"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2020 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at email@example.com
On Choosing A New Espresso Machine – Part Two
Sunday, March 29, 2020
all text and photos ©2020 - All rights reserved
The mental gears began to grind nearly a year ago, the net surfing and searching began months ago, and now it has been a few weeks since I started narrowing down the field for my next espresso machine. Keeping in mind that I am a home barista, all my considerations for a home machine are based on that. Beyond that, I have learned that to get the best out of varying coffees you need control. It was that which brought me to add a PID to Silvia some seventeen years ago. The same can be said for getting a scale that could weigh my dose to 0.1gram consistency. It also had me upgrading from Rocky to Mazzer Kony. The Colonel would say, “It's all about the parameters Son. The parameters, I say!”
There are some spectacular machines on the market, many of which are robust enough to be used in commercial settings. There are machines available which are designed for home use or in a small cafe that cost up to around $10,000 and more, but many lack the detailed control over performance that a home enthusiast (dare I say, a Coffee Geek) may desire.
The Technivorm drip brewer is an excellent example. Technivorms do not supply the user the ability to modify the brew temperature. You may be forced to match the coffee to the machine instead of modifying the brewing parameters to get the best out of the coffee. It is easy to say that a machine brews the best coffee you have ever made, but the question remains, could the coffee be better if you could adjust the temperature? In terms of espresso machines we can add pressure, flow, infusion time, and other factors to temperature as variables, when controlled and adjusted, have the potential to increase the product's quality.
There are a good number of machines that allow the user to control temperature (just Google “PID Espresso Machine”). A much smaller number that allow pressure control, and very few allow water flow volume control separately. In general, machines that allow control over advanced variables can be expensive, large, and heavy. The list of those that give control over two or three of those variables are few in number.
When I first started carousing the Internet in search of my next machine I was considering the Profitec Pro700 and the ECM Synchronica. These E-61 machines, among others, have a manual lever on top of the group that is manipulated by hand throughout the extraction to modify the pressure profile. The La Marzocco GS/3 and the Slayer also feature a similar manual control of pressure. Both magnificent machines of the highest build caliber, but even at around $7,000 and $10,000 respectively, neither have the capability to save memory nor replay a profile that works. And the GS/3 wastes excess water during an extraction into the drip tray. So for various reasons these machines were eliminated. You might even say, somewhat outdated.
As the “also-rans” were eliminated, and the list diminished in size, then grew, then shrunk again, I ended up with three machines that came close to my requirements: The Vesuvius, The Rocket R Nine One, and The Decent DE1XL. Allow me to share my thoughts on these machines and the decision to which I came.
Allow me to refresh your memory as to my honed list of requirements:
PLUSES: At the price point of about $4500 this machine caught my eye. Not only because of the price point, but the external looks of it. Virtually the entire water path is stainless steel including both boilers and all the related piping. And as you could likely guess, the E-61 group is certainly a plus factor for me as well. It has a two year warranty.
MINUSES: It does not have any sort of manual mode nor control during the extraction. All profiling has to be created pre-extraction, saved, then you say a little prayer and lift the group lever to begin extraction. The programming is very much like the Hottop P model which had always been a nightmare for me to deal with. I spent a good amount of time creating the flow chart in the “P” owners manual which helped me understand it, and further decreased its allure for me. To modify a Vesuvius profile, each step of the profile is on a separate screen so it takes a lot of organization and button pressing to change just one profile. That was all I needed to exempt it from the list.
ROCKET R NINE ONE
PLUSES: The saturated group with a manual lever allows profiling somewhat like the Slayer and LM GS/3, but the R Nine One does it electronically using a potentiometer in the group controlling a magnetic-drive motor and pump. These manual pressure profiles are displayed on the small LCD screen in real time. And if you like a manually controlled extraction it can be saved to memory. There are five included profiles which can be modified by the user and saved using the touch screen. Profiles can be modified individually from a single screen showing all parameters of that profile. I also liked the steam control lever. This machine has an impressive three year warranty.
MINUSES: At around $6800 this was the most expensive machine I seriously considered. At 104 pounds it was also, by far, the heaviest of the choices. One respected reseller stated that they were discontinuing selling it because it took special tools to work on and it was difficult to ship (presumably because of its weight?). The display is small.
DECENT DE1XL v.1.3
PLUSES: The Decent Espresso machines are unlike the other choices mentioned here, and unlike ANY other machine made today. The DE1+ “home” model starts at $2799 plus shipping, and the DE1XL “pro” model (the one I was considering) sells for $3599 plus shipping.
The model I have settled on (at this time) is the DE1XL, in white (white is $300 more). To plumb you need the “Plumbing Kit” ($199) and the “Drain Kit” ($149). Both kits include most of the necessary tubing and fittings. With shipping, the total is $4461. Compare this to the current market, trhen consider that this is the most expensive Decent Espresso model, and it costs less than either the Vesuvius or the Rocket.
The Decent Espresso DE1XL offers function that no other machine available today can match. Some of these features are:
The list goes on and on. It is also the smallest and lightest of the machines I have considered. It has no boilers in the traditional sense. Water temperature is regulated by the Decent by mixing cold and hot water on the fly during the extraction. It has a two year warranty, and from posts in various user groups, customer service beyond excellent.
MINUSES: It does not steam and brew simultaneously. It does not have a cup warmer (remember, no boilers!). The massive amount of programming choices (all done with the included tablet) and the displayed information can supply information-overload and be intimidating to some. They are only sold 'factory direct.' The layout of the touch control seems less intuitive or ergonomic than I would have designed (maybe that's just me). It does not have a separate hot water 'spigot,' but can dispense hot water through a separate channel behind the group.
When I started this page I had not yet made up my mind as to what machine I would purchase. Easy to understand for anyone who has shopped for an espresso machine in any price range. It can be a laborious exercise. As I was completing the listing of the choices and their attributes, I realized that I had talked myself into making the Decent my 'final' choice.
But there are certainly more factors to consider which might affect your choice. The Decent machines are only available through “the factory,” and using the automobile metaphor again, the machine appears to have more propriety parts than a prewar Russian automobile. And consider that if the company goes under, so does the possible chance of future repair. But there has been an exemplary level of customer service reported by users up to this point, parts are available as are upgrade kits to bring an older machine up to the function of the newest, and software and firmware updates come along to enable an new functionality.
So my trepidation at that is from wondering if some other machine will come along to challenge the Decent. Not likely. They have about a five year head start on the competition in terms of this level of control, and I have to think that the Decent sits in a niche market.
In the meantime I am trying hard not to become a fanboy. That is difficult to do for most anyone 'around these here parts.' My enthusiasm has always shown through in my writing, and done so for obvious reasons. How could one pursue any activity such as this for two decades if they were not enthusiastic? And what could more exciting than carefully shopping for a new espresso machine other than purchasing one? Purchasing two? Maybe a new roaster? Grinder?
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