Barista-quality espresso won't come cheap
Page 2 of 2 -- With that in mind, Prince urges serious espresso-maker shoppers to factor in the purchase of a grinder, preferably a burr grinder that will result in the sort of consistency essential to good espresso.
Overall, I pulled the best shots from the beautiful brass and chrome Elektra manual machine, once I got the hang of it. You pull the lever down and let it go, activating a piston system that sends the water through the coffee, and repeating as necessary until you've got the amount you want. After experimenting with the grind and the tamping, I managed to pull shots in 30 seconds, and they had nice crema and a smooth taste. But that was after much trial and error, and using the most expensive machine of the bunch. At almost $900, it's still less than a year's worth of Starbucks lattes, but the initial investment is steep.
My only other initial misgiving about this machine was its long warm-up time, a full 15 minutes or more compared with 1 to 3 minutes for the others. But that worry faded once I realized that virtually any espresso machine performs better after it has warmed up for at least a half hour. So much for the fantasy of a perfect double-shot first thing in the morning.
The funky FrancisFrancis! machine, with an almost cartoonish design that has made it the darling of TV and movie set designers, also performed well, but it's still a steep $650 ($750 for the stainless steel). Of the less-expensive machines, I had mixed results from models by Krups, Gaggia, and Solis, although the latter almost made a believer out of me for the amount of crema it produced. Why was the taste so lacking? According to Prince, it's because of special pressurized filters that are designed to enhance the crema, but they compromise the taste. He suggests that with a simple $15 replacement filter, available from US dealer Baratza, the Solis Crema SL70 becomes one of the best he's seen for the price.
The worst performer, by far, was the most automated. The Saeco Vienna de Luxe may grind the beans, dispense the grounds, and even discard them in a special bin after use, but its setup is full of confusing features, while its shots taste like they came from Dunkin' Donuts. And I don't mean that as a compliment.
Joe Yonan can be reached at email@example.com.
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