When we heard that Breville was going to soup up one of their more popular — and unique — espresso machines, the Barista Express, we were a little bit excited. Some of the things we didn’t dig about its predecessor were going to be addressed, such as improved temperature control, an improved grinder and the addition of a hot water spigot. They even threw in some cool new toys (a Razor, anyone?), an improved hopper for easier bean feeding and the ability to tweak your brew temperature with a simple PID interface.
Enough talk — let’s show it off, eh? Watch Gail talk about the features of the new Barista Express BES870XL, give us a tour of all the goodies it comes with and then demonstrate making a latte.
Next in our series of the crew’s favorite picks covers the world of traditional espresso machines. Find out which single, heat exchange and double boiler machines the team digs.
Single Boiler Espresso Machines
Heat Exchange Espresso Machines
Dual Boiler Espresso Machines
Pick a Wednesday, any Wednesday. How much coffee do you need at work today to get over the hump? How many meetings do you have? Presentations to give? Deals to close? Sure, you can drink whatever office coffee sludge is sitting on the warming element as you pass from your desk to the conference room, but you deserve better, work friend. And so do your work compatriots!
Let’s cut to the chase, business people. Let’s get down to brass tacks and find the win-win and the net-net and the synergy for you all within one superautomatic espresso machine.
Two words: Saeco Intelia. This superautomatic espresso machine will boost employee morale and caffeination levels to previously unimagined heights. With one well-timed capital expenditure, the Saeco Intelia Focus will beat forking over $967 average annual expense for a latte-per-day habit. Take my word for it, or make your own Excel spreadsheet. With a 10”x17” countertop footprint, it is smaller than a paper cutter and much safer to have around the office.
Here’s what to expect: Push the small button for an espresso shot (ours is set to 1.5 ounces) made just for you and poured into your favorite Dilbert coffee mug in 30 seconds. Milk frothing took an additional 60 seconds with the panarello. There you have it, synchronization optimization with steaming and brewing for a latte in under a minute and a half. Don’t dig lattes? Push the big button for a programmable Cafe Lungo (ours is set to a hefty 8 ounces) in your cup or get hot water from the panarello for an Americano coffee in the same time or less.
Here’s a real world case study: I have a meeting regarding commercial equipment (yes we sell coffee and espresso machines for home, office and café!) and I will need a latte. I can pick any espresso machine. Semi-automatics take longer to prepare and one-touch coffee centers don’t get the milk hot enough for my taste. The Saeco Intelia, on the other hand, offers push-button espresso convenience combined with the control of a panarello to get the milk as hot and foamy as I want it. I leave my desk, whip up a piping hot latte and Bam! I’m in the conference room faster than you can recite the “Glengarry Glen Ross” speech.
We’ve got a winner here, send the requisite requisition forms to the purchasing department. Any way you slice it, the Saeco Intelia leverages price and performance to hit the sweet spot for office coffee. It is easy to clean, easy to maintain and so easy anyone can intuitively use it without a PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes the easy choice is the right choice.
You don’t actually have to break the bank to pick up an espresso machine, love. In fact, there are several great options under the $300 mark that will produce great shots and steamed milk so that you can easily craft your favorite espresso drinks at home.
We asked Jess and Teri to choose a few of their favorites within this price bracket and they selected DeLonghi’s EC155, Saeco’s Poemia & Aroma and Krups’ XP5280. Watch them discuss the features and specs of each of these machines, how they compare and what they do and don’t like about them.
Even if you don’t buy into New Year’s resolutions, there’s nothing wrong with thinking about little ways to improve your quality of life and that of those around you. (We know what you’re like without your morning coffee. It’s okay, this is a safe place.) Why not start with a commitment to make better coffee in 2013? Here’s a list our best selling gear from last year to help you get started!
Saeco Aroma Black – $229 Stainless Steel – $259
Compact and durable, the Aroma is a great entry-level espresso machine. It’s extremely easy to use, and the pressurized portafilter and included pod adapter will have you brewing with E.S.E. pods, pre-ground espresso, or freshly ground beans with ease.
Saeco Via Venezia Black – $299 Stainless Steel – $349
The Via Venezia and Aroma share the same internals therefore they function almost identically, but the Via Venezia offers some slight improvements: larger capacity water reservoir (98 oz), steam wand with more mobility, and more clearance between the drip tray and brew head so you can brew into larger cups. This little workhorse will keep you caffeinated with no problems.
Breville Infuser BES840XL – $499.95
The Infuser is the only espresso machine in this price range to offer an internal PID, and while it’s not programmable, it stabilizes the brew temperature for perfect shot extraction. With built-in pre-infusion, commercial style steam wand, and compact stainless casing, you’ll be proud to have this on your counter top.
Rancilio Silvia – $629 with PID – $879
Simple, reliable, durable. The Silvia is one of the best sellers in the home espresso market and it’s a great machine on which to hone your craft since you’ll need to be precise with your grind and tamp. Upgrade to the installed PID version for programmable temperature control.
Saeco Syntia SS Superautomatic – $849
The Syntia is a compact and stylish superauto that offers the convenience of automatic espresso brewing paired with manual milk steaming – perfect for folks who order extra-hot lattes. With Saeco’s removable brew group and Intenza water filter system, it’s also easy to maintain and a great option for those who need a little extra help in the morning. ☺
Crossland CC1 – $699 (now 10% off!)
A PID comes standard with this single boiler, which let’s you customize brew and steam temperature, pre-infusion time, and volume. We love the stainless steel casing, thermo-block enhanced steam to switch quickly between brewing and steaming, and the programmability for this price point.
Breville Double Boiler – $1199.95
When you’re ready to brew and steam simultaneously, you’re ready for this bad boy. With an easy to use interface, you can program the electronic PID with extraction temperatures, volumetric control, and pre-infusion duration.
Nuova Simonelli Oscar – $1050
If you think you need a dual boiler for simultaneous brewing and steaming, think again. Heat exchangers like the Oscar provide similar benefits at a lower price point. This machine has great steam pressure, a large water reservoir, and is also available as a direct connect machine. It’s available in a sexy metallic red as well – vroom vroom.
DeLonghi 23450SL -$1499.95
This is one of DeLonghi’s newer superautomatics on the market, and if you are a bleary eyed zombie before your morning java, you will appreciate its one-touch functionality. It produces some of the hottest coffee we’ve seen from superautos.
Saeco Exprelia -$1899
This one-touch dual boiler is streamlined and compact, and we love that if offers both one-touch functionality for auto-frothing milk or manual steaming with a stainless steel steam wand – no panarellos here. Right now we are offering a year’s supply of coffee with the purchase of a new Exprelia!
Rocket Cellini Premium Plus – $1799 Giotto Premium Plus – $1899
Hand craftsmanship, a commercial grade E61 brew head and high polished stainless steel seduce many an espresso lover to bring the Cellini or Giotto Premium Plus into their lives. You’ll be extracting delicious shots and impressing all your friends with this one.
Sky’s the Limit
Rocket R58 – $2699
You’re ready to take it to the next level with this powerhouse. The dual boilers work independently to stabilize the espresso boiler, and maximize steam pressure without compromising shot quality.
Saeco Xelsis – $2999 or Xelsis ID – $3199
The only thing missing from these superautomatics is the ability for them to read your mind…coming in 2015 (Just kidding!) Right now you’ll have to be satisfied with the ID’s fingerprint recognition technology to access your drink profile and create beverages at the touch of a button.
Izzo Alex Duetto II – $2250 Duetto III – $2495
This dual boiler has commercial quality components, electronic PID control, and the option to plumb into your water line. It’s new older brother, the Duetto III offers an upgraded fit and finish, larger drip tray, and stainless steel cup rails. Both solid performers can take your java to the next level.
Is there more than one coffee drinker at your place? How do you decide on an espresso machine that works for everyone? For this review I enlisted my significantly caffeinated other, Chris, to take a look at the superautomatic Saeco Xelsis One Touch for home use. [Ulterior motive alert! It’s holiday time and mama wants a new espresso machine.]
First off, Kat and Gail’s video covers how quick and easy it is to make drinks and to clean up on the Xelsis. I brought Chris into the Seattle Coffee Gear store in Lynnwood to show him the features and hopefully win him over with one-touch espresso.
The Xelsis is a really attractive machine, something we wouldn’t mind leaving on the countertop. Our upper cabinets are 18 inches from the counter and the Xelsis is 15 inches tall, which means I’d have to scooch it out to refill the water tank. It has a good size water reservoir, but I use fresh filtered water each time as Gail has mentioned for best shot flavor.
We turned it on and the Xelsis menu buttons were easy to navigate. I placed a cup under the spout and turned the milk carafe spout to point into the pre-warmed cup as well. After pushing the cappuccino button, hot frothed milk filled the cup and then, after a brief pause, the espresso followed. I like mine a bit stronger so I added an extra espresso shot — at the push of a button!
Next, we used the attached steam wand and a frothing pitcher to see if we could get a latte with hotter milk and a finer microfoam than the milk carafe provides. This produced the type of latte we prefer but took more time and effort. There are also ways to dial in the shot flavor to your preferences on superautomatics, which Kat and Gail explore here.
We sipped our drinks and considered what factors were important to us. We have a small semi-automatic at home now, which is not as quick to make drinks. This comes into play because Chris works early and does not always have time in the morning for a mid-week latte. Also, there is a little bit of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ since Kaylie has an Xelsis espresso machine at home.
What is important to you? For us it boils down to budget, time and milk foam quality. Your needs may vary. How does the Xelsis compare? It’s got stylish looks, a high quality build, an easy user interface that remembers how you like your favorite drink, great coffee quality and push button convenience. For us, a mid-level semi-auto and espresso grinder is more budget-friendly, though. Perhaps one that is compatible with E.S.E. espresso pods to save time on weekdays. As much as I really really really want a superautomatic, I will reluctantly — and with much complaining — continue pulling my own espresso shots (for now!).
When discussing small home espresso machines that can produce a great shot despite their diminutive frames, the well-known Rancilio Silvia is often compared against Breville’s newer upstart, the Infuser.
While the Silvia features several commercial-grade components backed by a design that is sometimes equated with a tank, the Infuser has features to spare and excellent temperature control. Choosing which one that is right for you is largely a virtue of longevity vs. precision — and price tag. While they’ll produce similar shots at the end of the day, the Infuser is more than $100 cheaper than the Silvia, so if you’re looking for something under $500, it may meet your budget a bit better.
In this video, Gail runs through their features and compares their functionality. Then she demonstrates making a latte on both so you can watch them in action.
One of the elements you can control on the Breville Dual Boiler is both the pre-infusion pressure and the duration prior to shot extraction. Factory setting is 60% of the overall pump pressure for 7 seconds, but what happens when you change the pressure? Or if you keep the pressure the same and change the timing? Of course, all coffee will react differently to these settings, so we decided to experiment with Equator’s Espresso Blend to see how making changes to this parameter affected the overall flavor of the shot.
Watch Gail try different pressures and different pre-infusion times to determine if the factory settings are the best bet for Equator Espresso.
Fast forward…one month later and my budding barista skills are still negligible. Secretly, when the SCG Crew isn’t looking, I use superautomatic espresso machines! Muahahaha! I’m such a rebel. Until my hand-pulled espresso shots improve, I am happy to ‘push button, receive coffee.’ Please meet my new best friend: The Jura Impressa J9 One Touch TFT superautomatic espresso machine that does all the work for me!
Although there is a video guide available for the Jura J9 that covers all of the features, this time I went in cold turkey. I punched buttons just to see what happened. On the top of this stylish silver espresso machine was the power button and a rotary dial. I double-checked the water reservoir on the side and the bean hopper in the back. It took 58 seconds from ‘on’ to ‘ready.’ The color display panel then listed six drink choices, while the rotary dial on top toggled the strength and volume of the drinks.
I did not realize the Jura slogan Never-Move-The-Cup meant that I needed to position the cup under the milk/coffee spout on the left. Lights illuminated where to put the cup, but no, my cup was under the espresso spout in the center when my cappuccino poured forth into the ample drip tray. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That was clearly a case of user error. My only legitimate complaint was the cup clearance, while adjustable up to 5 inches, would not fit my Monday Mug — a Bodum behemoth. Although I have seen SCG Crew members remove the drip tray grate to accommodate taller cups, this drip tray did not have an even surface on the bottom to rest the cup.
I pushed all of the buttons in turn and received: A cappuccino, a latte macchiato, an espresso, plain coffee, along with milk and water options. Very scientifically I stuck my finger in the hot water as it streamed out. Oh yes, it was boiling! Like other superautomatic espresso machines with automatic frothing, the milk did not get as hot or as frothy as I prefer. [Pro-Tip: Warm your cup first to keep your drink hot longer.] And although the machine self-rinses the milk spout, it does not rinse the tube between the included stainless steel thermal milk container and the machine.
The pre-set drinks were all good and can be further customized. I used Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean, which will work well in any superautomatic espresso machine. Much like Goldilocks, none of the creations were to my exact taste so I did some tinkering and eventually landed on a delicious combination of a 6 ounce coffee pour with a 1.5 ounce espresso shot in the same cup — a drink that is known throughout the world under several different names … A Shot in the Dark, Red Eye, Depth Charge, Sludge Cup or by my favorite moniker, Mother Of All Coffee.
Who else besides me, the Reluctant Barista would want a Jura J9 superautomatic coffee robot to make her drink? I imagine anyone who wants to save time (it’s faster than a trip to the espresso drive-thru,) or receive better coffee than their current skill level allows (me!) or who wants a variety of people to be comfortable making consistent and delicious drinks on an easy to use machine (in an office setting or the SCG break room, for instance).
Given that she had to coerce us into cleaning our bedroom by rather surreptitiously hiding small change in the corners (and encouraging us to ‘find what the fairies left!’), our mother would be quite relieved to know of our passion for cleanliness in adulthood! And while you won’t find nickels and dimes in the brew head or the water tank — at least, you shouldn’t — Breville’s maintenance supplies make it easy and almost as fun to keep your espresso machine clean.
She then discusses their charcoal/resin filters, shows how to install them and explains why they’re necessary — especially with the Dual Boiler.