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Alpha Dominche Steampunk - SCAA 2014 Show Report
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 2, 2014
Article rating: 9.5
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
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So, another SCAA, another visit to the Alpha Dominche booth. Every year, you see this machine dramatically improved and the aesthetics fine tuned. If you look back at our review of the Steampunk in 2012, and compare it to what was at the SCAA show this year, you'll immediately notice a lot of aesthetic changes, from the way you dispense the brewed coffee (the machine now sports stylised modern "beer lever" handles), to the control panel (it now uses a converted Nexus 7 tablet with custom software), to how the brewing apparatus (the "crucible") is put into the machine.

And of course, a big change which we all first saw last year was the under-the-counter AD Steampunk variant called the SteamPunk MOD 2.1 (the self contained machines are still there too, including a new one, see below). We got some thorough walkthroughs and demos on the latest machines from both Khristian Bombeck (Alpha Dominche CEO) and Adam Mangold (Chief Engineer).

After you got a closer look at the 2014 variants of the Steampunk, even more new features and design tweaks become evident. These include a refinement on the built in machine from top on down (and under the counter), and a shrinking down of the standalone machine so that they have a two group model that occupies as much space as a single group commercial espresso machine.

The Alpha Dominche Steampunk is a machine that, in past years, provided a lot of promise for a new way of brewing coffee. When the machine was first envisioned, it was essentially an automated, steam driven siphon brewing machine in a gleaming glass and metal tower which holds something the company calls: "The Crucible" (the main brewing apparatus, water dispenser, and filter assembly that slides into the top glass tube housing).

Today, it is way beyond that: it has become its own brewing style, one that features customized programmable automation, excellent agitation and extraction methods, and a method that, once the coffee is added, provides hands off advanced brewing so the barista can move onto the next task (or the next Steampunk crucible.

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The view down a 4 tower Steampunk MOD bar.

The crucible holding towers have seen subtle refinements over the machines we wrote about in 2012. Managing, inserting, and removing the brewing crucible is very easy today compared to the previous versions. The brewing chamber is entirely high tech. Inside there is a probe which reads the brewing temperatures real time and provides real feedback through the control panel. Serving the brewed coffee is a lot easier and more elegant with the addition of the long-arm, forward pull "beer lever" arms. Even the entire cleaning process -- almost fully automated now -- is refined.

As improved as the crucible towers are, what has shown a lot more improvement is the software that drives the system. The Steampunk's software heart resides inside Nexus 7 tablets built into the machine that are running a custom bit of software called the Mincher App. The controls are touch based, intuitive, interactive, and probably best of all, the brewing process is completely customizable. And you can switch to semi manual and full manual brewing any time you want during the entire brew process.

As an example, if a barista notes that some ground coffee hasn't quite been saturated early on in the brew process, she can pulse in more water (counting towards the predefined total water used) to stir up and agitate the brewing chamber more. As other examples, the barista, with their skilled eye, can decide on the fly to extend the bloom phase, agitation phase, or other phases of the brewing cycle.

Under the counter, the built in Steampunk features new pressure valves and old school analog dials for showing various pressures and pump information for feeding the machine above it. They look kind of radical, to tell the truth, being so old school while serving an entirely suitable purpose on this high tech machine.

The MOD variant of the Steampunk comes in a 2x2 design (two two tower setup) though Mr. Bombeck told us they can do it in a single tower version if you're so inclined. The two tower design runs off a 14l, 3,750W stainless steel boiler and uses plumb in line pressure to do it's thing, but also can run on negative pressure systems -- in fact, at the show, they were running the Steampunks off a gigantic 100+l water tank. The power system is standard 220V, 20A (or 30A) service.

As masters of attention to detail, Alpha Dominche even pays attention to the fit and finish of the entire Steampunk setup: the built in machine now features beautiful wood cover plates with a lit up power button (to turn the machine on or off) just below the countertop. The built in system is entirely elegant and refined at this point, and looks like a brewing work of art coming out of a nice wood top table.

always busy
Alpha Dominche booth - always busy
The Beaver was everywhere. AD's mascot at the show - also a symbol of Canada, eh.
The one touch action of the beer-lever style levers on the AD MOD 2.1
When I say attention to detail, this is what I mean.
The undercarriage, including the new water filled gauges - boiler, crucible combinations.
Massive water reservoir for the show use.
Temperature probe used by machine to regulate water temperature in top brewing chamber.
Beautiful wood panels with simple on-off power button (lit up)

I got a chance to put the Steampunk MOD through its paces. Mr. Mangold first gave me a simple tutorial on how to go through the entire brew and cleaning process, then let me have go on the machine. I brewed three batches, and was really pleased at how easy the process was even for a neophyte. I could also tell that in practiced, skilled hands, it was possible to really super-tune a brew, and also catch brewing defects (either a problem with dose, grind, or coffee) on the fly and make live, manual adjustments to compensate. Honestly, the machine was a total pleasure to use. Here's the process.

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Loading up dose of coffee. AD at the booth had their coffees preground and in test tubes, full dose.
Dial in your recipe you want to brew. You can store unlimited recipes in the software.
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Machine, after water is fully preheated, starts the brew process with a soak saturation.
Pre-soak phase, programmed by the barista, takes a few seconds.
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Full infusion stage, including a lot of great agitation in the brewing chamber.
Final brew phase. At this point, the barista could pulse in further "stirs" or agitations.
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Valves open, brew finished, exits to lower chamber.
Magnetic-held modern "beer lever" levers easily pull back to open flow of coffee from bottom chamber to a vessel.
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The coffee flows into the serving vessel.
Cleaning phase. The machine has a nearly-fully automated rinse and clean cycle. You still have to open the beer lever to dispense water.

This wasn't the only big thing at AD's booth. They were  also showcasing the new smaller-footprint, 2 group Alpha Dominche Steampunk (Model 2.1) self contained countertop machine. It has all the latest features, bells and whistles of the built in Steampunk and 4 group models, but in a very tight 2 group package that occupies about the same amount of counter space as a 1 group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine.

Bonus Feature: If you ever wondered what goes on to set up a booth and run it for a weekend, Alpha Dominche released a pretty cool video with a lot of time lapse that shows it all.

It's no secret, I really love this machine and what it represents. The company is also made up of absolutely first rate, coffee obsessed people. I get asked this every single year: is Alpha Dominche ready for prime time yet? I really think they are.

Article rating: 9.5
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 2, 2014
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
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