Having owned a Rancilio Silvia for several years (apparently a common characteristic of Andreja owners), I was used to good espresso when I started thinking of a suitable upgrade. My search was all over the field: Isomac to Pasquini to Wega to the gorgeous Rancilio Epoca. After admitting I couldnít afford the Epoca, I leaned toward Isomac. However, even with the bargain prices offered at the time, I just couldnít work up enough enthusiasm to actually purchase one.
The supply of Isomacs ran out and then I found the Andreja. It has everything you could ask for: E-61 grouphead, insulated boiler, good looks, solid construction, and quality hardware. The good reputation of Chrisí Coffee was an important part of the attraction as well. Iím not inclined to muck about among the internals of an appliance, so having a reliable vendor standing behind the machine was necessary for peace of mind.
Making espresso with the Andreja is a joy. Learning about boiler pressure and brew pressure (there are gauges for each) has added to the pleasure. The machine does appear to be rather sensitive to minor changes in grind, tamp pressure, and the amount of grounds. An earlier review of the Andreja mentions the same thing. However, I suspect part of that is due to the presence of the brew pressure gauge. It makes otherwise undetectable differences noticeable. In any case, getting consistent results (between 8 and 9 Bar on the gauge per Chrisís instructions) takes some work. My results, even if not always consistent, are far better than those I got with the Silvia.
Being a devotee of cappuccino, the ability to steam milk well is important to me. The Rancilio did a good job of frothing milk, but the Andreja does a great job. The large bore stay-cool steam nozzle was intimidating at first with its industrial-strength bulk (visions of the milk pitcher shooting across the kitchen), but in no time I was frothing milk like a pro. In fact, it seems that the more powerful the jet of steam, the more control you have over the results. My frothing technique is to get the milk good and roiling and then let the steam nozzle just skim the milkís surface. The agitation of the milk means the nozzle repeatedly slips in and out of the milk and creates the staccato ďsush-sushĒ indicative of good froth formation. The big bore of the Andrejaís steam nozzle and its powerful steam generation make this process easy. Further, with the Rancilio, the temperature of the milk never made a great deal of difference in its frothability (if thatís a word). With the Andreja, however, chilling the milk improves the production of microfroth immensely. The colder the better.
Other reviews mention the inconvenience of adding water to the unit. My suggestion is to avoid storing cups on top of the machine. That way you can simply pull off the top and pour the water into the fully exposed reservoir. Otherwise you have to resort to using the small port on the rear of the machine which is way too small and inaccessible for my clumsy self. I advise the full exposure technique especially if you practice the E-61 flush because youíll be adding a lot of water to this machine.
I must admit I was somewhat ambivalent at first about the unitís chrome finish. I liked the brushed stainless steel look of the Rancilio and thought the much larger Andreja would overwhelm the kitchen with its fully chrome exterior. In fact, chrome is a much more utilitarian finish than is stainless steel in that it is easier to keep clean and shiny. A wipe down with a wet rag and a brief polish with a dry rag is all the Andreja needs to look its best.
If youíve read the other Andreja reviews, youíll know about the E-61 grouphead, the large drip pan, and all the other features I wonít bother repeating here. Suffice it to say if youíre making bad espresso, itís not the machineís fault.
Look and Feel
By now probably everyone knows what this machine looks like, but pictures do not do it justice. It has presence. I still pine after the sensuous Epoca, but with its E-61 grouphead jutting out for all to admire, and its thick chrome spread over all surfaces, the Andreja is winning me over.
To my way of thinking, the ritual of espresso-making is as important as the espresso itself. The routine of weighing, grinding, tamping, steaming, and so forth is a pleasant exercise that satisfies more the better you get at it. Itís part performance too: making good espresso is an uncommon talent. Sharing your skillóand the resultówith friends is gratifying.
Central to the enjoyment of the ritual is the use and appreciation of fine equipment. Espresso making is no different than any other enthusiasm. A Leica camera takes the same photos a Minolta does, but the Leicaís highly engineered precision and fabulous quality make picture taking more enjoyable for knowledgeable photographers. The pleasure of using superior equipment is something enthusiasts are willing to pay extra for.
If youíre willing to pay over $1,000 for an espresso machine, then you qualify as an enthusiast. That means youíre looking for a machine with superior characteristics. The Andreja qualifies. Its performance is well documented here and elsewhere. What isnít reported on is the superior look and feel of the machine. Beyond its espresso- making performance, what is it like to use?
My morning begins by firing up the Andreja. The heavy duty toggle switch gives an authoritative snap when flipped on, the green and red jewel lens lights shine brightly, and the pump switches on briefly. Give it a half hour and youíre in for some serious espresso. The machine is solid enough so that manipulating its controls and manhandling the portafilter doesnít push it around on the counter. With the Andreja you can indulge in your professional barista fantasies.
The portafilter is solid and has a handle substantial enough to offer good grip and excellent leverage. Itís a serious tool, the kind you should expect of a semi-pro machine in the Andrejaís price category. Unfortunately, the wire clip holding the basket in the portafilter is stiff enough to require mechanical help in getting the basket outónot convenient. The activator lever gets plenty hot so be careful to grab only the handle. Its action is smooth and precise. Throwing a lever somehow seems more barista-like and satisfying than just pushing a button (like on the Silvia). Maybe because it offers more control, like the serious driver who eschews an automatic transmission for a manual. Of particular note are the steam and hot water valves. I suspect they come off of a commercial unit because they are oversized and easy to adjust. Being able to get a full hand grip on the steam valve allows for precise regulation of flow which, when steaming milk, results in superior microfroth. The valve is of a design that does not require tightening down to shut off the flow of steam. Iím not sure how it works, but I suspect this design minimizes wear and tear on the valve mechanicals and makes for longer, more reliable service.
Of course, the feature that, literally, stands out the most on the Andreja is the E-61 grouphead. Like the big nose on the new Audis, you either love this feature or you hate it. If you agree with the notion that ďform follows function,Ē then the Andrejaóbig schnozola and allóis a handsome piece of industrial design. You have to show some respect for the E-61: itís a big, heavy chrome plated heat sink and boy does it get hot. Your espresso-making technique will have to include dodging the grouphead as you maneuver unless you plan on keeping a healthy supply of burn salve on hand. The care and feeding of the E-61 grouphead is documented on the Chrisí Coffee web site.
Finally, I think of the Andreja like I do my JBL L200s. I bought these incredible speakers back in the Ď70s for a rather large sum at the time. I never regretted it because even now, the only way to improve on their sound is to invest a truly huge amount of money. Similarly, I suppose you can get a ďbetterĒ machine than the Andreja, but youíll have to write a really big check to do so.