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Ascaso Steel - Sean Sweet's Review
Posted: December 10, 2008, 7:00pm
review rating: 8.6
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
Ascaso Steel Espresso Line
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Arrow The Ascaso Steel has 20 Reviews
Arrow The Ascaso Steel has been rated 8.13 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since October 19, 2005.
Arrow Ascaso Steel reviews have been viewed 153,229 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Leszek Nowosielski 9.50
Jeff Spirer 9.00
Damian S 9.00
Sean Sweet 8.60
Ryan Johnson 8.00

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 8.0
Product Reviewed: Steel Uno PM Prof
Manufacturer: Ascaso Quality: 8
Average Price: Varies Usability: 7
Price Paid: $750.00 Cost vs. Value 9
Where Bought: Morala Trading Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 1 month Overall 8
Writer's Expertise: I live coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Breville Cafe Roma, Delonghi Retro
Bottom Line: The "Spanish Silvia" provides much more pleasure than grief; works and looks great.
Positive Product Points

+ Key components are commercial grade - brass boiler and chrome plated brass group & PF; 58 mm basket

+ 3 way solenoid - can backflush

+ Once warmed up, heat seems pretty stable

+ Looks bloody great, esp the stainless steel and blue LEDs.  Micro-switches work well and have a near professional feel to them.  

+ Huge drip tray - allows for liberal flushing before and between shots.

Negative Product Points

- Lag time between steaming and next shot.  Manual says 5 mins.  I wait 2 or 3, then run water through through steam wand which lowers temp quickly.

- Steam wand is a bit short.  I can't get as close to the bottom of my pitcher as I'd like to.

- Screen and brewhead is low; can't fill more than 14 to 15g of coffee (no updosing).  Whole group sits low, so putting taller cups under is difficult to impossible.  

- Slight moisture/steam escapes the wand between shot pull and steaming.  I understand this is normal for traditional pump driven single-boiler machines; irritated me at first, but am fine with it now.

- Though overall the machine is solidly built, the knob controlling steam valve is plastic and can come off.  Not a big deal, but in this price range ($800 Canadian), I expected all parts to be solid.

- I can't figure out the smartest way to remove (and clean) the water reservoir.  There are 2 hoses running in, both fed through a metal clasp that is screwed on to the plastic reservoir.

Detailed Commentary

Worth stating up front that this is my first 'real' machine.  Had a great little thermoblock (with pressurized PF) I used daily for nearly 3 years that did not prepare my skills for a pump driven single-boiler machine.  Also, I did not pick up a proper tamper (now use a 58 mm convex Espro) until week 2, so results in week one were hit & miss, mostly miss.
Was surprised how detailed the entire process is on a machine like this.  I had the manual - the translation from Spanish is a bit clunky in places, with one outright error - and assorted notes (thanks to several CG members) spread out over the counter and used a stopwatch for each step.  I've got it down to quite manageable now, and only use the stopwatch for shot pull time and steaming time (will eventually drop the latter).

If properly warmed up (30 minutes minimum, 60 is better), shots are consistent and good to great.  The reason they are not always great is the limitation of my grinder, a Baratza Virtuoso.  On factory setting (I may recalibrate for espresso), sometimes 2 results in a good pull (20 to 26 seconds); sometimes it has to be at 1.  I can't knock Ascaso for this.

Steaming remains a challenge.  I can usually get decent microfoam for a double shot latte in a 12 ounce cup, but has been hard to replicate.  A 60 to 65 second steaming (burying wand after pitcher ceases to be cool) seems right.  I can't pour what I would call art, but I assign that blame to my skills, not the Uno.  
What I have NOT been able to do is steam enough milk for 2 singles in 9 oz latte cups at once.  The milk volume is fine, but comes out as hot milk, not textured.  Have tried a lot with very little success.
Still on the subject of steaming, I wish the wand was slightly longer.  Currently using a 20 oz Toroid pitcher (Espro), I may try a smaller one.

All in all, I am quite happy with the Uno.  My feeling about the machine comes close to what some people feel about their cars - pride, satisfaction, a suspicious guardedness of others around it.
Was roughly a 300% jump in price from my previous machine to this and would've been an even bigger jump to where I really wanted to be.  Two weeks ago, I would have ranked quality and aesthetics, above, higher than I did, but I have recently seen and done reading on the Giotto Rocket, La Spaz Vivaldi and V-Tech Uno.  
Would I buy again?  With the same budget and list of must-have components/features, yes.  If I could go back in time to before I bought my current grinder (purchased 2 or 3 months before the espresso machine), would I change anything?  Probably.  I may have gone with a Rocky/Silvia combo or got the Ascaso Steel Duo Prof or V-Tech Uno (2 boilers, same as Ascaso Duo) and then searched eBay and craigslist for a used Super Jolly grinder.

Buying Experience

I first approached Creative Cookware, who was offering a free starter kit with the machine for the same price as elsewhere.  They were enthusiastic, but did not have an Uno in stock (expected a wait of several weeks).  I then went to Morala, recommended by Mark in his First Look of the Steel Duo, who did have in stock (but no starter kit or anything extra thrown in).  The next day, Joe at Creative emailed me to say his Unos had just come in, though by that time I had already placed my order with Morala.

Hamid at Morala was positive and responsive, though he erroneously told me that the Uno Prof did not have a three-way valve (I emailed the Ascaso factory in Spain and Pilar said all Prof models have the 3 way valve and can be backflushed).  
My machine arrived in perfect condition, one week after ordering (it traveled from Ottawa or Toronto to Vancouver).  Not sure where I can go for service, should I need it - I will ping Morala with questions and include in the 3 month or 1 year update.

Three Month Followup

I've got this down to proverbial art-science, now, and am loving life with the Ascaso.  Warm up of 45 mins to one hour results in quite stable temps.  Recalibrating my grinder (Baratza Virtuoso) has given me heaps more range on the fine end, and I've got milk texturizing down to about as good as I can - latte art quality milk almost every time.  
Compared to some HX machines, I still lament the lag time after frothing and the frothing itself takes awhile (just over a minute for a double latte), but am overall quite happy with the machine.  My next step up will be to a La Spaziale, so will be leaving the single boiler class altogether.

Sole question remaining:  Does this machine have a 3-way valve?  Mark says no, but Pilar at the Ascaso factory in Spain says all units in the Pro line do.  I have backflushed three times and all seems to go as it should (suds arrive in the drip tray, not the water reservoir).  I will continue to do so until someone tells me I am killing my machine.

One Year Followup

It's been roughly 1.5 years with the Ascaso, now, and my overall feelings are mixed.  I make great espresso and lattes with it everyday, consistently better than most coffee shops and certainly better than 90+% of the coffee drinks served in homes.  I also love how it looks and received great follow up service from Graham at Canterbury (does warranty work for Morala in Vancouver), who has been in the BC coffee industry since before Expo 1986.

Having said that, in retrospect, I wish I'd have upped my budget and gotten a machine with 2 boilers or an HX machine.  An Oscar, La Spaz Vivaldi II or even the Ascaso Steel Duo (I have the Uno).  1 minute to steam milk and a lag before pulling another shot is too long - even if it's mainly me drinking one or two doubles a day.  Live and learn.

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review rating: 8.6
Posted: December 10, 2008, 7:00pm
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