Help Me Find The Right Machine...
Q: I'm looking for an expresso/cappuccino machine, but I haven't found very many choices locally. If anyone knows of a place selling Gaggia or Saeco in the Chicagoland area I would like to know about it. Otherwise, I'm going to have to do this mail order and I could use some help. I was thinking of the Saeco Magic Combi Cappuccino (is has built in grinder). At $350 the price is right. This thing has some kind of weird frothing system, does it work? Does it have a regular steam tube if I want to do the froth myself? Is the grinder a burr grinder? Should I be looking at the super automatics? Are they really as easy as the ads claim? My main concern is that they don't keep themselves clean. Are the affordable ones ($600-700) any good?
A: I'm new to this group but am an "old" practising coffee-lover (of the espresso kind). I've had several Saeco machines for a number of years; what I love most on it is the pressure handle, which is quite unique. There is nothing I've seen out there that comes to even close to the "crema" it makes. The frother (the white plastic tube) works much better than the conventional steel pipe. Stay away from automatics, especially those that use prepackaged cartridge type coffee. That is junk. And the more complicated the machine, the more expensive it is to repair. I usually buy my machines in Montreal which has a big coffee culture (the real kind, not McStarbucks). With your dolar so strong, you may want to try there. It would be a trip worth your while. I have a Saeco Magic de luxe which is a super automatic. Yes, they are as easy to use as they claim. As I have previously posted, I was in search of a "put beans and water in press the button get espresso" machine. I'm glad to say I found it. Compared to the manual machines the cleaning is, in my opinion, easier (or at least the type of work I prefer). The machine works like this: press the button, wait a little, drink the coffee. The machine will tell you (through an LED) that it's time to empty the coffee grind bin. This is the bin which collects the spent coffee grinds -- they look sorta like hockey pucks! I simply dump the pucks, rinse the container and put the container back in place. About once a month I rinse the coffee "brew" unit. It is designed to pull out and snap back into place. It works as they claim. This is one of the two "action" parts of the machine (the other action part is the grinder). By the way the coffee brew unit is the same in the Digital, Magic and Classic. There are some operational features which differ (mostly the controls) but the basic elements which make the coffee are the same. Other cleaning chores... the drip tray. This is the same as on any machine I have ever owned. It's easy to pull out, dump and rinse. The steam wand is also easy to clean. It comes with one of those new fangled attachments which are designed to put more air into the milk. I like the plain wand... and I can use the machine's wand without the attachment if I want to, but for now I am going to leave the attachment since it seems to make clean up easier. I say this because when I am done steaming milk, I just remove the attachment and rinse it. Because of the material it is made out of the milk rinses off more easily than from the steel wand. I'll see how long this novelty/advantage lasts. So far my feeling is to keep it since it makes clean up easier. Saeco sells a gizmo called a cappuccinatore (I think it's about $30) which attaches to the steam wand. I am going to get one just to check it out (whata hobby!!!) I'll be happy to let you know if it works as advertised once I get it. It looks simple enough - hose goes into the milk, steam blows frothed milk out the other end - but, we'll see. The water tank pulls out and is as easy to clean as any machine's water tank. The grinder is a burr grinder with conical blades and anti-gravel shut off. The grinder also needs to be cleaned on occassion. The frequency depends on the oiliness of the beans you grind and the amount of coffee you grind. So, as with any other grinder, you need to clean it when it needs it. I know that sounds imprecise but it really does depend on the beans and quantity. I have heard that some clean their grinder every six months, others every three months and some every time they refill the grinder. The grinder will let you know when it needs cleaning by delivering weak drinks. The exterior is also easy to clean and is not different from other machines. For me, the super automatic hits the mark. I'm sorry I don't know anyone in Chicago to refer. I bought mine machine from a local (San Jose, CA) reseller. By the way, I chose the Magic de luxe because I didn't like the digital controls of the Royal Digital (overkill) and the Classic did not have a bypass for using pre-ground coffee (I use this when someone wants decaf since the machine is loaded with regular beans).
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