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Updated for 2021 Now if you’ve been researching setting up a coffee bar, you’ve probably heard you’re going to need a good coffee grinder. The focus today is on our top single boiler machines. But stick around and I’ll have some grinder pairing recommendations for you, too. Plus, with a couple of these machines, you can get started without a grinder.
So here are the machines we’ll look at. First, we’ve got the Gaggia Carezza. It uses a pressurized basket which means no grinder required. It’s quick, easy, and affordable. The Gaggia Classic; it’s been a consumers digest best buy and is, without question, the best value in home espresso. The well regarded Rancilio Silvia; similar to the Classic but with a larger boiler. The new ECM Casa V; it ups the build quality and includes a brew pressure gauge. And finally the ECM Classika. It’s capable of pulling the best from exotic coffees with tight PID temperature control and its high-end E61 brew group.
Let's start with the Gaggia Carezza, which is a great first step into the world of espresso. It’s fast, easy to use, and my top recommendation for those who prefer simplified brewing with ESE pods or pre-ground coffee because, with the Carezza, you don’t need a grinder.
A couple of things that make the Carezza special. First is the best pressurized portafilter brewing in the business. It uses a commercial style basket with hundreds of tiny holes for good flow. Competing machines use a filter basket with one tiny hole to create the pressure for espresso brewing. In the Carezza, pressure restriction is after the basket and just before the coffee spouts. The result is better flow through the coffee bed and deeper extractions. Second is the auto frothing wand. Even if you have zero barista skills you can create a nice, rich froth. But you can take your froth further to a super-fine texture, good enough for pouring latte art by either removing the auto-frother and steaming straight from the pipe or by using the separately available Gaggia Latte Art Wand. With the outer sleeve on, it auto-froths like the stock wand, but slide it off and you can go full manual. With a little practice you can create a micro-foam suitable for pouring latte art.
Next up is the Gaggia Classic. As mentioned, it’s been a consumer digest best buy. With the Classic, and the rest of the machines we’ll look at, we step up to a commercial size and weight chrome-plated brass, 58mm portafilter. This means larger coffee doses and better temperature stability. You might call the Classic a crossover machine because it comes with both pressurized and standard non-pressurized filter baskets. That means you don’t have to have a grinder to start — like with the Carezza — but when you want to up your game you can grind whole beans fresh and use the non-pressurized basket. Another key feature is the three-way solenoid valve. After brewing, it removes excess water from the portafilter so coffee pucks are dry and easy to knock out. The Classic has a beautiful and durable brushed stainless steel exterior. It comes with an auto-frothing wand for rich, no skill required milk froth. Or you can go to latte art quality by removing the pipe or using the optional Latte art wand just like the Carezza. The Classic has been around for a long time and is the lowest cost option for cafe quality espresso from freshly ground whole bean coffee.
Moving on, we have the Rancilio Silvia. Like the Classic it’s been around for a while. The main differences between the Silvia and the Classic? The Silvia has a larger boiler for more steam power, and a manual steam wand so there’s more skill required for milk frothing. And then there’s cost. The Silvia is about twice the price of the Classic. With the Silvia you will definitely want a grinder as it does standard non-pressurized brewing only. With that, grind size is critical. Very small changes in grind size can have big effects on espresso quality.
Our next machine is the ECM Casa V. It’s a newer design and the first machine we’re looking at which has a brew pressure gauge. That gauge can be a big help when you are adjusting grind size — and this is another machine you will want to pair with a grinder, as it does non-pressurized brewing only. You’re looking for about 8-9 bar of pressure on the gauge when brewing. If pressure is low, you most likely need to grind a little finer. If it’s high, a little coarser. The Casa V is a manual steamer so, like the Silvia, you’ll need some skill and practice to get a super fine micro-foam. Like all single boiler machines, there’s some waiting between brewing and steaming as the boiler heats up to produce steam. In our testing the Casa gets it done faster than the Silvia. Average time to steam temperature was one minute & four seconds on the Casa and one minute & forty-five seconds on the Silvia. If you make a whole lot of lattes, you will appreciate the Casa’s shorter time to steaming temperature. Another nice feature? Brew pressure on the Casa is adjustable without opening up the machine, via a screw under the tray on top. The Casa five is more refined than the other machines we’ve looked at with a mirror-finished exterior, prosumer level drip tray, and extra touches like the chromed end on the portafilter handle.
Up last is the ECM Classika. It’s a solid choice for those looking to get the most out of todays higher end beans. PID temperature control allows for more precise control of brew water temperature. Combined with the iconic E61 brew group usually only found on machines costing a lot more, you’ll have accurate and easy to adjust brew temps for pulling the most flavor out of specialty coffees. One of the most loved features is the PID display which automatically turns into a shot timer when an extraction starts. Like the Silvia and the Casa, it’s a manual steamer, and it’s every bit as capable in the steaming department as the Casa. With the PID and E61 group, this machine is for those who are serious about their espresso. Like the Casa, it has a useful brew pressure gauge and adjustable brew pressure from outside the machine. Between the shot timer, PID temp control, brew pressure gauge, and E61 brew group, the ECM Classika has perhaps the most impressive set of tools available in a single boiler machine to help fine tune the flavor of specialty coffee.
So those are our top single boiler machines, and I promised some grinder selections to go with them. As mentioned with the Gaggia Carezza and Classic, you can start without a grinder. For the others here are my good, better, and best grinder selections. The Breville Smart Grinder Pro is in the good category. It’s a fine entry-level choice for lower volume users. It has decent grind size control and is a multi-purpose grinder so if you're grinding fresh for other brew methods it can do that as well. For a step up, look at the Baratza Sette grinders. They feature a grind straight through design, low retention, and they're very fast. Grinds are very fluffy and distribute well into a portafilter. Like the smart grinder, the Sette's are all purpose grinders. You’ll have more control of grind size with macro and step-less micro grind size adjustment. Now, if you want to go big with a cafe style grinder, have a look at the Ceado E5P. It’s an espresso specialist with step-less grind size adjustment and the largest burr set of the bunch at 64 millimeters. It’s capable of grinding for higher-end machines so if you upgrade to a heat exchange or dual boiler espresso machine down the road, the Ceado E5P will have you covered.
If you’re ready to get into espresso in your home or office, follow this link to check out these products and more at Whole Latte Love. And, if you have any questions on the machines, grinders, or anything coffee, use those comments and we’ll get you answers. Thanks for reading and be sure to come back soon for more of the best on everything coffee brought to you by Whole Latte Love.