The Expobar Office Pulser is currently the least expensive E61(clone) equipped, heat exchanger (HX) espresso machine commonly available in the US, and as such has generated a lot of interest. It's big, it's narrow, and while some may call it ugly, we at CoffeeGeek think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we also think beauty runs beneath the skin. The Expobar is actually a good looking machine in person. The real question is, how does it perform?
CoffeeGeek would like to thank the excellent crew at Whole Latte Love for supplying us with a shiny new Expobar Office Pulser to do a long term evaluation on. They sell the Pulser for a very reasonable $749 with shipping included.
Note: we've decided to shorten the CoffeeGeek First Looks somewhat, as compared to previous articles. This is done to place more emphasis on the Detailed Review, but also to make it easier for us to get First Looks out on a more regular basis.
Out of the Box
The Expobar Pulser is a heavy machine at 36 pounds empty. It's also a challenging machine to remove from the box if you don't have any help, but I managed to do it with a bit of elbow grease.
When removed, you think, okay, this machine won't win any beauty contests, but I have to admit the Expobar is one of those examples where photographs do not do the product justice - it's not bad looking at all.
It does have a different shape when compared to most HX machines - it is taller than most machines, yet it is more narrow left to right. It sits on high legs too - commercial machines in the US must have a certain minimum clearance under the machine, and it looks like the Expobar's feet were built to take this into account. Could it be a case of dreams of commercial use by the Spanish company that built it? Maybe... (ed note: it now ships with shorter feet).
It is important to note that Whole Latte Love considers this machine suitable for light commercial use, as does the manufacturer.
| Control layout for the Expobar - click for full version. |
The controls up top are spartan on the Pulser - two knobs, one switch, and one light (which serves no purpose on my model, and may not appear on more recent models of this semi-automatic machine). A fully automatic version of this machine, the Control, is also available for $50 more and features more eye candy on the control panel). Another switch (the on-off switch) and a status light is on the front body panel below the controls area, and this light indicates when the boiler is active.
When you take the Pulser out of the box, a savvy HX machine aficionado may notice something missing - there's no boiler pressure gauge. This is a nice (and often demanded) feature to have on a HX machine, so its absence on the Pulser is noted. You can get along without one, just like you can do a super fine roast on a windowless Alpenrost Coffee roaster, but there's a reason why HX machines have gauges - to properly "gauge" when the machine is doing its cycling, and picking your brewing times.
The water reservoir looks like a Tupperware™ style container fitted into the machine and comes complete with a lid that can either be removed, or you can just pop open a smaller lid built into the larger one, for filling in place. Removing the container is a minor chore, but definitely doable.
The Expobar Office Pulser may not work in some kitchens - the beast stands 16 inches tall. It is possible to remove the legs, which will shorten the machine's height by about two inches. The Pulser is almost 10 inches wide and is about 16.5 inces from front to back. (ed note - current shipping machines are shorter).
The machine is equipped with autofill sensors so setting up is a breeze. It is also equipped with a hot water tap (which gets a patented CoffeeGeek bonus point!) and a straight arm steam wand. Both the water tap and steam wand are on a 360degree rotation ball joint, making them fairly accessible. The portafilter is a nice beefy commercial grade job, and you get the perquisite single and double filters, a cheap plastic tamper (treat yourself to a good quality one) and a measuring scoop.
I did one minor problem with the machine - for instance, the all but useless plastic plate that covers the "water view" hole in the front of the machine fell off - I say it's all but useless because the water container inside the machine is an opaque white plastic - and you can't really see the water level through it anyway.
One bonus is that the wall between the water reservoir and the boiler is insulated. Good job, Expobar!
First Use of the Expobar Office Pulser
| A look inside the Expobar. Lookit the size of that copper boiler! Massive! |
CoffeeGeek preaches the mantra of 'red the foolish mannequin"... uh, "roll the firmware, manny!". Hrm. How does that phrase go again?? Oh yeah - READ THE FREAKING MANUAL. You probably know this because I bitch and moan about it all the time, but as Senior Editor for CoffeeGeek, I am inundated daily with technical support emails from people who just bought brand-spankin' new machines. And a full 50% of the time or more, their questions would have been answered by reading the manual that came with the machine.
On top of that, some vendors I've spoken to attribute as much as 40% or 50% of their "defective" returns on the very fact that because the customer didn't read the manual, they either damaged the machine, or simply didn't know how to operate the machine properly. Please - give me an extra 15 minutes of sleep tonight: read the manual. Please :)
So I eschewed the manual... heh heh, just kidding. I read the manual, and unfortunately, it follows the all to typical pattern of being a poor translation into English. And they make the cardinal sin by calling the beverage it makes "expresso" in the English translation. I got over the poor spelling, and read the manual and learned how to set up the machine. First, I placed it on a perfectly level counter (the manual said so). Then I filled the water tank (reservoir) up to the view finder (but I couldn't see the water level, so I just filled it to the brim), because the manual said so. I used purified water, because, you guessed it, the manual said so.
I plugged it in, turned it on, and the auto fill sensor went to work, filling the boiler automatically... again, just like the manual said. I noted that the boiler autofill will only work for approximately 45 seconds, and sure enough, it shut off. The manual said to expect this, and I should turn the machine off, unplug the machine, plug it in again, and turn it on. I just turned the switch off and on, and the autofill continued.
The manual said to purge any false pressure from the boiler after the machine heats up (it actually said: "after a few minutes (8 - 10), place the steam faucet on the tray and open it up to take the vapour out"). Lastly, it recommends running water through the grouphead and portafilter to completely heat up the machine. All this was done, and I was good to go.
I'll have some more fun fun joy joy about the manual in the Detailed Review (I'm amazing, ain't I? I tell you to read the manual, then poke fun at it!), but suffice to say, it will get you going with a perfectly operating machine. I did give the Pulser an extra 20 minutes to fully heat up (all that brass and copper, and a 1.7 litre boiler (according to Whole Latte Love) takes some time, you know), and then aimed for my first shot.
It was horrible. But it was also all me: I ground the coffee too coarse.
Next shot? Not bad, but a tad bitter. It was then that I quickly discovered some quirks (and good things) about the machine.
First, it has an E61 clone up front - not a genuine group, but one made to similar specifications in Spain. E61s are great grouphead designs, but they have one problem in home use - they can get too hot on a HX machine. Get used to running 4 to 6 ounces of water through the group before doing a shot - this will get the E61 down to a nice temp. Still, the E61 (clone that it is) is desirable, and leads to great temperature stability during the espresso shot.
Next up for me was the brewing temperatures - they were still a tad too hot in my initial run, so I took the body panels off and accessed the pressurestat, which wasn't easy to do. A quick dial, and I had the machine closer to the temperatures I wanted in making good espresso.
Next quirk was the design of the drip tray. I just don't like it. The spouts are too close to the front of the tray, leading you to place your cups near the edge, and depending on the cup shape, it might be a challenge getting espresso into the cup.
Then there were nice things. For instance the steam performance: powerful, ample, and a good cycling pressurestat in the boiler meant long lasting and no real downtime in steaming.
Hot water access - I'm an americano freak, and any machine that delivers hot water gets an automatic bonus point for me.
Pro grade portafilter - this is quality stuff. The grouphead mimics an e61, so that means there's no screw for the dispersion screen - you have to wedge out the gasket to remove the screen. Not a huge deal, but in unpracticed hands, you may damage the gasket doing it. Use caution.
The 1.7 litre boiler gives you a lot - it gives you the steam power you demand. It gives you enough hot water delivery to fill as much as 2 or 3 cups for hot tea instantly. It aids in the stability and repeatability of the heat exchanger's job in flash heating reservoir water to brewing temperatures. And it keeps the E61 group toasty hot.
I also liked the large cup warming surface which does the job (the Detailed Review may talk about cup temperatures). The huge water reservoir, over a gallon, is a perk. And the huge steam and hot water knobs up front - I love 'em. Others may not, but they are just BAM, there, and do the job.
Back to shot making, I found that once I got used to the E61 quirks, I was getting excellent espresso in the first day, and in the first week. I also found that the Expobar was a powerhouse, able to keep up with shot after shot - as fast as you can grind and pack it, it can deliver repeatable temperatures in the cup.
I also got to know and really like the steam power of the Expobar. I'm not crazy about the straight-arm design of the steam wand, and the tip could be slightly better, but all in all, I'd rate the steaming performance and parts above average. Where machines like the Isomac Venus ($220 cheaper, single boiler design) and even the heat exchanger equipped Nuova Simonelli Oscar ($50 more) both suffer greatly in real-use steam performance tests, the Expobar really shined.
After my first use and my first week with the Expobar, I had the feeling this was a machine that could quality as the price vs. value leader in the prosumer machine category. Even at it's normal price of $750, I had that feeling. This test was looking good - real good.
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| The Expobar's group and portafilter are styled on the E61 design. |
| The dispersion screen can only be removed by removing the gasket. |
| The water reservoir looks tupperware-ish. |
| One of the more useless things - the sight glass for the water. |
The Expobar is looking like a promising machine. It won't win any beauty contests, but my early tests with the machine show that it has some serious horsepower under the hood, and for many people that's what counts. I'm looking forward to the long term test with the machine, and even though I didn't expect much before receiving it, that's changed to - I'm expecting a lot from the Expobar Office Pulser, and it looks like it might have the goods to deliver. Let's recap, shall we?
- E61 group (a clone, but similar performance)
- 1.7 litre boiler
- hot water tap
- powerful, ample steam performance
- pro quality portafilter
- stainless steel body
- huge, easy to control steam and hot water knobs
- large water reservoir
- easy to access water reservoir
- ample cup warming surface
- last, but best of all: the great price of $749 for a heat exchanger machine (as of this writing, subject to change).
Once again, CoffeeGeek would like to thank the folks at Whole Latte Love for supplying us with a shiny new Expobar Office Pulser to do a long term evaluation on. They sell the Pulser for $749, which makes it the lowest regular price current model heat exchanger machine on the market - next up the ladder is the Nuova Simonelli Oscar, which has a price between $800 and $950, depending on where you buy it from..