Great build quality - the best I saw when comparing machines - plus good quality components. An E61 groupset - obvious + generic, but as a newbie faced with maintaining a new toy it was great to have so much information available on cleaning/stripping it down/lubing. It has a feature set that is very user friendly - water tank is easy to access + fill, drip tray is solid and copes well with my standard throughput (4 brews per session), wands are insulated + pivot fully, boiler and brew pressures are easy to adjust. The design + combination of components easily allow for 2 double espressos + 2 cappas at a time - steaming is fast + effective throughout. Decent separation between group head and drip tray means that with a bottomless portafilter in the group there is enough room (>12.5cm) to get a large mug underneath. Steam nozzle froths effectively. Brew and tank gauges are useful aids for tweaking. Overall, once used to volume/temperature/time variables that are inherent in the HX system it makes repeatable, consistent shots. The slightly narrower width of the machine, compared to some others being considered, was also a plus for me. The other features that came up during research as positives were the rotary pump and the ability to plumb it in - I take the rotary pump for granted as I have never used a vibe pump and until my granite worktop wears out I'll be filling by hand.
Negative Product Points
The boiler is not insulated - hopefully this will not shorten the life on the interior components. Hot water tap likes to steam too much. Drain plug in bottom, center of drip tray not water tight - dripped into collection tray below and onto counter via bottom (open) drain. Easily sorted with a dab of clear silicon on the offending drain plug + bolt. The baskets shipped with the Rocket gave an uneven flow - replaced with VSTs. Tamper supplied is cheap, plastic and useless - machines should be supplied ready to go with decent baskets + (good quality) tampers that fit them.
This is information on a Rocket Giotto Evolutione bought in October 2011 in the UK.
This is my first real machine - I jumped straight from plastic drip / stove top machines to this - so it has been a big learning curve magnified by the fact that as I was starting from scratch I also bought the machine with a grinder - Mazzer Mini Electronic.
The choice of machines really came down to the Alex Duetto and the Rocket. Initially the Rocket was not even in the running as the main review I saw on it at Bellabarista found a few niggles with it and the original choice was between the double boilered Duetto and Expobar Leva (Brewtus) Dual, however the Expobar was just too messy inside and lacked the build quality and attention to detail that I like. Then the Duetto started having problems with body flex / poorly joined panels and I started looking again at machines. In the flesh I was impressed with the Rocket as inside and out it seemed very well made, plus they had addressed the niggles highlighted in the review (powder coating the body below the drip tray to avoid corrosion issues/ offset gauges) - I also convinced myself that getting an HX, rather that DB machine would be fine.
I have to say that the first six weeks with the Rocket were quite frustrating as there was a lot to learn, there was not much information on this model, a lot of information was contradictory and I found controlling/isolating all the variables difficult. The quality of the shots varied enormously.
The turning point was getting a brew head thermometer from Eric S - the extra information this provided gave me a physical reference point that I could build on.
The current set up is as follows:
House is 100 above sea level and ambient kitchen temp is 18-19C. Boiler heater switches on at 0.90 bar and off at 1.15 bar. Brew pressure is 9 bar. The pressures are according to the dials on my machine.
The machine is switched on twice a day via a standard timer and takes 25 minutes to reach 200F, it stabilises at 210/211F after 45 minutes.
Cooling flush takes 12 seconds for the first brew of the day - the temperature initially rises to spike at 217F and then starts to fall as the water dance finishes at around 8 seconds, it falls quickly and I stop the cooling flush after another 4 seconds at 202F.
The temperature then rebounds to 206/207F before falling steadily and slowly.
I pull the shot when the falling temperature hits 201/202F (20 seconds odd) and this gives me a steady shot temperature that reads as 200/201F after a quick spike.
I use an 18g VST basket in a bottomless portafilter and tamp with a 58.4mm tamper from 49th Parallel that fits the VST perfectly - I found these tools let me eliminate more variables. I really like being able to see the extraction coming from the naked portafilter. I weigh and grind 18g of beans to fill the basket.
Later shots (within 2-5 minutes) need much shorter flushes - between 4-6 seconds and I just bring the temperature down to 206 - 207F after the initial cooling spike, wait 15-20 seconds and pull. This is the bit of HX I don't like at the moment - I still don't have enough experience to gauge the lapse time/temperature curve correctly - but it is getting easier.
Longer than 5 minutes and I go back to the full flush.
Overall I am happy(ish) with this system of pulling shots - I can produce good, double espressos repeatedly with a range of beans. It is slightly different to other users and I am probably idling a bit hot with the boiler pressure a touch high - I will play around a bit with boiler pressures and temps over the Spring, but right now I am just enjoying being able to make great espressos and back to back them with cappas for my partner.
Steaming is easy, fast and controllable.
Maintenance is straightforward so far, but I would avoid (excessive) back flushing with (PulyCaff) cleaner as this stripped the lubricant from the brew arm cam on the first go and the arm/cam/pins needed stripping down and relubricating with Molycote 111 - easy in retrospect, but worrying as I started the job. The info on the Coffeetime Wiki was a great help here. Even a second clean with a (very) small amount of PulyCaff seemed to be too much - I will be using another cleaner next time round.
After 6 months use of making between 2 and 6 coffees a day the machine is working perfectly and consistently - I really enjoy the coffee it makes - unsurprisingly it does allow me to make better coffee than I can get from any commercial establishment.
More than a few times I questioned whether I should have gone down an easier road and bought the Duetto, but I actually know more about making coffee having gone down the HX route. I really like the Rocket Giotto Evolutione as a HX machine, but as a complete newcomer I did need Eric's thermometer to start to get the most out of it.
Buying from Bellabarista was efficient and straightforward.
Three Month Followup
After 8 months of use I am still very happy with the machine.
It performs consistently, has had no maintenance issues and just works well.
All moving / connecting parts are still moving freely - no noticeable play and no seizing. There have been no leaks internally or externally.
I lengthened my cooling flush as Summer arrived by about 2 seconds to offset the increase in ambient temperature/brew temperature.
My cleaning routine is probably regarded as slack - 3 water back flushes a week and a monthly back flush with a very small amount of detergent (a small pea size amount of PulyCaff seems to strike a good balance between cleaning and stripping ) - however this routine seems to work well for this machine.