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How to review Domestic Espresso Machines by Alan Frew
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alanfrew
Senior Member
alanfrew
Joined: 19 Dec 2001
Posts: 640
Location: Melbourne
Expertise: Professional

Posted Fri Aug 22, 2003, 7:00am
Subject: How to review Domestic Espresso Machines by Alan Frew
 

How to review Domestic Espresso Machines
by Alan Frew

A "How-to" for those who review domestic machines
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espresso_jim
Senior Member
espresso_jim
Joined: 13 Jun 2002
Posts: 325
Location: Austin, TX
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Mini Vivaldi II
Grinder: Mazzer Mini E
Drip: Technivorm Moccamaster...
Roaster: Behmor 1600
Posted Sat Aug 23, 2003, 8:10am
Subject: Yes, but...
 

In your great article, you wrote:

The more precise you get, the greater the possibility that someone will complain, as Mark P. found with his Zaffiro review earlier this year. Note that the facts of what he’d said weren’t in dispute, just that he’d had the temerity to say it.

I believe that it's not the fact that Mark said it but the way and number of times he said it in the review that makes a difference.  Mark mentioned the failed thermostat 4 times across several sections of his article - the most frequently referenced single item in the review.  The last page, out of 9 paragraphs (a couple really short) this was mentioned in 4 of them.  

That's a lot of referencing.  If reviewers follow your fine recommendations we will have far better reviews of equipment out there.  This is evidenced in the difference in the conusmer reviews on CG.  The ones that follow your suggestions are rated high.

However, when a reviewer - especially a professional one - keeps coming back to a single issue, readers sit up and take notice.  If the thermostat on the Zaffiro gave problems, it should be mentioned but not cited as frequently as it was unless this is such a major problem that buyers should steer clear.  I am guessing that this was not Mark's intention and he even states so in the review.  Unfortunately, this was overshadowed by the frequent references and amount of space given to that one issue.

I think reviews need to be balanced as well as meeting your quality criteria in order to produce a fair and factual review, backed up by accurate measurements such as those you mention.

Thanks again Alan for a quality article.  I always enjoy reading what you have to write.

p.s.-I am nor ragging on Mark's article as I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I am merely trying to make a point about balance in reviews as well as being factual.
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jim_schulman
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jim_schulman
Joined: 19 Dec 2001
Posts: 3,772
Location: Chicago
Expertise: I live coffee
Posted Sat Aug 23, 2003, 8:32am
Subject: Product reviews in general
 

The shortcomings you noticed are endemic in the reviews of almost every product.

This is because the reviewers are supposedly "expert testers ofproducts in general," which simply means, they know almost nothing about the particular things they test.

What knowledge they have is acquired by asking the manufacturers of the reviewed products what's important. So the product with the best line marketing techno-babble wins.

I used to sell industrial control systems. We often got customers who asked us to write the job specifications. The final bidding specs in such jobs were always all the major players' marketing babble pasted together.

The fun really began when the job was started, and you had to inform the people that their entire spec sheet was meaningless drivel.
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EvilDan
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EvilDan
Joined: 6 Jul 2003
Posts: 134
Location: Sydney
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Doesn't matter.
Grinder: Good equipment won't
Vac Pot: make up for
Drip: poor skills.
Posted Sun Aug 24, 2003, 10:38pm
Subject: Chocie article
 

Can you forward a copy of the Choice article, if you have it online?
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zix
Senior Member
zix
Joined: 26 Dec 2002
Posts: 4
Location: Göteborg
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Vibiemme Domobar
Grinder: Minimoka M-205
Roaster: Heatgun, popper, oven,...
Posted Mon Aug 25, 2003, 3:18pm
Subject: what´s not proper?
 

Hi! Great article. Thanks!
I´m probably being stupid here, but the non-proper-ness of the espresso shot eludes me. What´s wrong? Is the crema too blond? It looks nice n´ brown to me. Is the shot too short for a double? Perhaps, can´t say. Please educate me!

<!-- edit:
coming back to this thread after a month, I realise I must have been rather tired last time, otherwise i would have caught the little word "don´t" in the text below the espresso extraction images, making the negation a double one. So, the shot is a *good* one, not a bad one... Geez, sorry about that. My first sentence is still valid, though. This is good stuff! Thanks again.
edit -->
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MarkPrince
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Joined: 19 Dec 2001
Posts: 5,590
Location: Vancouver, BC
Expertise: Professional

Espresso: KvdW Speedster
Grinder: Compak K10 WBC
Vac Pot: A bit too many
Drip: Clive Coffee Drip Stand
Roaster: Hario Glass Retro Roaster
Posted Mon Aug 25, 2003, 4:47pm
Subject: Great article
 

This was a really great article that gives some insight into the difficult job that people (including myself, but many better, like Phil Askey over at www.dpreview.com) take on to give the goods on expensive items.

Askey's site is definitely the model I initially based my own reviews on, but it's evolved since then. In fact, I'm just finishing up a new "style guide" for myself and a few folks who are going to be helping me with reviews to both streamline and standardize the reviews around here more. Alan's article gave me even more ideas for the new Style Guide, which is awesome (Alan's advice, not the style guide).

One of the things I've developed along with the "style guide" are a series of sheets that outline specific paramaters to test, with spaces to record the info. This is a major solution ot my previous "way", which was scraps of paper and recorded voice notes all over the place with a variety of comments, test results, etc etc.

Another change is a database. A new Access database has been built (still being built) to store all recorded test results, for easy access down the road. I've got a fair library of temperature and timing tests now, but it's a mish mash - when I want to reference them today, I go back to the old reviews and read! In the future, I'll just call up the DB file and see the results there.

Detailed Reviews and First Looks will be getting a facelift and reorganization of how the info is presented with V2 of CoffeeGeek. Just today I had a discussion with Wayne V. on how we're going to import the old reviews into the new layout. The result will be more solid info in a well-defined structure, but I hope to keep the same "personalized" touch to the writing.
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sjames
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sjames
Joined: 19 Dec 2001
Posts: 466
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Expertise: Pro Barista

Espresso: Expobar eb-61 Office Leva
Grinder: Mazzer Mini
Vac Pot: Unibuy Syphon
Drip: Are you talking to me?????
Roaster: Genovese Coffee
Posted Wed Aug 27, 2003, 5:14am
Subject: Re: How to review Domestic Espresso Machines by Alan Frew
 

Nice one Alan!  It's a shame that commercial priorities and the ignorance of most people (importantly in this instance the likes of "Choice") result in misinformation.
I often have friends, family and customers asking which domestic machine is best and I tell them to either buy a small commercial machine for around $2000 (AUD) or look at something for around $500 (AUD).  With the "Real" machine they can at least perfect their coffees if they dedicate themselves.  Otherwise they may as well spend the minimum on just another gadjet in the kitchen.
Having said that, if Choice are reviewing domestic machines using "Brick" coffee, it's probably because that's what most of the target market will use in reality.  Perhaps the compromise would be to review for different markets.  Surely they would be happy to pay an expert, such as yourself, to do the "Other Market" review.
Here's hoping.
Cheers.

 
Simon James.

Kit:  Expobar EB61 Leva, Mazzer Mini, various tampers (Reg Barbers, Pullmans, and the "Perfect Leveller"), Unibuy TCA-3 Syphon, 2 cup V60, SS Moka Pot.

Blog - http://sdotjames.wordpress.com/
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EveryonesShadow
Senior Member
EveryonesShadow
Joined: 28 Apr 2003
Posts: 81
Location: Adelaide
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Carezza, Bialetti...
Grinder: Lux
Vac Pot: Bodum Santos
Drip: Melitta Cone
Posted Wed Aug 27, 2003, 6:10pm
Subject: Choice's audience determines how they review, surely
 

Hi Alan,

Great column and I agree with every word. Choice should have matched grind to machine. But equally, if the majority of users use pre-ground from a vacuum brick (do they?) then Choice should test them that way as well.

For the sake of argument I'd go as far as to say that if the vast majority of users only use preground (and I don't know that's true)then it is appropriate to  test only with preground if the reviewer explains that this is not the way the machines are designed to be used and that better results come from fresh beans ground appropriately.

I mean, if they only test with properly ground beans the home roasters would argue that you can't make real espresso from pre-roasted, wouldn't they? :-)

As an audiophile I liked your point about high-end audio and MP3. Castle after all says espresso is 'high-fidelity brewing'.

Jeremy
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cafewest_tech
Senior Member


Joined: 22 Aug 2003
Posts: 270
Location: Medford
Expertise: Professional

Posted Thu Oct 30, 2003, 8:53am
Subject: Re: How to review Domestic Espresso Machines by Alan Frew
 

Your article is very good, but you have to remember that most of the people that make reviews are not professionals and are usually just learning.  They read the articles and buy the product that they can afford at the time.  When they get the machine home for the first time, they have no starting point.  They start blind.  Your article would be better served on teaching them the fine points of making espresso the correct way with the type of machine they purchased.  Not condemning them for not buying a $2000, S26, & an $800 Mazzer Jolly.  Get real.  They buy what they can afford and then move up when they can afford a better machine.  Some people make the move right away, after they have a little practice on their first machine.  But how many people will plop down $2500 dollars on an espresso machine if they have no idea of how to use it.  Do you think some person is going to go and buy a new GT40 because a car magazine said it was the best car on the road.  Heck No!  They purchase what they feel they can be comfortable with.  When they get good with the machine they may feel comfortable enough to move up to a better machine.  We have to educate them that you can't make a comparison between a Krups Novo 3000 to a Rancilio Silvia.  They are 2 different technologies.  Same with a Silvia to a Livia 90.  Remember you can make the perfect looking shot of espresso, but it can taste bad if you don't use good coffee beans and good water.  In my opinion.
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hycinthbucket
Senior Member


Joined: 28 Jul 2005
Posts: 23
Location: Melbourne
Expertise: Just starting

Espresso: Gaggia Syncrony Logic
Posted Thu Jul 28, 2005, 4:07am
Subject: Re: How to review Domestic Espresso Machines by Alan Frew
 

I totally agree about Choice Magazine! Shocking! I stumbled upon their website and said to myself - a-ha This must be good But I was totally taken aback. They said that more expensive was not necessarily better! Now - think -why would they be more expensive-maybe becasue its better parts, better output, better quality, etc They recommended those available in Kmart and target! and made in China! Now I am no barista but I do know that if you want your money's worth its got to cost a little more. Unless the idea is to buy a cheap one first and then learn from experience and upgrade later.
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