For the antique/retro lovers in the crowd, the X1 by Francis Francis and the Dream UP by Ascaso have an old school look without the old school technology. Gail takes us through the similarities and differences of these two single boiler espresso machines.
Leaving your machine alone for the winter? Need to store it or move it (by hand) to a new location? Gail gives us some tips on what you should do to prepare your machine so you limit the possibility of damage.
While you won’t find us purporting that cleanliness is next to godliness, you will hear us talk about keeping your gadgets clean for the good of all involved. Because darker roasts (such as French or Italian) bring so much of the bean’s natural oil to the surface, we wondered how this impacts a grinder’s burrs: Does it clog more easily and quickly? Do you need to clean your grinder more often if you’re using this type of bean/roast? What kind of residue does it leave in comparison to grinding medium roast beans?
To determine this, we put two Baratza Virtuosos to the test. Over a month period, we ran the timer on each of them twice each day, using Velton’s Treehouse drip coffee in one and some particularly intense French Roast Gail picked up at Costco in the other. Then we opened them up to find out what kind of residue was left on the burrs.
Watch as Gail takes them apart, meticulously studies them and then tests how easy it is to clean them (using Grindz).
A public service announcement from our technical department regarding the care & feeding of your burr grinder:
Never adjust the grind finer without turning the grinder on. The motor needs to be on & spinning as you adjust the burrs more closely together to ensure that beans are not compacted in the burr teeth, clogging the burrs or carrying grinds into the grinding chamber threads, thus jamming the burr carrier. This can damage and/or break the grinder and is not something that is covered under any manufacturer or retailer warranty.
So if you’re going to tweak your grind to go a little finer, kick on the grinder first and, if you have beans in the hopper, make sure it’s grinding normally as you move the burrs closer together. This will ensure that you don’t clog/jam the burrs and potentially damage the grinder.
The most frequent repair issue we see on Ascaso Dream machines (both the older version and the new UP) is a burned out boiler. These machines are single boilers without an automatic boiler refill, so folks often burn out the boiler because they don’t pull enough fresh water into the boiler before trying to steam or brew.
Watch Gail as she walks us through refilling the boiler and temperature surfing on the Dream UP.
We can’t help but hear Technotronic’s Pump up the Jam whenever our eye falls on the Ascaso Duo Tronic, but we’re pretty sure we’re the only one who tortures themselves that way. Those without a disturbing relationship to late 80’s/early 90’s dance music would likely have no issue seeing this machine on their countertop in the morning, however.
It’s a pretty cool machine, too — a brew boiler, separate steam thermoblock and dual pumps means you can brew and steam at the same time. The Tronic also features programmable buttons, so you can set the water volume for your double and single shots. If you are a shot or Americano drinker only, you can turn off the thermoblock steam system, too, so you’re not wasting energy on a feature you won’t be using. A sturdy steel construction and low water cut off are nice features, as well.
The only item on our wishlist for this machine? A PID! You’re still dealing with a thermostat with a 15 – 20 degree variance on the machine’s brew boiler, so you will need to temperature surf before you pull your shots. But that’s a small price to pay for the improved performance of simultaneous steam and brew — a feature generally reserved for machines that are significantly more expensive. Sure, the thermoblock isn’t going to give you the same kind of power as a traditional heat exchange or double boiler machine that has a big, beefy steam boiler, but the machine’s price reflects that.
If you’ve been coveting this machine for awhile or are new to the market and looking for a good deal, this machine’s price has been knocked down by a couple hundred bucks through August 31st. This is a great price for this kind of functionality.
So, as with all things, take a moment to assess your budget and your needs: Yes, the higher end machines will perform better shot/steam wise than this machine, but they are also twice the price. You can get great results with the Duo Tronic, it just takes a little more skill, participation and, perhaps, a little booty shakin’ on your part, that’s all.
The Ascaso Dream UP is considered a ‘versatile’ espresso machine, meaning that — like its predecessor — the brew head has been designed for use with both ESE pods and ground coffee. However, the stock brew head definitely favors pods and you don’t get as rich of a shot using grounds as you can off of other machines in this class.
When we did our review recently, we noticed that even though the new UP has a three-way solenoid valve, it didn’t seem to perform that well, leaving really soupy grounds behind. So we decided to experiment with the machine by installing the Brew Head Upgrade kit to see if that improved the performance. It did!
Watch Gail show us the different screens, talk about how they perform and demonstrate a shot. We even spliced in footage from the original review (accompanied by super sessy muzak!) for easy side-by-side comparison.
Recently re-engineered to include a three-way solenoid/brew pressure release valve, Ascaso’s Dream UP is just as aesthetically fetching as its ancestors and functions pretty much the same. It comes with a nice aluminum tamper (unlike the plastic style included with many other machines) and two different steam wand tips that you can choose from — a panarello (which incorporates air and steam for you) or a three-hole traditional steam tip (which requires a little more skill and allows you to stretch the milk).
Gail talks to us about the features, demonstrates the different wand tips and makes us a latte — with absolutely no latte art to speak of.
Recently re-engineered, Ascaso’s Duo series is designed to give you a little bit more power than a traditional single boiler at a portion of the cost of a heat exchange or double boiler. With a semi-automatic version or programmable/automatic version available, the Duos feature a brew boiler, thermoblock for steaming and two separate pumps so that you can theoretically brew and steam at the same time.
We have noticed that the steaming function is not as strong as you find on machines that have a steam boiler to back it up, and also that the Duos do not have a PID on the brew boiler, so you still have to temperature surf to be certain of where your temperature is at in the heating cycle. Watch Gail show us the internals of a Duo, temperature surf and pull a couple of comparison shots.
Where do espresso machines and coffee makers go to die? Not in the landfill, if we can help it! At Seattle Coffee Gear, we launched a recycling program last year in an effort to keep as many fully assembled machines from landing in the trash. Many of these are pretty complex — they have circuit boards, electrical wiring and miscellaneous metals that are best kept out of our ground water supply.
Our partner in this venture is Uesugi USA, a Japanese company that (as luck would have it) have a US presence here in the Seattle-area. We pulled Henry into the mix and headed out to their facility to talk about what they do and see how they take these machines apart, break them down to their components and funnel them back into the commodity supply chain as cleanly as possible.