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the first look - jura capresso s9
Jura Capresso S9
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: December 1, 2003
First Look rating: 8.5
feedback: (28) comments | read | write
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$2,200 for a super automatic. That's a lot of coin. The Impressa S9 machine from Jura Capresso is their current showpiece machine, and I was curious to see what was in the box and what could justify this price. So that's just what I did.

Out of the Box Experience

When the Impressa S9 arrives, you notice the weight right away. You notice it's double boxed (always a good thing) straight from the importer. You notice the interior box is pretty with lots of graphics and imagery that will looks smashing on the shelf at Williams Sonoma. And you notice that inside the box, there's heaps of form-cut Styrofoam that keeps everything secure and safe. All good stuff.

Taking the machine out of the box you start noticing a lot more things. All the goodies it comes with, for example. There's a lot - from CDs to videos, and heaps more stuff in between.

You also notice that the machine looks great, serious even, but this reviewer also noticed something - for $2,200, I have questions about getting something with a plastic body. For some people (mainly manufacturers and distributors) this isn't a big deal. But for a person buying it, you'd expect metal and more "solidness" aesthetics for that price. But I'll put this aside for now and talk about it more in the Detailed Review.

Back to the goodies. One of Capresso's mainstays is they love the Claris water filtration method and it's built into this machine. You also get testing tabs, a scoop for preground coffee, and reorder forms for filters and tabs.

Adjustable Spout
The spout (and hot water pipe) adjust quite a bit to accomodate you big gulp fans :)

And then there's the frothing system. Included with the S9 (but not with the S8 or S7) is a second frothing system - all three machines come with a dual frother plus wand system, which works great, but the S9 includes Capresso's frothXpress Plus system, an almost completely automatic frothing system. It's definitely got "wow" appeal for espresso and milk frothing newbies.

For vets, it's cute for the first few minutes.

Let's take a minor "walk through" the machine. On the left side you'll see the full height water reservoir, which holds 2.8 litres when full (96oz). It's a slim design, but holds a fair amount of water.

On the front, a two line LED panel is located on the upper left side of the machine's front panel, seven buttons arranged below that - a power and flush system button, and five for different volumes and grind amounts. Below that there's a door which can be opened to gain further functionality, including machine programming.

You see the pouring spout assembly in the middle of the machine, but instead of the two spouts you normally see, there's a third - this is the hot water delivery pipe. The entire middle column slides up or down to accommodate the plentitude out there that wants a 16oz cup (though I wish it went a tad lower to really accommodate those of us who like espresso cups).

On the right side of the front panel are two steam control buttons, a dial, and the steam wand. This is where you have to make decisions (which you can always change) - normal froth aider or the automatic frothXpress plus system.

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All the Stuff
All the stuff you get with the S9, incl. auto frother (though calling it "professional" is pushing it)
Left Controls
Shows power, "rinse" buttons, then big cup, espresso single and double, large espresso single and double.
The program panel with ground coffee, tablet cleaning, program, end program (N), claris filter and decalify controls.
Right Side
Program steam (shuts off automatically) button and Regular Steam (works till you shut it off). Below is the dial for hot water.

K, enough chaff, let's get some meat.

First Use - Jura Capresso Impressa S9

After oogling at this monster machine, it was time to fire it up. If you read the product manual, or at least watched the video, you'd know the steps to take when starting up the machine.

The S9 has brains, did I mention that?

It has brains because it knows if it is empty of water internally, and tells you what to do to get the machine filled and ready to rock and roll. Turn it on. Watch the panel. Follow instructions. Simple as pie. You can almost avoid reading the manual, but if you do, you're a simpleton ignoramus. There, I said it.

Okay... okay, you're not simple.

The machine goes through its fill steps, and then is pretty much ready to brew - if you have some beans in the machine. Here's one very important thing to remember - if you want to adjust the grinder's fineness, do it only when the grinder is running. Otherwise, you're just crushing beans and potentially damaging the grinder. Remember - adjust when grinder is running, no other time.

And that's what I did - my automatic reaction is to tune a super-auto grinder as fine as it can go, and for my first "garbage shot" on the machine (always do a few shots to season a machine), I dialed the grind as fine as the settings would go. Once I was satisfied with that, it was time to do a lil' programming (see, I read the manual :))

Bean Tray Bean Tray Lid Lid off Closeup of Grinder
Bean Tray
The S9's bean tray is in the middle back of the machine.
Bean Lid, Dial
The tray has its own lid to help with freshness. The grind dial is at the back portion and can be adjusted when the grinder is working.
Lid Off
Remove the internal lid to add beans.
Grinder closeup
Standard conical burr grinder you'd find in machines costing as little as $400. It does the job, but I wish I could grind finer.

One really cool thing about the Impressa S9 - you set the volume of liquid used for each button like any other machine (press the brew button of choice, watch, and press the P button on the control panel when you have the desired amount of liquid). That's the normal part, but here's the cool part - after you set your volume, you get the option to fine tune it! There's a display on the screen that shows a range with a plus or minus. Hitting plus or minus on the control panel will increase or decrease the shot volume by a few ml. Press the P key when you're done.

After I did all my setups (I'll cover this in more detail in the Detailed Review), I gave the machine a half hour to fully warm up, and loaded in some Black Cat espresso from Intelligentsia Coffee (our official coffee supplier). I wanted to see if the top cup warmer did the job and appropriately warmed the cups, but alas, it does not - they are barely above room temperature. So I ran the hot water a bit to heat it up, dumped it, and brewed the shot.

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Good Shot, but...
it could be better. Preinfusion kind of hurts the shot - you get a really pale, "dead" crema and cold espresso for a few seconds, then the flow starts, and you get stuff capable of tiger striping (as seen in this photo). If only the entire shot draw looked this good in the stream.

Here's where my first truly happy moment with the Impressa S9 came. The shot of espresso. It was fast, no doubt (all super autos brew way too fast, completely ignoring the science out there that says espresso must be brewed in 25 seconds, give or take 3 or 4 seconds), but I was seeing wisps of steam vapor rising.... I quickly grabbed the fluke and rammed the thermocouple up one of the pour spouts.

191F at the tip of the brew spout.

Wow. That translates into a brew temperature of probably 200F or so, possibly more. Colour me impressed.

Then my second happy moment. As the crema formed, It had the look of "real" crema, not that false blond stuff that so many super autos seem to churn out - even the Impressa F9 (a machine we're also reviewing). The crema from the S (As in Sam) 9 was a darker golden brown, bordering on the mahogany brown I can coax out of the La Marzocco Linea machine. Not quite, but close.

The shot wasn't spectacular, it was on the thin side (the too fast extraction), but it was something I'd rank higher than pod espresso, and maybe even higher than any "crema enhancer" espresso that you might get from a machine like the Solis SL70 (with the pressurized baskets) or a Saeco or Starbucks Barista.

One area where it truly ranks higher - it was probably the best super-automatic shot I've had in the home so far. And I give only one thing the credit - the brewing temperature.

With that pleasant first experience under my belt, I decided to give the frothXpress plus system a first go. It is a gizmo - we like gizmos around here - but it didn't seem to work all that well. I couldn't get it to build up much froth at all, even in the "froth setting". If you leave the dial pointing directly north (or south), it's also too cold - I measured the milk at barely 105F at the spout. Turn the dial a bit towards the centre, and things get better - I was up to 155F with the dial at roughly 20degrees towards the middle.

But no substantial froth to speak of.

Update: I have since solved the "lack of froth" problem - the device was clogged. A good soak in rinza from Urnex fixed it, though it discoloured the aluminum portion of the frothXpress device. See the feedback for an update and a photo.

So I tried the other steam wand. As a "froth aider" wand (sleeve down), it produces big ass bubbles and lots of them. It kinda made me laugh. But with the sleeve up, and some finesse work, you can get some froth that's capable of pouring latte art... not too good latte art, but I can do hearts and weak rosettas with it.

First Week with the Impressa S9

Click for larger image

In the first week, I had more of the same.

  • Fast brewing espresso
  • Hot brewing espresso
  • Very hot water delivery
  • Mediocre frothing and too cold froth from the automatic system
  • Okay froth from the wand system

I have some very initial impressions about these things - keep in mind, this is my First Look - my opinion may change on these points by the time I get to the detailed review.

Fast Brewing Espresso

One day, the Swiss will "get" something. Cafe Suisse is fine and dandy in Switzerland, but in North America, espresso is king. Cafe Suisse requires a different mentality and approach to brewing coffee: a) water doesn't have to be as hot because you're brewing a full cup (the S9, if left at "normal temperature" in the programming, is too cold for espresso - but "high temperature" is better); b) grinder doesn't have to grind super fine because you're grinding for a 6+ ounce extraction; c) pump-driven preinfusion works well with Cafe Suisse drinks because of the extended brewing times.

None of these things are good for espresso brewing. You want a grinder to go as fine as possible without "choking" the machine in order to slow down the brew and give you a 25 second shot of espresso. Right now, with the grinder on the finest setting I get maybe a 12, 13 second extraction.

The S9 definitely conquers the "not hot enough" issue, if you change the program settings.

And preinfusion. The one thing I have never liked about super automatics, and Capresso (or Jura Capresso) super automatics in particular - no facility to turn off the pump driven preinfusion. It does nothing for espresso brewing. It does nothing for cappuccino brewing. In fact, I believe it can actually cause damage to the brew because the on / off pump action (vs. the natural preinfusion you get on an E61 equipped espresso machine) can break up the puck of coffee, causing channeling or pitting. This leads to overextraction and bitters in the cup somewhat.

Jura, Capresso, Jura Capresso - for $2,200, I expect the ability to turn preinfusion on or off. There, I said it.

Hot brewing espresso

This is a Good Thing™. The Jura Capresso Impressa S9 is the first super automatic I've tested in the lab (and this includes a Schaerer Opal) that brews at near ideal temperatures... if you set the programming to "High Temperatures". Still, I'd like to see the ability to actually dial in a brew temperature - say with a 1 to 2C adjustment. Let me, the end user of a $2,200 machine decide what the ideal brewing temperature is - let it leave the factory with defaults set, but give me the ability to tune it.

Very hot water delivery

The hot water system (tea portion, as the display panel calls it) is supreme excellento. Super hot - I measured 203F at the spout with the Fluke thermocouple. And it sustains well - you can get an average of about 197F for five ounces. Nice.

The design of the hot water delivery system is nifty too - no more going through the steam wand - the Imrpessa S9 has a dedicated pipe.

Mediocre frothing with the Gizmos

It's early days yet and I could be operating the machine wrong, so don't take the following (or anything above, for that matter) as gospel, but I was not impressed by the automatic frothXpress Plus system. No froth! And yes, I was using it on the froth setting. And too cold unless you fiddle with it. Thankfully, you can, but I'll be honest here - it should be tuned so that at it's "coldest" setting, the milk is about 135F instead of the 105F I measured.

But I need more time with it. One thing I plan to do is give it a good rinse with Rinza from Urnex, a total frother / milk cleaner product. Maybe there's a clogged air intake hole or something.

Using the frothXpress Plus system is indeed easy, and using the dial at "steam only" mode (the dial is in the lower half of the device) works as advertised - you got steam-heated milk with no froth at all.

Update: I have since solved the "lack of froth" problem - the device was clogged. A good soak in rinza from Urnex fixed it, though it discoloured the aluminum portion of the frothXpress device. See the feedback for an update and a photo.

Using the other steam wand, the more straight forward froth aider with the sleeve you can slide up to give you an ersatz "traditional wand" is a bit better, if used "traditionally".

The machine does provide ample, if wet, steam. The pump goes "putt putt putt putt putt" while you are steaming, replenishing it's thermoblock, and this does have the fortunate benefit of allowing the machine to steam for hours if you want, but the unfortunate detriment of keeping the steam "wet". It'd be cool if the end user could fine tune the pump's speed and water pushing, but this may be asking for too much.

Jura S9 Front Jura S9 Left Side Jura S9 Back Jura S9 Right
Front View
Where all the action takes place.
Left Side
Water reservoir with "hooks" for claris water system.
Back Side
Not my back side - the machine back. The plug can be pulled out, but it's still short.
Right Side
Yawn. Wake me up when the photo's over :)

Wrap Up

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At the Wedding
The machine went thru all those cups... twice! It was a crowd pleaser and could definitely keep up with the pace.

In my first full week with the Jura Capresso Impressa S9 Super Automatic (said with one breath!), we managed to give it a major torture test - the machine was brought to a wedding (my sister in law!) and the machine plowed through about 5 pounds of beans and about 4 gallons of milk during the wedding reception. For the most part, I let the machine be operated automatically - I showed two "helpers" (students of a friend) how to use the machine, and in turn instructed them to let the guest operate it on their own.

"Press this button for espresso. Turn this dial for hot water. Press that button for frothed milk. Make sure the reservoir has water, the milk container is full, and the beans are replenished".

With very few incidents, the machine was a hit and a bit of a rock star at the wedding. Once a few guests tried it, a crowd gathered around to check it out! If I was a sales person for Capresso, I could have probably sold 3 or 4 of the machines right there!

People where especially wowed with the automatic one button frothing - I programmed the frother to work for 26 seconds which, at my adjusted "heat setting" on the froth dial gave enough hot milk for a traditional sized cappuccino (well, more like a latte since there was very little froth). The fact that there was no froth didn't matter to folks - they were like "wooooow. I'm a Starbucks Barista! Tee hee hee hee!".

What do I know... :)

For me personally, I was enjoying very well balanced short americanos from the machine all week long. There's nothing quite like the proper temperature for both espresso and hot water, all with only a button touch and a dial turn to make my day. Having good beans helps. If only I could get the grinder to grind slightly finer...

Once again, I'd like to thank Capresso and Michael Kramm especially for supplying us with this machine, and 1st in Coffee for making all the arrangements. 1st in Coffee sells the Jura Capresso Impressa S9 for $2,199, and they include a full case of illy coffee to start you off (not a bad way to start it off at all).

And lastly, this is a First Look, not a Detailed Review. It may seem like I come to conclusions in this First Look, but in fact, I don't - it's all first impression. Sometimes, first impressions are completely wrong. Do not take this First Look as gospel - if you take anything I write that way, then wait for the Detailed Review.

First Look rating: 8.5
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: December 1, 2003
feedback: (28) comments | read | write
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