Category Archives: Semi-Automatic

Crew Review: Capresso EC Pro

How Does It Compare

The Capresso EC Pro is one of our favorite machines to recommend to entry-level baristas. Equipped with a pressurized and non-pressurized naked portafilter, low powered traditional steam wand and user-friendly interface, the EC Pro offers plenty of opportunities to hone your craft. Its affordable price and small footprint make it easy to squeeze into your life too. The DeLonghi Dedica EC680 similar price point makes it a worthy opponent to the EC Pro, but it doesn’t offer nearly as much skill-building opportunities.

The Capresso EC Pro industrial stainless steel body is a nice touch for this lower priced machine.
The Capresso EC Pro industrial stainless steel body is a nice touch for this lower priced machine.

The Dedica comes with only pressurized portafilter in single and double basket options—if we include looks, the portafilter’s spouts are nothing fancy—that will compensate for subpar coffee grounds and deliver yummy espresso for newbies. The panarello steam wand creates quick and undeniable foamy milk that’s great for cappuccinos. You could make a latte, but you would need to work the milk into paint-like texture before pouring latte art. The Dedica’s great for baristas looking to get quick and easy quality espresso whereas the EC Pro will provide plenty of entry-level experience to improve.

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The non-pressurized naked portafilter is a shining gem on this machine. The naked bottom—ahem, we’re talking about the lack of spouts—allows barista’s a clear view of the stream of espresso. It’s essentially training wheels for baristas. When the grind size and tamp pressure are correct, the extraction is even and creates gorgeous tiger-striping, which is the light and dark colors merging together. Some call it magic. Others call it the results of a good extraction. We say it’s both.

The EC Pro comes with a non-pressurized naked portafilter and pressurized filter, respectively.
The EC Pro comes with a non-pressurized naked portafilter and pressurized filter, respectively.

We should also mention the portafilters are made from durable stainless steel—that’s commercial-grade right there. Since this is an entry-level machine, however, the interface is simple in design. It features a couple of switches and a dial to change between brewing and steaming. At this lower price point, the EC Pro has a single boiler, which means you can only brew or steam. For entry-level home brewers, that’s actually not a bad feature, so you can focus on one task at a time.

Pro Tip: With any single boiler machine, we recommend steaming first so that you’re espresso does sit and get cold. Texturing milk first also offers the opportunity to work your milk if you’re doing some latte art.

The user-friendly interface make this machine easy to operate for first time home brewers.
The user-friendly interface make this machine easy to operate for first time home brewers.

Steam

It’s so satisfying to pour latte art that actually looks like art. The Capresso EC Pro’s traditional steam wand provides just enough steam power to allow you time to properly incorporate your milk with air for that just-right microfoam. Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up! The one-hole tip provides a steady stream of heat, so getting the wand angled to swirl the milk will help even the temperature and create microfoam.

The traditional steam wand only moves in an up and downward motion, making it difficult to angle milk containers.
The traditional steam wand only moves in an up and downward motion, making it difficult to angle milk containers.

However, getting a great angle on the EC Pro can be a challenge. The steam wand only adjusts up and down, which limits the wiggle room for containers. The clearance from the machine provides enough space for a pitcher and you’ll easily be able to angle it to perfect your technique.

Style

Surrounded with a stainless steel cover, the little Capresso EC Pro looks like a tyke-size industrial machine. Whether you think that’s good or bad is up to you, but we think that steel cover provides a nice, expensive-looking touch—they could have just wrapped it in plastic, you know? Also, this classic cut looks exactly like a miniature commercial machine. We’ll also remind you the EC Pro has some commercial-inspired features such as the stainless steel portafilter—oh yeah, super nice.

The industrial designed EC Pro looks similar to commercial-grade machines.
The industrial designed EC Pro looks similar to commercial-grade machines.

Where the Capresso EC Pro style lacks in flair, it makes up for with amenities. The small footprint also means it’s perfect for tight spaces—say in an apartment next to the microwave? The small cup warmer has a metal top to heat those cups up and tiny rails to keep things aligned. The straight forward switch and dial interface are probably our least favorite look, but it’s efficient and straight-forward.

The brew/steam and on/off switches are user-friendly but not much to look at.

Conclusion

For any entry-level barista, the Capresso EC Pro will have everything you need. It’s like training wheels on a bike: Once you learn how to ride, you take the wheels off. The EC Pro’s naked portafilter shows you how well it’s extracting—goal is to have tiger stripes—and lets you practice to perfect your technique. And we’ll add it’s just downright gorgeous to see. If you’re looking for convenience during training, the pressurized portafilter’s got your back. All in all, the price-point, entry-level training and high-quality features give the other tiny semi-automatics a run for their money.

Crew Comparison: Nuova Simonelli Oscar II vs. Oscar

How Does It Compare

“Life in plastic—it’s fantastic!” Said no coffee lover ever—we felt the same way about the Nuova Simonelli Oscar. Built with a 2-liter heat exchange boiler, professional-grade portafilter and legendary steam power, the Oscar I was an affordable high-quality semi-automatic machine. However, the Oscar’s quality was hidden under a plastic shroud of semi-sheen black or cherry red that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully, we can all rejoice in the newest addition, the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II, and let us just tell you, it looks nothing like the original.

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar features a classic cut that espresso lovers are sure to enjoy.
The Nuova Simonelli Oscar features a classic cut that espresso lovers are sure to enjoy.
The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II's updated style stunned us! It looks nothing like the Oscar.
The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II’s updated style stunned us! It looks nothing like the Oscar.

Designed like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, the Oscar II marries futuristic design with industrial stainless steel. The curved-in shape is becoming a new trend, like with the Baratza Sette 270, and we’re digging this style. Comparing it to the Oscar’s classic cut, the Oscar II offers ample space for the brew head and a 360-degree rotating steam wand. The new design for the Oscar II has improved its overall look and functionality—A+ Nuova Simonelli!

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The commercial-grade 58mm portafilter was included in both models with channel spouts that offer a beautiful bird’s eye view of your espresso. The Oscar II’s pronounced brew group also showcases the new volumetric controls that the original Oscar lacked. On the Oscar II, you can program the espresso volume by time for either a single or double shot. The interface remains user-friendly with the new programmability. As you’re brewing, press and hold one of the espresso icons to set your volume, but remember it’s timed based, so you’ll want to dial in your grind and set it to produce consistent shots.

The Oscar II features two time controlled espresso volume.
The Oscar II features two time-controlled espresso volume buttons.

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar and Oscar II create consistently hot espresso thanks to a temperature compensated brew head. It’s a highly debated topic about the consistency of heat exchanger overall. To mitigate those concerns, the heated brew head should assist with consistency—the debate continues. 

Pro Tip: With a heat exchanger, it’s ideal to pull water for seven seconds to warm the brew head and portafilter. The extra heat siphoned through the brew head will help maintain the temperature of your shot.

The Oscar features two simple buttons: on/off and brew, along with a steam dial.
The Oscar features two simple buttons: on/off and brew; along with a steam dial.

Steam

Nuova Simonelli blessed the Oscar II with high-quality heat exchanger and Championship-worthy steam wand (for those of you that don’t know, Nuova Simonelli is the official espresso machine sponsor for the National U.S. Championship). Both semi-automatics are built with a 2-liter copper boiler and produce virtually the same steam power. The perfectly dry steam is exactly what you’re looking for to texture milk—water and milk just don’t mix. The Oscar II, however, has insulation wrapped around the boiler, which is noted to increase energy efficiency.

Hello, steam power.
Hello, steam power.

Nuova Simonelli’s famed four-hole steam tip performs a lot better on the Oscar II’s beautiful steam wand. The Oscar’s stouter steam wand proved difficult to angle a pitcher into texturized milk. To be blatantly honest, it was annoying to work with. The fixed finger guard also got in the way when foam expanded, which made it gunky and a pain to clean. The new extended wand rotates on a 360-degree ball joint and comes with an adjustable finger guard for larger frothing pitchers—A+ again, Nuova Simonelli.

Style

Of course, you can’t compare the Oscar and Oscar II without talking about their looks. The Oscar II radical makeover has completely stunned us. The all-over stainless steel received high praises from the office. It reflects the professional quality materials Nuova Simonelli has gifted their products. It reflects contemporary taste and mirrors modern appliances to keep home brewers’ kitchen’s uniform. Sure, Nuova Simonelli snuck a few plastic parts of the Oscar II—check that out under the Oscar II Crew Review—but in comparison to the Oscar’s complete plastic casing, we’ll be lenient with the Oscar II.

Check out that portafilter.
Check out that portafilter. We’re digging the open-spout view.

We’re also fans of the Oscar II C-shape design, which looks similar to the Nuova Simonelli Musica. This design creates more clearance to allow important features such as the steam wand and brew group to take center stage. The brew group features ridges and curves that create futuristic dimension similar to, you guessed it, a Cylon. Our one critic of the Oscar II is the steam wand switch that sticks out at the top. We appreciate the Oscar II fresh and lively style.

The Oscar traditional espresso machine design is wonderful for coffee lovers who will enjoy the nostalgic appearance. The modern features, however, such as the Oscar’s large, in-your-face steam dial and rubber buttons, took away from the classic style. 

Despite the plastic casing, we appreciate the traditional style of the Oscar.
Despite the plastic casing, we appreciate the traditional style of the Oscar.

Conclusion

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II fresh style finally showcases its high-quality build. While we’re still impressed with the Oscar’s capabilities, the Oscar II new aesthetics are not only pleasing to the eye but offer more functionality from features such as the steam wand. If we had to choose, we’d go with the Oscar II. It’s also important to know that the Oscar has been discounted by Nuova Simonelli too, so you’ll only be able to find it on the market as used. If you’re loving the new wave of futuristic and contemporary styled espresso machines, then you’ll love the way the Oscar II shines in your kitchen.

Crew Review: Rocket Espresso Appartamento

How Does It Compare?

The Rocket Espresso Appartamento’s apartment-size footprint means you don’t have to sacrifice counter space for delicious espresso. Rocket shaved a few inches off the sides of the Appartamento to optimize counter and cabinet space: 10.5 inches wide by 17 inches deep and 14.25 inches tall. That’s 1.5 inches narrower and nearly 2 inches shorter than the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine V2 Even with its healthy trim, the Appartamento doesn’t lack in capability.

 The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is outfitted with the same 1.8-liter copper boiler and E61 brew group as the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione.
The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is outfitted with the same 1.8-liter copper boiler and E61 brew group as the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione.

It’s built with the similar heavy-duty components as the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine V2 and the Appartamento espresso and steam performance continues to shine amongst the other semi-automatics. The Cellini Evoluzione and Appartamento are equipped with a 1.8-liter copper boiler, but unlike the Cellini Evoluzione, the Appartamento doesn’t have an insulated boiler. That extra padding improves thermal stability and increases energy savings. Aside from the insulation, the Appartamento’s performance is on par with the Cellini Evoluzione.

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Rocket stuck with what they do best and outfitted the Appartamento with professional grade materials. It’s equipped with a heat exchanger and the legendary E61 brew group for consistently hot performance. Trust us, after pulling a couple shots, the portafilter got nice and toasty—perfect for retaining heat for your shots. Pro Tip: Do a seven-second flush through the brew head to get the best shot possible.

Rocket’s standard commercial-grade 58mm portafilters made it in the box too, and we’re happy to have them! This tiny tyke didn’t get skimped on accessories: it comes with double and single spout portafilters that can pair with their respective baskets to please everyone’s caffeine needs. And we’ve complained time and time again about plastic tampers—fear not with Rocket, they included the same nice, shiny metal tamper you see with other models.

The 2.25-liter reservoir
The respectable 2.25-liter water tank is easy to access in the back. 

What it didn’t come with is a plumb-in option that a few Rockets do include. At this price point, we’re not missing it with the Appartamento’s respectable 2.25-liter reservoir. While the reservoir is a nice size, the drip tray is a bit shallow for catching that excess water from the solenoid valve. Without any bevels, it’s easy to wear the contents of the tray if you’re not careful—Pro Tip: empty it out sooner rather than later. At least you have a nice view of that beautiful stainless steel while you’re concentrating on not spilling.

Steam

Built with a 1.8-liter boiler like the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine V2, it comes as no surprise that the Appartamento has similarly magnificent steam performance. The two-hole steam wand evenly warms and circulates milk to achieve perfect microfoam. It heats up so quickly that a beginner might find they didn’t have enough time to texture their milk, but we would still recommend this machine to an entry-level to a prosumer buyer.

Appartamento_3:4
The traditional steam wand and dedicated hot water tap make creating lattes or Americanos a snap.

Like the previous models, it’s a no-burn wand, which means it’s harder for the milk to burn on after steaming. Keep those finger guards on, though! The steam wand is still extremely hot to the touch after a couple of lattes.

Style

Those big, beautiful spots. Choose white or copper, but choose wisely: The pearl white complements everyday kitchen appliances (yahoo…) whereas that copper sing to more modern vibes. OK, so the SCG Crew is a little torn between the two colors. To be fair, the copper is a bit on the darker side—some would say bronze—so that’s where the true-to-its-name white got the Crew’s vote. Check out the video and tell us what color you dig.

Copper or white? We're digging the retro dots.
Copper or white? We’re digging the retro dots.

Someone’s had to notice by now that the colored cutouts match the new wider, stouter feet. This is another debate between the Crew (as most aesthetics are a heated topic around here) and we’re 50/50 on the look. The body’s clean edges against the curved detailing provide a beautiful contrast. The gear-inspired knobs and Rocket’s logo stamped boldly on the front add a nice touch to this machine. The stainless steel casing that Rocket is known for continues to showcase their equally famous high-quality products. It’s no surprise that Rocket continued these fine-tuned details, even in a small and lower priced machine.

The iconic Rocket logo and power switch on the front of the Appartamento.
The iconic Rocket logo and power switch on the front of the Appartamento.

We thought perhaps the smaller footprint would mean small everything else, but a quick glance at the manual says otherwise: it has a 1.8-liter boiler, 2.25-liter water tank and E61 brew group. So what did it lose? To be honest, nothing. The cup warmer is a bit roomier and Rocket’s given us an (unfortunately plastic) cup rail to wrangle in mugs. We tried to replace it—because you know us and aesthetics—and discovered it’s not compatible with Rocket’s current metal racks. Perhaps a future accessory down the road, Rocket? We sure hope so. Either way, all that room for a handful of mugs means we can finally display our sweet Acme cups.

Conclusion

What do you think of Rocket’s new addition? The Rocket Espresso Appartamento has all the makings of Rocket’s bigger models packed into a mini machine. The new colored dots add extra style to an already good looking machine, and with two color options, there are more choices for a home brewers kitchen.

Crew Comparison: Breville Dual Boiler Vs. Rocket Premium Plus with PID

How Does It Compare?

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The Breville Dual Boiler and Rocket Premium Plus are two completely different looking machines packed with impressive espresso power! The Breville Dual Boiler, as the name implies, features a double boiler while Rocket Premium Plus comes equipped with a heat exchanger. For someone looking to purchase one of these beautiful machines, one question to ask yourself is what type of boiler do you want: heat exchanger or double boiler?

BrevilleDual_Front
The Breville Dual Boiler features two boilers that reach brew and steam temperature independently.

There’s a heated debate about which type of boiler is better. Double boilers have a dedicated boiler for brewing and steaming, which allows you to accurately dial in the correct temperature for each independently. A heat exchanger has one boiler at steam temperature and a tube siphoning water from the reservoir through a chamber within the boiler that indirectly heats the water to a brewing temperature. While this method isn’t always consistent, an estimated brew temperature is based on the length of the chamber.

You’re probably wondering why this is even a debate. It sounds like you’d want a double boiler for consistency. We’ve dived into the differences in a past post you can check out here, but the gist is that heat exchangers are continually siphoning fresh water to brew while double boilers use water that’s collecting minerals from boiling. That’s not to say a double boiler makes worse brewing water, but the argument is how the water’s heated to brew. A double boiler actually has a quicker recovery time to brew drinks back to back, so you might consider in your comparison for the right espresso machine for you.

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Breville is known for its user-friendly functionality and they certainly didn’t let us down! The Dual Boiler is outfitted with two programmable buttons that set your customized espresso volume and temperature settings. Or opt for the manual button to control the process. There’s also a little extra cushion for newbies: Breville comes with non-pressurized and pressurized portafilter baskets to make up for inconsistent coffee grounds (you know, the occasional chunkier grounds). Hallelujah! This semi-automatic has a little bit of something for entry level and experienced baristas.

The Dual Boiler features digital interface and programmable buttons to easily customize your drink.
The Dual Boiler features digital interface and programmable buttons to easily customize your drink.

The same can’t be said for the Rocket Premium Plus—it’s all hands on! It comes with the standard non-pressurized baskets and the PID is the only digital control you have over this machine, otherwise, you’re manually controlling pre-infusion and brew time. The Rocket’s manual lever mechanics are reminiscent of traditional Italian espresso and is well suited for this machine’s sleek design, but that does mean you’ll have to dedicate yourself to expanding your barista skills and techniques.

The Rocket's built in PID is purposefully hidden underneath the drip tray to maintain the sleek appearance.
The Rocket’s built-in PID is purposefully hidden underneath the drip tray to maintain the sleek appearance.

Being consistent on a heat exchanger adds an extra challenge for brew temperature, but the legendary E-61 brew head uses a thermal siphon system to maintain the brew head temperature and makes your espresso consistently hot—and the brew head even hotter. Seriously, don’t touch that bad boy! It’s too hot to handle. Jokes aside, the E-61 brew head is exposed and poses a risk for burning whereas the Breville Dual Boiler also features an enclosed heated brew head that’s out of harms way.

Steam

Both use a traditional steam arm, which generally take practice to perfect your frothing technique. If you’re willing to put in the time, these machines are capable of making delicious steamed milk in short order. Bonus points go to the Rocket Premium Plus for outfitting it with a no-burn wand making cleanup a breeze. We will say while the Rocket is a no-burn that doesn’t mean it’s not hot—it’s on fire! After making ourselves a latte, we needed to use a towel to handle the steam arm. With the Breville steam wand, you’ll also want to keep a towel nearby to quickly wipe it off after use, as it becomes a bit harder to clean if you leave it too long. While it may take a bit more cleanup, Breville designs its products to be incredibly convenient and added a finger guard loop that makes it easier to adjust the wand for steaming and cleaning even when it is hot.

Showing off the steam power on the Breville Dual Boiler.
Showing off the steam power on the Breville Dual Boiler.

Circling around to the PID again, they upgraded the Breville Dual Boiler so you can adjust the steam boiler temperature between 265ºF – 285ºF. The PID on both machines will keep the temperature within  one degree of the set temperature. Since the Rocket is a heat exchanger, the boiler is designed for steam and that’s pretty evident when you turn it on. The Rocket’s steam pressure is comparable to the Nuova Simonelli’s. Hands down, the Rocket Premium Plus has powerful steam and we’d even venture to say it’s more powerful than the Breville Dual Boiler.

P.S. The Rocket uses Celsius, so Fahrenheit users will have to convert the temperature. That’s what you get when you get a Rocket hand-made in Italy.

Style 

Every Rocket’s hand-made in Italy with individual personality showing through the fine details. Rocket’s contemporary design will look flawless in brewer’s kitchens while it’s traditional components please espresso enthusiasts. The Premium Plus, both the Giotto and Cellini models, are purposefully constructed with simple turn knobs and levers and has no visible technology. Like we mentioned before, there is a digital PID, which has far better temperature control than without it, but Rocket was stern on maintaining a clean, structured style.

The Rocket Giotto Premium Plus features sleek designs with kicked out side panels.
The Rocket Giotto Premium Plus features sleek designs with kicked outside panels.

 The Breville Dual Boiler owns its modern design and is outfitted with a list of convenient features. The brushed stainless steel maintains uniform with many of today’s kitchen appliances. The pressure gage placed front and center on the Dual Boiler adds some vintage taste alongside those convenient programmable features. In fact, Breville hides a lot of the components, such as the three-way solenoid valve that’s clearly visible behind the Rocket’s brew group. The Breville Dual Boiler user-friendly features such as being able to program the auto-on time and alerts make the Breville’s overall design a crowd pleaser.

 Conclusion

There’s a lot we could say about the Rocket Premium Plus and Breville Dual Boiler: They’re both close in price and feature similar capabilities suitable for entry-level to prosumer. For a powerful, hands-on Rocket, we’ll be preaching, “Practice makes perfect,” to anyone hesitant on buying a more manual espresso machine. The Rocket Premium Plus isn’t as complicated as you’d think—actually, we’d say its simple mechanics make it easier to control and allows you to focus on mastering your grind and extraction time to achieve your perfect espresso. Of course, Breville Dual Boiler compensates a little more for entry-level baristas with the pressurized portafilter and its programmable buttons that let you set your espresso settings, removing all the guesswork each time you brew. Then, of course, we’ve dived into the debate between two types of boilers. Each boiler design has its own list of pros and cons for different people. We’ll just say, checking out all the machine on the market, the way the machine’s mechanics are handled impacts the quality. Breville and Rocket both excellence in quality and the proof is in the coffee.

Crew Review: Nuova Simonelli Oscar II

How Does It Compare?

The future is here. You’ve been asking for it and finally we’ve got it! We unboxed the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II and we hardly even recognize it. The original Oscar was wrapped in a plastic shroud that dulled the mighty power of its espresso. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is decked in steel and features clean reflective angles—hello, gorgeous! The new design did a complete 360 from original, literally; the new C-shape front allows room for the extended steam wand that rotates on a 360° ball joint to reach every angle of your frothing pitcher.

Oscar2_font
The updated steel body and C-shaped structure create beautiful dimension.

The innards of the Oscar II and Oscar are nearly the same. It’s still a heat exchanger with a copper boiler, which produces that fierce steam power and allows you to brew at the same time. The reservoir saw an upgrade in capacity and a bigger hole for sticking your hand in to clean out any gunk. Mostly, the Oscar II’s design finally reflects the high-quality that makes the Nuova Simonelli machines top of the line.

Oscar2_water
The updated water reservoir holds 2.8 liters of water for more cappuccinos.

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Hurray for heat exchangers! If you’re like us, we love to brew and steam at the same time so we can get to our latte faster. The Oscar II features front-facing indicator lights for the boiler and reservoir so you’ll know exactly when you’re ready to brew. Even though our indicator light clicked off at the nine-minute mark, you’ll want to give your machine a good 30 minutes to heat up. 

Oscar2_buttons
Program a single or double shot using the soft-padded buttons. Above are two lights that indicate low water and the boiler temperature, respectively.

The two programmable buttons allow you to set the volume of a single or double shot. Getting the right volume is easy-peasy, too. Press and hold one of the volume buttons and wait for it to flash; once it’s flashing, press again to start the flow of coffee. When the cup’s filled to your desired caffeine intake, press it again to program the volume time. Tada! Coffee is served. Great coffee at that! We noticed the Oscar II pulled consistent shots and even at the set factory settings offered delicious espresso. Pro Tip: unboxing the Oscar II we noticed it pulled longer shots that give you enough wiggle room to program your preferred shot time.

Steam

Nuova Simonelli is the official espresso machine provider for the Barista Championship, so you know it’s got it going on. The steam power behind the Oscar II is a force to be reckoned with—they can’t let those professional baristas down. On a 360° rotating ball joint, you can get into any container at any angle to froth. Plus, the four holes releasing steam add extra power on all sides. The steam’s nice and dry, too, so there’s no extra moisture but plenty of piping hot goodness.

Oscar2_steam

Grabbing the nearest pitcher of ice cold milk, we put the steam wand to the test. Whole-y milk froth, Batman! In less than 10 seconds, we were looking at microfoam and feeling hot, hot hot! Needless to say, you’ll want to watch out where you put your hands when you’re steaming—remember the four holes that release steam. It’s so quick too, that some of Seattle Coffee Gear’s novice baristas were having trouble texturing the milk just right. The steam power is definitely something you’ll want to get a feel for with practice. Of course, our veterans took to it like a duck to water and were swimming in ponds of beautiful latte art quality milk.

Style

Curvy in all the right places, the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is carved to catch your attention. The clean look of the steel complements modern taste while the C-shaped frame adds futuristic dimension. Stand head on, the rippled brew head and reflection off the drip tray are reminiscent of a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica (seriously, go search “Cylon” right now). All these elegant curves and edges are interrupted by something it seems Nuova Simonelli forgot to add—oh yeah, the switch for the steam wand. Sticking out like a sore thumb, the switch flips on or off and we’ll generously add you can push it ever-so-slightly to get quick steam. For power and functionality standing behind the steam pressure of the Nuova Simonelli, it’s unfortunate to see the steam lever handled so carelessly.

The color block look is another eye-sore on this machine. We love the chrome. We love the black. We’re not fans of the gray. The color of the steam switch doesn’t coordinate with the rest of the design, either, unless you count the muted gray buttons and portafilter as a close match. Rubbing a finger over the surface of each button, it’s like flipping through the channels of an old remote control. The outdated texture leaves us yearning for more.

Oscar2_sidefront

The Oscar II comes with a 58mm commercial-grade non-pressurized portafilter with breakaway spouts—can we just say those open spouts offer the best view in the house? What’s not lovely is the plastic handle. You’d think the chrome cap was metal but it’s not. The other faux-steel look is the rippled chrome brew head. While you can’t tell from a distance it would have been nice to move away from plastic and committed to real steel like the rest of the body and drip tray.

Conclusion

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II captures power and style. The updated steel body reflects the high-quality build of Nuova Simonelli’s internals and the new angled front adds intriguing dimension as well as more room for a longer steam wand. Just to recap, we steamed milk in 10 seconds! The steam wand on the original Oscar has nothing on the new one! It’s much easier to access and angle your pitcher in. While we went off on the plastic components a bit there at the end, the overall design is a refreshing upgrade from the previous model with all the same powerful gears making delicious espresso. 

Stefan’s Iced Tonic Espresso Recipe

We’ve got another delicious Coffee Collaboration recipe we just had to share: Iced Tonic Espresso with a dash of orange! We’ve received a lot of orange recipes that have and haven’t gone so well (hint: this crazy disaster with the AeroPress) and luckily this drink’s incredibly easy to make. All you’ll need is an espresso machine to make your shot and voilà—Iced Tonic Espresso à la orange.

Here’s a suggestion for picking out your coffee for this drink: We’ve sampled lots of coffees with citrus notes and that got us thinking we should pick a blend with balance. Zoka Coffee’s Zoka Java combines bright fruits with chocolate and nutty flavors.

Equipment:

Ingredients:

  • 1 orange slice
  • 6 ounces of tonic water
  • A couple ice cubes
  • 6-8 grams of coffee for a single shot
  • Squirt of orange (optional—but totally recommended)
  1. Prep your ingredients: slice up an orange and have your tonic water on hand.
  2. Add a couple ice cubes to a 10-ounce glass. Place the glass under the brew head of your espresso machine.
  3. Grind 6-8 grams of coffee into your portafilter. Brew directly into the glass. Aim for 20-30 seconds (you’ll want to dial in your shot and grind for balance between sour and bitter flavors)
  4. Add 6-ounces of tonic water and a slice of orange—and an extra squirt of orange if you’d like! Enjoy!

Pro Tip: The tonic water will fizz on contact! Add in more or less tonic water to taste.

Crew Comparison: DeLonghi Dedica vs. Saeco Via Venezia

How Does It Compare?

The Saeco Via Venezia and DeLonghi Dedica are made for the blooming barista. Both come equipped with pressurized portafilters, which transform inconsistent coffee grounds into enjoyable espresso that anyone can pull. When it comes to features, though, the Dedica has programmable buttons that adjust the espresso temperature and volume, and also includes auto-descale to maintain your machine. Lastly, the Dedica’s size and weight is considerably less compared to the Via Venezia. Its narrow body leaves only room for a 32-ounce water tank and is incredibly lightweight (enough to toss it off the counter if you’re not careful), whereas the still not-so-big Via Venezia holds a 98-ounce tank and is weighed down. You be the judge! Watch the full comparison below  and get more reviews and comparisons by following us on our YouTube channel

Shots

Both semi-automatics are built to accommodate entry-level brewers. The pressurized portafilter is a helpful assistant that takes subpar grounds and extracts the coffee without the fuss. Saeco and DeLonghi approach the pressurized design a bit differently, though. The Via Venezia uses a pressurized portafilter instead of the basket, so you’ll need to buy a non-pressurized portafilter to make the switch. The Dedica uses pressurized baskets with the same portafilter that you can switch out with an E.S.E pod basket—no non-pressurized baskets on the Dedica, though!

Saeco Via Venezia non-pressurized portafilter upgrade

Another brewing bonus is that the Dedica has programmable buttons to adjust the temperature (low, medium or high) and volume of your espresso. It also allows you to set the water hardness to adjust, which makes it easier to know when it needs to be descaled—another feature on the Dedica. Together, these features make home brewing a snap for beginners.

Steam

DeLonghi Dedica

Both feature a panarello that turns milk into a hot, foamy goodness. The biggest difference we noticed is the Dedica produces dryer steam against the Via Venezia. You really don’t want water in your milk but it’s also not enough condensation to affect the taste.

The Dedica and Via Venezia can only brew or steam one at a time, so after steaming you’ll need to bring the temperature down before brewing. Luckily, you can temperature surf on both of these machines by running water out of the steam wand.

Style

Saeco Via Venezia

The Saeco Via Venezia has been around a long time and you might be thinking it looks a lot like the Starbucks Barista—well, you’re right! This style has stood the test of time. Both machines will sparkle on your countertop thanks to the stainless steel body (though it should be noted the Dedica is stainless steel covered plastic).

What we’re interested in is the size. The DeLonghi Dedica is a slim fellow coming in at 6.75 inches wide compared to the Via Venezia’s 9.625 inches. The Dedica is also practically weightless due to the compact size and plastic casing that’s surrounded by the stainless steel. That’s all good for saving counter space—which with tons of cool kitchen gadgets you’ll want room for all of them—but you’ll have to hold the machine when you’re cranking on the portafilter.

The Via Venezia is small, too, but sturdier. The stainless steel body adds weight to the machine so it doesn’t go flying when you want espresso. It also stores a 98-ounce water tank, which means less time running to the faucet to fill up and pull more shots.

Conclusion

The Delonghi Dedica is compact and would easily fit in tight counter spaces. Even with its small stature, this entry-level machine is built with programmable features that make life easier. This machine is designed for the big city (and a small apartment, if you know what we mean) and will easily fit in an office setting. Maybe even right on your desk!

The Saeco Via Venezia has both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter options available, which would allow you to grow with the machine. It still saves on real estate but comes with a huge water tank that’s perfect for brewing multiple cups without running back and forth. The stainless steel body helped put some weight on the Via Venezia, too and that made it easier to use when making espresso.

Crew Comparison: Breville Barista Express vs. Breville Infuser

We’ve got another Breville showdown for you today: the Breville Barista Express versus the Breville Infuser. It’s a tough match since these two semi-automatic machines are cut from the same cloth. On this Crew Comparison, we’ll go over the main difference between these machines—the built-in grinder on the Breville Barista Express.

Breville Compare - Barista Express vs. Dual Boiler
Can you tell which is the Barista Express?

Both machines have some of the same features and functions. Both use a Thermocoil boiler, which keeps the water in the boiler reservoir cool so that when you’re done brewing you can easily switch over to steam and has a Thermoblock to heat water on the fly. There are two programmable buttons for espresso volume and a three-way solenoid valve to ensure that you have a dry puck after each shot.

On both machines, all the goodies are conveniently stored in the machine. The tamper magnetically sticks up in the machine for storage and under the drip tray is a spot for the pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets and razor to top off the grounds.

The biggest difference you’ll notice is that the Breville Barista Express is outfitted with a built-in grinder. There’s a lot of debate about the benefits of built-in grinders—so of course, we’ve compiled a simple pros and cons list for you to check out here—and the top concern for the Barista Express is that the grinder will break down while the rest of the machine works perfectly. It’s completely possible for it to stop working, especially if the it’s not properly cleaned, but the good news is we haven’t heard about it happening too often with the Barista Express.

Silvia vs Barista Express

It’s really hard to resist the convenience of the built-in grinder. For one, you don’t need to shop around for a grinder; you know from the get-go the grinder is going to work with your machine.The built-in grinder does limit the options to dial in the beans but if the grind isn’t great, it’s easy to pull a decent shot with the pressurized portafilter that comes with this machine. 

OK, time to discuss some cons on the Breville Barista Express. Let’s face it, with a built-in grinder, you won’t be able to use the grinder for other brewing methods like a French press. It’s designed for only pulling espresso shots on the Barista Express and the grind will be too fine to make a decent cup in a French press.

You’ll also notice a slot for the portafilter right above the drip tray. That alignment is handy for catching loose coffee grounds but it also means it’ll gunk up the drip tray. This mixing will be hard to avoid and cleaning the drip tray frequently is the only option.

Let’s say you did have a grinder—then the Breville Infuser is the way to go! It’s smaller and features the same functions as the Barista Express. The only set back is you’ll need to get a grinder but with the pressurized portafilter, you could get away with a less consistent grind.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to buy a grinder, invest in a grinder you can grow with. We recommend a high-end grinder that produced consistent coffee grounds such as the Rocket Fausto Grinder and Rancilio Rocky Coffee Grinder.

Tell us what you’re thoughts are on the Breville Barista Express and Breville Infuser in the comments below. Check out the full Crew Comparison and stay tuned for more episodes!

Crew Review Comparison: Breville Oracle vs. Barista Express

Breville has made it their mantra to infuse their coffee makers with simplicity and convenience. When you’re comparing the Breville Oracle and Breville Barista Express, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Both are semi-automatics with similar style and capabilities to whip up delicious espresso, but they have their own approach to getting the job done. On this Crew Comparison, we’ll break down feature-by-feature to see the full  differences of the Oracle and Barista Express!

Breville_Oracle

Grinder & Tamper

A closer look at the Oracle’s robust portafilter holder reveals some hidden features. Once the portafilter is locked in place, with the flick of the wrist the grinder dispenses coffee right into it. Here’s the real hidden gem: When it’s done grinding, the Oracle automatically tamps for you! Like many features we’ll dive into on this machine, the tamping pressure and grinder settings can be programmed using the digital display.

There’s no love lost with the Barista Express’s grinder! Unlike the Oracle, you can program the volume of your grounds for a single or double shot. To activate the automatic grinder, simply press the portafilter against the back, but instead of the grinder and tamper working together like in the Oracle, you’ll have to manually tamp. The Barista Express comes with a tamper that magnetically sticks into the machine to easily store away when it’s not in use.

Silvia vs Barista Express

Brewing & PID

The intuitive digital display on the Breville Oracle allows you to fine-tune the PID to the exact temperature you want and then the machine maintains it. The real kicker for the Oracle is the dual boiler and pump system that allows you to brew and steam at the same time. The PID and dual boilers work in sync to maintain the correct temperature for each, so you’ll never worry about semantics again.

We learned from Gail that the Barista Express has a basic PID. This just means that it can only be adjusted between four degrees of the programmed temperature. That being said once the PID is set it will heat the boiler to the desired temperature and maintain it. The boiler on the Barista Express is a thermocoil and it can only brew or steam separately. Even though this isn’t a dual boiler machine, the PID keeps the temperature in check and that deserves some brownie points in our book!

Steam Wand

What the heck is that on the Breville Oracle? That’s the Oracle’s steam wand—a hybrid of manual and auto steaming. And it’s extremely smart. Set your wand to auto, adjust the temperature to the “happy zone” and let it froth! The tip of the wand has a sensor that will indicate when the desired temperature is reached. Once it’s achieved, the wand automatically stops steaming. Can we just say the milk was fantastic? The froth on the Breville Oracle is perfect for a latte without a lot of effort.

Bonus points for the Oracle: When you’re done steaming, push the wand back into place and it automatically purges for you! Say goodbye to gunky steam wands. This feature will help maintain the life of your machine and keep it sparkling.

Breville Oracle Care

The Barista Express has a steam wand that would be better suited for a beginner. The traditional steam wand features one hole to release steam and lower pressure steaming. The lower power will take longer to heat up the milk, but on the other hand, it will be easier for a budding barista to hone their craft! There’s no auto feature, too, so steaming is done completely by hand.

Bonus Round:

The Oracle has some additional features that we couldn’t resist pointing out. There are two ridiculously easy ways to access the water tank. To add water, the Oracle is outfitted with an access point on the top. Press down the lid and it’ll pop right open!

The second feature is hidden beneath the drip tray. Remove the tray and you’ll notice a dial, which you can turn to engaged a swivel foot under the machine that makes accessing the water tank in the back a piece of cake! This round goes to the Breville Oracle!

Watch the full Crew Review and witness these powerful machines at work. We’re attractive to the convenience and thoughtful features of the Breville Oracle, but the Barista Express certainly doesn’t lack in capabilities! Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Crew Comparison: Breville Infuser vs. Rancilio Silvia M

When it comes to purchasing a solid semi-automatic machine, the Rancilio Silvia M and the Breville Infuser both would be a welcomed addition to any home! But hey, we’re in the business of making choosing easier for you, so we’ll give you our two cents on which machine would be better for a beginner and experienced barista. Watch the full video below for the full comparison on the Rancilio Silvia M versus the Breville Infuser.

Breville_Infuser

To all those new to coffee out there, welcome! We’ve all started our coffee journey somewhere and what’s a better place to start a beginner than with a Breville Infuser? This semi-automatic machine is filled to the brim with convenient features for—you guessed it—beginners. The 54mm stainless steel portafilter has a pressurized basket that helps get a delicious espresso shot out of subpar coffee grinds. It also comes with non-pressurized baskets that would be great for people looking to perfect their craft after practicing with a pressurized basket.

Pro Tip: We  recommend if you’re interested in brewing with semi-automatics that you start by purchasing a high-end grinder. The flavor, texture and enjoyment of your cup come down to consistent grinds and high-end grinders will answer the call to this task.

The Infuser also comes with a  tamper that sits nicely up in the machine. There aren’t a lot of machines with tampers built-in like that and it’s a sweet bonus for people who haven’t purchased a tamper yet.

This machine also has some programmable features such as two volume controlled buttons and a PID. On the side, you can flip a switch between hot water and steaming. The steam power on this machine, however, is weak. Although, we think that the Infuser’s softer steaming gives espresso newbies a chance to learn how to froth milk on a traditional steam wand, so you can’t go wrong with that!

Rancilio Silvia M

If you want to brew with the big boys, the Rancilio Silvia M has a lot of the same features but with more advanced skills needed. The professional grade 58mm portafilter only comes with non-pressurized baskets—meaning you’d want to purchase a quality grinder to get the grounds just right.

Both machines have a PID but there is an additional cost to adding it on the Silvia M. The extra cost does mean extra precision! The PID on the Silvia M controls the temperature between one degree of where you set it and keeps it there, sets the pre-infusion time, the wait time between pre-infusion and brewing, and the brew time.

Here’s another hot-shot difference. The Rancilio Silvia M is built for steaming. You can see in the video at 5:40 Gail demonstrates both machine’s steaming power and the Silvia M blows the Infuser out of the water with performance. The traditional steam wand on the Silvia M will create fluffy microfoam and hot milk at lightning speed. It’s easy to see that this high-powered machine would be a great addition to an intermediate or experienced barista’s home.

We’d recommend if you’re new to coffee to purchase a machine like the Breville Infuser. It’s simple, sweet and gets to brewing without too much fuss. The Rancilio Silvia M, though, is the machine for you if you’re looking to upgrade from an entry-level machine like the Infuser. It’s built with power that an intermediate or experienced brewer would love.

Didn’t see a video you were looking for? We’re open to suggestions! Drop us a comment on our YouTube channel and tell us two machines you’d like us to compare.