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La Spaziale S1 - Steve Patriquen's Review
Posted: July 2, 2009, 2:14am
review rating: 6.3
feedback: (1) comments | read | write
La Spaziale S1
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More About This Product
Arrow The La Spaziale S1 has 68 Reviews
Arrow The La Spaziale S1 has been rated 9.31 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since February 18, 2004.
Arrow La Spaziale S1 reviews have been viewed 361,048 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Chas Rimpo 9.36
Michael Wolfson 8.76
Derek Sherman 8.46
Wolfgang Gaggl 8.30
Martin Lipton 8.22

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 8.6
Manufacturer: La Spaziale Quality: 9
Average Price: $1,895.00 Usability: 9
Price Paid: $1,800.00 Cost vs. Value 8
Where Bought: HasBean Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 6 months Overall 9
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Expobar Office Control
Bottom Line: Fantastic machine - pick your supplier carefully - and avoid the crazy drain kit
Positive Product Points

Solid dual-boiler performer. Makes great coffee!

Negative Product Points

While the machine itself is well thought out, extras like the drain kit and timer appear to be sourced from Army Surplus

Detailed Commentary

I won't go into too much detail on the machine itself as it's well-known here. No problems right out of the box. This is the 230 volt Euro model. I've plumbed it into a water filter system. I replaced the steam wand with a longer no-burn arm almost immediately. I also raised the machine on slightly taller legs (actually two hard rubber doorstops back to back with a trimmed 6mm bolt holding them on) as the OEM legs don't give the drain kit much space.

I have the machine sitting on a Rancilio base/drawer/knockbox. I'm tall and it puts the machine at a good height for me and also makes for less clutter on the counter. I'd say the S1 is a bit heavy for this base, but it is pretty solid (welded stainless steel) and no problems so far.

My Expobar had come with a drain kit (also with a plain tray, which was nice) and I like the convenience. As noted, the S1 tends to drip a bit (not consistently) so your drip tray can get pretty full without you noticing.

The Expobar drain kit was simple, elegant and effective. Imagine my surprise at the La Spaziale concoction. First, it's a whole new tray (hence the steep price - about $200) when all you'd need to do is drill a hole in the existing plastic tray (which, in retrospect, probably would have been better). The drain kit itself attaches to the machine base, not the tray, so on the plus side it is still simple to remove the tray for cleaning. On the minus side, the attachment is a tiny "cup" which screws to the base from the bottom - volume about one ounce/25ml.

Now, this tiny cup is where a lot of coffee grounds end up. And they stay there. So every now and then, you need to clean this (a mini toilet plunger should be included :-) or it backs up. Another problem with the small size of the cup is that the water doesn't have much pressure, so ANY restriction in the drain, like a high or low spot that allows water to collect, will stop the flow (well, it flows out OK onto the counter :-)

The drain kit comes with a ribbed 15mm diameter black hose. It's quite stiff, so bending it through a hole in the counter (it is a *drain* after all) creates the aforementioned high spot and it doesn't work. So you need to source some 15mm right-angle plastic fittings. I finally found some in South Africa...

It's probably best to plumb in the drain with rigid plastic pipe and use as little of the provided hose as possible. Continuing with the drain kit - the standard drip tray has a sort of "waffle" pattern molded into the base. This is probably to add some rigidity and perhaps act as a baffle while you schlep it to the sink. But on the model with drain, all these baffles do is keep it from draining. So even with the drain kit, you have standing water in the machine drip tray. I was worried about malarial mosquitoes breeding (just kidding) so I took the trusty Dremel and cut channels in the baffles. In retrospect, I should have saved my money and drilled a hole in the OEM tray, then added a drain made of tubing and John Guest push-on fittings. It would have been much better, and easier to disconnect for moving the machine.

So, I can't recommend buying the drain kit. It's a poorly-designed afterthought. If you really need a functional drain, make your own, as I did with my Pasquini Livia 90. That machine has a tiny, shallow drip tray and yet the drain I made for it works better than the OEM La Spaziale kit. Avoid.

My second comment is about the special machine timer. You can't use a regular timer on the S1 - it will only power up in Standby - not "On". So your only choice is the OEM timer kit. It's more expensive than you'd expect, but considering the size of the market and compared to the drain kit, it's a steal. And it actually works! Eventually, in my case.

Most of you are fortunate enough to live in the USA, where you are served by the indomitable Chris Nachtrieb at Chris' Coffee. Lucky you. My retailer is great guy (Stephen Leighton, HasBean) and has made every effort to help me along the way. He provides great service and excellent value.

Unfortunately, the UK market for high-end coffee machines is a lot smaller than the USA's. Heck, ten years ago you couldn't find a decent espresso in this country. Hence, the experience with any one machine's foibles is more limited. My problems started when I couldn't get the timer to do anything.

Now, in the USA, Chris would have installed and tested your timer before shipping. In my case, because it was simpler to ship my machine directly from the UK importer, I got a box (eventually...) and then a timer in another box with no instructions. Turns out the machines are built with the timer cord inside, you just need to pull it out and attach the timer.

Hmmm - I used to work on $2 million high-tech, high voltage equipment, but I normally expect consumer-friendly stuff to be straightforward. In this case, you actually need to disassemble the timer case to thread the cable in. I guess an external socket was too hard to waterproof. Not that there is so much as a grommet on the cable, so it doesn't really matter...

OK, so I installed the timer and powered the machine up again. Doh! There is a switch inside under the top plate which is labeled ON/OFF. That switch "enables" the timer. I had forgotten that switch, so I took out the single screw holding the top plate and flipped it (with my toaster tongs :-)

But my timer wouldn't work. I won't get into the timer programming sequence - suffice to say Italy will not be putting men on the moon any time soon. But even after I figured that out (with help from the S1 Cafe forum) and my timer looked like all was well... my machine just sat there. The timer did nothing. I checked the cable, reprogrammed it 20 or 30 times... nada!

Well, after much head scratching and calls for help, Chris Nachtrieb rode to my rescue. When I flipped the "enable" switch, the machine was off, but plugged in (as it is a plumbed in, drained system, the power is also under the counter). The way the S1 works, it has to power up from nothing (i.e. be unplugged) with the timer installed AND the internal switch ON to "see" the timer. Problem solved. That only took me two or three months of fiddling. Thinking back, if we had suffered a power failure during that time, it probably would have "fixed" itself.

BTW - the lithium battery in the timer allows it to keep its program when the power is off. Like all these button backup batteries, it will someday go dead and need replacing. The battery in my timer is spot-welded in - just to make life a bit more difficult down the road.

Buying Experience

Stephen Leighton and HasBean are great. Chris Nachtrieb is a hero. Both are very responsive. I don't want to brag, but I have four coffee machines on three continents and I try and keep my "local" business local. (Anyone looking for help in Cape Town can check out Allan at Roastwell). I can't thank Chris enough for his help (in this and other coffee matters).

That brings us to the distributor and manufacturer. In the case of the UK La Spaziale distributor - is it possible to award negative points? I couldn't even find a current photograph of the machine, to start with (I would have preferred it had a steam lever instead of knob). I was hoping I could see a machine in London (hey, eight million people, there must be one somewhere) and they pointed me to Jim Hoffmann, who had some sort of setup but he was obviously very busy and it just never happened. (He did try and help.)

When they did ship the machine (it came direct from the distributor) it was an all-too-typical UK delivery cock-up, with a guaranteed delivery not even happening on the agreed day. As mentioned, they didn't bother to install the timer (or provide instruction). When I called them, it was s unreal conversation where the guy on the phone was actually giving directions to someone on another line at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking. ("My machine didn't show up." "Really?... NO! LEFT at the roundabout!") They could have called back.

I later ran into the principals (of La Spaziale UK) at a coffee industry show, and got the distinct impression that they would prefer consumers to Just-Go-Away - that prosumer interest in the S1 was  pain in the you-know-where and that their business plan was built on selling multiple units to commercial users. Bottom line - not prepared (at least at that time) to provide service to individual consumers. I know, that's what retailers are for, but they also need the support behind them.

BTW - I also e-mailed La Spaziale directly about the timer issue. I'm still waiting to hear back, but I'm not that hopeful. As with my other machine experiences, I find Italian manufacturers are quite introverted. Their English websites are frequently difficult to navigate and e-mails are often not replied to. Expobar seems better (but then, they are not Italian).

I suspect it is both a language issue and the fact that it's an Italian business. Who cares about a few machines int he UK when you have hundreds - maybe thousands - in Italy?

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Posted: July 2, 2009, 2:14am
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