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the first look - zaffiro first look
Isomac Zaffiro First Look
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 1, 2002
First Look rating: 9.1
feedback: (11) comments | read | write
Isomac Zaffiro

Did I mention this sucker is heavy? 42 pounds (19 kilos) bone dry and that's just the machine. The box is huge and very cumbersome to maneuver. It's all good.

The Isomac Zaffiro is packed fairly well, using a combination of heavy cardboard forms and some bubble wrap to keep it safe during transport. Ours arrived in perfect condition. Opening the box reveals the machine and a secondary box containing not one but two portafilters (one with a single spout and one of the best single spouts I've seen, and one with a nice double spout). Each portafilter is very heavy, and a standard 58mm basket size insert. You get a single and double filter with the machine. There's also the ubiquitous throwaway cheapo plastic tamper that's too small (though I hear rumours that Chris' Coffee includes one of the very good quality aluminum tampers from EspressoParts.com with the full priced model). Lastly, there's the manual, which is fairly brief, but shows you what all the parts do, and how to use them.

Lifting the machine out of the box gives you your first look at the E61 grouphead, an authentic one, in all its glory. Rumour has it (and I've heard this from a couple of sources) that the E61 grouphead was a vague model for the original Starship Enterprise. I don't know if that is true or not (and I'm not confirming it), but when you see an E61 up close and personal, you can certainly see the resemblance. Heck, all my Trek-nerd friends sure did.

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Beam me up, Scotty! Click to enlarge.

In fact, if I can go off on a tangent here for a moment, we have one family friend who I would qualify as a super trek nerd of the highest order. When the person (I won't even reveal their sex, she's safe :)), when the person saw the Zaffiro just a few days ago, they remarked "oooo, it looks like the Enterprise!!" So there! (I hope she doesn't read this. Oops).

Back on subject, the machine is a substantial piece of work, and as far as I know, this is the only E61-equipped dual purpose boiler machine available right now in N. America. That's sayin something. And I can't stress enough how heavy it is... and trust me on this, when it comes to espresso machines, heavy = good. Very good in fact. I was so impressed, I was anxious to fire her up for the first time.

First Use

After RTFM'ing (Read the (French word for seal) Manual), I loaded up the 3 litre reservoir, plugged the machine in, and turned it on. I ran the hot water switch (yes, it does supply hot water on demand, the info on a few websites is wrong about this), and opened the steam valve. The pump primed itself, and she was good to go.

It doesn't take too long to heat up that 800ml of water; I'll have full time results (as well as machine power stats) for the Detailed Review. The manual doesn't specifically say bleed off any false pressure in the boiler, but I did so anyway by running more hot water through the steam wand before getting ready for the first shot.

E61 machines aren't like other dual purpose boiler machines, and you can't cheat them like my well publicized Cheating Miss Silvia article shows for most espresso machines. When giving this machine the full Detailed Review workover, I'll see if I can come up with a way to cheat Miss, uh, Zaffiro, but early on, it looks like you have to really give the machine a 20 to 30 minute warm up time for the E61 grouphead's passive water circulation system to fully kick in and get the entire machine, grouphead and all, heated up to the proper temps.

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Massive drip tray on the Zaffiro. Click to enlarge.

Of course, I couldn't wait. I tried pulling shots about 5, 10 minutes after plugging it in. And they sucked. So I waited. And about 40 minutes later, I pulled more shots. They were still missing something, a tad too sour, a prime indicator that the brewing temps were a bit too low.

Which brings me to a really cool thing about the Zaffiro. It may be a dual purpose boiler machine, not a heat exchanger (HX) machine, and thus doesn't have an easily adjustable pressurestat like HX machines have, but the Zaffiro has an equally easy to adjust thermostat. Remove six screws on the machine, and there she be, on the right side, sticking out about a half inch. Turning the brass bar maybe 3 or 4 minutes' equivalent clockwise (as if on a clock), and you ramp up the temps in the boiler by about 3 to 5 degrees Farenheit. Sweeeeet.

I did spend some time fooling with the thermostat adjustment to "dial in" the machine to the temps I wanted. I used up about a half pound of beans in the process. But trust me, I was having fun. Then I hit the near-proverbial "god shot".

I dunno what it is about this machine. Maybe the big boiler which gives incredible temperature stability (possibly even more than a similarly sized HX machine); maybe it's the legendary E61 grouphead, maybe it's the brand new, factory fresh vibe pump that hasn't been abused by me yet, but I had an epiphany: the machine banged out not one, not two, but three near "god shots" in a row. In a ROW! I haven't had this kind of machine success since the time I spent an hour or more on a La Marzocco FB70 machine.

I thought to myself... this is a GOOD thing.

First Few Days with the Zaffiro

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Is that E61 a work of art, or what? Click to enlarge.

I have been using the Zaffiro exclusively for the last three days. I've come to like the control panel and the combination of super-simple and satisfying "clicks". I still haven't weaned myself off the luxury that HX machines give you with instant steam ability - the wait time on the Zaffiro when ramping up to steam is about a minute, and there's a LOT of wand-bleeding you have to do. It has a two hole wand that, suffice to say is an absolute steam demon and well suited for super turbulent, super-microfoaming abilities; but that comes with two caveats - hot water delivery is a bit awkward with two jets of water coming out at 40 degree angles, and bleeding the wand is quite messy. Maybe it's a technique thing I haven't figured out yet.

Suffice to say from my early testing, this thing is an absolute steaming demon; the only problem is, you have to wait for it.

Filling the reservoir requires lifting the heating tray up top; it is facilitated by three bars surrounding the drip tray. No biggie. Emptying the drip tray is relatively easy too, with a big beefy handle on the front and it slides out.

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There's a lot to like about this machine. I liked the functionality of the pressure gauge (my normal 3oz doubles brew at precisely 9BAR, but my finer-ground ristretto pulls were closer to 10BAR pressure - cool). I liked the uber-deep drip tray, which seems to hold gallons of waste before needing an empty. I loved the polished steel throughout (I'm a sucker for stainless steel). Temperature stability seems bang on and long term, a real plus. Cycling is a "non issue" from my early testing, and in fact that was the main reason why it took me so long to dial in the thermostat to my liking. Plus I didn't have my Fluke thermometer handy.

There's a few things I didn't like... but they are for the most part trivial. On the control panel, it's hard to know when a light is on or not - under florescent light, it's almost impossible. I had to shade the panel to see if a light was on. The supplied filter baskets seems a might small to me with a heavy side-angle built into them. Fortunately, I was using a La Marzocco double basket, which fits well. The splashing action of the hot water wand (aka the steam wand) was messy and sometimes painful. And of course, there's no way to see how much water is left in the machine; fortunately, it has a low water sensor (claimed by the importer; not tested by me yet) to prevent the machine from operating sans water.

Zaffiro controls are simple, solid, and easy to use with indicators as to each switch's function. Too bad the lights are hard to see under certain light.

And fingerprints... man, even though I have an absolute fetish for stainless steel machinery, fingerprints are always a pain. Especially when you gotta photograph the stuff!

Wrap Up

As always, I have to stress this is a First Look only at the Isomac Zaffiro, and there's the possibility that every single thing in this First Look could change by the Detailed Review (not likely, but hey, I have to throw that out there). I'm constantly concerned that people see these First Looks as full reviews, and you cannot properly review these types of products with only a few hours' worth of use over 3 or 4 days.

Still, I like what I see so far. It's an impressive machine, even more so in person. I have one buddy (of several) who is anti "consumer machine" preferring to stick with full commercial machines. He stopped by for a coffee the other day, and was all agog over the Zaffiro. He also made a Star Trek reference :)

Once again, CoffeeGeek would like to thank Chris Coffee Service (website) for their help in getting us this machine for a First Look and Detailed Review. Look for that review in the following months after we give this machine the full torture test.

CoffeeGeek's parent company, WebMotif Net Services, Inc., (website) has done web development business with Chris' Coffee Service in the past. This business relationship has absolutely no bearing on the objectivity or content of this First Look, or the subsequent Detailed Review.
First Look rating: 9.1
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 1, 2002
feedback: (11) comments | read | write
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