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Flama Espresso - All - Ken Shear's Review
Posted: April 23, 2006, 8:07pm
review rating: 8.7
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
Flama Espresso Machines - All
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Arrow The Flama Espresso - All has 1 Reviews
Arrow The Flama Espresso - All has been rated 8.80 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since April 6, 2006.
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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 8.8
Product Reviewed: Zentrum
Manufacturer: Flama Quality: 8
Average Price: Varies Usability: 9
Price Paid: $85.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: Ebay Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 1 year Overall 9
Writer's Expertise: I like coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Francis Francix X3
Bottom Line: A little engine that gets the job done -- highly recommended if you're looking for an inexpensive, light duty but dependable machine that makes good coffee.
Positive Product Points

Makes great coffee consistently every time -- very predictable output.  Best coffee and best crema I've been able to get from an inexpensive home espresso machine.  Great value considering the low price.

Negative Product Points

Fairly light duty -- you can make two double espressos, then you have to let the machine recovery for 5 - 10 minutes.

Detailed Commentary

I'm lucky in that I live a few blocks away from a really great coffee house (Victrola in Seattle, WA) where they roast some fabulous beans and serve really excellent espresso.  I get most of my espresso at Victrola so I use my home espresso maker maybe every other day or so for a second cup in the evening.  I really like coffee but I'm not what you'd call a fanatic about it.  The Flama Zentrum is a big hit with me because it makes great coffee consistently and it comes at a really reasonable price.

Last year we decided to upgrade after our old espresso maker died and I decided to research the subject of espresso makers.  I of course came to Coffee Geek, and after reading hundreds of reviews, I determined I was pretty much over my head.  There seemed to be many pluses and minuses to whatever coffee maker, and you could easily spend $500 or even $1000 on even a home setup including the espresso maker and grinder.  So, finally, we took a chance on a Francis Francis X3, because (a) it actually had some pretty good reviews (although I also saw the negatives) and (b) it looked great at least.  But, we weren't happy with the coffee.  I'm not a big fan of packets because I get much, much better coffee from our local roaster (Victrola).  Using real coffee I couldn't get to Francis Francis to consistenly produce good espresso.  

So, I decided to try again.  Still overwhelmed with the variety of espresso makers available and the variety of reviews for all of them, I took the other approach, and bought a brand-new Flama Zentrum on Ebay, because (a) it only cost about $80 and (b) I could find out virtually nothing about it.  I did determine, after much hunting around, that this was a Portugese machine.  Flama is the manufacturer, and I eventually found their website, which is cool looking, but pretty hard to find your way around.  From the Flama website I determined that the Zentrum has a stainless steel boiler and is supposed to produce steam at the proper pressure.  So I risked the $80 and bought it.  To my surprise, the machine looked pretty good and seemed decently made (although there's alot more plastic than the Francis Francis).   An even nicer surprise was, the Flama makes great coffee every time.  

I was impressed by the consistent crema and strength of the coffee.  Then, a few months ago, I found some really cool Bodum expresso cups -- they're clear glass and double-layered so you can see the espresso as it drips out and the coffee stays nice and warm in the cup if you want to take your time sipping.  (I found these cups at the SFMOMA store in the international area of SF Airport a few months ago)  In these clear cups, the expresso from the Flama kind of looks like you're pouring a very dark rootbeer, there's that much crema.  

(I also use an inexpensive Cuisinart burr grinder which is serviceable but very noisy.  The key thing from my perspective is using really good coffee and I'm lucky because Victrola provides a continuous stream of really good and interesting beans.)

The Flama even allows me to make an interesting drink I haven't seen anywhere when I want something a little sweet.  There's so much crema I can skim it off and put it in a separate cup.  Then, I add a little sugar to the crema, mix it up, and pour it back.  So I can get sweeted crema on unsweetened coffee, which is a nice combo.  

I think this little machine is a great value if you're looking for good coffee and you don't need to make alot of it in a short period of time.

Buying Experience

I bought this on ebay and haven't seen it there again. I think the Flama Zentrum may be a fairly hard item to find, but from my experience I think other Flama products might be worth a try.

Three Month Followup

The Flama has continued to hold up well under light usage -- still makes great espresso with lots of crema.  Given the low price, it is now exceeding satisfactory life expectancy.  

If you're making a milk drink, here's what works best in my experience.  (1) turn on the milk steaming pressure/temp setting (higher than coffee).  (2) when the machine is ready, steam the milk (3) turn back to coffeemaking pressure/temp (4) run a little water through without the coffee, to bring the pressure down (5) make coffee.  If you make the coffee first, you have to wait a couple of minutes for the pressure to build up after making your espresso.  But if you steam the milk first, you need to reduce the pressure.  In my experience, when pressure is too high it degrades the expresso quality.  (This may be a reason for some higher-end machines producing lower quality coffee, at least to my taste)  The Flama works great for making cappucinos, if you run the pressure down before making the coffee.

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review rating: 8.7
Posted: April 23, 2006, 8:07pm
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
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