Choosing an espresso machine - your experiences

(Jonny Aspden) #1


My cafe is looking at getting a new espresso machine. I am finding it is so hard to get information on the machines that doesn’t come from the manufacturer, which of course is incredibly biased and not real world at all. I am looking for a high end 2 group machine that I can keep for a long time that is robust, solid and reliable as it costs a lot to get an engineer out to us in rural Scotland!

I’m sure it is not just me who would love to hear real world experiences of machines and how they compare from people who get to use lots of different machines. The other discussions seem to always say get what fits your situation best, but how can you work that out!

For instance, how does the Opera compare to the Black Eagle, or to the Linea PB ABR? They seem to be the big hitters just now. What are the pros or cons?

Can we compile a list of the features, price, etc of machines to help in these very big and expensive decisions which can dramatically affect our businesses?

(Aaron Wood) #2

Those three machines are at the very top end of the list, with a lot of new parts that have minimum real world testing, and you might struggle with getting a local technician who carries spare parts, let alone knows how to fix them.
It might be a good idea to speak to your current technician and ask what he recommends.
A Linea Classic has A LOT of info online from everyone experimenting over the last 20 years with them so you will have more info on diagnosing a problem and potentially fixing small issues yourself. They come standard with the Piero caps now so they are more temp. stable and they are pretty idiot proof to setup and use. The price saving is also something to consider.

(Alan Bruce) #3

It’s also worth considering your cost/benefit analysis. i.e. How many coffees are you making a day? Does it justify buying the newest/most expensive machine on the market?

On a side note, where are you based? I’m from the highlands originally, and have often wondered if there’d be enough demand to sustain a specialty cafe if I moved back form New Zealand.

(Jonny Aspden) #4

Thanks guys. Yes these machines are the very new and I would love to wait a bit but our current machine FB70 is getting near the end of its life. Since we bought it reconditioned as we opened our place we have spent the same amount on it as we paid for it. Also don;t want to regret not getting gravemetrics in 2 years time when had the chance now. The technician would certainly be able to fix anything. The only issue is that he is not next door, like if you were in a big city. We are half an hour north of Aberdeen so not really the total middle of nowhere.

Its just such a huge investment for any cafe I thought it might be good to hear what everyone thinks on the current offerings that are out there.

(Will Frith) #5

Talk with your local(ish) service agents about the three options you’ve mentioned and see what they have to say. Maybe you won’t get a definitive answer but at least you’ll have their perspective(s) on your equipment choices.

(Matthew Perger) #6

@aaronswood makes a good point. There’s really so little difference between espresso machines (from every manufacturer). I would go with the simplest, safest, most well known option: Linea.

(Scott Burlington) #7

Does that mean that most people believe controlled preinfusion and/or pressure control are unneeded gimmicks?

I’ve heard that especially when doing EKspresso preinfusion is pretty important.

(Graham Ebner) #8

We opened a new walk-up café about a month ago, and we’re using a 2 Group Linea PB w/ scales - and it pretty much stays in the brew ratio mode.

We are a high-volume shop and I’ve been on it 5 hours a day every weekday since opening and I’ve found it to be very consistent - even when accounting for the ambient temperature fluctuations in our space. The scale shut-off is very handy, allowing me to turn for a moment to do XYZ and not worry about the timer I’m used to.

It can function manually on/off, volumetrically, by weighted yield, and in Brew Ratio mode with is just yield having accounted for the weight of the PF and dry coffee pulled to one of two ratios of my choosing. For a slow café this would be even more handy but I find myself dosing from the Mythos, quickly checking for consistent weight on the acacia and then pulling the shot. Essentially working in weighted yield. mode.

Anyway, long winded way to say I love the machine. BUT I’ve found two flaws - one of which make it VERY hard to get used to. Almost every other or every third shot the puck will stick to the screen. I’ve adapted to “blipping” the continuous/manual brew button to drop the puck or break the vacuum holding it before even unlocking the PF but it’s very annoying. The second issue is I find a discrepancy of a half gram or so between its scales and the acacia. Neither is a deal breaker but still to be noted.

(David) #9

I am an authorized dealer for 12 different manufacturers including most of the ones mentioned here so I can’t comment on which make is the best for your situation - but I can speak in general terms about how I advise which price point and which features are the most appropriate for a cafe owner in their specific market. AlanBruce makes a good point about cost/benefit analysis and you have about two years of costing to help inform the price decision. You have to balance the monthly take against your equipment costs and budget for the machine that way unless you see an increased earning potential for the new machine. You will want to run the numbers on Leasing versus a bank loan and what makes the most sense for you. Leasing opens up a number of benefits you can’t get with a bank loan, though borrowing costs tend to be higher. You also need to look at operating costs and what features like Gravimetrics can save you in terms of labour and product wastage. If the numbers don’t support it, don’t buy it. Finally you will need to work with your local technician so make sure he is an authorised dealer for the equipment you choose lest you run into warranty issues. If you can, buy from the local dealer, not online - you will get better local support this way and often it is the only way to get warranty coverage.
In the simplest terms, remember that it is a business machine whose ultimate purpose is to feed your family and you need to be sure the market you are in will support the cost of the machine in order to keep your business in the black. So be realistic about what you think the increased earning potential of a more expensive machine could actually be. Not knowing a thing about your books or the environment you are working in, it could even be that your numbers don’t support a new machine at all and your best option may be to refurbish the one you already have. Unless it is truly wrecked indeed (like both boilers punched) the FB70 platform hasn’t been in existence long enough for a proper refurbishment to exceed half the cost of what a new one would be. It would be worth at least sending it in to the shop for a full evaluation that way you know the repair costs or trade-in value against a new one.

(David) #10

Hey Graham, two thoughts based on what I’ve learned of the PB ABR I have in my shop:
Firstly, regarding pucks sticking: I always eject my spent pucks immediately after serving the beverage so the pucks do not have any time to dry out and bond to the screen. I do this with all equipment I use and I cannot remember the last time I had a puck stick to the screen. You’ll note that the screen has a very rough surface compared to the very smooth inside surface of the VST/LM precision baskets, and this is a recipe for pucks sticking ESP. if your puck is baked to the screen and/or you have a headspace issue due to a high dose for the basket. A puck can also continue to bloom/expand after the shot is pulled if it is left in the group. Just some thoughts to consider, take none of this personally!
Secondly regarding the scale discrepancy: Your machine shipped with a 100g test weight, it’s in a small white plastic canister. Try taking this weight to the Acaia and see what the readout is. If the Acaia’s showing 100g, you can use the weight to calibrate each of your two scales on the machine; the procedure is outlined in the user guide. Also make sure the precision portafilters weigh the same as each other, and that their weight has been accurately entered into the machine’s memory. One thing I had to get used to when entering weight was to make sure the scale was ready (the display will show solid blocks and then zero, start weigh. Keep the portafilters in position until the dose button flashes to acknowledge the tare before pulling it away.) If you still have a scale discrepancy, especially if one side is more pronounced than the other, there may be impact damage to the affected load cell(s) as they are delicate.

(Chris Bodnar) #11

I think one fantastic option could be to grab the Linea EE and adding the SureShot system by Ace Services. It basically allows you to add pressure profiling to the basic EE, as well as have nifty features like easy clean cycles etc. I don’t have any affiliation with them, but I know the cost is very reasonable ($350ish AUD per group) and folks seem to be loving it (search tomchips on Instagram and read about his write up on to learn more).

If I were opening a shop and wanted the best bang for buck this would definitely be high on my list to check out!

(David) #12

Just a note about adding major modifications to a machine used in a commercial setting, it will void not only the warranty but also its engineering certification. In a startup situation a vigilant site inspector may prevent you from opening with a heavily modified machine or you could be denied an insurance claim in case of a disaster if an investigation reveals the machine was modified.

(Chris Bodnar) #13

Very great points, the latter about insurance I never considered! I do know that only certified techs are able to order and install them, but what that REALLY means I’m unsure.

(Spencer Lattimer ) #15

I have worked extensively on Nuova Simonelli and La Marzocco over the years (never worked on or seen an Opera) . They both have a purpose but IMO La Marzocco is the way to go. They are extremely easy to work on in house (meaning rarely needing to pull the machine out of the cafe for service). The support is second to none and the temperature stability is outstanding. Don’t get me wrong the Black Eagle is sexy as hell but the PB is the best machine out there IMO. A simple interface, double boiler that is tried and true. They seem a bit more fickle with the like of poor water but again if your focusing on a cafe, water treatment/filtration should be in the budget.

(Stewart Shuker) #16

I know this thread is old, but one other dynamic is attracting and keeping good baristas. my experience with a PB ABR is that it signals that you are serious about your coffee and good baristas want the best equipment. other than that, they cost a lot of money and cash flow is king. if you’re opening a new cafe its tricky because you hope for the best, but you just dont know. my experience is that the best machine matters most to those working on it and owning it.