STARESSO Espresso Maker Review
from STARESSO Culture Co., Ltd
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2017 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
My feet are recovering and the mess at home is being mitigated after my trip to Seattle for the SCA exhibition (my writeup of the show is HERE. Beyond my employment duties, my two main goals are to meet up with old friends and make new acquaintances and to find interesting items to review. Last year there were two or three items that I had been told I would receive that did not happen, and one that was so disappointing that I did not post a review of it. Disappointing all around, that.
While there are plenty of things to see and lots of eye candy at the exhibitions, when walking the floor I am on the hunt for consumer goods that are useful, unique, and would exhibit some level of appeal to my readers. I did not have the large stretches of time to talk to representatives of some of the more complicated equipment (grinders, espresso machines, etc.), so I concentrate on smaller, dare I say, more affordable, items. This year the problem was that there were fewer items that would meet those criteria. Lots and lots of commercial booths (label printing, custom branded items, large roasters, etc.) but I found fewer new or unique consumer items than in the past. Here I present a review of the first of two items I personally found very interesting this year:
The Staresso manual espresso maker booth was so well attended (translation: crowded) on Friday I could not get close. Fortunately I mentally filed the booth's location and returned during a slower time on Saturday, and had a nice visit with their representatives. I picked up my review sample on Sunday after tasting a sample of the espresso it made. I had just enough room left in my backpack to carry it home as a carry-on item. Let's start from the beginning.
As seen a the top of this review, the Staresso is elegantly packaged. And while some of the English translations are grammatically interesting, picking the device up invokes an air of quality.
The Assembled Staresso
At the bottom is the base, the included borosilicate cup, and the "cap" which is internally threaded and screws onto the base, locking the cup in place. Mine also came with a second glass cup in the internal portion of the packaging factory marked as containing "A random gift." The assembly holds the cup leaving a bit of vertical play. This is seemingly designed to direct the downward force of pumping through the plastic surround thus protecting the cup from being shattered when pulling a shot.
The upper assembly consists of (left to right):
This is the bottom of the main body, assembled. You are looking up at the shower screen.
The shower head assembly. It can be pushed out of the body for cleaning. It consists of:
Note that the radiused side of the gasket fits up into the bottom of the main body,
and the dished (convex) side of the shower screen faces up (towards the pump) as well.
Here the pump's shaft is seen extended, ready for use.
For storage, depress the pump fully and rotate the top slightly which will lock it into place. When you are ready to use it next time, slowly rotate it until it extends by the force of its return spring.
The kit I received also included two very nice, heavy shot glasses and a small packet holding a cleaning brush as well as a spare pump o-ring. It also comes with a little measuring cup for dosing which is also supposed to serve as a tamper, but it is very undersized for the basket. My Staresso was being used as a demo unit at the exhibition and the instructions were not included in the box. Not a problem...
When assembling the Staresso it is clear that the device was well thought out for the most part. All the threaded components can only be assembled in one way. The thread pitch is different for each section so cannot be confused. Additionally, the body has external threads for the pump at one end and internal threads for the filter basket holder at the other making it impossible to put the major components together incorrectly.
The various smaller pieces are a bit of a challenge in comparison to the main body. I did not get a parts diagram or cleaning and assembly instructions and had to figure out that the O-ring in the filter basket goes on top of the plastic insert to hold it in place, and I had to figure out which direction to face the radiused side of the silicone gasket that holds the shower screen. Careful examination, trial and error, and common sense solved those problems.
The pump works without having the use any great force and the shaft feels more than strong enough showing no signs of flexing or binding. It draws in water through a small opening on the side of the pump's body near the tip, and forces the water out through the end of the body. The valve that controls the flow direction is in the assembly held in the tip of the pump's boy which is peened in place and not removable. The documentation states that the pump's "working pressure" is 15 to 20 BAR of pressure (218 to 290 psi!). While in some situation the pumps maximum possible pressure may be that, and possibly on paper by mathematic formula, there is a valve at the bottom of the "portafilter" which would preclude that amount of pressure from building up.
With an espresso machine you merely remove the portafilter assembly from the group, knock out the spent puck, rinse and wipe the basket, and you are ready for the next extraction. About two extractions per minute should be no problem. With the Staresso, like all other such portable, hand-powered devices, it takes more time to setup an extraction and to clean in preparation for the next.
To pull a shot you fill the basket with finely-ground coffee, tamp, assemble, fill the water chamber with hot water, attach the pump, and extract by pumping. The Staresso also works with Nespresso mini pods which might be a viable choice when on the road, making it faster and easier to clean up.
On the first day of use I had no instructions. I pulled two singles- one with about 9.5 grams and one with 8.5 grams, into separate cups. I later found the instructions online, and they recommend about 8 to 10 grams of coffee, putting my 8.5 gram extraction square in the middle of the range.
On that first day I left about half of each of the two extractions I had made and allowed my wife to taste test them when she returned home. I asked her which she liked and why, and she picked the 8.5 gram extraction which was also ground a bit more coarse. I also found the same extraction superior. The point is, much like a "real" espresso machine, varying the parameters will affect the taste and can be controlled in much the same way.
It would be nice if some of the various parts had laser etching or molding indications as to orientation to eliminate guesswork when assembling after a total and thorough cleaning. That would include the shower head assembly and the basket's two inner parts. The benefit of all these being able to be disassembled is that a thorough cleaning can be easily accomplished. Pay attention when you remove the small parts and assembly should not be difficult.
After the extraction, to retrieve the cup of espresso, first pull the pump assembly out of the base portion (just lifts off), and then the upper half of the plastic cup holder has to be unscrewed approximately one-quarter turn to allow the cup to be retrieved.
But the Staresso is stable in use and fairly easily held when extracting. If you press straight down you can actually extract without holding the body at all, but I would not recommend that.
Finally, the upper assembly fits into the cup holder by friction. There is either too much or not enough friction. The problem is that sometimes when I lift the pump assembly, the lower cup holder with cup in place stays located on the pump, held by friction alone. A bump will dislodge it and if you are not holding the cup assembly you will spill the contents of the cup as it bounces off the table.
I have not yet tried, but the Staresso website states that you can make cold brew with it and can even use the pump to froth milk. If you try that I recommend immediately flushing the pump by submerging it in a cup of hot water and pumping repeatedly to remove any traces of milk.
Most all notable negative comments are related to the nature of the device (cleanup, number of parts, and so forth). The one minor annoyance was that there is no indicator or alignment mark as to the location of the "unlocking" point of the pump.
[addendum] I accidentally found a way to deal with this! Using a 17mm wrench, hold the large plastic cap and unscrew the stainless steel nut that is inside the pump lid. It is an integral part of the pump body. About one-half turn is sufficient. With the pump handle extended, align the handle with the cap where you would like the logo oriented when it will release from the lock position. Now, while you hold the pump handle and the lid in alignment with one hand, tighten the pump body. Yes, it should have been done at the factory. Maybe it was just mine.
And finally, the quality of the espresso deserves a comment. At the time I have not had the opportunity to find its full capabilities, but will say that the espresso product it creates is quite drinkable. If we ignore the seemingly optimistic rating of the pump, you will possibly find it creates a beverage somewhere between machine-extracted espresso and Moka pot coffee without the overheating problem the Moka pot can present.
This will never replace my espresso machine, and likely, not yours either. A full extraction cycle (prep-to-sip time) takes longer, the Staresso will take more time to clean up, and it only makes a single shot at at time. For one person who only occasionally makes espresso it would be quite nice, and relatively speaking, quite affordable. For camping as well, it might be a choice for some. On the other hand, if you choose to use pods instead of ground coffee, it would be faster as well as making cleanup easier. But for all that, compared to another hand-operated espresso maker I tried, at least this one works!
They post the list price as $100, and sell it on their own website for $70. The Staresso ST-200 can be found for around $62 to $70 shipped on various online resellers including Amazon, eBay and the like. There is also an Staresso ST-100 available for less, but I have neither knowledge nor experience upon which to base an opinion of that model. The ST-100 is pictured on the Staresso main page but not offered on their website for sale.
And, while you might say the Staresso ST-200 isn't a real espresso maker, it does have at least one thing in common with them. Just like nearly all the real espresso machines, this one didn't come with a tamper that fits! I shopped but couldn't find a tamper with a diameter of about 36mm.