Excellent machine that will likely last forever (or a close facsimile thereof).
Positive Product Points
Makes excellent espresso. Foams milk easily and well. Looks great. Ruggedly built.
Negative Product Points
Small water supply. Surface of cup holder tilts forward, making it possible for cups to fall off from top.
I looked long and hard at the various options before going with Isomac. Read all the other reviews and only saw two potential problems - the guages had a seemingly high failure rate and the water tank was small. Much positive feedback of ChrisCoffee got me looking to them as the supplier. I figured if a guage broke Chris would be there to replace it. He also does a direct plumb option which solved the small reservoir concern.
I was originally thinking of spending something on the order of $300-$400 for the machine and $125 for the grinder. Long perusal of the archives convinced me that if I liked what I was making I'd soon have upgrade fever and so I decided to shortcut that whole aspect by jumping up to a higher level of machine from the start. I figure I'll have saved money in the long run and gotten better espresso while doing so if usage matches expectations. So I ended up with the Rituale and a Mazzer Mini.
I'm happy that I went with ChrisCoffee, as most seem to be. Chris definitely spent a lot of time speaking with me when I first called up and afterwards as well. I had some issues with the hookup (RO system) and he was responsive to my concerns. The people working for him are uniformly friendly and helpful.
I went with the Rituale because my wife and I thought it looked a bit nicer than the Tea and I liked having the dual pressure readout (which the Millenium lacks). I imagine that they all make equivalently good espresso and foam - pretty much just a style call. The machine is easy to use. The water tray is large and trivially easy to empty. Taking off the grate, emptying the water and replacing both pieces takes about 10 seconds. I can definitely understand why others have complained about having to refill the tank. I've looked at it and can see that at the rate I'm using water I'd be filling it often. The direct plumb option obviates any need to do that and also means that I don't worry at all about how much water I'm using when flushing the head. Highly recommended thing to do as far as I'm concerned. Trivially easy to do as well. Chris attached the internals (charges a bit less than $100) and supplies the John Guest plastic fittings that are basically plug and play (plug the tubing into the fitting and start playing).
I haven't yet even come close to getting burned on the machine; must be all the warnings I read. The exposed head is certainly too hot to grab but touching it briefly doesn't cause a problem. The dual guage is quite nifty. You access the boiler pressure adjustment (top dial) through an access hole in the top plate. Small clockwise turn reduces pressure. Mine came at 1.3 bar and I brought it down to 1.1 - helps me microfoam. The bottom dial indicates pump pressure. It's interesting to flip the lever and then watch the guage. It'll go up just a bit as the head preinfuses for the first five seconds. Then it'll jump to 8.5-9.5 bars as the flow commences. Fun to watch and a nice indicator of how good (or bad) your grind/tamp is.
The clearance beneath the group is pretty much fine. I have no problem getting whatever cups underneat the head that I want. The only constraint I found is that 2 12 oz cups (Apilco Tres Grande) don't allow the lever to be flipped down - the right cup has to be moved. But, seeing as I've stopped using them anyway (too big for my milk drinks) that's become a non-problem.
Let's see, what else? The guage does NOT get wet (which I thought might be an issue). The mesh the cups sit on is stainless steel, easy to remove and rinse, and looks good. The extra little steel insert in the ends of the portafilter handles looks nice. Not a big deal but attractive. The frother wand is large, easy to position and works well. Comes with the 2-hole tip. I've noticed that it's very hard (almost impossible) to keep the knurls on the tip from filling with brownish milk residue. The only way I can remove it is by scrubbing with a bamboo skewer.
I truly enjoy how easy it is to whip up an espresso, Americano or milk drink at a moment's notice. The unit is designed for 24/7 operation and that means there's no need to plan ahead at all. I find that when I get bored of typing in my office, I'll just pop up and pull a double, just to practice my latte art (and it needs practice, believe me). My wife wasn't sure if we'd still need to keep a regular coffee machine but since seeing how easy it is to make an Americano (and how good they are) she's happy as a clam at high tide to have just the Rituale in the kitchen.
There is a minor problem area though, one which I've read is being addressed. I noticed almost immediately that the top of the unit isn't flat - it slopes down toward the front. Not a huge slope but enough that my cups slowly inch forward on their own when the machine vibrates. I've caught several that were projecting far off the edge but not quite far enough to fall off. I notified Chris who notified Italy. According to another CoffeeGeek member Isomac has opted to make 50 new tops and Chris is going to then ship them to owners. This is secondhand information at this point so I guess you'll have to wait for the 3 month followup to hear the outcome. For now I've got a stick of bamboo extending across the front to fence the cups in.
You'll note that I gave it an 9 in aesthetics. Personal call. I think it looks great but the Micro Casa looks better to me. So I'd give that a 10 and this a 9. In quality I gave it a 9 because within a couple of weeks I had a leak (or, more accurately, I had it from the start) and the circuit board died, making a trip back to Chris necessary. This is the same thing that reduced the price/value rating. As you'll note, I gave it an overall of 9 because I am still very, very positive on it. The leak was due to the overflow outlet plumbing being done not quite perfectly and the fact that the machine died due to a dead circuit board is likely just a random failure. Unfortunate but hopefully just a small bump on the road. I can't allocate a 10 as that would mean perfection and, although I'm completely satisfied, it hasn't been perfect.
Very easy. I'm very happy that I went with Chris. I did so based on reviews on this website. When the unit conked out they made sure UPS came by the next day, fixed it promptly and sent it back. I'm currently waiting for it (6 days to go). So I give the buying and post-purchase experience a big thumbs up.
Three Month Followup
Over the last three months my wife and I have made the Rituale a part of our life but a couple of operational failures have caused some bumps on the road of espresso joy. All started from my noticing a very small drip from the machine. After taking the outer shell off it appeared to be due to an insufficiently secure plumbing connection. Put the machine together and it failed to start. After troubleshooting on the phone with Chris' Coffee tech, it was concluded that the circuit board was bad. Machine packed up and sent back. Fixed and returned. And, almost immediately, another failure. This time I did the testing here in CA while speaking with Chris' tech on the phone. They deduced that the switch was bad and sent a new one. Didn't do the trick. Concluded that the circuit board was, again, the culprit. They sent a new one. Coffee machine back in operation. Good. Almost perfect. The only remaining problem was that the top of the new Rituale sloped forward and allowed cups to fall off the top warming surface, aided by the vibrations of the machine. Chris contacted Isomac and was told it wasn't a problem in Europe. Perhaps gravity points in a different direction over there. Nonetheless, Isomac redesigned the top and promised replacement ones for early adopters. Eventually retrofit parts were made available, shipped to me, and didn't work - the details of the top had been changed and the modified pieces didn't fit mine. So an entirely new top piece was shipped which finally solved the problem of the falling cups.
What's my conclusion? That if you're buying something carried by Chris' Coffee - buy it from him. I can easily imagine another vendor shrugging his shoulders at the sloping top problem and suggesting I live with it. And I can also visualize much more hassles with regard to the multiple electronic failure, both in time and frustration. Chris has lots of parts immediately available, including circuit boards. A different vendor might have had to get a new one shipped from Europe. With Chris there was no wait. Well, except for the postal service, that is. Chris' Coffee really does strive to do everything they can in order to make the customer happy. I went with them, even though they're on the opposite coast from me, and have been very happy I did so.
Now, what about the coffee? The few weeks we were separated from the machine illustrated just how expected a part of our daily routine it had become. The machine allows me to make excellent espresso - so good that we have a very hard time ordering espresso at a restaurant anymore. It may be that an even better experience could be had with a double-boiler machine but, if so, I doubt the difference would be more than marginal. The Rituale has proven very easy to tweak. I've turned the steam pressure way down, way up and am currently happy at 1.1 bar. Trivial to modify in order to experiment with what's best for latte art steaming.
I'm not thrilled with the amount of water that collects in the drip tray. The drip tray is very large and yet it fills fast. This is because Chris modified my machine for direct plumbing and all the water that normally gets diverted to the internal tank gets dumped into the drip tray. Needs emptying quite regularly. I am also surprised at how much water needs to be flushed through the E61 head. 10-12 ounces is needed to get the temp down to espresso levels. Without this flush it's at 210 degrees. I've read how some only flush 6 ounces but that's definitely insufficient for my machine.
The manufacturing tolerances aren't superb. The discharge nozzle doesn't actually direct the water into the drip tray but rather onto the tray. Chris sent some silicon tubing that I installed to redirect the flow but it would have been nice if the nozzle actually emptied into the drip tray to start with. The top grid doesn't easily slip into place but has to be muscled into position. Simply a case of imperfect sizing of the metal. The chrome is starting to wear off on the edges of the portafilters - don't know if this is happening faster or slower than usual. Our usage is about 8 cups per day. Maintenance has been easy - I back flush regularly and do a detergent backflush once a month. The hot water spigot is nice. I use it occasionally to make an Americano and when I'm making a dessert coffee it's a convenient way to add a touch of hot water to a gob of chocolate syrup to make it more liquidy. But 95 percent of the time all I use is the E61 and steamer.
I have found that the steaming speed depends very strongly on the pressure. I had lowered it to 0.9 bar after reading some posts that recommended this level and noticed that the steaming time got VERY long. At 1.1 bar the steaming is quick. Much depends on how much milk is being steamed and, as already mentioned, it's easy to experiment by altering the pressure.
The Rituale gets big compliments from visitors, both for the appearance and for the quality of the espresso drinks. It's fun to make someone a good latte and have them ask why it is sweet and full rather than bitter and dry, even though no sugar was added. One by one I'm able to demonstrate to my friends the difference between Starbucks and "real" espresso drinks.
So, overall I'm still a happy camper. All of the serious problems were dealt with quickly by Chris' Coffee and the remaining issues aren't a big deal. I may modify the top grid one of these days but for now I'll just continue to practice my latte art and enjoy my espresso.