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the first look - bodum granos
Bodum Granos Automatic Espresso Machine
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 10, 2005
First Look rating: 8.1
feedback: (20) comments | read | write
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Bodum - one mention of the name and chances are you think of coffee - press pot coffee. Bodum has been the leading presence in press pot coffee for decades now - bringing to the market not only competent press pot designs, but a sense of style that is often imitated but rarely duplicated by other contenders.

You may not think of Bodum when the subject of espresso comes up, and with good reason - the company has never had a pump driven espresso machine with their name on it - until this past year, with the introduction of the Granos. The Bodum Granos is an automatic machine, meaning that it will brew a predetermined volume of coffee with a solitary press of the button.

I first heard about the Granos about 16 months ago when a senior person at Bodum contacted me about the possibility of testing a prototype machine, and providing feedback to the company on the development of the product. This never panned out though, as we could not come to agreement on compensation and covering costs, but I did agree to keep the product a secret until Bodum announced the product at the SCAA conference in Atlanta last year. This year, they displayed it at the SCAA Seattle show, and the machine was popular.

Out of the Box

The Bodum Granos comes with a lot of stuff - but surprisingly, it doesn't come with an instructional video (Amazon has one). The box is fairly well packed with thick styrofoam as the protective form inside, and cutouts in the side for all the goodies included in the box. Our Granos came with a full colour instruction manual, a single filter basket, a double filter basket, a pod filter basket, a water bottle "converter" spout, a measuring spoon / 'tamper' combo, and everything else you'd expect with an espresso machine.

Reading the manual - you know our mantra, RTFM. Read the freakin' manual. But right off the bat - while Bodum's manual is nice, pretty, easy to read, and very visual (everything in it is demonstrated with colour photographs) - there are some serious omissions in the manual.

For instance, there's no mention of how to first set up the machine for first use (ie, if the machine autofills, or you have to go through a manual fill process). There's no mention about how to prepare the machine for moving or long term storage. And there's no mention about some of the more technical aspects of the machine, like how it is one of those "preinfusing" pump systems, or exactly what the purpose of the "steam pressure release" system in the drip tray works. The first two omissions are fairly serious and should really be corrected - in most cases even the poorest translated manuals with Italian machines mention something about first use and setting the machine for transporting.

That said, the manual does show you how to program the machine, how to access hot water functionality, how to steam, how to brew, and how to do other general operations, and as far as manuals go, it's not too bad.

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Bodum Box
Box, ready for mass market store shelf sellin'
Inner Packaging
The machine ships very well packed and protected.
Filters Etc.
Filters and plastic doodads. Filters are pressurized. Boo.
Manual
The manual is well illustrated, but has some holes in content.

The look of the machine? In a word, wow. It's totally beautiful - so much so that I'd call it a work of art, and everyone who has seen it so far has said the same thing. High gloss, high polish stainless steel throughout, with two plastic domes on top - one to enclose the cup warming area and the other as a lid for the water reservoir off to the side. And this sucker is heavy - I haven't measured it, but I'd guess it's over 20lbs easy.

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Massive!
The drip tray is massive, and heavy. Good call, Bodum.
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Steam Knob
Steam knob's "action" is very stiff, and hard to smoothly turn.

The machine's base is very wide and very low, yet the drip tray is surprisingly deep - so deep that it actually sits on the table, poking through a hole in the bottom of the machine. The drip tray itself is very wide, which I would find out later on is a good thing, considering the machine doesn't have a good pressure relief system once a shot is brewed.

At about the 10:00 o'clock position on the machine sits the curved "arm" that connects the base to the brewing head and electronics. It's a unique design and I don't think I've seen any other espresso machine that looks the same. The top of the machine houses the electronic controls, the brewhead, boiler, and electrics.

At about the 2:00 o'clock position sits the reservoir area. The Granos ships with a vertical tower water reservoir, but also with an adapter cap and purpose built drip tray for using water bottles such as Evian or other styles. It can accommodate a wide variety of bottle styles - I've used it with an Evian 1 litre bottle and a no name 500ml bottle so far, no problems.

The machine comes with three filter baskets - all of them pressurized. The size of the filters is weird - I measured them at 52mm.

The steaming wand comes with the usual froth aider, but fortunately, it can be removed for traditional frothing. I noticed the frothing wand doesn't point to the drip tray, no matter which direction you point it - which is a bit of a surprise given the size of the drip tray.

First Use of the Bodum Granos

I had to make a guess at setting the machine up, since there's no mention in the manual of the process. I had my hand ready on the hot water switch ready to go. And well, I'm still not sure if my intervention did something, or if the machine has an autofill. But here's what happened.

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Pressurized.
I know why pressurized baskets are supplied. But it doesn't mean it's right, or I have to like them.
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Controls
Some intuitive, some not so intuitive.
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Froth Aider
Thankfully, can be removed for traditional steaming.

The machine's an "automatic" and one of the downsides of automatics is that the machines don't accept user input via the control panel if the machine doesn't think it's ready. If a machine is just turned on, it's not hot enough, and ergo, the machine thinks its not ready and will not activate the pump if you press a brew switch.

So I turned the machine on, saw a bunch of lights flashing and such... and nothing. No pump sound. Heating up, yes, but no pump sound. I had a minor panic, worrying that I might fry the heating coil in the boiler (if in fact it was a boiler - not determined at that point) because of a lack of water. The machine took about a minute or so to change status and the entire time, I was trying to activate the hot water feature. At some point, either my pressing, or an auto fill fill up the insides a bit - I really don't know which one it was.

In fact, as of this writing, I don't know if this is a boiler system or a thermoblock - I sent an email to Bodum asking about it but have not received a reply as of this publication date. Later on in testing I will take the machine apart and know for sure, but for now, I'm going on the assumption it is a boiler system.

Once the machine was heated up a bit and had water in it (using the included reservoir - I hadn't bought a trendy bottle of Evian yet to test using designer water), I ran a lot of water through the machine - a lot. There are three brew buttons - a single and double shot button (programmable with the use of the program button) and a "manual brew" button that will pump water until you press it again to stop it... or until you reach about 200mls brewed - a safety feature that is very good in my opinion.

I went through two full reservoirs' worth of water before setting up for my first shots. The single and double baskets are pressurized filter baskets - a big strike against in my book, but I do understand the reasons Bodum went with the baskets - fashionistas who buy a machine solely on looks usually don't give a squat about bean quality or age and will more likely than not use months-old coffee in a machine like this. I would like to see a non pressurized filter basket option for the machine though.

My first shots were nice looking to be sure, but the crema was in many ways forced - I couldn't get the rich and dark caramel, milk chocolate coloured crema I normally got with the Intelligentsia Black Cat we use as our standard testing coffee on all our machines. Instead it had more of the golden brown colour associated with - you guessed it - pressurized filter basket systems.

I had a large stockpile of Black Cat Espresso Pods, and since the Bodum Granos ships with a pod filter basket (non ESE certified - but this might be a good thing) this was my next testing ground.

I am pleased to say that the Granos' pod performance was on par with the best pod machine we've tested to date - the Solis Crema SL-70. And the reason behind this is the same thing I dislike in ground coffee preparation - the filter basket itself is pressurized. Where in my opinion ground coffee should never be used in a pressurized portafilter or filter basket, I think all pod systems should have a pressurized filter basket. I've written about this elsewhere, but I'd like to state it again. Pressurized water seeks a path of least resistance. In a non pressurized portafilter system (most ESE certified machines are non pressurized), your brewing water will go around the pod, at the edges, where there is no coffee. Only after five or ten seconds of brewing does the packed bed of coffee become saturated enough to produce the first inklings of crema and body.

You can see this when you brew. On a machine like the Francis! Francis! X1, brewing with pods shows the following progression: pump pressure building up a bit; very dark, black, no crema "coffee" coming out for about 3 to 5 seconds. A gradual change to a gold brown colour (first real crema) for the next 5 to 7 seconds; a lightening of the crema to a blond for the last bit of the shot. In the cup, you see blackness for the first 10 seconds or so of the shot progression, then a movement to pale blond crema.

But on a machine like the Bodum Granos, the pressurized environment of the filter basket infuses and saturates the entire puck of pressed, ground coffee throughout the entire brewing process. The result is a crema laden shot right away, one that almost mimics a ground coffee shot. From the get go, you see the medium caramel colour in the espresso stream which does blond out later on, but a massive improvement over every ESE machine I've tested.

First Week with the Bodum Granos

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In my first week of testing, I did do some intensive work with the Granos, including a series of steaming tests (head to head with other machines, timings, texture quality) and in this first look I'll say the steaming performance was surprisingly good. It isn't a fast machine by any stretch - you're looking at a minute or more to steam 7 to 10 ounces. But it does create a good swirling action in the frothing pitcher and the machine auto fills as you steam. This means you can steam indefinitely, or until the water reservoir is dry.

I was able to produce some excellent milk for both latte art pouring and for milk sweetness (a trick to producing very sweet foam is to only introduce air into the froth until about 90F, then sink the wand to steam only, up to 155F max temperature).

For brewing, there were some quirks with the machine I had to get used to. One is the way the portafilter inserts into the machine. It's hard to describe, other than it requires more of an angle to insert, and when it locks in, there's this "hump" of movement that the portafilter takes to sit completely. It's not hard to do, and gives some good tactile feedback - but going to other machines, you sometimes miss the mark inserting their portafilters (like on a La Marzocco) because you quickly get used to the Bodum.

The machine has one rather annoying feature. It will go into "standby" if it hasn't been used for 30 minutes. The standby mode doesn't make the machine go completely cold - the unit's body is slightly warm to the touch - but it cools down enough that all the crucial parts, including the cup warming area and the portafilter, are for all intensive purposes cold.

This may be good for those who only brew a shot in the morning and don't want to be bothered turning off the machine. But for me it results in a machine that doesn't sufficiently warm up (you have to actively heat the portafilter by running a lot of brew water through it) and cups that are too cold on the machine. To test the theory, on one day I kept activating the machine every 25 minutes or so to keep it on straight for four hours, and saw that the cups on top heated very well (with the dome closed), and the machine's metal surfaces near the portafilter stayed very hot. I brewed shots and saw a noticeable improvement in the espresso taste.

The next day, I left the machine to its devices, and just activated it when I wanted a shot - not heating up anything more than the machine did itself. The shots were sour and weak, which was to be expected. I'd like to see more programmable options in this machine and setting the "standby" time is one of them. Another would be turning off the pump-driven preinfusion it does for all cycles, even the manual brew switch. I'll have more about this in the detailed review.

There's lots to like about the machine though in this early testing. It's gorgeous. It is heavy, all metal construction. The brewing temperatures are spot on (if the machine itself is sufficiently heated), and I have nothing to complain about there. Pod brewing ability was on par with our best-tested pod machine to date - the Solis Crema SL-70 machine.  Steam performance is above par for a machine in this class, and the fact you can easily remove the froth aider to steam and froth "traditionally" is a big plus. Hot water delivery is nicely set up, though I did find it strange that with such a wide drip tray, the steaming wand (and hot water delivery pipe) still doesn't "point" to the drip tray at any point in its swivel arc.

The drip tray is huge, and easy to remove for emptying. It does tend to get hot because of a pressure release system Bodum uses, spraying hot steam right into the drip tray), and it is all metal construction.

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4 Cups
The dome on top can hold 4 cups.
Detail, or?
Not quite sure what these are for on the back of the machine. Venting?
Portafilter
A grippy portafilter with okay weight, and the measuring spoon / tamper.
Water Pickup
Water pickup using the enclosed reservoir. Water bottles can also be used.

Concluding Thoughts - for now...

In my first few weeks of testing the Bodum Granos, I found lots to like. I also found  some things that put it in the category of 'do these people even know anything about espresso?'. The thing is, for 90% of the espresso consumers out there, these things won't matter one iota - it's only the true coffeegeek, seeking perfection in a machine's abilities, that will notice these flaws.

When I write these things and talk about a machine, I have to balance the fact that even on this site, maybe 50% or more of the readers won't give two sneezes about preinfusion or froth aiders, and my negative opinions of these "benefits". Most of the people who will eventually read this first look and subsequent Detailed Review of the Bodum Granos will find the review via a Google search after spotting the machine at a upscale kitchen store, and they just want to know more about the machine.

In this first look, I think the machine is a worthy competitor with the Francis! Francis! X1 (which costs as much as $150 more). In fact early on, I'm confident enough to say the Bodum Granos has better pod brewing performance and better steaming ability than the X1. The automatic functions work well, and temperature and pump pressure is much better than the X1 we've been evaluating for a while.

In our detailed review, we'll be pitting this machine against the likes of the X1, the Solis SL-70, the Innova Dream and the Rancilio Silvia in a much more technical way. We'll also evaluate the machine's performance over a minimum of a 2 month period, giving it a serious shakedown with hundreds of shots pulled through it. We'll discuss maintenance and cleaning regimens, and talk about the durability of the machine.

For now, in this First Look, I can say this - the machine is a worthy competitor at its price point and intended market - the Francis! Francis! crowd has a new machine to consider for that designer kitchen - the Bodum Granos is gorgeous, built solid, and offers enough innovations and technology to appease many home espresso lovers.

Once again, we'd like to sincerely thank 1st in Coffee for sending us this machine for evaluation. The Bodum Granos is currently $499 incl. free shipping from 1st in Coffee. Thanks Jim! ;)

First Look rating: 8.1
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 10, 2005
feedback: (20) comments | read | write
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