This machine is a tremendous step-up from my previous unit, which was an old Saeco/Estro Profi, bought from Starbucks many years ago. So... understandably my review is going to be pretty positive.
Why replace the Saeco machine? If you have to ask, you shouldn't be looking at $2000 espresso machines. But the question does have a reasonable answer: I wanted a more consistent espresso, and I wanted to be able to steam and pull espresso at the same time. Also I wanted to buy a better grinder, rather than use the one that came integrated in the Saeco.
So what does one need for consistent espresso? I am no expert, but as far as I can tell, the important factors revolve around consistent temperature, consistent water pressure, plus a consistent grind, dose, and tamp. I was getting none of these things with my Saeco machine.
One thing I wanted to avoid was buyer's remorse. Buyer's remorse comes in two flavors: paying too much, or not buying enough machine. I wanted to avoid both situations. Frankly, since I wanted to buy the end-all machine to last me several decades, I was more concerned about getting the right machine, rather than paying too much money. I'm all about "doing it right the first time." Once I've done my research and found the right machine, I don't want to have to do it all over again. I'd rather spend that kind of energy on a totally new toy.
So... one of my check-boxes was that the machine had to have a rotary pump. Rotary pumps are quieter, and they help in the consistency department, and in the bragging-rights department. If I'm going to spend the big bucks on a machine, I want to feel that I haven't compromised. A rotary pump was important in this regard.
Here are all the rotary-pump machines that I know of that will still fit under my kitchen cabinets:
It's a pretty short list.
The LaCimbali machine, of course, tops the list in both price and prestige. It's also apparently exceedingly easy to service, with parts easy to access, and parts easy to source. However I didnít like its looks very much, and I definitely didnít like its price-tag. Sure, it will have a high re-sale value, but I donít intend on selling for a long long time. Also, at this price, one might expect a dual-boiler, which the Junior lacks.
The Bezzera BZ40 was very tempting, partly because I own an Alfa Romeo, and Bezzera, like Alfa, adopted one of the symbols of Milan as part of their trademark. Iím talking about the image of the serpent eating a man. Being a devout Alfisti, this serpent appealed to me. But I was still intrigued by the dual-boiler concept. So, the BZ40 was out.
The two remaining machines, the LaSpaziale and the Reneka machines, both have dual boilers. I have to say I know very little about the Reneka machine. I was, however, beginning to get to know the LaSpaziale machine pretty well, largely by reading reviews on CoffeeGeek. Also, I noticed that several ďbirth defectsĒ were being attended to, largely by Chris of Chrisí Coffee: a software bug was fixed, screws were tightened down, a better steam wand was included, etc. To me, this meant the machine was Ďmaturing.í Also, I noticed that Chris was retrofitting machines already in the field with these fixes. Noticing this service, plus enjoying several e-mails and telephone conversations with Chris, gave me confidence in Chrisí Coffee. Since Chris doesnít sell the Reneka, and I knew nothing about it anyway, I finally settled on the LaSpaziale S1. I paired it with a MACAP grinder.
I bought the plumbing and filtering kits from Chris, and installed the machine. Then I spent some time screwing with the grind/dose/tamp until the espresso flowed properly.
The dual-boiler is fantastic. If I only want espresso, I can turn on ONLY the group boiler, and leave the much larger steam boiler off. In ten minutes or so the water is up to temperature. Iíd say in 15 minutes or so everything is all pretty much hot and ready to go. Also, owing to the completely separate boilers, the temperature of the group boiler can be set exactly, to the nearest degree Celcius. I found that I liked 96 degrees, 1 degree above the default, since I like my espresso really hot, and the extra degree didnít seem to make the coffee any more bitter. The point here is that one can really screw around and experiment. And there are some real adjustment-freaks out there: you know who you are! I certainly know who you are. Iíve read your insane articles!
The steam boiler takes about 10 minutes to heat-up. In the 20A version, the two boilers can heat-up together. Turning-on the steam nozzle, it takes just a few seconds for the wand to stop spitting, and the steam to come-out dry. For me, the 2.5L capacity is plenty. One annoying thing: there is a cooling fan for the triac which powers the steam boiler heating element. If you want to leave your steam boiler on all the time, youíll hear the whirring fan coming on and off all day. Itís not particularly loud, but itís noticeable.
The portafilters are great. Theyíre big and heavy. The heft gives me a real sense of quality. And the group is bolted securely. The group and the portafilter together clearly provide a big chunk of metal for superb thermal stability. I went looking for thermal stability, and I found it with this machine. And with the consistent grind and dosing of the MACAP grinder, Iím achieving very consistent espresso. It comes out exactly the same every single time I use it, with spectacular crema. The system, possibly owing to the rotary pump, is apparently quite forgiving to variations in the tamp. I donít have a calibrated arm so I canít guarantee totally consistent tamp pressure! While I can still screw-up the pull with ridiculously light or heavy tamp pressure, any medium pressure seems to work just fine.
Iím still fussing with the volume of the pull. The S1 has a flowmeter and automatically adjusts the pull. Still, it can be calibrated, and Iíve been fooling around with it.
Why did I give ďaestheticsĒ and ďquality of productĒ only 8ís? Because of how the plastic panels are affixed. They're not particularly securely fastened, particularly along the backside. The design probably does allow for faster disassembly for service, but the looseness of the panels caused me some initial concern. Also, I noticed something rattling around inside. I peered inside, and found that a huge condenser (a big white cylinder, a large capacitor, probably wired across the pump terminals) was just rolling around in there, not secured to anything. Iím still a bit worried about it. And finally, in a darkened room, the LEDs on the front panel glow dimly, even when theyíre supposed to be off. It doesnít give me a strong feeling of confidence about the electronic design. Time will tell whether the design is long-term reliable.
Why didnít I give ďusabilityĒ a 10? Because, if I only want the group boiler on, I canít just turn it on alone. When I power it up, BOTH boilers turn-on. Then I have to turn the steam boiler OFF. Why should this bother me? Because often the water valve will click-on to fill the steam boiler. When I turn the steam boiler off, the water valve closes. I donít like this unnecessary valve opening and closing. Itís an issue of long-term reliability.