Why is it hard to build a cheap but great espresso machine?

This is the second in a series of blog posts about heat exchanger machines.  This post, however, is really about why it is hard to build a good but also cheap machine. (And therefore why what at first seems like an absurdly expensive machine can be viewed as a good deal).

What is the problem with making a truly inexpensive espresso machine?  Well, I was just talking to a vendor today about this and he claimed that for espresso machines inexpensive must automatically mean cheap.  His explanataion was as follows – in espresso, you need temperature stability, you need even distribution of water, you need solid construction, you need high pressure delivered accurately, etc.  In other words you need a lot of things coming together that are difficult to pull off.  He brought up the example of the legendary E-61 grouphead.  You will notice that if you look at espresso machines that run between $1000 and $3000, many of them have a nearly identical looking hunk of shiny metal sticking out front as a brew head that delivers the water.  This is popular for two reasons – first it works very well.  That is the most important reason.  Another reason is that it is relatively inexpensive.  Lots of parts are widely available and there is not a monopoly on their manufacture, unlike some of the other types of grouphead out there.  On the other hand the group weighs in at a solid 8 and a half lbs of chrome plated brass.  Chrome plated brass is not cheap.  So even though this group head is realively inexpensive and non-proprietal, it actually runs over $750 just for the group alone.


I find that amazing since that isn’t even attached to an espresso machine.  It does not include the boiler, the shell, the electronics, etc.  It almost makes you wonder how they can make a machine like the Anita for only $1500.  Either the question is how can they produce great espresso machines for so little, or else why is this group so over priced when you can produce great espresso machines for so much less.  

I have yet to find a great espresso machine for the price of this group head, but I’d sure love to find one and I keep looking. There are good ones at this range that I have used such as the Pavoni and the Sylvia, but it is all about compromises.

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