You have me intrigued - you obviously have expertise.
What sort of espresso machine is it that costs 1200 Euro and doesn't automatically grind its own beans?
What makes it that much better than say a 200 Euro machine - eg a basic Delonghi unit?
well, first of all, i'm not really
an expert, i do know some people who are and i have some way to go. but i guess i know a great deal more about espresso than the average person. practicing with a manual lever machine for a year was particularly instructive.
i can tell you, 1200 euro isn't really that expensive. if i had more money, i would've gone for this baby
. costs? 5000 euro! and of course no integrated grinder.
but that's not a bad thing, as i will explain later.
i've owned a braun, a krups and a delonghi in the distant past, with these machine you can make something close to a half-decent espresso if you learn a few tricks, like temperature surfing. flush until the heater element is activated, then time the starting point from the shots from the moment the heater turns off again. immediately is often right, but in some cases too hot.
the most inexpensive machines aren't really espresso machines. they basically heat the water and build pressure on the fly, they just create steam from cold water. this method is actually closer related to moka coffee than to espresso.
all the good machines have boilers. you can make good espresso with a single boiler machine.
my machine is pid controlled, and has two boilers. one for frothing milk, one for making coffee (these tasks are performed under different conditions, what's good for coffee isn't good for milk). these boilers exchange heat/water, no cold water ever enters the boiler during extraction. the temperature remains very stable. the brewtus is one of the few machines under the 2000 dollars mark that has this feature. in a way, it's a low-budget machine. great value for money in any case.
is this important? yes, very much so! for great espresso, the temperature should stay within 1 degrees celsius during extraction, and the pressure should steadily build up and follow a stable path according to a predetermined curve, or the results will be less than great. typical inexpensive consumer machines are very bad at this. their temperature is a shot in the dark at start and all over the place (dropping for the most part, then heating up again) during extraction. one degree will make a difference between a sour cup (temp too low) or a bitter, burned tasting cup (temp too high).
good pressure for espresso is somewhere between 8 and 10 bar, depending on some factors. with more expensive machines you can adjust the pressure.
look at a cup from a 100$ machine, there is a watery mouthfeel, no rich body, and either palish, thin crema or almost non-existent brown crema. the pressure is never really right! espresso should have a good layer of chestnut colored crema. look at the start of this video
to see what i mean. that is the same machine i have, by the way. you can read a review
here, it explains some of your questions in more detail.
then, there's the group head. my machine comes with the e61
, which is something of an industry standard. inexpensive consumer machines never have anything remotely like it. this particular group head keeps the temperature very stable, and it pre-infuses the coffee, which is something you want. it will reduce the dreaded channeling (water creating a chanel through the puck (coffee bed) and generating a cup that's both under - and over extracted, very bad!) check the link at the start of the paragraph if you want to learn more about the e61.
then the grinder. people who know nothing about coffee don't think the grinder is very important. it should just grind the beans, right? wrong. it's even more important than the actual espresso machine. this section
of a very interesting article on home barista explains why.
and by the way, i do not know any experts who use a espresso machine with integrated grinder. perhaps because making a good grinder is a whole different thing from making a good espresso machine?
i have the mazzer mini, you can read about it here
in case you're interested. it's a great machine, professional gear, it will last a lifetime.
well. you have something to read now. probably more than you've asked for.