The machine is an Ascaso Dream
After buying a ďrealĒ grinder this summer, (a Demoka stepless which Iím very happy with) it wasnít long before I began to get an itch to replace my 8 year old Krups. Iíd been reading through the articles here in order to figure out what kind of grinder I needed, so I had naturally read a number of articles about the espresso machines.
To be honest, I thought you were all a little insane. When I started reading into temperature and pressure surfing, I was sure you were all insane. I tried to explain to my girlfriend that just because I wanted to spend over 500 euros on an espresso machine, it didnít mean that I was crazy. So I told her about some of the people who wrote here.
ďThese people are breaking open their machines and sticking temperature probes in there. Then youíre supposed open the steam valve for 2.5 seconds then, exactly 30 seconds before you make your shot, you grind 23 grams of beans which have been roasted between 3.5 and 6.6 days before, then turn off the steam, then stand on your head for 5 seconds ÖĒ
Ö and we broke down laughing. But she gave the OK and said we could go ahead and get whatever I wanted. So the next Saturday, we went to a shop that would have that kind of equipment (Which in France and Belgium is rare). They had some upper low end machines, but finally I mentioned the Ascaso and they had just gotten the catalog. My girlfriend took one look at the dream and told me she wanted that one. Who was I to say no? Two weeks later I took it home. Just one point: It seems that Ascaso is considerably more expensive in Europe than in the states, but after checking the forums, I decided not to fool around with electricity for another 200 bucks. Especially because as I said above, most people around here don't buy machines like this.
One thing Iím not sure about: other reviews mention a pressure gauge for this machine. I have a temperature gauge.
Grinder used Ė the Demoka metioned above.
Coffee used Ė Various. Began with A. Nanani a brand named after an Italian racer or soccer player or something, but the coffee is great.
Tamper used - the crappy plastic one that came with the machine. Just got a real one yesterday, but it doesnít quite fit the portefilter.
Knock box Ė My girlfriend is picking up the Grindenstien from the post office today.
Out of the box, the machine is really beautiful. It has a nice retro look, and I got it in fire engine red. It has nice big clunky metal switches. The water tank is made of solid plastic, but it has no real handle and is difficult to get to without moving the machine. Also the drip tray looks cool, but itís almost impossible to get out without a butter knife. I read the f-n manual which was good enough. Carefull: it talks about pod filters, ground filters, and combi filters all at the same time. I got a bit confused. In fact there are two handles which can be used for everything, one pod portefilter, one normal portefilter, two baskets which can hold grind or pods, and two baskets for grind.
I made a first shot the first night just to get a feeling. I was on the ground floor and my girlfriend up the second (third for Americans). She immediately said that it smelled pretty damn good. We just took a sip each and then I threw it away, but already I could tell that I had moved to another stage in my coffee experience.
First Week: Settling In
Getting the grind right was easy (but that's more due to the grinder). After a few tries, I was getting nice crema. Iím sure I could go a little finer, but for the moment Iím working on other aspects. Anyway, the machine hasnít even come close to getting stuck.
I noticed after a few shots that if I simply let the water heat and made my coffee, the temperature dropped off very quickly. So I started being a little crazy and surfing for the right temperature. Of course this was easy, because the gauge was right there on the front of the machine. I didnít have to open the thing up and stick in probes. I tried surfing up and down as I had seen in different articles. I finally came up with this method. For this machine, it works like a ďdreamĒ (all puns are always intended).
Run an empty to fill up the one or two cups that youíre going to pull. This will heat up the cups. No: I will not leave the machine on day and night just to keep the cups and the group hot. Sorry, maybe Iím just too green. One dry run (or should we say wet run?) is enough to heat the cups and the group quite well. Put the cup(s) on the top of the machine with hot water still in them.
Fill the basket and tamp.
By this time, if this isnít your first cup, the machine may already be back up to about 110 or 115 degrees. Pour water until it the temperature starts dropping. Even when you stop the water, the temperature should keep falling down to 90 or 80.
Turn the steam heater switch on (CLACK !!), put the portefilter in and empty your cups.
When the temperature gets where you want, turn the steam switch off and the brew switch on (double CLACK !!). This is one of the things I love about the machine, the levers really go CLACK Ö itís great.
Youíll see that if you do this, the temperature will never go down more than a few degrees while the shot is being pulled. Most of the time, it will remain constant.
Youíve got one (or two) great espresso(s). You can really tell the difference. I made two shots one after the other using the two methods (the above and the normal way) and had people taste. The difference is huge.
As to the actual temperature, I know that here at coffeegeeks, everyone says 110į C, but the guys at Koffiecentrale (in Holland) say that depends on the coffee. And Iíve found this to be true. Heartier coffee can take the 110 or even a bit more. More delicate coffees really need to go through at between 100 and 105 (wait a minute, whoís the crazy obsessive espresso barrista now?). In any case, with this machine, you can decide on any temperature and if you follow the steps above, youíll get that temperature. Itís good to have control.
Now Iíve got the tamper, and I plan to start finessing the grind. But in general, everyone whoís tried one of my shots (and believe me no can leave the house without trying at least one) has agreed the machine makes great espresso. Oh and one thing I noticed. I used to start the day with two double shots. Now, my coffee is so intense, two singles do me fine. Itís more about the taste and intensity than about the volume.
So I think I covered everything except the steam thing. Iím not gonna write about that, because I drink cappuccino about twice a year, so Iím in no position to write about it.
In any case, compared to what Iíve read about comparatively priced machines (Iím thinking about the Sylvia in particular) I find the Dream to be a good machine for someone who is serious about their espresso, and is willing to invest without going on to the Prosumer level. Most importantly, itís consistent. Once I figured something out I was always able to reproduce that effect.
If you see the Buddha on the road Ö pull him a good shot of espresso !!