FEINSCHMECKER REVIEW

Approx Exchange rates - DM1000 = 500 euro - 480 US$ = £325 = Au$930

COMMENTARY

This article is a year old and was published by Feinschmecker - a respected German gourmet magazine.

The machines tested (in finishing order) were the:-
ECM Technika (Giotto or E61 Rocket), La Cimbali Junior S, Bezzera Livia 90S, Grimac La Uno, Isomac A1, ECM Casa Prima, Gaggia Classic Coffee, FrancisFrancis X1, Jura Classic 100, Saeco Magic Capuccino combi,  Alessi Coban (grinder version)

These were 240v machines - 110 chaps might get different results.

Tests were carried out by a panel of 7 pros and a journalist. Testing was carried out in a restaurant and we suspect that time was limited.  They do mention that each machine did 3 "sessions" but whether each panellist tried each machine 3 times or it was done over 3 afternoons is not clear.

I would also have been happier if they had (been able to?) stated that they had done the tasting blind. 
They do mention output temperature on one machine which seems to imply that they had testing equipment available.
Each machine was tested with "fine" and "medium" grounds - I would have preferred the grind be adjusted so that that each machine was run to, say, 2 ounces in 25 seconds.

The scoring system seems very fair - with appropriate and stated weightings given to taste, crema, frothing, ease of use and design.  It does seem as if each panelist has given his mark and these have been averaged.  Note that price has not been a criteria.

The journalist does appear to have lost the plot with trying to talk about pros and cons of machines and attributes that, possibly, he did not fully understand. E.g "ECM Casa has a manometer showing electric pump pressure" and "cups didn't get warm enough" for the Isomac (I bet they didn't for the e.g. Classic either!).  I don't believe this affects the validity of the results, however.  The pro/con listings (after all - the most important as far as us fanatics are concerned) is not up to the standard that we have grown to expect on www.coffeekid.com


Conclusions.

 
We already knew that the Giotto was "the biz" (this is my webpage after all!).

What was surprising was the Francis^2 scoring the same as the Gaggia Classic.   Reviews on coffeekid show that this machine is not well liked (even the 240v one tested). 
On the other hand the Alessi Coban (the stunning looker  - we don't know, IIRC, anybody who has actually tried one) came bottom.  Assuming that they had a badly adjusted thermostat accounting for the too cold output, they even thought it was the hardest to use!
At the end of the day, this is the alt.coffee ideal - or nightmare - 8 knowledgeable people shut away in a room with 11 coffee machines - and told to score them.

TRANSLATED SUMMARY

Translated by our own Margaret Marks -

The following is a summary / translation of an article on an espresso machine test that appeared in Germany in March 2000.

Der Feinschmecker ("The Gourmet") : German foodie magazine. Not to be compared with "Stiftung Warentest", the consumers’ magazine, which no-one would expect to know much about coffee. Der Feinschmecker awakens some (slight) hope…
Date: March 2000. Test of espresso machines
Article by Ralf Frädtke, photos by Götz Wrage
A full-page photo shows very thin, possibly crema-less coffee running rather fast, it appears, into a "pre-warmed" cup."Der Feinschmecker-Club", shows the ECM Technika, (known as Giotto in the USA), the winning machine, plus "the ECM coffee grinder" being offered to club members together for DM 2999. Blurb says the machine was better than some professional machines in its technology and ease of use, yet it’s compact. It has separate heating systems (i.e. heat exchanger) so it can make espresso and froth milk or give boiling hot water at the same time. (It seems readers are not expected to understand much about machines before parting with their DM 2999).

Three pages with pictures and brief summaries of individual machines in three price classes are followed by two pages about the test in more detail.

The grades given to various machines are set out here first. These marks are based on the German school marking system: 1 very good, 2 good, 3 OK, 4 pass, 5 fail, 6 fail and useless. The grades in various categories were weighted as follows : taste and aroma 40%, colour and consistency of crema 20%, quality of froth 15%, ease of use 20%, design 5%.

Machine Taste Crema Frothing Ease of Use Design Overall grade
DM 2000-4000            
ECM Technika 1.3 1.6 1.3 1.7 1.4 1: very good
Grimac La Uno 2 2 2.5 2 2.5 2: good
La Cimbali Junior S 1.8 1.8 1.3 2 3 1: very good
DM 1500-2000            
Bezzera Livia 90 S 1.8 2 1.6 2.2 3 2: good
ECM Casa Prima 2.4 2.3 2.2 2.8 3 2: good
Isomac A1 2 2.2 2 2.4 1.9 2: good
c. DM 1000            
FrancisFrancis X1 2.7 2.9 2.5 2.8 1.7 2: good
Gaggia Classic Coffee 2.7 2.9 2 2.8 3 2: good
Alessi Cobán 4 4.3 3 3.5 2 4: adequate
Saeco Magic Cappuccino combi 3 2.9 4.4 2.7 3 3: satisfactory
Jura Classic 100 3 2.9 2.8 2.7 3.5 3: satisfactory

A few details on each machine, given under photos:

ECM Technika
Overall winner. Jury praised first-class espresso and thick, fine-pored cream, and the logical arrangement of the knobs and wands. Steam always hot and dry for frothing milk. Criticism: brewhead (?) exposed - easy to burn yourself. Price: DM 2999.

Grimac La Uno
Jury liked unspoiled espresso taste and ease of use. Good detail: boiler refills itself , so the machine is protected against overheating. Unsatisfactory: it takes a long time to froth, steam wand is weak, machine is heavy (26 kg) and large (47 cm high, 27 cm wide, 45 cm deep). Some of casing shows bad workmanship. Price: from DM 2000.

La Cimbali Junior S
Professional machine. Fine-pored, dense cream and hot, dry steam were praised. Other positive points: large boiler (2.4 litres), permanent steam as a result of separate boiler, generous cup-warming space. Negative points: weight (30 kg) and size (27 x 32 x 42). DM 3790.

Bezzera Livia 90 S
Best in its price class. Third-best overall, beating the professional Grimac. Perfect frothing, with plenty of hot, dry steam. Nice feature: electronic control of water level in boiler and reservoir. From DM 1900.

ECM Casa Prima
Home machine for uncomplicated coffee enjoyment. Milk for cappuccino froths fast, but the machine takes a long time to reach the necessary boiler pressure (?). Manometer on front is practical. Shows operating pressure of electric water pump. (It does? - most show boiler pressure!) DM 1499

Isomac A1
Professional brewing technology enables it to produce full-bodied aromatic espresso [waffle waffle]. But crema was occasionally too pale and too thin. Procedure for frothing was long-winded: first you use a rocker switch to choose a higher temperature(standard procedure for all except heatexchanger and double boiler machines). And cups don’t get warm enough. DM 1898.

FrancisFrancis X1
Some jurors thought the design was wonderful. But the crema was sometimes too pale. Milk frothing ability was praised. Criticisms: poor workmanship, cup-warmer too small, no symbols on the switches. From DM 907, including a portafilter for pouches (ready-bought portions that look like teabags rather than pods).

Gaggia Classic Coffee
Gaggia and FrancisFrancis X1 were given identical scores. Fast, hot frothing of milk was praised and ease of use. Recommended for cappuccino drinkers. DM 899.

Alessi Cobán
The test machine produced lukewarm espresso, despite a long pre-heating phase. A maximum of 79°C (174°F) was recorded at the point where coffee comes out of the portafilter. Good, dry steam if the condensed water is let off first. Excellent design. DM 1110 (with integrated grinder)

Saeco Magic Cappuccino combi
Hot espresso. The pre-infusion system gives thick cream. Espresso aroma was somewhat disappointed: inharmonious (sic), sometimes sour. Frothing aid is a problem: in the test, the regulator stick (??) for steam pressure came off. Hint: hold the stick when frothing. DM 699 (with integrated grinder).

Jura Classic 100
Portafilter machine with pre-infusion system creates fine cream. But at the cost of taste: espresso was sometimes watery and tasteless. Frothing aid helps make good milk froth for cappuccino. Cupwarmer opening at back is not practical. DM 698.

Sidebars

Frothing: Fill a stainless steel jug with a handle one-third with cold milk and hold it under the steam wand. The wand should be as close to the middle as possible and only slightly enter the milk. When steam is created, there is a loud, slurping noise. The frothed milk must not become too hot - the protein coagulates from about 70°C (158°F). Result: the nice bubbles break up too quickly.
    The Jury : dealer Wolfgang Krah, Illycaffé, Munich; editor / journalist Ralf Frädtke, Der Feinschmecker; coffee expert Elke Timm, from Kaffeeröster Timm, Hamburg/Bergedorf; gourmet Mario Zini, restaurant "La Scala", Hamburg, Lutz Ludmann, Azul Kaffee, Bremen; barkeeper Vanessa Fiorini (assistant); Oliver Griffel, l’espresso; and Michael Beilhard, Espresso Company Hamburg - all in Hamburg - and Gioanni Giuseppetti, Giuseppetti Kaffee, Berlin. The test was held in the restaurant "Vero" in Hamburg.
    Crema: Crema is an important indicator of quality. It consists of the ethereal oils of the coffee bean. Pale, thin foam on the edge of the cup means the espresso has no strength. Causes: too short a brew time or too coarsely ground coffee. On the other hand, if the water is too hot the ground coffee is burnt and becomes dark brown. Good cream is walnut brown with reddish highlights, fine-pored, thick and creamy. It even passes the sugar test: a spoonful of sugar remains resting on the crema for a while before it sinks.
    There is also a listing of automatics but these are not reviewed.

Main article (this has been heavily summarized as a lot of it is repetitive or waffle)
Espresso doesn’t always taste very good if made at home - how can we get it to taste the way it does in Italy?
    A jury composed mainly of experts tested the machines in three sessions and a fourth session to test milk frothing. Each machine was checked before the test and heated up for at least one hour before the coffee was tried. Results: there were no breakdowns and nearly all the machines delivered espresso ranging from satisfactory to very good. Only Illycaffè, medium roast, 100% arabica was used.
    The winner was the ECM "Technika" (aka Giotto); DM 2999, which did better than even the Grimac professional machine and the La Cimbali, which is a lot more expensive.
    Machine technology plays an important role in taste. The brewing temperature is particularly important - it must be at c. 90°C (194°F) and the water must go through the ground coffee in c. 20 to 25 seconds. Some commercial machines only need ten seconds (sic). But if the water isn’t hot enough, the espresso is lukewarm and sour; if it is too hot, the espresso is burnt. The importance of temperature was shown when we tested the Alessi machine. Repeated measuring showed a maximum temperature of 79°C (174°C). Coffee was lukewarm and tasteless. This is why this machine was the only one we gave the grade "adequate".
    The second important factor is the pressure, made by a pump. Experts recommend c. 8 - 10 bar. This means the force exerted by the water on the coffee when the valve is opened. If there isn’t enough force, too little aroma is released. If the pressure is too high, too many bitter substances and tannins end up in the coffee.
    Another criterion: ease of use. How easy is it to make coffee, the insert the portafilter in the group, how complicated is it to clean the machine. During the test it became clear that the current settings of the machines are important. For example, the Jura Classic 100 has a pre-infusion function. This improves the consistency of the cream, but it changes the taste - the coffee was tasteless. If you do not preinfuse, the aroma improves. We also found that the machines need different grinder settings to produce their best results. Isomac A1 needed a very finely ground coffee, whereas FrancisFrancis! X1 needed medium (sic) grind. So in order to get the best results, we tested each machine with two different grinder settings, a medium and a fine. Espresso makers should try this at home.
    The volume of the filter also influences the results. Some manufacturers, such as Gaggia, give their machines professional filters for home use. These filters have a large diameter. Here the coffee should be tamped very firmly or ground very fine.
    Expensive machines are best. Only they have professional brewing and steaming ability. Complex heat exchanger systems and separate heating circuits ensure that the steam and the water are always at the right temperature.
    We had to keep an eye on many points in our test: the coffee should always be freshly ground; the ideal grinder setting depends on the type of coffee; even water hardness affects the taste. If there is too much limescale, the acidity of the coffee does not come out properly, but if you use a water filter, for instance a Brita filter, this problem can be avoided.
    The fully automatic machines recommended above (final sidebar) are very easy to use. They grind the coffee as needed, brew it and automatically tip the puck into a container. There are also practical semi-automatics using pods or pouches. These machines also make coffee that tastes good.

Thumbnail Pictures of Article  - care -   lots of bytes.