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Espresso machines, Espresso beans and

Making best espresso at home


The information in the following paragraphs is inspired by the misinformation available on the internet and other sources. Our recommendations are based on independent comparative evaluation of espresso machines and the standard rules laid down by experts to make best espresso. Our opinion is based on our 15 years experience in fixing espresso machines and our statements do not reflect exclusive association in any way with manufacturers or coffee roasters.


Espresso is a specialty drink that can be appreciated only with an acquired taste for highest quality of coffee. One does not have to discover that first experience of good coffee when on a  visit to Italy. Information on this page should help you to  satisfy your passion for better coffee and elevate your standard as high as you like it to go.  


Buying an Espresso machine  


Whether one is buying a new home espresso machine or upgrading an existing espresso machine, there are a large number of makes, models, choices, sizes categories categories of espresso makers to choose from. Even for an experienced buyer it can be a daunting experience. It is normal to seek opinion of others and receive confusing or conflicting opinions. 

Seeking opinion from others and allowing others to choose a machine for you are two different options. It is safe always to make the final decision based on your own preference for the convenience of making espresso, the size of machine, the budget available, and finally the quality of espresso you wish for yourself every day.  


When seeking opinions of others, the recommendations can come from the following three sources which should be carefully evaluated:


Recommendation of Sales people at dealer/department store is restricted to the selected models being sold at the store. Promotional considerations are their priority. Most sales staff does not even know how to operate the machine they are recommending.  

Recommendations from friends are tough to ignore. Friendly recommendations are mostly based on experience with only one machine and therefore, without comparative evaluation. Such recommendations may not meet another person's needs and cannot be accurate.  

Recommendations on Coffee Forums:  Permanent members on Forums are hardliners. They are inspired by traditional commercial methods of making espresso. The recommendations on Coffee forums can be misleading if applied for home use. Making  espresso at home should be an experience of convenience without sacrificing the quality. We focus our attention to both these aspects. 


The FAQ section is compiled based on many questions our customers have asked us about espresso machines, about making good espresso, and the best choice of espresso beans.  The specific answers and explanations are based on our experience in serving espresso from a coffee shop and as an experienced technician for over 10 years. If any one disagrees with what is stated here, we appreciate the disagreement and not debate it.


Frequently asked Questions


Question: I am looking to purchase a home espresso maker.  I have the option between a LaPavoni Europiccola and pump operated semi automatic models  Which one you recommend and why?


Answer:  Your options include three different categories of espresso machines:


1st category  =  LaPavoni Europiccola, Professional or Millenium lever models

2nd category = traditional semiautomatic machines using commercial portafilters without pre-infusion mechanism (Silvia, Audrey, Gaggia Coffee, Classic, Baby, Espresso, Tebe, Briccoletta, Giatto, Oscar & others)

3rd category =  traditional semi-automatic machines with  pressurized portafilters  to make espresso with pre-infusion (Espresso Classico, Magic Cappuccino, Via Veneto, Barista, Estro Profi).


My choice between the three categories is from the semi-automatic with pressurized portafilters. These are machines made by Saeco (Espresso Classico, Aroma, Magic Cappuccino, Via Veneto,  (New model is sold as Aroma).


Here is the explanation why:

Lever models -  LaPavoni Europiccola


LaPavoni Europiccola 

LaPavoni Europiccola, Professional and Millennium machines are lever model machines without a pump. It operates with manual extraction of espresso using the handle. It requires a good knowledge to balance the fineness of coffee grind and tamping. You can make good espresso with pre-infusion. To do so, lift the handle all the way to the top, allowing water from the boiler to flow into the group and soak coffee grounds. Hold the raised handle for 5 to 8 seconds until drops of espresso start to drip from the bottom of the portafilter. At this point slowly lower the handle to bring it down in no less than 10 seconds. Extraction time with pr-infusion should not be less than 10 seconds.  Use the lever action only once. If you need more quantity, you should repeat the process all over again. If this is too much action for making 6 or more shots of espresso, then this is not the right espresso maker for you, unless it has been received as a gift.



    Semi-automatic home models with commercial portafilters         (Rancilio Silvia, Gaggia Coffee, Oscar, Briccoletta) 

Rancilio Silvia & Audrey are semi-automatic espresso makers. It has a commercial style portafilter and you need to apply all of the commercial espresso methods to make espresso. The coffee grind has to be powdery fine and tamping pressure between 25 to 30-lb. p.s.i. Any variation in the grind or tamping pressure will change the quality of espresso. The espresso extraction has to be stopped by turning the switch off. The cup for espresso should be a graduated shot cup with marks for 1, 1.5 and 2-oz. markings to help stop extraction

silvia tn.jpg

 Rancilio Silvia


The fineness of grind (not the tamping pressure) has to be balanced to adjust extraction time for 2-oz. espresso in 25 seconds. This exacting coordination is necessary for consistent quality of extraction. You will have good Crema with over-extracted espresso of bitter taste.

The bitter taste of espresso will be due to use of commercial portafilter without pre-infusion mechanism. The coffee grounds have to be powdery fine and extraction time no less than 25 seconds. These factors extract not only aromatic coffee but also caramelized sugar, Tannin and chemically altered ingredients. Extraction time of 25 seconds is also too long to burn the powdery coffee and add to bitter taste.

If 2-oz. shot of espresso is not enough, you cannot increase extraction time to get more of diluted extract of bitter taste. Instead, repeat the process all over for a second shot of espresso. You should not use same coffee grounds and increase the extraction time to 45 second for 4-oz. extract. That will be a disaster and a no, no! no!!

For better quality sweeter espresso extract from a semi-automatic machine, you can apply pre-brew function manually. Use coarser grind (like the table salt). Tamp lightly (10-lb. p.s.i. max.)  After turning the espresso switch on. When you see drops of espresso trickle from the portafilter, turn the switch off for 5 seconds. After 5 seconds turn the switch on again for 10 seconds or until 2-oz. espresso is extracted (whichever is first). You should have good Crema and sweet tasting espresso.

If this is too much action for you every day in the morning, then semi automatic machines are not the choice.      


 Semi-automatic home models with pressurized Portafilters

All of Saeco's semiautomatic machines (Espresso Classico, Barista, Estro vapore, Via Veneto, Magic Cappuccino, Gran Crema) come with pressurized portafilters. These portafilters make it possible to use coarser grind of beans, eliminate the need for tamping and delay extraction of espresso for 5 seconds (pre-infusion) and the make great mouth watering espresso with crema.

barista tn.jpg

aroma espresso.jpg

saeco gran crema.jpg



Gran Crema 

The pictures show Saeco semi-automatic machines with very convenient operation. Price is almost half of LaPavoni models, and Silvia and 10 to 20% less than Gaggia semi-automatic models. Excellent choice for those who like a hands-on method of making espresso and also prefer the convenience of not worrying about the fineness of grind, tamping and manual pre-infusion technicque. Almost all models come with patented frothers (Pannarello or Plug-in Pannarello). These frothers make steaming and frothing of milk, a breeze. 




Question: I am told that semi-automatic machines make better espresso than fully automatic models. What is your opinion?


Answer: It is not the matter of which one makes better espresso. It is really a choice for one's comfort zone and taste preference? There are definite parameters laid down for making best espresso. If those requisites are applied, the result will be the best espresso. Espresso made with pre-infusion, water temperature at 98C, pump pressure at 9 bar and extraction time of maximum 14 seconds will always be better.

Fully automatic models take away the extra effort for making espresso, required when using semi-automatic machines. 

Question: For home use I was aksed to buy a Mazzer grinder in order to grind beans for use in semi-automatic espresso machine. How does that help make better espresso?


Answer: Roasted coffee is a perishable item. Ground coffee is 1000 times more perishable as it is exposed to oxygen from a thousand time larger surface. (It is like fish without refrigerated space to keep). Grinding just before brewing will protect the aroma of coffee. Once the beans are ground, it interacts with the air around it and, within three minutes, loses a great deal of flavor and aroma. The longer the ground coffee sits around, the less aroma you will find in your cup later. It is a good idea to have a grinder for grinding freshly and using immediately. 


 mazzer grinder burrs-21.png conical burrs pair tn.jpg  mdf home grinder.jpg capresso home grinder#565 &560 with conical burr zinc die cast.jpg capresso infiniti gallery.jpg

 Disc type flat burrs

Conical burrs

 Gaggia MDF grinder $200

 Infinity Gallery Black $135.00

 Display Infinity conical burr


Mazzer grinders are commercial grade grinders with disc type burrs. The disc burrs must spin at a very high speed of 10,000 to 20,000 r.p.m. to grind fine coffee. At that spin speed, excessive heat is generated and change the quality of coffee. Mazzer grinder for home use is like someone asking to buy a size-12 shoe for size-7 foot! That is a wrong advice. A better choice of grinder than a Mazzer for home use, in the category of disc type flat burrs is Gaggia MDF grinder priced at $200.00.


If you have a semi-automatic espresso maker and would like to buy a grinder, my first preference is Infinity #565 or #560 with conical burr grinder manufactured by Capresso.

It will grind much better & consistent quality at a much slower spin speed of 500 Conical burrs are quieter and generate much less heat due to slower speed, very suitable for all kinds of grinding jobs. Infiniti grinders do not come with dispensing mechanism. One should grind just enough for immediate use and discard what cannot be used. Infiniti grinders are the only grinders available with conical burrs for home use. They make a better choice for quality of grind as well as price when compared with Mazzer or Rocky.  


All fully automatic machines manufactured by Saeco, Spidem and Gaggia have built-in grinders with conical burrs. Conical burr grinders perform a superior grinding job that the commercial grinders like Mazzer, Rocky or Rosso grinders can. If you buy a grinder for home use choose one with conical burrs.


 When you are ready to purchase a better home espresso maker, choose a Saeco, Spidem or Gaggia fully automatic machine with built-in conical burr grinder.


Question:  What is a bottomless portafilter? What is the advantage, if any?


Answer: A bottomless portafilter is a ridiculous idea without purpose. A portafilter has a single or double spout at the bottom to channel espresso to fill one or two cups. This is an outright stupid idea to remove the bottom half of the filter holder and cannot be dignified with any detail.


Question: I have received a Spidem Trevi automatica as a gift. I was told that fully automatic machines have many problems due to automatic functions. I love this machine for its simple operation. What should I do to prevent breakdown?


Answer: Whoever gifted this machine, must really love you very much. These are very efficient and best designed machines. As with any other espresso machine, you need to maintain the machine regularly. You will not have problem for several years if you follow the maintenance instructions as explained in the Operator's manual or as described under the title "DOs & DONTs". See details on page Espresso Maintenace  of this web site. 


 There are as many opinions about Espresso and espresso machines. Very few are backed by comparative evaluation. Researching the information on espresso making and comparative evaluation of espresso makers is the responsibility of buyer himself. 


Making espresso at home


 Making espresso at home should be as effortless and as comfortable as possible, without sacrificing the quality. Lever operated machines and semi-automatic traditional machines are not effortless. Very frequently those who start with use of semi-automatic machines for the initial excitement and fun of making espresso, soon find it to be time consuming and inconsistent in quality. The decision to switch from beans to using Coffee pods is sad. Yuk! Thatís right. Fall from the mountain top to the bottom of the pit. 


Making Classic espresso


Ideally, espresso is an extraordinarily sweet and aromatic extract of the same flavor as freshly ground coffee. It is smooth, thick dark liquid that should taste sweet, and never bitter. When sipped straight, it should not be bitter. The process of roasting release gases which mix with oils during extraction and float on the surface in golden color foam called 'Crema'. A pleasant and aftertaste of coffee would linger on the palate for several minutes after consumption. There are several factors that go into making a good espresso. The more important ones are following:


The Blend 

Any single origin of beans has limited taste outcome. When blended with beans of different origin, it is possible to create a balanced aroma, rich sweet taste and smooth mouth feel. 




Roasting espresso beans is a process by which aromatics, acids, and other flavor components inside of coffee bean are altered and balanced in a way that it enhances the flavor, acidity, aftertaste and body of the coffee as desired.

It is a process aimed at enhancing the espresso potential for the sweetness and aroma of the coffee while minimizing the bitterness and acidity. The freshness of the roast cannot be over emphasized. If fresh roast is like a flower on a tree, stale coffee is a withered flower with out scent.


It is important to compare and familiarize the aroma of freshly roasted beans and stale beans with unknown date of roast, purchased from supermarkets, Starbucks or from distributors of Lavazza and Illy.  The shelf life of roasted espresso bean is following:


Pre-ground espresso


Pre-ground espresso is a perishable item. It is unfit for use in three important ways.

First, it is definitely stale because contents of the package cannot be used up immediately.  

Second, pre-ground espresso is not a Latex glove that fits all sizes. Fineness of espresso grind must be adjusted for the type of espresso machine in which it is being used. Grind must always be different (coarser) for espresso extraction with pre-infusion and relatively finer grind for extraction without pre-infusion.

Third, the pre-ground coffee absorbs moisture fast and changes the chemistry of its aromatic and useful components. It is not possible to prevent deterioration of quality under all weather conditions.

Oily Espresso roast


Oily espresso beans should be packaged in bags with one way valve to allow gases to escape and prevent air entering the bag. The oily beans must be consumed within four to 8 hours after opening the bag.


Non oily espresso roast


Non-oily espresso beans packaged in bags with one-way valve have a shelf life of 6 to 8 weeks. The beans should be used up within two weeks after the bag is opened.


Storage of Espresso beans


Roasted Coffee bean is a perishable commodity. It should always be stored in air tight containers (ziplock bags with air pressed out), away from light and heat. It should not be refrigerated.  For long term storage it should be stored in freezer at -10C. When removed from the freezer, it should be thawed to room temperature while still protected inside air-tight bad to protect from moisture condensation.




Fully Automatic home espresso makers



Fully automatic machines have a built in grinder, a removable electro-mechanical brewing device waste box, drip tray and a built in frother. A series of automatic functions is electronically controlled. Once programmed, the machine delivers consistent quality of classic espresso every time. It grinds, empties the doser, pre-infuses and extracts one or two shots of classic espresso at the push of a button. No mess, no fuss or regrets. As many as six safety switches protect the machine from errors in operating. The machine displayed on the right is amongst the simple, compact and dependable fully automatic espresso makers, excellent choice for home. The price range is from $499.00 (single boiler) to $700.00 (double boiler for simultaneous steam). Comments: Fully automatic home espresso makers by Saeco, Spidem and Gaggia are reliable & efficient. Avoid fully automatic models (Italia, Italia digital, and Incanto, Charisma, Divina and Synchrony compact) have steam valve malfunctions & poor design. Steam/water leakage damages the electronic board (located right next to the steam valve).

4 hometrevi automatica.jpg

Fully automatic digital home espresso makers

Fully automatic digital model home espresso makers have a digital display window in which operator can see the functions in progress as well as any functional faults. Most of the digital models have dual boilers and a pre-ground function (grinder by-pass) with a manual pre-ground coffee feeding shoot. The machine displayed on the right is amongst one of the best choices. Price ranges from $750.00 to $1100.00    







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