Pufferfishy wrote:If you believe that you simply cannot get a passable cup, with a nice crema, from an inexpensive machine and reasonable burr grinder (or pre-ground espresso) you are deluding yourself.
You can get crema off preground? Maybe with a pressurized portafilter; but then, that's fake crema anyway.
Don't forget the rule of 15s:
Green coffee should be used within 15 months or it will go stale.
Roasted coffee should be used within 15 days (including the initial 4-7 days for degassing) or it will go stale.
Ground coffee should be used within 15 minutes
Freezing doesn't help, gasses are still escaping, and with anything lighter than a northern Italian (read: charcoal) roast you risk annihilating any aromas trapped inside the beans.
Now, I will concede that budget stuff can make passable, even *good* espresso, but it will never make an excellent shot. Pair up a 15 bar pump machine with a great burr grinder like a Mazzer, and you've gone a long way towards "good." Add in fresh beans, and the skill to properly prepare your shot, *and* temperature surf your machine, and you're in SBDU heaven. If anything at that point is lacking, so then is your espresso.
Personally, I've got a Hamilton Beach pump machine, and a ~$50 hand grinder, and it works great. It's not perfect, and takes some time, but like this machine, it can do a lot for a low price if you go the extra mile to make it so.
As far as time...after 40 minutes of warm up time (to get the brew head and then-locked-in portafilter up to temperature), two flushing cycles, grinding, dosing, tamping, temp surfing and shot pulling, I've spent around an hour on the whole process. That's for a little less than 2 oz. of espresso, no steaming, and clean up comes later. If I had 10 grand to drop on a better setup (La Marzocco GS/3 paddle group, Mazzer Super Jolly, some nice milled burrs, etc.), I could leave the machine on and do it all in less than 5 minutes. It's a labor of love that gets a little easier with a bigger budget.