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Wednesday 26 March 2008

In search of the perfect espresso machine [Lurks]

Following on from the blog about the free Nescafe Dolche Gusto machine I scored as part of this Bzz word-of-mouth marketing campaign thing (recap: It's not bad! Pretty good coffee but I'm not really mad about buying plastic one-use pods of an extremely limited range), my mind was made up - I need a proper full monty espresso machine. Then I got a nice phat bonus at work so what better time!

I do some cursory Internet research and, as is usual for this sort of thing, find pretty much bugger all. If it's not a sexy gadget there's fuck all on the Net. Eventually I settled on an Ascaso Dream. Looks pretty good there don't ya think? Helpfully available in a pile of colours too but it was way cheaper from Comet in red so I went for that. It seemed to be pretty well rated. Ticked the boxes I wanted ticking, uses real coffee AND pods. Has a removable water reservoir. Actually those are both the boxes...

The problem is never having owned one before I didn't really know what was what. I quickly discovered another box. Must be able to fit an actual proper fucking mug underneath it. Alright another box too, should be able to make entire long drink. Hot. These, I should note, are both things solved by the Krups-made Dolche Gusto machine admirably. As you may guess, the Ascaso was a failure on both counts. I found if I removed the little dribble thing from the coffee cup thing I could get one of my shorter mugs under it but it's still gash. And a long drink? It ends up barely luke warm.

Also, I 'tamped' down the coffee with a handy provided tool. Because the UK importers handily inserted a leaf saying you should do this to ensure a decent 9 and 12 bars of pressure through the coffee. Well, I did this, and the most I ever got was 7.5 bars. This is pretty shit tbh. Unsurprisingly the coffee it made was shit. Worse still, the thing showed up flecked with bits of paint and crap. The knob on the side is ridiculously cheap and rubbish. There's no way this machine is worth over three hundred pounds. I think the key problem here is that it's made in Italy. And as we all know, the Italians can't make anything right.So, it's time to call in the collective intellect of the clan (somewhat greater than that of a labrador and somewhat less than a ringneck parakeet) to find the perfect espresso machine. To recap let's just list the vital features.
  • Removable water reservoir (because pouring jugs of water in when it's tucked away is not on).
  • Ability to use pods and proper coffee - ideally two cup handle things provided.
  • Proficiency at making long drinks: A hot full-sized mug is the order of the day.
  • Decent fucking build quality (perhaps Mazda make one?).
  • Secondary: Relatively quick prime time, less than jackhammer sounding compressor, funky looking chrome shit with temp and pressure gauges.

Promising brands probably include Francis Francis, Gaggia and, er, Krups?

Update 04-April-08: after the failed attempt with the Ascaso machine, I shopped around for a bit and eventually found a full deal with a Gagga Baby D Class, uber measuring grinder type thing and a base for the whole thing to sit on complete with knock-out draw. All for less money than the Ascaso!

And beyond, a suitably produced Americano!

Very happy with this. Strangely it turns up with limescale in the machine (eh?!) and bits of foam/insulation tape coming out between the chassis at the back (Italian craftsmanship sigh) but it's waaaay better than the Ascaso. They sent me the Baby Class thing instead of the Classic I asked for, but there's nothing in it really. At least I can fit a mug under it. Even knocks up a wicked brew with a pod, not that I'll be using it for that because it's so easy to use ground with this measuring grinder gadget.


  1. I tell you what, those auto maker things that take unground beans look pretty darn cool also. The problem is they're generally quite large but not all of them are. Capacity for pods is purely occasional convenience, a bean to cup machine dodges that issue entirely. Update: Bit of research and it seems these things are generally gash. Lots of maintenance. Better off with a grinder and a manual, which makes sense to me.


  2. After a lot of research I came to the conclusion that the Gaggia machines were likely to be the DBs but I also saw that they were expensive (but look for deals).

    However, I also read that getting a good cuppa seemed to be a black art - requiring expensive grinders and practice. In a way I wanted to do that... but on the other hand would I have the time to fuss around?

    In the end I was swayed by a Which Mag report and we got a Briel Versatile due. We use Pods and bought a mixed bag of different types (makes a big difference to the taste). It took ages to get one since they sold out for most of a year following the recommendation. It was fairly cheap. The expresso is good. It does the frothy milk etc if you want a cappachino etc. At the end of the day we get great coffee with little effort. I think you can do ground coffee, but what's the point - we don't use it often enough and the ground coffee has to be really fresh.

    My two penneth



  3. I was disapointed with my expresso machine at first, but it's fine once I'd learned how to use it. Yes, italian machines have the build quality of a fiat 500, bits fall off, paint flakes, steel tarnishes, but that's part of the charm, I wouldn't own anything but. You don't want gimmicks, you don't want pods, if you're spending 300+ on an expresso machine, you want good coffee, you want freshly ground or a decent blend. You want psi and a powerful steamer, and fek all else.

    I'm confused by what you mean by a full mug of coffee. These are expresso machines, they make expresso, and nobody can drink a mug of expresso. If you want a full mug of coffee, get a filter machine, they're cheap as fuck.

    Right, so you want to make the perfect expresso? Start off by putting your expresso cup under the machine, and running hot water through it. Everything needs to be hot before you go near the coffee, including the cup, or you'll get a cold expresso. Now make sure you have the right size holder, these machines usually have a couple, a standard, a double and a pod holder. If you're making a latte or a cappuchino in a big mug, you need a double shot, so use the larger holder, and pack it to the top and press it down with your pressy thing, dont twist it or fuck around, just pack it in nice. Now twist it on nice and tight, and fill your expresso cup. You need to use an expresso cup, so you know how much to make, so fitting something bigger under there is daftness.

    Now you've a nice shot of expresso. If you want to turn it into a latte, microwave some milk to warm, not hot (it's quicker than steaming from cold), then blast the steam through it with the steam pipe to get it nice and foamy. Now put your shot of expresso in your (warmed) mug and lash the milk in. Use a knife to get the foam on top if its left behind.

    No machine can do this automatically, they can try, but they're shit. Once you get practiced at it, it takes no time at all, and the results are fantastic. If you don't care about those results, keep your nescafe pod machine!


  4. The only reason I can think to buy an Italian machine is because it's built well by people who know how to make good coffee. The Ascaso machine simply wasn't. And it didn't make good coffee either, the boiler/heater was just way under powered and something seemed fucked with the pump anyway, 7 bar just aint cutting it. The issues I saw quality wise simply don't exist with something like a Gaggia, which I've seen in the flesh, but I wanted a couple of features on the Ascaso.

    Regarding pods, I want them. Simple as. The reason being that if I had pods the missus will use it and they have a place, like when you need to make quite a few. Of course i'll do me own a lot of the time, I'll grind beans etc. No worries. But having the option seems reasonable enough to me. And you can get a bunch of different pods of different coffees which you clearly aren't going to do with fresh ground beans.

    Also, you don't just make espressos with espresso machines right? You make 'long' drinks too. Basically my favorite sort of coffee, what I order if I go into Starbucks or Cafe Nero etc, is an 'Americano'. This is basically a double shot of espresso topped up with hot water. I like a real espresso from time to time for sure, but it's not a casual coffee for during the day. What I want to do isn't that unusual, plenty of folks do it. It seems you need a machine with a proper boiler or you get a luke warm mug. Didn't know that before, know that now.

    Good tips on making espresso though. Like warming it through with water before starting and microwaving milk, I did wonder about that before hand.

    I do care about results, it's just sometimes I want a fucking mug of coffee stet! Sometimes I want an espresso proper. A drip filter is fucked on several levels, you need to make a big pot. It doesn't have ANY creme aspect to it (forced steam is simply the only way to make proper coffee regardless) and after it's sat there heated for awhile, with no one drinking it, chemical reactions happen that make it more acidic and ultimately quite vile. Might as well drink instant.

    Last word on the big mug thing. Apparently I shouldn't get hung up on fitting 'long drink' mugs etc under neath because not many machines will do that. Just make shots and whack into a mug. Seems reasonable I guess it's just fractionally more dicking about.


  5. That's what I was saying regarding the size of the coffee holder bit. Most of these machines have three, a pod holder, a single shot and a double shot hopper. Lots of machines have double hopper spouts, so to make an americano, you wack the double coffee holder in, put two expresso cups underneath, one under each spout, and go. This is how mines used mostly, as I tend to make cappucino for me and the wife, so two shots of expresso, warm milk, foam, bosh.

    My point is really, forget all the fancy featuers, long cups, placcie pods (the tea bag style ones are fine), all in one cappucino daftness, grind and delivery systems... What you need is a good compressor and water heater, that's what this is all about. My mate blew about 400 on a gaggia, and that makes amazing coffee, but it's a lot of dosh.


  6. We're on the same page. It's odd though, the Italian thing I had was proper money and was pretty low spec and built shite. That's what I objected to really. I still haven't found a model I'm happy with. There's plenty of well affordable Gaggias now. Gaggia Baby is the easy to find one but I wasn't taken with it for some reason I can't fathom.


  7. Here's a quick look at some machines from the papers:

    The Independent - The Ten Best Coffee Machines

    I bought my brother the Gaggia and for his needs he says he loves it.


  8. Lurks, you do know why the Italians call it an Americano, right?What do Italians drink? The men, before lunch, will pop out to the local bar and have an expresso made in a Gaggia. The women, barred from bars as it were, have to make do with a stove-top doofah. Which is what I've got. I drink a woman's drink! Still, it's less effeminate than an Americano.So, stove top, it's great and it's quick to use. Well, great-ish, the pressure will be laffable compared to a real machine but it's got to be better than a lot of the colourful tat they sell in Comet, noh?Since you can't pop to our local bar for an espresso, you need to spend £300 on a Gaggia and a Lithuanian hottie to make them for you and the missus. For £2 a hour she might run the vacuum round too.. plus fringe benefits, you'd hope.


  9. Those things look like a right faff to use and clean. My machine didn't cost too much and makes a luberly cup of expresso, once you learn to use it right.

  10. Lurks, that looks cool - don't forget, only buy illi coffee (Tescos do it). Its the BEST coffee, period.