The Salvatore One Black is an entry level semi-automatic HX espresso maker that Salvatore brought to market in June of last year. Priced at just under $1000, it was an immediate hit. By fall Salvatore announced that they had quit taking orders for the machine due to the overwhelming demand. In January of this year, the backlog had been cleared and Salvatore resumed taking orders. I purchased the One Black at that time. Although the price of the machine had been increased by $100, Salvatore honored the old price of $995 for anyone who placed an order by the end of January.
One Black serial #161 was delivered on March13. The machine came well packaged wrapped in multiple layers of bubble wrap and then placed inside a strong cardboard box. Included in the box were a 12 oz steaming pitcher, a user manual, a single hole steam tip, some machine cleaning tablets, a cleaning brush, and a backflush disc. The single hole tip is in addition to the two hole tip that came mounted on the steam arm.
The somewhat thin owner's manual that shipped with the one black provides enough information to get the unit up and running. Startup is straight forward. The water reservoir is filled, the steam valve opened, the machine powered up and boiler allowed to fill. The boiler water level sensor shuts down the pump once the boiler has been filled to the appropriate level. Note that this sensor also ensures that the proper boiler water level is maintained. The steam valve is left open until water and steam begin to sputter from the steam wand. This last step in necessary because the machine does not have a vacuum breaker valve. The machine is ready to use after about a 30 minute warm up.
There are four controls on the One Black, all on the front panel. A power on/off switch, a brew on/off switch, a hot water valve, and a steam valve. Two lights are mounted on the front panel, a power light and a brew light. There is a large, easy to read manometer mounted on the center of the front panel that indicates boiler pressure. All of the components appear to be of good quality. The switches feel solid when engaged and disengaged. The steam and water valves feel solid as well.
Once the machine has warmed up it is ready to go to work. The boiler pressure is set at the factory to 1.2 bar and I have left it at that setting. The brewing routine with the One Black is similar to other HX machines. A one to three ounce blank cooling shot is pulled to purge the superheated water from inside the heat exchanger. After the heat exchanger has been purged wait a few seconds for recovery, load the portafilter, engage the pump, and brew the coffee.
The dimensions of the One Black are 13"h X 10.5"w X 17 d. With limited counter space and low hanging cabinets the small footprint and low profile was an important consideration in the decision to purchase this machine. The weight is 45 lbs. The machine is built on a powder coated chassis. This is in contrast to many of the machines in this class that have no chassis but rather are held together by the sheet metal that comprises the case. Access to the internal components is fast and simple. It requires the removal of five Phillips head screws, one for the cover and four for the one piece surround. Fit and finish of the One Black is excellent. Aesthetics are always a matter of personal taste and not everyone will find the One Black to be a great looking machine. I prefer its simple lines and powder coating to the mirror polished/chrome plated finish that is common among much of the competition.
Several components that are typical of HX machines in this class were not included in the design of the One Black. These are:
Vacuum Breaker: This means that the One Black cannot be placed on a timer for automatic start at a predetermined time Machine power up requires the user to open the steam valve until the boiler starts creating steam. This typically takes about 5 minutes. This prevents false pressure inside the boiler
Reservoir water level sensor: This means that should the reservoir run dry, the system will not cut power to the machine. This has not proven to be a problem with the One Black. The pump has never powered on unexpectedly. The only time the pump ever comes on is when the machine is being used, i.e. there will be an operator standing next to the machine. When the water supply to the pump is disrupted the pump becomes noisier. It is unmistakable and should alarm the user that the reservoir needs attention. Salvatore designs his machines conservatively and backs it up with a six year warranty. If he isn't worried about , I'm not gong to.
Over Pressure Valve (OPV). This means that the user cannot control the brew pressure to the coffee. The only way one has to control brew pressure is through dosing and grind. While this has not created the problems that I thought it would, it is an annoying limitation in the design that was no doubt created by the amount of room inside the machine. I believe this weakness will cause potential customers to look elsewhere.
Other items worth mentioning:
The smallish 64 oz. water reservoir is mounted directly above the boiler. The water in the reservoir gets hot, around 140 degrees F. This even more troubling in that the reservoir is made from plastic. I would have preferred a reservoir made of glass or stainless.
The machine is low profile, it is short. There is not a lot of room between the bottom of the portafilter and the top of the cup. The Anita had much more room. I don't believe that a large Cappuccino or latte mug will fit under the portafilter. Salvatore does offer bottomless and short spouted portafilters.
The feet on the bottom of the machine are made of a soft rubber. While they provide excellent traction between the machine and the counter, they leave "tire tracks" on the counter when the machine is moved to fill the reservoir. This was easily fixed by affixing some sliders to the bottom of the feet.
The One Black is not designed to be powered on 24 X 7. In fact Salvatore recommends powering on the machine, letting it warm up to operating temperature, brewing of the coffee, and then powering it back down. There is no immediate gratification with the One Black unless you consider the ritual itself to be gratifying.
Now for the most important question: how is it at making espresso? In a word - excellent. I have found that the quality of the espresso brewed by the One Black to be equal to the Anita. I am not a big fan of HX machines, I would prefer to dial in my brew temps with a PID which is not possible with this design. Having said that, with a little practice one easily learns to brew wonderful tasting espressos on machines of this caliber. . Texturing milk is a breeze with the One Black. The machine is a capable steamer, much more so than the Anita or the Silvia. The One Black comes supplied with a single hole and a two hole tip. Using the two hole tip is fast. It takes around 15 to 20 seconds to texture 12 oz of milk for a latte. With the single hole tip, steaming milk on the One Black feels more like the Silvia.
The One Black defies conventional wisdom in that it lacks the refinements of other HX machines in its class, specifically an OPV and E61 brew group, yet it is capable of brewing excellent espresso. I was surprised by this and I am not able to put my finger on why this has proven to be the case. This was not true with my stock Silvia that had a fixed OPV and no PID for temperature control. The Silvia really needed the adjustable OPV and PID to tame her unpredictable nature.
I wish Salvatore would offer a direct connect option for the One Black. That would allow removal of the reservoir. Once that room is freed up, the pump could be moved from the current location and an adjustable OPV valve could be added
Warrantee: The One Black comes with a six year, limited, non transferrable warranty. There are some restrictions. The owner must agree to use low mineral "soft" water only. Bottled water satisfies this requirement. Failure to use low mineral water voids the warranty. The owner has to sign an agreement to this effect and return it to Salvatore. The warranty does not cover shipping either way. The owner pays for shipping to Salvatore for the warranty work and also for shipping to return the repaired unit. This deviates from normal practice where the manufacturer pays the return shipping back to the customer.
Salvatore espresso machines are made to order, i.e. construction of the machine does not start until an order is placed. A down payment is required at the time the order is made. When making the order it would be a good idea to discuss with Salvatore what penalties, if any, are levied in the event that the order is cancelled prior to delivery. It would also be a good idea to determine what the return policy is prior to placing the order. As far as I know there is no 30 day buyer's remorse program at Salvatore.
I don't know of any other custom hand built espresso machine that can purchased for the cost of the One Black. Clearly the One Black will not satisfy the needs of everyone. If your machine must be available 24 X 7 this is not the machine for you. If you need a machine that can be started from a timer to ensure that it will be ready to brew coffee when you hit the kitchen in the morning it is not the machine for you. If you need to be able to adjust brew pressure then again you should look elsewhere. However, if your need is an excellent cup of espresso, and you have the time and patience to learn and practice the routines required by the One Black , it deserves to be considered. It is a great little machine. I would purchase one again without hesitation.