Opening note: this review pertains to the 230V Reneka Techno. I have no experience with the 110V version of this machine.
I have used my Reneka Techno for four months now, and it is about time for a review. However, it is difficult to describe it in just a few words, there's just so much to say about this machine (mind you, mostly good stuff!). Besides that, I do have a reputation for tediously long prose to keep up. In any case, I'm afraid the following will be a *very* detailed commentary. Consider that fair warning...
For your convenience, I've divided my review in sections.
Despite it's appearance, and compact size, the Reneka Techno is not a "prosumer" machine, but a full-blown commercial machine designed for use in low-volume settings. The same parameters also make the Techno a very serious, and probably the best espresso machine for those who demand a home machine of the absolute highest quality.
The Techno is way beyond any entry-level espresso machine, and outperforms all semi-commercial machines that I've tried. Considering its specifications, the Techno's closest competitors are the Unic Pony, and the single group La Marzocco Linea. However, the Pony is a pod-only machine, and if you've ever lusted for a La Marzocco (and many of us espresso obsessionados probably have), you will have found that it is way too expensive, and, even if you could afford it, it probably wouldn't fit on the kitchen counter anyway.
Enter the Reneka Techno...
Like the La Marzocco machines, the Techno has two separate boilers - one for brewing espresso, and one for steam, and hot water. This, and the rotary pump are the most striking differences with the "prosumer" Bezzera's, ECM's, Isomac's etc., all of which use the more common heat exchanger system. According to, amongst others, David Schomer the twin boiler design allows for better temperature control, and thermal stability.
Reneka further improves on this by insulating the boilers, and using electronic sensors and a computer system to control the temperature. The temperature of the boilers can be independently programmed on the fly using the keypad. You can easily adjust the brewing temperature to best suit the particular coffee, or blend you're using, without affecting the steaming ability. Vice versa, it's just as simple to change the steam boiler temperature, without compromising brewing performance.
All this can be done very easily, without opening the machine to access a pressure-stat. In fact, can even reach the pump adjustment without removing a screw. You won't need to open the machine until it requires serious servicing.
To tuck all the goodies in a compact case, the Techno's boilers are somewhat smaller than those of the LM Linea 1-group. Although brew water boiler is fairly similar; 1.4 litre on the Techno vs. the LM's 1.8 litre, the LM's 3.9 litre steam boiler is pretty huge compared to the 1.4 litre the Techno's steam boiler holds. This a downside, in that you're rather short on the supply of hot water is. On the other hand, if lots of hot water is what you need, then get ye a cheap electric kettle...
The relatively small steam boiler is in a way also an advantage. Since the Techno's hot water tap draws water from the steam boiler, the water is refreshed more often - especially if you're using the hot water tap for surfing, and heating the cups. Good news for those who enjoy americano's.
Of course, the hot water can also be used for making one, or two cups of tea. The temperature is suitable for oolongs, and black teas.
An interesting point is that, despite its smaller boilers, the Techno's heating elements are significantly more powerful than those on the LM. The 230V version has 1800W heaters in both boilers. In combination with the insulation on the boilers, this allows the Techno to recover much faster after pulling shots, making it easier to crank out several espressi in succession.
In a home situation, this is only useful on those rare occasions when you're entertaining a larger group of people, but it is important when using the machine in a commercial setting.
The insulation on the boilers also prevents the insides of the machine (eg. the electronics) from getting too hot, and it saves energy - when idle, the heating doesn't switch on very often. To save a bit more on your electricity bill, there is an "Eco" mode for overnight, which seems to lower the temperature of the boilers a few degrees. Heating up again in the morning takes about five minutes. My morning cup tastes great, and I hardly have to wait for it.
The Techno is an automatic espresso machine, meaning that the microcomputer "brainbox" (in combination with the flow meter) controls the dosing. There are three buttons for coffee dosing; one for a single cup, one of a double, and one for a large coffee (eg. café crema). Preinfusion is only available on the first two. The steam, and hot water buttons are also autodosing. All these are easily programmable.
List me as a heretic, but I've come to like the auto-dosing very much. It's quite convenient, since there's one variable less to worry about. If you get the grind, and tamp right, you can do other stuff while pulling a shot - eg. make breakfast, or lunch, or get the milk from the fridge.
1. Espresso brewing:
One could say that the Techno is a "coffee first" machine, in that the machine has been designed with brewing espresso as the one most important function. A lot of work has been put in keeping temperature stable during brewing; heating the coffee boiler takes precedence over the steam boiler, and all functions that could downgrade performance while pulling a shot are inhibited; steaming, drawing hot water, and even the steam boiler autofill are disabled.
The Techno's electronics allows for pretty tight temperature control, and "surfing" the machine to the right point in its heating cycle is easy as pie. Just draw enough water from the coffee boiler to turn on the heater (indicated with a light on the keypad), and when the light goes out, you know where you are in the heating cycle. You can then pull a shot, or further lower the temperature of the brew water by drawing more water, either from the group, or via the hot water tap.
There are also a few other, smaller goodies.
The group is mounted to the same very substantial chunk of brass to which the boilers are bolted to. The large, insulated boiler and heavy grouphead ensure good thermal stability during a shot - even when pulling very large shots - eg. a 200ml café crema.
As one would expect from a commercial machine, the Techno's showerhead is of professional quality, consisting of a brass plate distributing the water in six jets, a disk with largish holes, and, welded to that, the wire mesh showerscreen itself. This gives a good, even distribution of the water, yielding better extraction.
Another interesting feature of the group is the sealing system. Instead of the common "horizontal" O-ring sealing on the top of the filter basket, the Techno has a "vertical" gasket, around the top of the showerhead, that drops into the filter basket. While the portafilter locks easily, and very securely into place, requiring much less force than a top gasket and probably causes less wear on the gasket, this system provides an excellent seal. This, and the excellent pressure relief valve, makes the pucks come out dry as desert sand.
Lastly, the Techno comes ready with both a single shot, and double shot portafilter, and a 7g, and 14g basket. You can also order a variety of other baskets from Reneka, including 16g, 18g and 21g sizes, and a 7g poddie sieve.
One peculiar thing I have found, is that the best shots are rather on the short side. Instead of the usual 50ml in 30-35s on my Gaggia, the ristretto's from the Techno tend to be in the 26 to 28 second range. This may be due to the use of preinfusion. The resulting flavour, though, is far superior and definitely more predictable. Because of its rotary pump the Techno is, in my opinion, capable of making better shots than you would get from a vibratory pump.
- Steaming capabilities:
Despite the "small" boiler, the Techno really doesn't run out of steam. You can easily let it steam for a several minutes without noticing degrading performance. One of the reasons for this is that the steam boiler is refilled with water from the brew boiler. When the autofill comes on, the high power (1800W) heating elements can quickly heat the already hot water up to steam temperature.
I initially had some doubts about the on/off-only steam valve, but it proved to be no problem at all. It certainly isn't more difficult to use, but actually quite simple.
The steam wand itself is quite convenient in use, tilting and swivelling in every position you might need, and the 5-hole tip makes it easy to produce froth of very decent quality. I've never been a master at the art of frothing milk, but I've managed to make some pretty good silky smooth foam on occasion, and it's getting better.
The programmable steam dose could be convenient, but I don't use it, since I'm still learning. I've just set the machine to steam for a longer than I would ever need, and simply switch off manually when I'm done.
One point that may put some people off, is that, as explained above, you can't froth milk while pulling a shot on the Techno. It's no big deal to me though. For starters, I'm unable to pull a decent shot, and froth milk at the same time. At least the steam boiler is ready when I need it, and it only takes a few seconds to stream enough milk for cappa's.
(Besides that, 90% of the drinks I make are straight 'spressi anyway, so I don't really care.)
- Minor points
The Techno doesn't have any real downsides, though one thing that bothered me a bit was that the my cool Ergo-packer didn't fit in the Reneka baskets. That was easy enough to solve.
Otherwise, I haven't really found anything that put me off. But, of course, there's always dreams...
Maybe the temperature control could be further improved on. It would be nice to program the brew temperature with 1 °C precision, and maybe a PID algorithm could be used to reduce the thermal over-, and undershoot. A LCD display with an accurate reading of the brew boiler temp would also be neat. Perhaps these features can even be implemented using the same electronics. I hope the Reneka engineers will have a look at that.
The conclusions on this site are usually expressed as product ratings. However, since numbers do not indicate the motivation behind them, I fear I can't refrain from elaborating a bit on the scores I assigned.
Quality: What can I say? The Techno just breathes quality. The outside already displays Reneka's manufacturing standards. The machine is very sturdy, and doesn't move an inch as you lock the portafilter securely into its three-point bayonet mount. The overall fit, and finish is excellent, and when operating the machine, it just feels "right".
One look under the hood reveals the excellent construction of this machine. Inside, mounted on a solid stainless steel frame, the high-quality parts are easily accessible for service, and maintenance, as you would expect from a commercial machine.
Usability: Using the Techno for its most important purpose, making espresso, is quite simple - well, if you know how to. Learning to make good espresso isn't easy to start with, and when you get a new machine, you're back to square one. It does require a fair bit of trying and experimenting before you start pulling decent shots with the Techno, but once you get the hang of it, the quality of the espresso is next to none. Frothing is easier, but also takes some trial and error.
The ability to access every function, and program almost everything on the machine from the keypad, is certainly one of the best features of the Techno. And, as said, I find the autodosing quite convenient. Not everyone will like the touch buttons, but it certainly makes cleaning a lot easier.
Another thing that I absolutely love about the Techno is that it is plumbed into the water supply, and drain. It's infinitely more convenient. Try it, and there's no turning back to filling those miniature water reservoirs, and emptying tiny drip trays. Plumbed-in rules.
Getting back to the cleaning issue, this is a lot easier than on my old Gaggia. The hard-plumbed water supply makes cleaning the group a breeze. The materials on the Techno also make life easier. Instead of chrome to polish, there's easy-to-clean brushed stainless steel, and high-quality ABS. Even the lower front cover can be easily be cleaned, by removing just two allen screws.
To sum up, on usability the Techno delivers; it does what it is supposed to do, and it does so very conveniently, very quietly, with clockwork precision. I've found myself using my espresso machine a lot more often, since upgrading to the Techno.
Cost vs. Value: The Techno is a commercial machine, and it does come at a price. Considering what you get for that, compared to other machines in this price range, it's really an excellent deal. If you buy it from René van Sint Annaland, and count in all the priceless info and online service you'll get, it's actually a steal.
Aesthetics: I haven't listed this above, because it really wasn't much of a concern for me, but just something near the end of a long list. With these specs, and performance, I probably would've bought it if it came in a concrete box covered with graffiti.
Of course, as it is, the Techno looks absolutely brill. It doesn't have the sex-appeal of shiny chrome, found on many Italian machines, but has a more modest, subtle design; sophisticated, instead of showy. The Techno may not be a showpiece, but the sort of machine that will be quite happy just sitting on the counter, and quietly turning out the loveliest espresso's. It won't appeal to everyone, but it suits my style, and I find it very elegant.
Overall rating: The Techno is not a prosumer machine. It is a real commercial espresso machine with all the goodies neatly arranged into a very beautifully sculptured casing. It performs excellently, conveniently, and quietly. The Techno rules.
Straight tens on all points does suggest perfection. Of course, the Techno is not a perfect machine. It does, however, come very, very close to the ideal single group (home) espresso machine to me, and there is no competition. I'll give it 9.9 on all points, and round that off to tens. Let's just say the rest is in the cup, and that tastes excellent.
- Last words (promised!)
I highly recommend the Techno, but I must stress that this is very probably not a starter-machine. For one thing, it is a bit too pricey to buy, only to find that espresso machines are way too messy, and too finicky for you.
The path to excellent espresso is paved with cleaning, cleaning, and even more cleaning.
And although it is really quite simple to get great shots from the Techno, it does require practice. And a lot of that, too. You really need to have the patience, and the drive to learn how to make the best espresso possible.
If you buy this as your first machine, be prepared for some serious disappointment. If you have owned an espresso machine before, and you're really serious about espresso, you're going to be in heaven with the Techno.