One of the most visually appealing machines to hit the market in recent years has to be the Isomac Millennium, a semi automatic, heat exchanger equipped espresso machine. From the polished E61 grouphead right up front to the beautifully sculpted sides and extra thick metal housing, the machine is a head turner. The question is, does it have the performance to back up those good looks.
CoffeeGeek.com would like to thank Chris Coffee for providing us with this product. As the Isomac lineup gets more and more popular with the "prosumer" espresso machine crowd, it's important to note that Chris Coffee Service was the first major internet retailer to offer these upper end machines. They currently sell the Millennium for $1,195, and offer special package pricing with the Isomac grinder or the capable Mazzer Mini grinder (for just $295 more!). You can also call Chris Nachtrieb himself at 800-724-3459 to get unique package pricing if what you see on their website isn't exactly what you're looking for.
What I especially like is that Chris Coffee is currently the only US-based vendor to offer a special deal on shipping to Canada on these big ticket machines: FREE 2 day express shipping with no brokerage fees (you still pay duties and taxes) That is so cool, (thanks Chris!) and I hope other vendors match this exemplary service.
Out of the Box
| The E61 group is gorgeous and functional to the extreme. |
It seems to me that just a bit extra care goes into the packing of the Millennium, when compared to other Isomac machines like the Venus or Super Giada, and that's a good thing - this machine isn't cheap. The first thing you see after dealing with the massive weight of the product (it tips the scales at over 45 lbs) is that beautiful, massive E61 grouphead up front, all polished and begging you to pull shots with.
Next thing you see is how nice the fit and finish is on the product. The polish on the stainless steel is impressive, and there does seem to be extra attention paid to how the entire machine is put together, and how all the parts fit.
As with the other Isomac machines, one place the product is let down is in the manual. It is a relatively poor translation from Italian, and while there is some good advice, there's a lot of holes too. I'll cover it more in depth in the Detailed Review. In the box you will find supplemental instructions from Chris' Coffee, which more than make up for the original manual's shortcomings.
The machine is an all polished steel assembly, and the walls are extra thick. The gorgeous and functional E61 group is right up front, and hard to miss. The E61 is a group system that gets better the more it is used, especially when banging out shot after shot. The active heating system inside the grouphead keeps everything super toasty and leads to amazing thermal consistency. The progressive preinfusion found in E61 groupheads is, in my opinion, one of the best things you can do to a bed of coffee.
Inside the machine is a 1.4 litre copper boiler - ample enough to provide a lot of steam, and good amounts of temperature stability to the heat exchanger. The machine has a 3 litre reservoir inside. Up front you see a boiler pressure gauge (measuring boiler pressure, not brewing pressure), three indicator lights (for machine on or off, boiler active, and brewing active), and an old school bar switch to turn the machine on or off.
You may be wondering how you brew with the machine? That's the beaut of the E61 - it has the very cool flip lever to activate the water passage between heat exchanger and grouphead, and it also activates the pump.
The drip tray is huge, I like that. The machine delivers a good supply of hot water in a none-too-messy way, which I also like. Up top, there's a removable cup warming tray that is large enough for 9 espresso cups or more, and you have to remove this to access the water reservoir.
The Millennium ships with two portafilters, which is a nice touch, and the vendor who supplied us with this machine also gives away some goodies, like a blind filter and cleaning materials. I should also note that the machine you may buy from Chris Coffee will look different than the one in our photos. Chris has gone back to the "old school" portafilter handles and knobs for the steam and hot water, and that's a major bonus - one of my gripes with my test model is the ugly knobs and the super-cheap "new" portafilter handle. You will get the more "pro" style stuff with this machine if you buy it from Chris Coffee Service.
Setup is reasonably easy and pretty much standard for this type of machine. It has autofill sensors coming out of the ying-yang, so all you have to do is fill the reservoir, and plug it in. The machine looks after itself, though venting the steam wand wouldn't be a bad idea.
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| The Millennium's drip tray is deep, and as polished as the rest of the machine. |
| My pressurestat had some paint/glue on it (which I had to break to change the pressure). |
| Hot water wand screen, the way it's meant to be dispensed. I wish all machines had this. |
| Size comparison with Isomac Zaffiro (left) and Euro Junior 2000 (right) |
First Use of the Isomac Millennium
I was so excited to set this machine up and get it going. Even though Isomac needs some serious work to get their manuals up to spec, I still recommend our mantra: RTFM. That's Ride The Funny Mannequin :) No, it means Read the Flippin' Manual. Plus, if you buy it from Chris Coffee Service, there's a much better "how to" guide included with the machine that is exclusive to that shop, and that will give you the how-to you need to get this baby up and running.
Remember, the machine's heavy - I forgot when I tried to lift it out of the box, and I almost dislocated my shoulder because of the weird angle I tried to lift it at. But that was sorted out, and I fired up the machine after filling the reservoir, and charging the water softener (note, you may choose not to use the softener - it has caused some drawing problems for the hose inside the reservoir for some Isomac owners).
The machine auto fills, which is nice. It also properly relieves boiler atmospheric pressure inside, which not all machines do, so you don't have to open steam valves once the machine heats up to bleed off false pressure. It's still a good practice to do it once the heating lamp goes off, if only for peace of mind.
Because the Millennium has a lot of metal, you really need at least 20 or 30 minutes heat up time before you use it. You can do a variety of "cheats" (as in run lotsa water through the group, steam wand, water wand), but it won't reduce the heat up time by much. It's best to just fire it up and be patient, then leave it on 24/7.
Since this was the first time I used the machine, I did run almost two reservoirs' worth of water through it, to season the machine a bit, and that got it sufficiently heated up.Then it was time to pull some shots.
I quickly found by watching the pressure gauge and sampling the shots that my machine was tuned a tad low for my likes and the coffee I was using - the first shots were sour, a prime indicator of too-cold brewing water. Fortunately, adjusting the pressurestat on this machine is easy - remove the cup tray, unscrew the top plate, and you can just reach the screw-adjuster on top of the pressure stat. A turn of about 1 o'clock got me set up nicely.
| The reservoir isn't very accessible - you have to remove a flush cup warmer tray.... |
| To access the reservoir underneath. |
The first real shot I had from this machine was pretty amazing. The progressive preinfusion system does wonders, as does the active heating thermosyphon system in the grouphead. I've had better shots, but not many. What I like is that the preinfusion system seems to deliver better looking shots - almost every shot I've pulled with the Millennium exhibits the tiger striping that pro Baristi look for as evidence of a good shot.
I had a test group organized the day I took the Millennium out of the box - this is unusual for me since I usually like to give a machine a few weeks before pitting it against other machines. But this test group wasn't for the Millennium, it was for the Expobar Office Pulser. Still, for a first try and first day, I have to say the Millennium held it's own with a machine I'd been using for a month. That's none too shabby. The test group had a hard time picking between the Millennium's output and two other heat exchanger machines; one costing $1100, the other costing $750.
I make no bones about the fact that if an espresso machine has a good way to deliver hot water in good amounts (more than 3 oz, and maintain above 180F for all the liquid dosed out), it gets a "bonus point" from me in any rating I may give the product. The Millennium's hot water delivery is awesome and easily earns that bonus point. If you're an Americano fan like I am, or have a tea (ugh) lover in the house, this machine has enough "staying power" in the hot water department to fill a 10oz mug, and still have water above 175F. Awesome.
First Few Days with the Isomac Millennium
I have to say, the first few days with the Millennium were great, but I did run into minor problems, which I'll get out of the way first.
Problem number one is that the water reservoir can get pretty hot, given that it is completely enclosed within the thick steel outer body and is close to a very hot, 1.4 litre boiler. This has some effect of shot temperatures, but I need further testing to fully evaluate this.
| Dispersion screen with no screw - remove the gasket to remove the screen. |
| Water softener is troublesome for some users - you can remove it. |
| Controls of the Isomac Millennium - note only one switch. |
Also, there's a phenomenon with E61 equipped machines that is a detriment in the home - the grouphead gets too hot if you don't brew for a while. This gives you bitter shots. The solution is either bang out lots of shots continuously (thus using the grouphead for the environment it was designed for), or run as much as four to six ounces or more of water through the group to get it back down to shot temperatures.
On day three, I had a marathon session with the machine. I had a full pound of 3 day old roast from JJ Bean, a Vancouver based roastery that does some amazing work, and I decided to plow through the entire pound to both cup the coffee and to see how the Millennium fared in high volume use and consistency.
Here's the good news - I sampled every third double, and from the sixth shot (my second drink) onward, I was getting amazingly consistent and excellent tasting results. It seemed the more shots I pulled, the better the machine got - but the curve was very consistent. I was able to do 20 doubles with that pound of coffee, and I sampled 7 of the pulls by taste, and the seventh and final sample was almost pure heaven in a cup.
More good news - the machine almost laughs at my attempt to "torture" it with the rapid shot pulling. I did the session in about 29 minutes, including a reservoir refill, several drip tray dumps, and my usual flush and clean of the grouphead between shots, and the 20th and final shot was as if the machine was pristine - there are no boiler recovery issues I could see, with an average double pulled every 65 to 85 seconds.
Bad news? Not much that I could see. Steaming with the machine, which I did twice during the marathon (I had two walk-by requests for a cappuccino) was nice, timing in at around 28 seconds for about 6oz of milk; I haven't had a lot of chances so far to really push the Millennium in the microfroth department, but that will come with the Detailed Review.
As always, I need to stress that this is a First Look, and not a Detailed Review. What you've just read is my first five days' observations, and anything and everything may change by the time the Detailed Review rolls out. Someone pointed out to me that I spend more time in just my First Looks than most product reviewers spend for their entire review, and I guess that's true, but I feel you cannot evaluate a product with only a few days' use. The Millennium Detailed Review, when it is all said and done, will be based on at least 60 solid days of testing, day in, day out use, and a couple of test groups to help me evaluate the machine against a few others we have around here.
With all that said, things are looking good for the Millennium. Once I got over the common E61 problem of the group getting too hot on an idle machine, I was able to coax amazing shots from a beauty of a machine. The Millennium has a lot going for it, and one thing I can't stress enough is that you have a reseller in Chris Coffee that not only believes in this product, but backs it up with exceptional service.
CoffeeGeek would like to thank Chris' Coffee for supplying us with this machine, and being patient with me and our website for delaying the roll out of this first look. They sell the Millennium for $1,195 with special deals if you include a grinder with the product. You also get better instructions, a back flush disk, coffee, old-school knobs and handles, and a new two hole tip that supplements the stuff already in the box.