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Solis A Swiss-made machine manufacturer. And it is proven by its performance (and price). To add to your headache between Gaggia and Rancilio, add a Solis. Though it hasn't undergone any cosmetic changes lately, Solis machines are strong, quiet, and they last. They weigh in not too differently from the other two honchos when it comes to price and performance. It has been noted that they are great machines when doing copious amounts of milk steaming.
Capresso and the Coffee Team are relatively new to this business. Performance-wise, they fall in between a Saeco or Briel and a Rancilio (or others in that class). Capresso isn't shy about price and that's why this author feels that a more wise purchase can be had with one of the other companies mentioned in this article. Capresso has a respectable website, so I encourage you to visit it sometime. Http://www.capresso.com is the address.
Krups And lastly, a word on Krups. Originally, and to some extent today, these machines are a sound investment as they last some time. Performance, though, is the question. They are readily available at about any store that sells quality housewares, and they are affordable. But, with a few dollars more, you can purchase far superior machines. Again, like a DeLonghi, don't scoff if you receive this as a gift. With patience, they can produce decent "home" espresso. But like others in its class, it pales in comparison to the likes of Rancilio or Gaggia. Krup's sells their models from anywhere between 150$ to 250$. They, like the Saeco, come with a portafilter that is designed to improve espresso production and minimize mess. This is a source for much controversy and, in my opinion, doesn't work in that it makes you believe you're making a correct shot when in fact you may not be. Consider yourself warned.
The Other Price to Pay: Cleaning A last word and thought. Why do you buy coffee from a shop and drink it in a small cup with a lid as you are walking to your car? Because you didn't make it. Which means you didn't make the mess associated with it.
Face it, making espresso CAN be a dirty experience. But over time you will learn tips and tricks to keep the countertop clean. Here are some of mine.
Always wear a towel on the shoulder; use it to wipe up spills.
Keep a dish rag handy to clean the steaming wand and the filter/brewhead.
Keep your portafilter clean and dry and store it in the machine at all times (whether the machine is on or not). This will keep coffee oils from leaving odours and stains. A dry filter basket will help ensure that the coffee comes out neatly when done with the pull.
Keep the drip-tray clean.
Keep the trashcan near or keep the machine by the sink. This will help dispose of spend coffee.
Store your milk pitcher used for frothing in the refrigerator.
Before frothing, "bleed" the wand of excess moisture so as not to splash milk around. Then, turn off the wand, place it in the milk, and turn it back on.
Keep the machine clean! Don't allow it to sit for a day or so before cleaning.
And, finally, dump out the water in the reservoir if you don't plan on using the machine for more than a few days (Heaven forbid!).
With that said, I hope you are ready to begin shopping for your new home espresso/cappuccino machine. Please feel free to email me here at Seasoned Cooking with any questions or comments. The biggest key is to shop, shop, and shop (research). Then, if it's available to you, actually get some play-time with the machine you think you'll buy. I know that this is unavailable in many areas. Finally, when you do make your purchase, do not forget to fill out the warranty and registration cards. This can save you a lot of hassle in the future.
I would like to thank the following people for their help: David Bogie, Barry Jarrett, Serge, and Gary Salzman. Thank you, gentlemen.
The author dedicates this article, and the preceeding article, to good friend Tim Nemec who, for over four years, was responsible for one of the Web's best coffee resources: Over The Coffee and Speaking Of Coffee. His hard work to keep his service free of SPAM and free to its users is a model to every internet coffee resource. Tim, we will be sorry to see OTC close down this month and hope to see you on-line more. OTC and Speaking were places where anyone could go to talk, research, and lurk in the company of some the most dedicated Internet coffee lovers.