August 21, 2015

Pimped Out: 4 Mods Your Mid-Range Espresso Machine Needs Right Now


We’d all love a high-end machine, but for most coffee aficionados, it’s only a dream. How many of us can afford a Strada, after all? Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t want high-end quality—or that we can’t get it on our mid-range setups.

We’ve got four quick and easy mods for you to get the most out of your mid-range machines and home setups. These changes are pretty simple; if you’re a DIY person you can probably implement them yourself. If you’re less DIY inclined, you should be able to get them done at a minimal cost. You can also purchase all the parts online.

Please note: DO NOT attempt any of these mods without first switching off your machine, letting it cool, and disconnecting it completely from its power source.

SEE ALSO: Extraction Wars, Part II: The Third Wave Coffee Revolution

1. Insulation


This is something La Marzocco have been doing for a while now, with great results. It has many pros: decreased electricity usage, a longer lifetime of your temp control hardware, less radiating heat on hot days, shorter heating recovery times when your café is busy, better shot temp stability, etc., etc.

So what do you do? Well, this mod is probably the easiest of the lot. There’s a large variety of materials you can use for this, but personally I go for fiberglass or ceramic blanketing. Map it out, cut it to size, and fasten it with steel zip ties.

You can also insulate the piping leading to your group—but if you do, make sure to also implement mod #3, group flow rate, as the insulation can change the thermodynamics of the group.

2. A Good Steam Wand

steam wand

You know that line of impatient customers checking their watches? We’ve got the answer for you: a good steam wand. One of these can be the key to constant customer flow.

So why d’you need to replace your steam wand? Well, most wands aren’t, ironically, that conducive to good steam pressure. The classic S-shape you most likely have on your machine inhibits steam and is a trap for buildup (not that you should have any in your pristine shop).

You have two degrees of retrofit on this one. The first is to replace just the wand, which is the primary variable here. The second is to replace the full steam assembly which will give you better steam flow control and ease of use. Depending on your machine, you may need a fitting to downscale the steam inlet thread size.

3. Group Flow Rate

Mod espresso machine parts

The water flow rate in your grouphead is controlled by an orifice plate sitting in the group water inlet, otherwise known as a gicleur. Therefore, you can speed up or slow down your water flow by inserting a larger or smaller gicleur.

If your machine has an annoyingly slow water flow, there’s a good chance your gicleur is partially blocked and needs to be descaled or drilled out.

Most machines, however, have a water flow that’s too fast. Replacing your current gicleur with one of a smaller diameter will give you a longer pre-infusion time which, in turn, will result in better shots with conventional espresso times. 0.6 works best for me, giving me a pre-infusion time of 8-10 seconds.

4. A Bigger Element

espreso machine parts

With this mod, bigger really is better. A large element will let your machine recover quicker than Wolverine, meaning you can make more cups in less time.

A lot of boilers have ample room for larger elements, even if it doesn’t immediately seem like it. Elements can come in various shapes. Also, you can upgrade from a single phase element to a three phase element. This will require some rewiring, but it’s not too complex.

One warning: don’t forget to check the new element will fit! It’s a surprisingly common error. So first, check that the flange size of your boiler matches the element you’re planning to fit. You can always get your boiler flange resized by anyone who does lathe work. Secondly, check that the element isn’t longer than your boiler.

5. Limitless Modding

toolbox for mods

Fitted our 4 mods and want more? While we’ve mentioned what we think are the 4 best ones for quickly optimising your machine, you don’t need to stop here. There are a multitude of other mods that can improve your setup, such as PID controls, programmable shot timers, and gravimetrics. There are also fun mods like LEDs in the machine, perspex panels, and powder coated boilers. While they’ll most probably cost you in time and cash, they can bring obvious benefits—and are a ton of fun! Get friends and family involved, and get busy.

Fitted an interesting mod? Feel like your modded machine is worth sharing? Tell us about it in the comments or on social media.

Edited by T. Newton.

Perfect Daily Grind.