The Cremina is by far the most perplexing piece of machinery I have ever owned. But after 6 months, I think I've finally mastered it.
Okay first, I'll admit I've pulled quite a few sunk shots starting out. It's sort of a discovery phase. Kind if like riding a bike for the first time. Takes a few falls to figure it all out. But once you get the hang of it, it's actually quite easy, and VERY fun to play with. I think it it's fair to say it's has a learning curve. And how high depends on how quickly you learn. Everyone is different. I'm particularly not physically adept, so it was a high curve for me because I didn't understand it. Ironically, now that I do, it turns out to be very, very forgiving. The harder you try the harder it gets.. It's all very zen.... And how you feel can show up in the cup.
I can say with absolute confidence I'm able to consistently pull shots with this little machine every bit as good as the best coffee shops I visit. But every once in a while I'll make a mind-blowing shot. I think the fun of this machine is that it's not perfect. Or should I say *I'm* not perfect. So consistency is what I strive for. It gives me purpose. It's easy to just walk up and pull a great shot, but we're all after that coveted 'god shot'. When all the variables line up just right, I'm rewarded handsomely with a truly memorable experience.
The machine is incredibly simple to use. You fill it up (watching the site glass on the front), and turn it on. 7 minutes the light goes out. You bleed the false pressure and 2 minutes later it's ready to rock and roll. Less than 10 minutes total from cool water to full steam ready. To make espresso, prepare your PF, mount it, lift slowly, wait a few seconds (6 to be precise) for preinfusion, and proceed with pulling the shot. It is essential to watch the mouse tail to get an optimum flow. The beauty is your inconsistent tamp or grind does not matter that much. As long as you have good distribution of grinds in the filter basket, the flow will be nice and even, and how much pressure you apply dictates the flow rate.
I really really love this machine. So much so that I bought a second one. The first one I restored myself. The second one (the one this review is for, $1400), was completely restored to immaculate condition.
The incredible thing about these machines are they are still highly operational after 30+ years. Both of my machines are produced in the early 80s yet are work perfectly. This is due to the fact that Olympia Express designed the machine to be extremely easy to service. There is no circuitry, just simple electronics. Yet the water temp is extremely precise (It always measured within a degree of optimal temperature range).
The downside to this machine is that it only has a one liter boiler shared boiler. Shared meaning it's dual purpose--the water is used for both steam and brew. Nevertheless if you're just making less than 6 shots, it's no problem.. More than that you'll have to bleed the steam until there's no more pressure so you can open the boiler to add more water. I've not had to do that yet because I only pull shots for myself and the wife.
I find so much joy owning this little machine. The history, the minimalist aesthetic. My wife thinks it's cute, and I would agree :) It takes up very little space on our counter. It is truly for the coffee purist. I own an HG One grinder and I think the two are a perfect match.
Overall if you buy one, be patient. There will be times you will be frustrated and want to give up. Yes it can be THAT hard if you don't have a good grasp of your coffee, your grind, your tamp, and your pull technique. But man, be prepared to have your mind blown. The espresso is just incredible. And the steam? WOW! This thing has very powerful steam. It produces incredibly silky microfroth milk, for lattes on par with coffee shop quality lattes. I am able to steam 4.5fl. oz of milk in about 10 seconds. 4 oz in 7 seconds to a perfect 140 F degrees.
Here is a demonstration of steaming milk for a latte, I filmed for this review. Please pay no attention to the espresso shot. It's instant coffee because I didn't want to waste coffee. Anyway, here it is..
This is one of the greatest machines ever invented. It's fantastically reliable and rewarding to own. How many machines have you owned that you can say the same about? The joy this machine has brought me has earned itself a permanent spot on my counter, and in my life.