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Olympia Cremina - Lance Goffinet's Review
Posted: July 10, 2005, 9:01pm
review rating: 8.4
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
Olympia Cremina
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More About This Product
Arrow The Olympia Cremina has 8 Reviews
Arrow The Olympia Cremina has been rated 9.55 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since May 13, 2003.
Arrow Olympia Cremina reviews have been viewed 73,363 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Ed Bourgeois 8.67
Lance Goffinet 8.38
Daniel Spiegel 8.00
Jan Unold 7.00
Scotty Scott 7.00

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 9.6
Manufacturer: Olympia Express Quality: 10
Average Price: $2,195.00 Usability: 8
Price Paid: $660.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: ebay Aesthetics 10
Owned for: 2 months Overall 10
Writer's Expertise: I live coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Pasquini Livia 90, Saeco Via Venito, Krups Bravo
Bottom Line: Espresso nirvana for a person with the right disposition for a lever machine, and has all of the benifits and few of the drawbacks of other lever machines.
Positive Product Points

Compact Size, very tight smooth opertation, extra-ordinary craftsmenship,  exceptional shot quality and steaming, will pull an excellent shot with a single basket, easy cleanup, pressure relief valve, boiler overheat protection with a thermal reset switch, very little portafilter sneazing, fully heats up for use in about 10 min, 1.8 litre boiler can pull up to 20 double shots between refills, it is a piston only (like the LaPavoni)  lever action (no spring as used in the elektra). The straight piston design can, with enough skill, pull a better shot than the spring loaded piston.  This machine is QUIET!!!--absolutly no noise.

Negative Product Points

Price new $2195, no cup warmer, small drip tray, steep learning curve compared to pump dirven machines, more work to pull a shot, cannot pull a shot and steam at same time without 3 arms, non-commercial group (49mm), it is a piston only (like the LaPavoni)  lever action (no spring as used in the elektra).  The spring is easier to use and more consistent. The portafilter basket sits loose in the holder (*).

Detailed Commentary

Brief History: I started out with a Krups Bravo steam espresso machine and a Braun blade grinder. That lasted about 3 weeks until I upgraded to a Saeco Via Venito and a Capresso 551 grinder(later a Kitchen Aid A-9). I used that for about 1 year. During my research I decided I eventually wanted a lever machine, but decided I better get my sea legs with a good pump machine first.  I found a great deal on a new Pasquini Livia 90 and  2 drawer base for $650.  I purchased a Gaggia MDF grinder to go with it.  I owned my Livia for about 2 years.  I really loved my Livia. I found my Cremina on ebay for $660. The more I use my Cremina the less I miss my Livia. I recently upgraded from my Gaggia MDF to an Anfim Milano/Best. This was an outstanding upgrade.

Click Here (www.coffeegeek.com)

Personal Impressions: My cremina unfortunately did not come with a double filter basket--only a single. I thought that that would be the kiss of death for pulling an exceptional shot. I was wrong (I am ordering a double basket and will update this review when it arrives).*  It pulls a better shot than my Livia ever did and steams well in small pitchers but has problems in large pitchers. The Livia has a lot more steaming power which is more difficult to control, but it can quickly steam large pitchers of milk into micro froth. On the Cremina you have to be dead on to steam using a 17oz pitcher. An 11oz pitcher works really well--the Livia is almost too powerful. And very easy on an 8oz pitcher--almost impossible with the Livia without blocking holes. On a scale of 1 to 10 for steaming. If my Livia was a 10 then  the  Cremina would be a 7. The reverse  would hold for shot quality.

*My double basket and Reg Barber tamper arrived. I now get thicker denser crema and more flavor. The shots are much sweeter than coffee from any other espresso macnine I have tried. I have purchased coffee fresh from a local coffe house that roasts there own northern Italian blend, Cafe Doma's Vito's Blend, and compared a shot of it pulled from there LaMarzocco Linea using a tripple basket and my Cremina using a stock 14 gram basket. Althogh the shot from the Linea was richer the shot from the Cremina was much sweeter.

  • to get the portafilter baskets to fit tightly in the holder I just placed 3 cork pads with adhesive on the back on the inside of the handle. The basket is now very firmly held in place.

Machine Temp: I have not found many of the negative  issues noted with the LaPavoni lever machines  or the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva. I do not have the overheating issue reported by the La Pavoni and Elektra owners. I have been able to pull 8 back to back shots with no loss in shot quality. After that I do run into an overheating situation when the water level in the indicator runs down past about 1/4 from empty.  When the water level runs low all I have to do is shut off the machine, bleed off the boiler pressure with the steam wand, and pour in fresh water. I can then flip on the switch and be ready to go in about 10 min. The casing around the boiler keeps the outside of the machine from getting hot enough to burn you. It does get hot, but not that much hotter than my old Livia 90.

Portafilter Sneezing: No (almost) portafilter sneezing. Most of the time I can remove the portafilter about 15 to 20 seconds after pulling a shot without hot water and grounds shooting out. The only time I get sneezing is when I have over tamped, the grind is too fine, or when I end the shot early because the shot is turning blonde and all of the water from the shot is not through coming out.  

Using the Machine: The Cremina is a piston only (like the LaPavoni) lever action (no spring like in  the Elektra). This requires more skill and time to master than the spring loaded piston machines. This also makes consistency between shots more problematic. With the spring loaded piston machines you pull the lever to compress the spring. The spring pushes the water through the shot. With the straight piston models, you are the sole source of pressure for the shot. Consistency depends solely on your ability to apply steady repeatable pressure each time you pull a shot. The machine is very stable while pulling the lever down. If you need to stabilize it you just grab the cap on top.

My first shots were sour, under extracted, and really watery at the end. I tried grinding finer and this made the shot only harder to pull. The first issue I had to solve was channeling. I was getting water pushing out between the coffee puck and the portafilter basket. Apparently when I was lifting the lever on the machine, I was lifting it too fast and pulling air through the puck breaking the seal between the puck and the basket. I decided to leave the portafilter handle loose until I had lifted the lever about 3/4 the way and then twist it tightly in place. This got rid of the wateriness at the end of the shot. Next, I realized that I was not pulling hard enough. When you are used to using a pump machine pressure is a constant. You do not have to think about it. Once I started applying more pressure to the lever (you can also pull too hard), I began to be rewarded with increasingly better shots as I dialed in the grind and pressure. I have discovered a very reliable way to pull consistent shots with this machine. You should get thick rich crema oozing out like warm honey.

1) fill the machine with low mineral content water (softened) and turn on
2) after about 5 min open the steam wand to let some pressure out. This will help the machine heat up faster by eliminating false water pressure.
3) after about 10 min bleed the machine again
4) carefully pull a blank shot into your shot glass(s) to heat up the portafilter and glass. Lift the lever slowly until water just dribbles out.
5) grind your coffee and dose the portafilter (coffee freshness is very important)
6) Tamp
7) place the portafilter in the group head loosely and lift the handle about 3/4 the way or until water just starts to drizzle out and lock in the portafilter. This will keep the vacuum generated by lifting the piston from breaking the seal between the puck and the filter basket.
8) Active pre-infusion-- lift the lever to the top to begin the counting for the 10 second active pre-infusion (start counting as soon as the piston begins filling).  Begin pulling down on the lever. The first 1/4 will have almost no resistance. As soon as you begin feeling resistance lift the lever and pull down until you feel resistance. Repeat this a couple of more times. It should feel like the piston is pumping up. The ideal is for resistance to start a short distance from the top of the stroke or just below the point where water enters the group when lifting the lever. This will pre-infuse the coffee and fill in the empty air void in the puck with water making a second pull to get a 2oz double unnecessary. Ideally I like to see just a drip of fluid at the end of the 10 seconds.
9) At the end of the 10 second active pre-infusion apply consistent and even pressure. What good pressure ultimately means will have to be discovered with experience, but it should move smoothly without having to force the lever down. Maintain even pressure throughout the stroke. The shot time should be close to that of a pump machine. You should see warm brown honey slowly flowing out.  Ideally the shot should fill the shot glass with thick crema from top to bottom that retains a thick head for several minutes <see videos below>.
10) enjoy

Here is a video of the whole shot pulling process as well as 3 videos of what a good shot pulled from this machine looks like.

Parts are easy to get. Just email or call 1st-line coffee--http://www.1st-line.com or 1.888.933.5947.

You can view the modern version, get information, and parts the the Olympia websight in Switzerland. http://www.olympia-express.ch/


Quality of Product: Italian design and Swiss precision craftsmenship at its best. A "10" is a no brainer

Usability: The only thing that keeps this score from being a 10 is the very thing that makes it a great machine--the lever. Learning and using a lever machine is hard work compared to a pump machine. For as much as the usability score suffers, the payoff in great coffee is more than compensated for. I wish I could give it a score of 15 for shot quality to compensate for my score of "8" in this category. This is scored by a comparison with my Livia 90. Compared to tow other levers I own, the Gaggia Factory 51mm and the LaPavoni Europiccola 49mm, I would give the Cremina a 10, the Factory an 8, and the Europiccola a 7. The Factory has a pressurestat and the Europiccola has an external pressure relief valve that is kind of a drag.

Cost vs. Value: This is a tough one. I really struggled with this score.  $660 for a used machine would be a 10+++. However, I believe the score needs to be based on a new machine price. A machine that costs about $2200. You can get a great pump machine for about half and a good lever machine for less than half. Still, I am giving the machine a "10" , and here is why. Besides the quality of the craftsmenship, you would have to spend at least $4000 for a comercial machine to even approach the shot quality and steaming of this machine. I think that makes this a very good value for the money.

Aesthetics: When I first opened up the box with my Cremina and placed it next to my Livia I though, thats it. It is so small and looked almost like a toy. I would have given it an 8 and my livia a 10. Now that the initial shock of the size has worn off I have found that the machines beauty is in its fine craftsmenship and in its simplicity. It is a really beautiful machine at so many levels. It just lacks the flash of my Livia and some other machines. So, I give it a 10. If you like flash, you may rate it lower.

Overall Rating: I believe that in this rating you can compinsate for low scores, like my score of 8 in Usability, that would paint an unfair picture of a superior machine being rated lower than a lesser machine  with a higher score. I believe that the thing that matters most here is performance. You may have to work a little harder to get that performance, but the payoff is payed off in spades. I really wish that this review could give this machine a perfect total score of 10. But usability is an important factor, and a lever machine can't help but suffer in this category. So, I am glad I am able to give it a "10" in this Overall Rating" category. The other scores are helpful in painting a picture. To me this is the really telling score as to how good the machine really is.

Conclusion: I have finally reached espresso nirvana with my Cremina. I totally resonate with this machine. I really get it.  It took me about 3 days to get my espresso to run out of the portafilter like dark reddish brown striped warm honey--and that is with a singe filter basket. This visceral and tactile involvement in the complete process of pulling each shot makes each shot more special and a personal expression of the barista. The smoothness and sweetness is unlike anything I have tried to date--if I don't count the espresso made in the Mirage Triplette at Cafe Doma in Coeur D'Alene Idaho.  Any misgivings I may have had about being up to the task are gone and all of my best hopes have been realized. Currently I cannot ask for anything more--in an espresso machine. I would only consider upgrading to a commercial one group lever machine.

  • If you would like a detailed description on how to use the Cremina with pictures see my post at:

http://www.home-barista.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=498. To see a cremina tore down and rebuilt all blinged out custom see Steves Review: http://www.home-barista.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=464

** I just picked up an Anfim Best at a yard sale. It is one step up in the Anfim linup from the Anfim Haus/Pasquini Moka. I now get almost twice the crema and richer flavor.

See my review:
Click Here (www.coffeegeek.com)

Buying Experience

I  had a great purchasing experience buying the machine on ebay. The seller responded to my emails in a timely and informative manner. My Cremina arrived in great condition in 3 days.

Three Month Followup

I could not be happier with me Cremina.  You could not pry it out of my cold dead hands. I have had opportunity to compare it with many commercial machines. I have owned a Pasquini Livia 90 and currently own a Gaggia Factory, and a Europiccola. These machines do not even come close to my Cremina.  The only machines that consistently do as well or better are the LaMarzocco Linea and GS/3, and the Mirage Classic and Idrocompresso.

One Year Followup

I could not be happier with me Cremina.  You could not pry it out of my cold dead hands. I have had opportunity to compare it with many commercial machines. I have owned a Pasquini Livia 90 and currently own a Gaggia Factory, and a Europiccola. These machines do not even come close to my Cremina.  The only machines that consistently do as well or better are the LaMarzocco Linea and GS/3, and the Mirage Classic and Idrocompresso.

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review rating: 8.4
Posted: July 10, 2005, 9:01pm
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