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Entry Level Machines

We look at entry level machines in 3 categories: manual levers, single boilers, and Brevilles. While it is more complicated down in the details, the easiest way to approach this with no background knowledge is to answer one question: are you okay with modding the machine to bring it up to a high level of performance, or do you want a system packed with features out of the box with potentially lower max capability?

Other characteristics are important too: are you okay with a used purchase (the classic SBDUs and La Pavonis are not worth their weight new), do you prefer the looks of a lever, SBDU, or Breville, etc. Are you expecting to steam milk? Do you need it right now, or can you deal-hunt for a bit prior to purchasing?

In the end, a good deal on a Gaggia or a Silvia and mods will be cheaper and perform slightly better than entry level Breville machines (Bambino, Duo Temp Pro, Infuser, BBE). You can make some modifications to the Breville machines: changing the OPV, bending the ridge of a precision basket to fit, but that breaks the idea of no mods required.

Breville can often be purchased new at Bed Bath and Beyond in the US with a 20% off coupon.

Single Boiler Dual Use

Single boilers are a category of espresso machines which use their boiler to maintain water for brewing espresso as well as making steam. Generally cheaper than dual boilers or heat exchangers, they offer a lower price point to enter the world of espresso while still being able to make true espresso. At these price points, SBDU’s often need modding out of the box or complicated workflows (counting time from when heating elements enabled and using the steam knob to control the element; “temp surfing”) to maintain proper temperature. Many of these units are configured poorly for high quality express, so an OPV adjustment is beneficial to avoid excessive pressures during shot pulls. Multiple shots back to back with milk steaming can be tough as the same boiler is used for both operations. The larger the boiler, the easier this process becomes.

The SDBUs we recommend range from as low as $200 used to ~$750 new. The Gaggia Classic Pro and the Rancilio Silvia are two workhorses in this category. The Silvia has a larger boiler and more temp stability, but at a higher cost. The larger boiler of the Silvia makes for a better steaming experience due to that temp stability and power. Both do not come with granular temp control (‘PID’) out of the box.

Note from Pham: Within this list, I personally prefer searching for the Rancilio Silvia and Gaggia Classic used, as they are extremely common and essentially haven’t changed for 20 years. A new GCP and Silvia will depreciate just like a car bought off the lot, so buying used means buying a functionally identical machine at the depreciated price. The GCP can be found for as low as $100-$150 depending on locale. The Silvia has a wider range; sub $400 for a working machine is a great deal.

Gaggia Classic (~$449)

Pros:

  • Large modding community
  • Can add flow control with a dimmer
  • Well built, common to have machines 20+ years old

Cons:

  • Needs modifications to shine:
    • PID
    • OPV Adjustment
    • Dimmer switch flow control
  • Difficult to fit a scale and cup with stock drip tray
  • If buying used you need to check what year it was made: the european 2015-2018 models are to be avoided
  • Depreacates in price immediately

Rancillo Silvia (~$750)

Pros:

  • Large community
  • Been around a long time, common to find

Cons:

  • Doesn’t come with a PID
  • Depreacates in price immediately

Lelit Anna ($499[No PID] - $629[With PID])

Pros:

  • Larger boiler compared to the GCP, creating better temperature stability during a shot

Cons:

  • 57mm portafilter
  • Difficulty in finding accessories

Lelit Glenda ($799)

Pros:

  • Comes with a PID installed
  • 58mm version of the Anna
  • Easy to find accessories, especially better baskets
  • Larger boiler for better temperature stability in shots

Cons:

  • Upcharge compared to the Anna, but comparable to the Silvia with mods already added

Thermoblock/thermojet:

Breville machines come packed with features out of the box at a range of prices. No modding is required, but as always there are small improvements that can be made with minimal to moderate effort.

Breville Bambino ($300)

Pros:

  • Very affordable; lowest cost for a new machine to produce great espresso
  • PID Controlled temp (single setting, 200F)
  • Integrated OPV set to 9 bar
  • Comes with single and dual wall baskets

Cons:

  • Pre-infusion is not as flexible as Breville thermoblock machines (limited to 10 seconds)

Breville Bambino Plus ($500)

This is the same as Bambino with slightly better build quality and the addition of an automatic milk steaming wand with adjustable temperature and texture.

Pros:

  • Same as the Bambino including:
  • A robust automatic steaming wand that makes steaming a foolproof process
  • 64oz water jug compared to 47 oz of the Bambino
  • Comes with cleaning tool/disc for easier maintenance

Cons:

  • Higher cost than the regular bambino
  • Pre-infusion is the same as the regular Bambino (limited to 10 seconds)

Breville Infuser ($579.95)

Pros:

  • Works decently out of the box
  • PID Controlled temp (5 settings at 2F increments, 196-204F)
  • Widely available, new or used
  • Huge community of users
  • Manual preinfusion

Cons:

  • 15 bar pump can be hard to manage with unforgiving roasts (can be tuned to 9 bar with minimal effort, or using the Pre-Infusion Mode only trick)

Manual Levers:

Note from Pham: for the manual levers that don’t include a milk steamer, you can froth milk by heating it up in a french press, using a spinny-thingy, or buying the Bellemain stovetop milk steamer. Whether that’s worth the price and effort for your workflow is up to you.

Flair (Neo, Classic, Pro 2) ($160 - $319)

Most affordable entry point to unpressurized espresso

Pros:

  • Highest espresso quality at its price range due to profiling ability
  • Portable
  • Durable
  • No need to worry about scaling or backflushing
  • Fun(?)

Cons:

  • Tedious workflow for multiple shots
  • No ability to steam milk built in
  • Maximum temperature reaches ~200F and tapers from there, limiting shot time and the ability to pull light roasts
  • Lack of non-proprietary accessories due to portafilter size

Cafelat Robot ($310 - $449)

Similar to the Flair but with higher build quality and an easier workflow

Pros:

  • Preheating somewhat optional with medium-dark roasts due to low thermal mass
  • 58mm basket* (still needs proprietary accessories)
  • Looks cool with googly eyes

Cons:

  • Similar to the Flair
  • A bit more expensive than the Flair

La Pavoni Europiccola

*Classic machine made since the 1960s. Similar to the flair, but with a steam boiler for milk steaming. Very high quality and can last for decades

Pros:

  • CAN make amazing espresso
  • Small footprint
  • Fun
  • Indestructible
  • Can be had for relatively cheap
  • Repairable with aftermarket

Cons:

  • Very difficult to use, lot’s of quirks
  • Overpriced atm because of Hoffmann Bump
  • Low shot volume; requires Fellini to pull longer than 1:2
  • Temperature stability: only good for 1-3 shots in quick succession
  • Differences in baskets and temperature between generations
  • Don’t buy this new please

Combo Machines (Machine + Grinder All-In-One)

These machines are similar to the Single Boiler/Dual Use machines listed above but have a grinder built in. They are great for space saving but it is not uncommon to outgrow the grinder quickly. The grinders included with them are good for starting but you will have best results with these with Medium to Dark roasts.

Breville Barista Express ($699 [Commonly on sale for $599])

Breville infuser, but with a grinder

Pros:

  • Comes with a grinder
  • Works decently out of the box
  • Widely available, new or used
  • Huge community of users
  • Manual preinfusion

Cons:

  • 15 bar pump can be hard to manage with unforgiving roasts (can be tuned to 9 bar with minimal effort, or using the Pre-Infusion Mode only trick)
  • Grinder is unreliable and not that great
  • Becomes a bit wasteful if the grinder is upgraded and not being used