So you want to upgrade your espresso machine? (Part 1)

It is being said that the two major purchases one does during a lifetime are a house and a car. I would add a third one: an espresso machine.

Background
My first espresso machine changed the way I used to appreciate coffee. It was an entry level one, but for me, an inexperienced barista, it was heaven... while it last. I use to have a Café Roma from Breville. It is a good machine for an entry level barista. It taught me about espressos and cappuccinos. It was easy to operate and maintain. In the 5 years I had it, I never had a problem with it and we pretty much use it on a daily basis. I was able to prepare shots with plenty of crema on top and I was also able to froth milk.
Cafe Roma from Breville

If everything was so great, what was the problem with this machine you might ask. The main problem was that the more I learnt about coffee the more I realized that there were some things that this machine was just not going to be able to do.

Frothing milk for real lattes. My wife and I tried, and tried, and tried and then we tried even more to create the perfect milk for a latte. We wanted to create microfoam to pour it on a shot and have a rich creamy texture. We watched every video available on YouTube on how to do it, and although we occasionally got very close, we were never able to get the expected result.  However, we realized that it was not totally our fault; the steam wand and its power were not the right ones to create the right texture.

Crema. As I mentioned, we were always able to get plenty of crema from our shots which made us feel very proud. However, years later I learnt that we always got it, not because of our barista skills, but because we used a pressurized filter. As the name implies, the design of these filters allows them to create enough pressure and crema, almost regardless of the grinding, tampering and coffee beans. While this is a good thing for new baristas, once you start wanting to learn more and try more variations you find yourself limited.

Perfect Shot. Finally, when we read that a perfect shot should give you 30 ml in 27 second we were shocked. Our machine was getting 30 ml in 8 seconds!. We tried adjusting the grinder to a finer one, but the only thing we achieved was to clog the machine. With a finer grind, it was unable to allow the espresso to extract.

When we wanted to upgrade
All of the above made obvious that our espressos needed an upgrade. We started talking to some of our coffee connoisseur friends and we were shocked when they told us how much they spent on a good grinder and a good espresso machine. Were they kidding? The prices they indicated seamed unreasonable: $500 for a grinder and $1000-$2000 for an espresso machines. Our grinder at that time cost $20. Although we wanted the upgrade, we found ourselves without enough money to make a good purchase. It was time to put our dreams of better coffee aside and start saving.

When we were ready to upgrade
Two years of cashbacks and savings had to pass for us to be ready for the upgrade.  It seemed pretty straight forward: go online and type: “Best espresso machine” then chose the one within your budget, right?
Wrong! The search returned tons of options to choose and even more questions: Do you want a manual, semi-automatic, automatic or super automatic machine? Do you want it with single boiler, dual boiler or heat exchanger? E-61 group head or not? What seemed like an easy purchase turned into a research project.

In addition to the questions above I also had to decide on how long do I wanted to keep the machine? What was more important quality of components or features? looks or durability? among other things.

Who knew upgrading an espresso machine could become so complicated?

To be continued...