that, I can understand the initial concern when it comes to durability. 

The more traditional machines tend to have very little to go wrong, and anything that can go wrong can usually be easily replaced, and Sage machines aren’t like traditional machines in this sense, or at least that’s the way it would seem.

But over the years, some very capable home baristas have decided to take the plunge with the Dual Boiler, and the general consensus now is that this isn’t really a concern. 

Firstly, all Sage machines come with a 2 year refund or replace warranty. If there’s a fault, it’ll nearly always show itself well within a 2 year period. So all we really need to be concerned with are the usual failures with espresso machines over 3-5 years of use and beyond. 

The most likely issues within this kind of period are going to be O-rings need swapping out, or the solenoid valve. Both of which are easily accessible, cheap, and easy to replace. 

One of the most common issues I’ve seen is leaking after three or four years, and the most likely cause of this is a degraded Oring, which is ridiculously simple and cheap to identify and repair, and the same is likely to happen with any espresso machine, rubber seals etc., do have a limited lifespan.

The pump is actually a standard Ulka ex5 vibratory pump, so it is a standard part if it needs replacing, and it’s under £20. 

If you wanted to, you can even swap out the vibe pump for a quieter rotary pump, which would also allow you to plumb it in! But more on mods shortly.

Also, probably because they’ve figured out that these machines aren’t that difficult to get parts for and to tinker with, many of the espresso machine repair and maintenance folk will offer to repair & maintain the Dual Boiler. 

As I just mentioned, you can mod the pump in the Sage DB for a rotary pump, which even allows it to be plumbed in – and this ability to mod this machine is one of the main reasons the Dual Boiler has really begun to get the attention of the home barista community, having a lot more potential than previously given credit for.

There are numerous mods you can make to this machine, the most impressive of them all in my humble opinion, is completely free, and is a 10 minute job, and can make this machine perform similarly to an espresso machine costing several thousand pounds.

You may be aware of the Slayer espresso machines, the single group version of which will set you back the best part of ten grand, including VAT.

The ability of this espresso machine to pull very special shots is mainly thanks to the needle valve flow profiling, which gives you complete control over the pressure at all stages of pulling the shot.

What this means is that you can control the flow from the pump to the group, enabling you to hold back the flow as the puck of coffee deteriorates, leading to what’s known as a “Slayer shot”, an amazing quality gloopy shot of espresso that is possible via this very special technique.

But, guess what? The Sage Dual Boiler has a needle valve… Only it’s on the dedicated hot water spout, not on the group.

But some clever bugger realised that by literally just pulling off three water pipes with needle nose pliers and swapping their position, you can use the water flow knob as the flow control, and you can then pull “slayer shots”.

This isn’t all you can do, there are so many other possibilities, but I’m going to keep it there, as this post is suddenly turning into a Sage Dual Boiler review ;-). 

Anyway, the bottom line is that the Sage Dual Boiler is an amazing dual boiler espresso machine at a low price, which has great potential for shot quality straight out of the box, and can even be turbo charged to make very special shots of espresso if that’s what you’re looking for.

Don’t forget, if you’re thinking of getting hold of one of these or any machine from Sage Appliances in the UK,  I sometimes have discount codes that I’m given to share with members of my mailing list, so click here to join my mailing list and email me, and if I have a current code I’ll send it to you.

ECM Synchronika Dual Boiler PID Espresso Machine.

ECM Synchronika Dual Boiler PID Espresso Machine.

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The Synchronika is ECM’s flagship dual boiler espresso machines, 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 a 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 too 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 which “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:

The above are in (rough) price order, and generally speaking I’d go as far down the list as budget will permit, and if you’re aiming towards the higher end of things with the machine, I’d advise against aiming towards the lower end of things with the grinder. 

For more grinder options,  see the huge range offered by my friends at Shop Coffee:

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At the budget end of things, to pair with machines such as the Sage Bambino Plus & Gaggia Classic Pro, my personal recommendation would be to go for the Sage smart grinder pro. This machine has a heck of a lot going for it, for the price – and I’ve had one for over 5 years so I’m talking from experience. 

If you’re going for a heat exchanger or dual boiler machine, personally I’d go as high as you can on the grinder, although I have to admit that this is largely down to opinion than it is solid intel. I’ve not done enough testing to really say this is a fact, but I’m fairly confident that the more you spend on the grinder generally speaking, the better cup quality potential you’ll have.

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This article firstly appeared at Coffee Blog – The UK Specialty Coffee Blog – For Lovers of REAL Coffee!