Real simple mechanics and no electronic gadgets so I expect excellent reliabilty just like the "old" machines you find in the "old" Italian bars and cafes and poolhalls.
The body is all THICK stainless steel and you could take a hammer to it and it would survive. Oh yeah, it makes the machine really heavy. The footprint of the machine is perfect. The Tea stands out but is not overwhelming; ideal size for the home.
The drip tray is gigantic and perfect for lazy people like myself as you could go a week without emptying it; probably holds 1.5 liters.
It‘s also got two guages: one for the boiler and one for the brewing group so you can watch the bars at work while the coffee is coming out. Really nice touch (ditto for the green brew light) I find 10 bars during brewing makes the right kind of espresso for me. Pre-infusion is around 5 seconds. All total: 30 seconds makes for a perfect regular 1oz espresso.
The E61 brew group is fantastic and the coffee that comes out it is way beyond my imagination even one week later. I had a single boiler Brasilia Lady for six years (great machine)and the espresso was outstanding but the quality of espresso out of this machine is just plain crazy good. The coffee looks and tastes like some kind of chocolate espresso syrup (I don‘t take sugar so I notice this kind of stuff) and the crema is 1cm thick and sticks to the side of the cup and this is on a single dose of coffee in a single serving portafilter. And I‘m using the same brand of beans I‘ve used in my Brasilia.
The Tea probably has unlimited steam. I opened her up and a twelve inch steam tail popped out and two minutes later the boiler still showed 1 bar and the tail was still there. I closed her up when all the windows in my kitchen started to fog up !!! 8oz of milk was hot and frothy in 20 seconds. Probably has enough steam to do 2/3rd of liter of milk without having to rebuild pressure in the boiler.
The styling of the tea was a plus for me; think 1950‘s sci-fi movie spaceship prop. Utilitarian with no curves thus outdated thus timeless.
Negative Product Points
The water reservoir is probably smaller than the drip tray. It‘s suppose to hold 3 litres (doubtful) but with the weight-activated water-level sensor it‘s more like two litres. Get use to filling it everyday cause the machine auto-shuts off with no warning when there is not enough water. The first time it happened I thought I overloaded a circuit breaker.
The brewhead is exposed and very hot. Easy to get burned. Especially your inner wrists !!
I‘ve figured that with HE machines, it‘s a good idea to bleed about a cup of water out of the group as it‘s likely going to be too hot (due to HE surrounded by very hot water in boiler)and replace the water in the HE with some nice fresh "cool" water from the reservoir if you haven‘t used the machine for more than 5 minutes (rule of thumb, other factors too). I can tell by the sound of the water coming out of the group how much water to bleed versus how long the machine has sat; when the water sounds "smooth" the HE is the right temperature. You can also tell by looking at the water coming out of the group; if it‘s too hot it won‘t be very clear due to heat induced micro air bubbles. I checked with thermometer.
It was a pain in the beginning but now I just bleed it while I dose/tamp my coffee and it‘s no longer inconvenient. Definitely wish the water reservoir were bigger !!!
I was going to buy a La Cimbali Junior but it was too much machine for my moderate espresso habit. I settled on the Giotto after some research but when I went to check out the machine at the store an espresso machine technician was walking by and he saw me by the Gitto and I asked him what he thought: he just winked and said "The Isomac is a good machine too". Poof! he was gone.
So I did some research on the Isomac on the net and I‘m certain it‘s actually a related company to ECM, the makers of the Giotto. In fact, the components are almost exactly the same and on the Isomac badge on the Tea it actually says "Espresso Coffee Machines". Hmmm ??
The Tea has a more powerful heating element than the Giotto (1400w versus 1300 watt), an extra brewing bar guage and along with the "Vapore Continuo" steam technology (versus the widely acknowledged steam-challenged Giotto) all said that the Tea had the ability to make espresso that was just as good as the Giotto (E61 and same mechanical components) but it had a couple of big pluses.
It was the same price as the Giotto ($2000 in Toronto for the Stainless model) so I opted for the Isomac Tea. By the way, this is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for an espresso machine so if you are considering it don‘t even try to justify it. Just tell yourself it‘s a reward for hard work and you‘ll feel better.
This is a great machine for anyone who wants to move up from a high-end single boiler home machine. For an experienced home machine user, the taste of the third espresso you make on the Tea will say it all. Different league.
Gee, the first time I‘ve ever researched any purchase and I think it paid off.
A great deal of thanks to Coffekid and his great coffee content.
Three Month Followup
One Year Followup
I wrote the first review of the Isomac Tea on Coffeegeek so this is my 7 year follow-up.
Sadly, over this period of time the machine was just not able to overcome it's engineering flaws and I've retired it to the trade-in pool of my local Espresso dealer while I search for my next manual machine. In the interim I'm getting very lazy and use to the Jura S9 AvantGarde Super Automatic which my Barista mentor (35 years plus on a manual machine) has sucumbed to for home use with the simple saying "Do you really want to spend 30 minutes in the kitchen making espresso for your guests or would you rather be sitting at the table drinking it with them ?" Practicality prevails.
Lucky I'm not practical so I'm going to get a new manual espresso machine soon. Not sure what yet. This is what I learned about the Isomac Tea.
Do yourself a favor and get rid of the internal water tank. Extend the hose and use an exterior water reservoir. Why ? The water gets so hot and builds so much vapor inside the machine that it messes up the gauges and switches. I spent probably $300 on these repairs.
There is a simple Y valve supply line connector inside the machine. It's not heatproof despite being right beside the boiler. It will fail and water will flood to the bottom and destroy the electrical block. Change this valve to something heatproof.
You need to check the electrical connections to ensure they are tight and clean. The heat buildup and then cooling causes them to become lose. They cause intermittent problems and will short some components.
I really miss this machine as it made great coffee from day one but I didn't miss having to haul it to the repair shop every couple of months. I probably spent $800 on repairs the last two years and although there are a lot of commercial quality components inside the machine there are also a lot of non-commercial quality components and this was the problem.
So what have I learned from speaking with all the master technicians: It's what on the inside of the machine that is important and to have a long-lasting enduring machine you have to start with the best components. Judge the machine by what is inside and the workmanship there. And it's going to cost you more.
I like the design and build of the Dalla Corte Mini, the Olympia Maximatic and the La Cimbali Junior.