I can't imagine a better machine for low to moderate volume. It just rocks!
Positive Product Points
Size matters, and this machine is perfect size for the home. Itís a damn bargain compared to alternatives in its class. <Austin Powers voice /ON> Plumbed in, baby! <Austin Powers voice /OFF> Techno is aesthetically pleasing Ė itís at home in your home, not a refugee from a restaurant. ECO Mode is cool. Literally. Despite the compact size, itís more than capable of keeping up with a crowd. Lots of wonderfully engineered features too numerous to list in summary Ė see detailed review. Last but not least - Renť van Sint Annaland, the Human Bean of www.justespresso.com!
Negative Product Points
There are no negative points that would prevent me making the same decision again, but if pressed for the things Iíd change in V3, they would include the following: Goofy wave graphic on the keypad. Color choices are too few, and the colors offered are less than inspiring, IMO. Plastic drip tray should be stainless. Needs to come with less powerful steaming tips! Temperature and pressure readout would have been a nice addition. No local (US) service unless you buy from ďthose guys in OregonĒ.
Iím normally an exceedingly decisive person. You know the type Ė frequently wrong, never in doubt. When I decided to upgrade from my Saeco Magic Deluxe Superauto, it didnít take me long to narrow the list of potentials to two: the Cimbali Junior, and the Techno. One visit to my local Cimbali retailer quickly eliminated the Junior from consideration Ė too big, too ugly, too expensive. I donít want to make it sound like the Techno is the winner by default, because itís not Ė I stacked it up against all the alternatives in class, and it just clearly opened a can of whoopa$$ on all of them.
So what makes the Techno such a great machine? Letís go through this in the order you might experience the machine: purchase decision, preparation for arrival, arrival, unpacking and setup, making espresso, making cappas and lattes, cleanup and maintenance.
My research was conducted primarily via the Internet (many thanks to the very cordial and extremely helpful community on alt.coffee), with a visit to my friendly and helpful Cimbali retailer, Tabor Espresso in Chapel Hill, NC. Information on Techno, however, is a little hard to come by, as it seems like the machine has not yet achieved much market penetration in the US. An e-mail to Reneka resulted in a contact from Renť van Sint Annaland, a Reneka retailer located in New Zealand, since the Reneka retailer in the US (who I refuse to even name in this review due to the inexcusable way my inquiries were handled by them) was too disinterested to carry the Techno until somebody else took the risk to prove the market for them. You can contact Renť via his website, http://www.justespresso.com. Renť conversed patiently via email, answering all my questions honestly and non-defensively, including sending photos of the machine with covers removed, commenting on maintenance history, etc. The point is that when the purchase decision was finally made, I was confident it was a good decision.
So what were the factors in selecting Techno? Well, I wanted a dual boiler, rotary pump machine. Techno is arguably the only machine in its price range meeting those criteria. Another important attribute was appearance. I wanted a machine with a bit of panache. I felt that virtually all of the other machines in the same class as Techno looked like escapees from a local restaurant supply store. This is a matter of taste, of course, but for mine, the Techno was sexiest by far. I think the heavy fiberglass-like side panels accentuate the smooth stainless curves giving it a refined look. Did I mention that size matters? In this case, smaller is better since Iím the only coffee drinker in the house, and I felt that Technoís 1.4 liter boilers were the perfect size for a home machine. Who wants to wait for 4-6 liters to heat up, then sit around forever in the boilers? As it turns out, the Cimbali Junior would have barely fit beneath my cabinets, but Techno has room to spare.
On the minus side, I was not happy with the limited color selection available, especially since their other machines can be had in just about every color of the rainbow and then some. I picked silver, which is actually kinda grey. But the panels appear to be of a material that would be easy to paint.
Preparation for Arrival
I ordered a Techno in 110V, but Renť was kind enough to email performance specs once the 110V was built. While the performance of this 1300W version was certainly acceptable, the 220V, 1800W was better, so I switched my order. This meant installing a 220V receptacle, which isnít rocket science. Plumbing was straightforward, too, though I had to add a check valve to the supply line when the machine arrived and I learned it was recommended. I doubt it is really needed in the US as we have pretty good water pressure, but I did it anyway. Doing it myself, plumbing and electrical added about $75 to the total investment, Figure three to five hundred to have it all done by a pro.
One detail I missed in all my correspondence was the fact that the machine really should have a plumbed in *drain* as well as supply. Oops. Mine drains to a container. Someday Iíll plumb it in. Yeah, right.
Arrival, Unpacking, Set-up
Reneka did a great job packing and shipping. My machine arrived safe and sound the day after it left France! It was expensive to have it shipped to my door (add another couple hundred), but I did not want to drive 250 miles to an international airport where I could receive it. Buying from ďthose other guys in OregonĒ may save you trouble and expense, but I suspect itís all built-in to a higher purchase price, Hard to know since to this day they do not list Techno for sale on their web site.
The most complex part of set-up is installing the Brita filtration system they recommend to accompany Techno. Itís just a matter of experiencing ďplumbing gestaltĒ to adapt US household piping to the Brita Ė if you stand in the plumbing aisle of Home Depot long enough, it will happen, I promise. The trick is that the distal end (the one that connects to your houseís water supply) of the Brita hose is actually ĺĒ NPT, *not* FHT..
Start-up went smoothly as the boilers rushed full of water. I was a little startled by the light show on the front panel until I learned that all the lights blink until itís ready for use. RTFM, right?
Technoís accessories are worthy of comment. The machine comes equipped with two portafilters, a single and double spout. They are heavy, three-point mount with rubberized grips that have a very attractive look and feel. The caveat is that the handle color doesnít actually match any of the panel colors, a small but annoying detail. I forget which filter baskets came with the machine, but I purchased every size available for a few bucks apiece, a purchase I recommend. I also bought extra PF gaskets, screens, screws and a cleaning kit, all of which seemed reasonable priced.
The machine takes ten minutes or so (I didnít time it) to heat from dead cold. It takes much less time to heat up from ECO mode, which is a wonderful ďsleep modeĒ where the temp is substantially reduced but it never gets cold.
After heating up but before making the first pull, Reneka recommends checking the pump pressure with a specially constructed PF gauge that is sent to each new Techno user from the last. Pump adjustment is easily accomplished without removing covers, as is every other routine adjustment. Coffee and steam boiler temps are independently adjustable via the membrane panel on the front. At first the LED indicator system for temp setting is a little cryptic, but the manual is excellent. My measurements with a Fluke, as well as othersí Iíve read, all found Techno to be within 2C from setpoint.
Despite lacking the much-hyped E-61 group head, the Technoís group is massive and firmly mounted to an equally massive and highly conductive brass plate that seems to maintain the PF at temperature very nicely, though admittedly I have not measured it.
I tried all of the basket sizes and settled on the 16 gram as my personal favorite. Many prefer the 18 gram, but this is a matter of taste. The baskets are easy to change with a small tool for prying and stay well-mounted during use.
The machine is powerful and quiet in use, and I have yet to completely choke it. The coffee it produces is phenomenal. Of course it takes a little practice to get it right, but I though the learning curve was not too bad. One finds that adjustable brew temp is a very nice feature, indeed, as is plumbed-in supply.
There are three buttons on the front panel to control brew functions. They can all be easily programmed to desired water volumes. Two of them have a short pre-infusion cycle, one does not. I have not experimented extensively to determine how pre-infusion changes the espresso. Reading the manual, it appears that the pre-infusion could be disabled completely by removing the covers and switching a jumper, but I have not investigated.
Related to espresso making, when left on for extended durations, the cup tray actually keeps cups toasty warm. I typically donít leave the machine on for long periods, so I use the convenient hot water tap to heat cups.
Steaming for Cappas and Latte
Steam power? I got your steam power, RIGHT HERE! Wow! is the best way to describe it. While I have not done the 40F to 160F time test, it was obviously too fast when steaming six ounces or so for a single cappa. This machine shows its commercial nature when it comes to steaming Ė itís made to steam a huge pitcher, not a single cup worth.
Following the advice of other Techno owners, I recently experimented with plugging the holes of the five-hole tip which comes standard with the machine. I found that I got excellent performance when three of the five holes are plugged. Once that trick was figured out, I could get fabulous microfoam. Iím still no good at latte art, buy hey, thatís not Technoís fault.
Iím told there are La Marzocco tips which fit Techno and resolve the too much steam power problem, but I have yet to investigate since the machine makes such great espresso that I rarely steam. Meanwhile, toothpicks work just fine.
It's this slight steaming diffficulty out of the box that caused me to give Techno a rating of 9 for usability instead of a 10. If it came with a second, less powerful tip it would be tens all around.
An item worthy of comment at this point is the membrane panel button to activate steam (and hot water). I initially thought I would not like this feature and would prefer a knob instead. Nothing could be further from the truth, as it turns out. The steam button makes all kinds of sense in use, and it, too, is programmable for duration so you can set it to the right time to steam your usual volume of milk to the desired temp. The hot water tap is volumetrically programmable, too, which is convenient for filling cups.
Cleanup and Maintenance
Nothing out of the ordinary as standard espresso machines go, I guess. I backflush daily and clean with detergent tabs weekly. The screen assembly is a little difficult to disassemble while hot, but one gets the hang of it. I would prefer a Phillips head screw to hold the screen assembly because the slotted screw is more difficult to remove and replace. Also, it would be nice if the drip tray could be removed without using tools, but it requires a wrench which is not supplied. These are the only complaints I have related to cleaning and maintenance.
As related above, buying from Renť van Sint Annaland (http://www.justespresso.com) is a pleasure, and inspires confidence in purchase decions.
Three Month Followup
Please see my comments in the one year follow-up.
One Year Followup
Iíve owned the machine for a year and a half, so I think Iím finally fully qualified to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Let me start with the positive Ė after 1.5 years of ownership, I still think Techno is a great machine, and very likely the absolute best value for the money. Iíve come to know the machine well, and it is just an outstanding espresso brewer. All of the positive things I said in the original review still hold true.
Some things have even improved over time. Reneís service, for example. I knew he was good, but the test is always when youíre in a pinch. Rene, and Reneka for that matter, have repeatedly come through in a fine way. Rene is quick to respond, cheerful and helpful. Reneka has gone far beyond the call of duty in honoring their warranty commitments to their customers. Let me provide some examples.
Reneka has thoroughly tested and provided, free of charge, a few significant upgrades since I bought my machine in July í02. One was a stainless drip tray to replace the original plastic unit. This was an absolutely essential upgrade, and I expected to pay handsomely but the parts showed up in the mail. The second was a new steam tip, designed directly in response to complaints about inability to microfroth small quantities. We now have two tips, one for daily use, another for crowds. Third upgrade was new o-rings to replace an earlier version with questionable reliability.
Another nice thing isnít exactly Techno-specific, but nice nonetheless. David Ross has started an email list of Techno (and other French machine) owners, and we chat occasionally about all manner of issues related to espresso and our machines.
All in all, you cannot beat the Techno for usability, features, service, or user community.
Some of the bad has been corrected by Reneka, as described above.
Also, part of whatís bad is not unknown, many of us signed up for it willingly Ė you really do need to be your own service person. And although this was told to us, and I personally do not mind, it would be easy to underestimate just what a commitment this can (and did, in my case) turn out to be. In my case, Iíve had to replace the coffee boiler heater, which necessitated a major tear-down that would not be for the faint of heart (or eschewer of tools!) Repair of the Techno requires patience, intestinal fortitude, a fairly good collection of tools, space, and time.
In terms of ďthe badĒ regarding function or performance of the machine, there really isnít anything serious. There was an off odor from the steam boiler went away after replacing the boiler gaskets. But I would prefer some added features. Pressure gauges, for one. Temperature readouts, for another. Yes, I know that Iím asking for things not offered on even ultra high-end machines, but weíre coffeegeeks! And these items would not add tremendous expense.
Iíll be careful here, because I donít necessarily want to turn anyone off to the Techno or to Reneka. But the truth is, Iíve had some problems I donít think should have happened, and when they did they werenít handled completely to my satisfaction.
My biggest beef relates to the failure of the coffee boiler heater. It failed in a dramatic way that included sparks resembling a camera flash. I worry about the failure mode as I think itís potentially dangerous. And please note that my machine is installed in accordance with the US National Electric Code. The problem was easy enough to diagnose, and the parts dispatched without delay. I did question the quality of what I received (long story), but the bottom line is that I didnít get the sense that Reneka was extremely interested in learning about my particular failure. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they know exactly what causes this condition and have it under control, but my sense is it was treated as just an isolated incident.
I've adjusted my ratings slighly down to reflect the need to provide service, and my concerns about quality of some of the components, as described.
If youíre a value-conscious espresso geek, and donít mind rolling up your sleeves from time-to-time, the Techno is an outstanding choice.