HX or DB?

February 28, 2012

As one moves up the upgraditis ladder of espresso machines, one will eventually face a crossing path: to go a Double Boiler(DB) or to go with a Heat Exchanger(HX) machine? Here’s exactly one of the many threads that are being discussed.


So what are the advantages of each? Are they really on the same level?


No doubt, when used correctly, both type of machine will give you almost equally good cup result if it’s done correctly. But the problem is, how consistent and how much learning is needed?


From HX perspective, one of the argument is that you can adjust the temperature on the fly. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest advantage of the HX machine over DB, provided you drink many different types of coffee throughout the day, and you have a very keen eye and gut. The caveat is, HX flushing from my experience requires a steeper learning curve to be constantly precise. With a very experienced user, there’s probably no problem to get in the range(+-1-2) of your desired brew temp just from your gut feel. Not so with new users. With more practice, it’s probably manageable to get within +-5 F of your desired temp. If your group head is a E61, you’re in luck. Eric’s thermometer could help you to control one of the variable (the group head temp), albeit at a $100 price tag. If your HX has no E61, then you would probably have to shoot in the dark for the temperature and calibrate with your palate. That is, if your palate is developed enough to discern high and low temp and your flushing is consistent.


From the above argument, you could probably sense that I am a little biased towards DB. I admit that. Actually, some HX supporters that said HX flush is actually a lot easier to learn than it seems. But, a big BUT, it also requires about one year of learning experience before really nailing it down to get consistent result. Not many people are persevere to learn and get inconsistent result for a year. Plus my prior experience with the ease of PIDed single boiler machine(and CC1), you can see why I am heavily swayed towards the DB camp.


With DB, it’s really almost plug and play as I called it. You set the temperature, and focus on other factors(grind,dose etc). Water temp could be fiddled later on to optimize your cup. It won’t get in your way to dial the coffee. To a newbie and someone with less patient, this is definitely the way to go in my book. No doubt both machine classes could achieve the same result, but definitely you can’t deny the ease factor is heavily on the DB.


Of course, there’re many other factors at play in the decision, such as price level and electrics usage etc. I would have gone for a DB if budget allows, which is the main reason why I haven't gotten a DB right now. What’s your thought on this? Are you on the DB or the HX camp?

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