Take home espresso to the next level, and do it with style.
Positive Product Points
Beautiful Machine, tasty espresso. Easy to use. Cup warmer works well. Lever action fun to use. Great steam power heats milk quickly (maybe too quickly?) Easy to adjust.
Negative Product Points
Gets very hot, be sure to flush the group head prior to use. Hot water only good for two cups at a time, need to let the boiler refill in between.
After 3 years with La Pavoni, I finally decided to get a day to day use machine. One that was easy to use, pulled consistently good espresso, looked good sitting on the counter, and even kept the wife happy. After playing with Giotto, Millenium, Oscar, Livia and Silvia (and a few others,) I settled on the Tea. I found a great price on the machine and made the leap. The three days it took to get here meant that I was deployed before getting to try it, so it sat in the box for a month. Now that I am home, it is time for some coffee...
First impression: Out of the box the look of the Tea is awesome. Beautiful finish and solid construction contribute to a feeling of durability. There are only 6 screws that hold the back panel in place and it removes easily allowing a good inspection of the internals. The internal layout is simple, and most parts are readily accessible for tweaking or replacement. All the external panels fit well, and though my Tea came with the handle on the drip tray, it has been sealed with little gaskets so leaks should not be an issue. It sits well on the counter and will actually fit under most kitchen cabinets. Of course to refill it, one must slide it out, and it is a heavy beast to move.
First use: I slogged through the manual and after a good laugh, I got a good translation from Jim Schulman (thanks Jim). I filled the machine, presoaked and installed a good water softener and fired up the boiler. There is only one switch, 2 knobs and a lever on the machine so operation is surprisingly intuitive. I primed the machine ala the instructions (which consists of flushing the group until water comes out and then allowing it to heat up. Iit took about 2 minutes until the boiler was filled and the machine began heating up. After 3 or 4 minutes you can hear the very faint “hiss” of the pressure relief valve purging air out of the boiler. After 5-7 minutes the boiler light turned off, the ready light illuminated and it was time to play. I refilled the reservoir and pulled nearly a full tank through the group, and a little through the wand. I flushed both handles and filters to play test all the features with plain water. Boiler pressure seemed to stabilize around 1.2 bar so it was good for my purposes. Another refill of the reservoir and I loaded the double filter with four pulls for 15 grams of Peet’s Espresso Forte from the Rancilio Rocky and a good firm tamp and it was time to make coffee. The pressure ran up to about 6 as the first drops hit the cup and I started the clock. Peak pressure was 9 as I pulled 2.25 ounces in 25 seconds. The first shot looked good and tasted great. A few grinder tweaks and I was hitting a pressure of 9 just after the pour started; this put the extraction at 2.5 ounces in 27 seconds with the look of Guinness and the smell of chocolate.
Frothing milk with the 2-hole tip is different, but with a little practice you can easily make any level of foam density. It heats milk very quickly so it is important to froth first and heat second. I found it easiest to keep the nozzle straight up and down in the center of the cup and allow it to pull a little air in as necessary. I will post timing numbers in a subsequent review.
All the theories about the E61 needing a cooling flush are true. If the Tea has set for 10 minutes or so, expect to pull 6-7 ounces of water to bring it to temp. That being said it only takes a little time to do it, and worst case, use the water for an Americano. The high latent heat of the machine makes even the cup warmer work well. If the machine has been on for over 30 minutes, the cups are warm.
The hot water dispenser works well but loses heat very quickly if you pull more than 2 cups at a time. Give the boiler a chance to recharge.
Adjustments and tweaks: One of the main complaints is that the automatic shutoff when the reservoir water gets too low is set too high. That is, it cuts off when there is still a half tank of water available. This setting is great if you use an auto refill system, but for those of us who fill it before use, the shut off during a brew cycle is annoying. The adjustment for this is easy; the switch is mounted below the plate on which the reservoir rests. Remove the back of the machine and loosen the top and bottom nuts that hold the switch in place and lower the switch about 2/3’s of the way down. Tighten the nuts, and confirm the level by emptying the reservoir and slowly filling until the switch goes “click.” Pressurestats can wander, especially if used in different environments (altitude.) The adjustment is easy as the screw is accessible through the slots in the top of the mount. Only a 2.5 to 5 degree turn is necessary to keep the boiler near 1.1 bar (248deg F in the boiler and 198deg F for brewing.) The gauges on the front are surprisingly useful. The brewing pressure gauge gives immediate feedback on the quality of the shot based on delivery pressure. If it reaches 9 bar as the coffee flows, the time to extract will be 25 seconds. Low pressure? Tamp harder. High pressure? Pack it looser.
Problems: None so far. Only a few cautions. First, when tapping hot water, only pull one cup (6-8 oz.) at a time. If the boiler water level drops too low, the machine will shut off the boiler. To restart just cycle the power switch. If you use the water softener that comes with the machine, be sure to soak it first to prevent the substrate from getting sucked into the machine. The machine responds greatly to slight changes in grind, temperature, humidity etc. So don’t be afraid to experiment and be ready to adjust the grinder + or – a click or two on a daily basis.
More to follow...
Easy and reliable. Great service, fast shipping, ready with the answers. I have purchased both grinder and machine through WLL, and everything has worked as advertised.
Three Month Followup
Still loving it!
One Year Followup
This is actually a 4 year followup. Just replaced the plastic Y with a brass T for the supply lines and replaced all silicone. Had to swap the anti-siphon valve out and replace 2 wires. Total cost for repairs was less than 50 dollars. Plus it was after 4 years of daily use and shipping it all the way from Newport to Hawaii. Beats any espresso purchased out here and still impresses. I will probably finally plumb it in so I don't have to refill the reservoir, but that is for next month. It still caffeinates my morning. I would recommend it to anyone who is contemplating the plunge into a high priced (read: high value) machine.
1 month later...Should have done it last month, but changed the group screen and group gasket as well changed out the green neon (finally went out for good.) Put in a new water softner and added the plumbing kit. Total cost was 45 bucks for the repairs and 60 for the plumbing kit. So far I have spent a grand total of $184 in maintenance and repairs and upgrades. Still cheaper than buying a new machine. Oh, I also insulated the boiler (neoprene kit) to make it more efficient.