SHIPPING AND PICKING UP
Ordering from Rene was a pleasure Ė I received an Excel spreadsheet that allowed me to specify the voltage (110V with 2x1300 W heating elements or 220V with 1800W elements), the color (currently silver, brown and red) and to include and exclude extras. The standard package consists of the Techno, one Brita Filterquell BC06 cartridge, portafilters with one and two spouts, a feeding hose of about 1.5 m to connect the filter to the Techno and another hose to connect the drip tray to the sink. Then there is a blind filter, 7, 14 and 21 g filter baskets, a cleansing kit for back flushing (rubber seal for 14g basket, a few tablets, and a brush). A very detailed manual for technicians servicing the machine (i.e. for me) also accompanies the Techno. Extras that can be included are a 16 g and a 18 g basket, a PF with 3 spouts, a water analysis kit to figure out the local water hardness, cleaning tablets and an additional filter cartridge. These things come at competitive prices (e.g. baskets around $3, filter at about $60).
The shipping was lightning fast and with less than 48 hours RenekaĖMinneapolis almost graceless for a 30 kg espresso machine. It can be tracked online. Clearing through customs and picking it up and was rather simple. Customs duty was only 3.7% and could be paid via check, credit card or cash.
The shipment consisted of a large box with the Techno and a smaller one with filter and accessories which were tied onto a small pallet.
Lifting the larger box with the Techno inside was not as difficult as I thought, it has good handles. It also fitted well into my trunk. Keep in mind that this machine is actually smaller than most other high end espresso machines, partially because it doesnít have a water reservoir. A hand written card from Reneka congratulated me inside the detailed manual when I unpacked the box. I really would like to acknowledge that: this company doesnít only make solid, state of the art espresso machines, but also takes their customers serious not treating them as anonymous consumers but as individual coffee enthusiasts. Why canít the rest of the business world be like this? Two French notepads with two cool Techno-style pens were part of the fan club equipment.
Out of the box, I really liked the metallic silver that I chose as the side panel color, because it looks cold, functional and task specific. I was a bit worried about that after seeing some photos, but the reason why silver photographs poorly is that we only see gray when looking with one eye or through the lens of a camera. The impression of silver requires the reflection of light be differently perceived with one eye than with the other (try this by closing one of your eyes when you look at a spoon and you will only see different shades of gray).
The design of the Techno is minimal and neutral. Itís straightforward - a cube complying with function and a home enthusiastís demands. Thatís how I like it. It should fit on most counters both in size and looks. The only change I suggest is to get rid of the white wave decoration on top of the buttons. This looks like from a vending machine and doesnít really have any purpose. I thought this was a reflection of light when I saw photos of the panel.
The portafilter handleís brown/gray color doesnít interfere with the silver of the side panels to my surprise. This color is currently the only one available for the grip.
Fortunately, the Techno must be slightly smaller than the 37.5 mm height one finds as its size on the internet. My tape measure suggested I had exactly 37.5 mm between counter and cupboard and the Techno easily fits under it.
This can be a bit of a challenge, but only if one doesnít know how to connect the metric pipe format of the cartridge head to the US format e.g. under the sink.
A check valve that goes in front of the filter seems to be very advisable to prevent water being sucked back when there is low pressure in the feeding line, e.g. if the Techno is connected to the cold water faucet and this one is opened. That means that hot water from the boiler could get into the flowmeter or the pump.
Most Techno owners seem to use a T-connector that taps into the cold water line under the sink. For most purposes, this will work best:
Alternatively, the Techno can be fed from a tank but thatís risky because the autorefill function of the boilers will engage the rotary pump when required.
I have never had a plumbed in espresso machine before and itís unbelievably convenient. No wrestling to get access to the water tank and no descaling. The Techno can be programmed to alarm when the cartridge is used up, which depends on the filter system and the local water hardness. There is abundant hot water for americanos, hot drinks, tea, mate, soups or simply to fill the lower bowl of the vac pot without having to wait. The hot water comes from the steam boiler and the steam boiler is fed from the boiler for espresso brewing. That translates to very fresh water that doesnít have any stale taste as in some heat exchanger machines.
Of course there is the question whether to buy the 110V or the 220V version: if you have the space to fit a $120 converter somewhere (6x5x8 inches, 3000 W) Ė you probably want to go with the 220V version. Alternatively, an electrician can tap into the power supply of the oven, but donít try this yourself. The recovery time for steaming is apparently 30 much faster with 1800W elements (google-search newsgroup alt.coffee for info). Note that to prevent the a circuit overload the Techno cannot steam and pull a shot at the same time. This doesnít bother me, because Iím focused on the shot anyway for the 30 seconds it takes.
The converter Iíve got does not buzz at all. In fact after a post about buzzing converters I thought mine wasnít working because I couldnít hear anything, but there was some faint humming when I held it against my ear. I bought mine, a THG3000 at www.voltageconverters.com after they gave me some useful advice. I could only find an extension cord thatís approved for 1875 W, but I was told it should be able to handle the short and occasional 2000W peaks of the Techno when it should happened that a boiler and the pump come on simultaneously. Make sure you donít buy anything thin, long or cheap in the lower watt range. Also check whether your kitchen can handle these peaks.
I was worried about the buttons, in particular about the steaming with a button, but also about the programming of volumes. Turnís out itís easy as pie and incredibly convenient. Volumetric espresso making rules. You hit a button and bang Ė your shot sits in the cup. All you have to do is adjust the grind to the right extraction time. The steaming with the push of a button is much easier than with a knob, no turning to the right steam power, and no risk to suck back milk because it doesnít stop abruptly. The 5-hole tip requires some practice, but if you know how to find the right spot when making zabbaione or sauce hollandaise, then chances are that you will get it within a week. As a tip, itís definitely easier to fold milk into a silky texture with a bell pitcher.
This espresso machine is incredibly easy to use and forgiving. A huge contrast if you are used to tricky surf routines. Itís almost as all the variables causing trouble have suddenly evaporated and there isnít much left to worry about except to find some interesting beans. Even the firmness of the tamp doesnít really seem to matter. There have been discussions at alt.coffee (a.c.) why that is. Some say itís because of the immediate pressure from the rotary pump, but Iím convinced that the design of group head, portafilter and basket are actually causing a serious tamp. The PF moves a considerably upward, more than in other machines, and the showerhead pushes into the basket by almost a whole centimeter. I weigh my beans before grinding and when I use the recommended weight for each basket I always feel the push of the shower head against the ground coffee.
If you want to explore a blend with exactly defined temperatures, the Techno is a dream: key in a low temperature and systematically work your way up to higher temps till you find your optimum. Very simple and defined. Exactly what I was looking for and Iím convinced no heat exchanger can ever give you that reproducibility. If you are into cupping and tweaking with blends thatís the sturdy workhorse you want.
Another nice feature is the eco mode. Instead of turning the Techno off, it lowers the temperature which allows for very quick warm up when re-activated, yet doesnít waste much energy. Also noteworthy in this regard, the boilers are well insulated not to waste energy.
It would almost be unfair to call what Rene is providing simply ďcustomer serviceĒ because what he really does is sharing a passion for espresso. He gives detailed advice with superb care and attention to people who are also in search for the perfect cup. Emailing with him was like a personalized form of a.c. questions and thoughts exchange. You sense a huge level of responsibility and dedication both before and after ordering, which, quite frankly, I havenít experienced anywhere else before. Buying a Techno involves ordering a Techno via Rene, transferring the money to Reneka via an international wire, and picking it up at a local airport. Itís not a big deal and I canít imagine how buying a Techno from a supplier within the US would be that much more convenient. It canít possibly be faster, thatís for sure and I believe that the support you get from Rene canít be topped either. The fact that Rene is in New Zealand and Reneka situated in France probably creates some kind of psychological hurdle, but really, it is not justified. As espresso enthusiasts, we are a small community with global reach, and there is no reason for fears like that. After all, your beans donít grow in your front yard either.
This, of course, is the main problem. How do you justify spending 1315 Euro when others scratch their heads in the face of a 30 ml cup of espresso? First of all, the features such as dual boilers and a rotary pump simply cannot be found for that price anywhere else. But most of all, you have to consider what it means to you. How much do you really love it? Some will find it is an everlasting search for perfection and the attempt to get there is not unlike Zen, yet rewards you in the here and now.
Make sure you explore espresso-making for a while with a low-end machine, but if youíre an alt.coffee or a coffeegeek.com reader, chances are that this question doesnít need to be answered anymore. I had 3 espresso machines before: a Jura, a Saeco Classico and for the last year a Krups Novo. I am now convinced it is wise to stay long enough with a low end espresso maker, but then to skip the entire middle class. There are plenty cases of serious upgraditis documented at alt.coffee and this can be more expensive than going for the optimum right away.
It didnít seem to me that a Silvia with only one boiler could bring me closer to reproducible shots at a temperature of my choice, nor could I see myself spending half an hour making a few cappuccinos for friends. I also didnít want to spend a lot of money on something that I would finally outgrow again. A heat exchanger seemed to me too unstable for home use and the dual boiler design of the Techno is a solution to that (see Duncanís measurements at alt.coffee).
Finally, think about how much you spent on your desktop, or your notebook, your stereo or even your car. All of these can be in the Techno range. How often do you use them? How important are these to you? Compare this to the ristretti you have in the morning and the cappas when you get home. Similar frequency, similar importance? Then you probably also want to get this dedicated tool: the Techno, an espresso-extraction-dream-machine.
Note: To find out more, google in Googleís ďGroupĒ archives of alt.coffee, the largest coffee newsgroup. Most topics have already been discussed in great detail. Post your questions.