Ahh the ECM Giotto. Digging through the alt.coffee archives, it is often mentioned, but few seem to have seen it at first hand. Thereís also massive confusion because pricing here in the US varies widely between distributors. Some ask for nearly twice what others may. Is the low price a stripped down model? Whatís going on here?
Read on, curious coffee hound, and I will tell you my story.
I suppose the mythology behind the Giotto was whipped up to a mighty froth by David Schomerís column at lucidcafe.com. Even though the review doesnít even pretend to be objective, the glowing endorsement by one of the best known espresso gurus in the States, caught the attention of many in the Internet coffee world.
Perusing ECMís website suggests this might really be a great machine. Though they donít say so, itís evident that the Giotto is built around Faemaís E61 gruppo, a component with as stirling a pedigree as any in the espresso world. This heat exchanger machine constantly circulates hot water to the group head to enhance thermal stability and also has a feature which facilitates gradual accumulation of pressure when pulling a shot--in essence pre-infusing the grounds. It also possesses a copper boiler that is nickel-plated and mounted on a brass endplate to further stabilize the machine from wide temperature fluctuations. Surely this looks to be a capable unit suitable for a demanding home user and perhaps even for a low volume professional establishment.
Then thereís the price at Zabarís--$949.98 plus shipping. Next to Salvatore Cisariaís well-respected Famosa Semi-Automatic ($1200) or Pasquiniís Livia ($1200), this is a deal. By features alone, all three of these machines are an even match, and when you can add in a new grinder such as the Mazzer Mini for little more than a Salvatore or Livia by itself, there really isnít a contest. Now thereís been some reasonable hypothesizing that Zabarís price (which is far below the $1600 demanded by some distributors) can only be supported by stripping features or even stripping the branding from the Giotto (as is seen with Pavonis sold by Zabars). In my experience, and the experience of others, this simply isnít the case. The water reservoir is indeed the listed 2.9L, the boiler appears to be the specified 1.8L. Even the badge emblazoned on the front of the machine tells us that this is a bona fide Giotto. The reasons for the huge price disparities are beyond me, but Iím happy to give Zabarís the business if they sell me the real deal for considerably less. I admit though, I would have loved to purchase the same from a dedicated espresso machine dealer who put effort into the sale and support for my machine. I even would have been willing to pay a small premium for that comfort. But in the absence of such a white knight, I placed my order at Zabarís
When unpacking the machine, as one would expect from a semi-commercial unit, one finds that itís exceedingly heavy. Itís apparent that a great deal of this weight comes from the gruppo which protrudes like a snout from the front of the machine. Echoes of the legendary Faema E61. Unlike the vast majority of pump-driven machines, both home and commercial, the group head isnít contained within an overhanging chassis, which explains the large cautionary decal slapped somewhat crookedly on it. Indeed this chunk of brass reportedly weighs more than 4 Kg by itself, providing a sizeable heat sink for the boiler/heat exchanger assembly within.
The machine is entirely metal: chrome-plated brass and polished stainless, with the only plastic found in the valve knobs for the steam and hot water wands, the knob at the end of the pump actuation lever, and the water reservoir. This machine means business in a way that reminds me of an older Porsche 911, a bit brutish, powerful, but handsome all the same. Included are a portafilter for single shots as well as one for doubles.
I canít say much for frilly extras; the manual is a terse, plastic coil-bound affair, no full color packaging or full color manual. The included tamper is deficient in diameter by several mm, there is no included blind filter. I donít mind these omissions as long as the money they skimped on packaging and extras goes into the machine. Still, it seems odd that Iíve never heard of a machine in the "luxury" range of the market coming with a solid metal tamper of suitable diameter.
Belying the anonymous packaging and lack of extras, the Giotto feels solid and well-designed. Since my kitchen is being remodelled, I had the machine delivered to the research lab where I work. Many coworkers appreciate good coffee and find the hospital coffee bar execrable (pity because they have a beautiful La Cimbali), consequently this machine is seeing the equivalent of low volume commercial work. It pulls consecutive shots with aplomb, steams (20 oz Latte Art pitcher used) effortlessly, and, assuming the grind and tamp are proper, pulls beautiful, thick, auburn, sub-27 second shots. It also is quite capable of pulling wretched over-extracted shots that flow like the Nantahala. I do find that adjusting the grind is a daily, if not hourly necessity (even in the relatively stable clime of a lab).
In spite of this I am also reasonably convinced that the Giotto provides a stable platform with which to vary and test the many variables that go into an outstanding espresso. What attracted me to this machine was how uncompromising its engineering is. Iím sure the Giotto is no match for the modified commercial La Marzoccos used at Espresso Vivace, but itís clear that ECM maximized to the hilt their ability to maintain thermal stability in a high-end home setting. I certainly wouldnít have minded a rotary-vane pump or a standard option for plumbing the machine. But I like the Giotto for itís elemental character. It is like a good violin, fly-fishing rod, or golf club, it is highly sensitive to its user, but rewards good technique with rock-solid stability. This quality is the essence of good engineering.
Iíd advise anyone interested in this machine to also search Ken Wilsonís Giotto comparison thread on alt.coffee to see a objective face-off versus a Gaggia Classic.
There is no doubt, even priced competitively, the Giotto is an expensive unit. I donít doubt that many would find as much satisfaction in a Silvia. Nonetheless, if one is willing to pay a premium for a heat-exchanger machine and the Faema E61 gruppo, the Giotto serves admirably.
P.S. I have not tried steaming larger volumes of milk, so canĎt attest to the GiottoĎs reported lack of industrial steaming capacity. Certainly with a 20 oz pitcher, I have to be careful not to scald the milk--it easily exceeds 150F within 30 seconds. Also note that the wand is a two-hole rather than a four-hole wand.
P.P.S. IĎm of the opinion that straight 5 ratings only belong to commercial machines.
Dimensions (WxDxH) 13"x16.8"x13.8"