Beautiful styling, all stainless construction, (even the frame) solidly built, pulls great shots with tons of crema, attractive price. This machine is a winner!
Positive Product Points
The Relax is really good looking in itís all stainless construction. The simple pushbutton controls make it a pleasure to use and it produces great espresso, ready to go right out of the box. The water reservoir is easy to fill and the only components on the casing that are even close to anything plastic are the heavy bake-o-lite portafilter handles and valve knobs. I believe this machine offers exceptional value with quality and features found in machines costing $ 400.00 or $ 500.00 more such as the Rancilio S24 or the Pasquini Livia 90.
Negative Product Points
Nothing is perfect and I have to mention the water reservoirís auto-shutoff feature. The spring-activated switch will turn the unit off when there is still almost a liter of water in the tank. This is very frustrating when entertaining. Perhaps the spring tension is adjustable in the field but I feel a design change is in order. Also there really is no operation and maintenance manual supplied with the unit. Chrisís Coffee writes a brief two page interpretation of Isomacís setup instructions. While this may get you up and running, I would like to see something similar to what comes with most kitchen appliances.
I acquired a love for espresso when I lived in Lyon, France for a year right after graduating from college. Back in 1988-89 you could get a single shot of espresso in a French Cafť for .30 to .50 cents. I have wanted a good espresso machine since then. It seems that if you want a machine that will brew coffee and steam milk simultaneously, and only want to buy once, you need a semi-commercial unit and must spend around $1,000.00.
After much research and getting my wife on board with the idea (she loves latteís and Americanos) I set about examining all that was available with the help of the internet. I came to the conclusion that Isomac makes a good quality machine and aims for the ďposumerĒ market niche with itís line of very attractive stainless steel units. I narrowed our choices down to the Tea and the Relax. The Tea is beautiful but I understand the exposed group head gets rather hot and I did not really care for the lever actuated brewing. I really liked the styling of the Relax as it has a more traditional espresso machine look to it, like something you would find on the bar in some little out-of-the way cafť. The stainless steel construction and boiler size sold me and after much deliberation we decided on the Relax. It really looks great in our kitchen and we get lots of compliments from friends.
We purchased our machine from Chrisís coffee toward the end of their August price special and it arrived three days later in a securely packaged double box. My wife, who was about two weeks away from the due date of our second child met me at the door. As I excitedly walked in the house with the machine she was holding her rounded middle section and announced ďI think this is itĒ. I was a little disappointed that I couldnít play with the new machine right away but, family comes first. We spent the next four hours at the hospital only to be told that it was a false alarm. We were sent home and it would be almost two weeks until our new baby boy would arrive for real.
The Relax is a heavy machine at 47 pounds out of the box. When you set it on your kitchen counter you will find that, although it does not take up too much room, it will be one of your more conspicuous appliances. At a height of 15-1/4Ē it fits under a standard cupboard clearance of 16-1/2Ē above the countertop and it is not too wide at 11 inches. Remember to reserve some room for your new espresso grinder. I followed Chrisís recommendation of a simple plug-in surge protector to guard against voltage spikes. When the machine is on for an extended period of time it is a good idea to pull it forward on the countertop and get it far out from under the cupboard to allow maximum dissipation of built up heat.
The first obstacle we had to overcome was water quality. Detroitís municipal water supply is top-notch but contains a lot of dissolved solids. The test strips included with the machine indicated we were a little over the recommended maximum 3 grains of hardness. I have been using one gallon bottles of reverse osmosis water for about .88 cents each. I mix about 75% reverse osmosis water and 25% tap water, considerably reducing the amount of dissolved solids the machine will see. Iím hoping this lowered concentration will reduce lime scale but still allow proper operation of the auto-fill boiler system, which does not operate well with distilled or de-ionized water.
Making espresso with the Relax is really easy and enjoyable. I like the large stainless steel push buttons for power and brew. You simply load the portafilter, tamp to 30 pounds, press the brew button and watch the machine do itís magic. If your tamp and grind combination is good then timing a 20-25 second shot will usually produce an excellent result. Even the slightly mistimed shots are pretty darn good. With practice, I have pulled some fairly good multiple singles and doubles. We really like the hot water dispenser which is used for pre heating cups, making tea, instant oatmeal and soup. It is a perfect height off the drip tray so you can set the cup or mug directly underneath without having to hold it in place.
The Relax produces seemingly endless quantities of dry steam enabling you to froth and steam plenty of milk in short order. On a few occasions, while entertaining, I have made four to six single shot latteís very quickly, two at a time. Before you know it six or eight of your guests are sipping quality latteís, which is very rewarding. Chrisís Coffee also includes a smaller, two hole steam tip for frothing. This smaller tip allows you to get lots of foam on smaller quantities of milk without scalding. For the most part we do our latteís just fine with the larger tip. Remember to purge the condensed steam out of the wand before steaming. It only takes a second and will prevent a little blast of hot water from diluting your milk.
Cleanup and maintenance is pretty important as I hope to have this machine with me twenty years from now. I have gotten into the habit of quickly rinsing the shower screen and portafilter after each shot. Backflushing is really easy using the blind filter basket supplied with the unit. I usually do a three or four cycle backflush every other day and use the Cafiza espresso machine cleaner once a month per Chrisís recommendation. The rather large sized drip tray comes in handy during brewing and clean up as itís capacity does not require emptying until the end of a session
Buying from Chrisís Coffee was a great experience. Before I placed the order I had a number of questions to ask. Normally you talk directly to Chris himself, but he was out of town the day I called to place my order. I spoke to a tech, also named Chris, from the service department and he patiently answered all of my questions. Mary took my order and three days later the UPS man walked into my office with our new machine. Chrisís Coffee Service appears to have a commercial coffee service side and then also a home espresso division that Chris himself likes to personally oversee. Chrisís Coffee Service is very customer oriented, going the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction.