THE $99.00 ESPRESSO
There it was in the latest KMart
catalogue; a $99.00 (US$77.00) pump espresso machine badged by Black &
Decker. At that price it was just too good to resist, so I nipped out and
picked one up. I realised that as with similar Sunbeam and Breville
espresso machines, this one would be made in China, and would be mostly
plastic and aluminium, but even if I simply disassembled it and removed
the pump I would have recovered more than half my money.
So, with the machine in the box, tools
and a camera I set out to determine exactly how good (or bad) a $99.00
machine could be.
comes packed in "egg carton" recycled paper material.
||Included in the
box are 2 x 120ml china cups & saucers and a teensy (150ml?)
is the first disappointment; VERY lightweight with a DEEP aluminium
filter holder and only a single shallow filter basket. According to
the manual, this is for both single and double shots.
is stainless steel, held in place with a brass water distribution
nut. A bit short on holes, it won't be that good at spreading the
water. The group collar is some sort of ABS plastic, which might get
brittle with age.|
basket (on the left) is very similar to the Saeco single filter,
middle, and only holds 7g of coffee at most. The Saeco double is on
the right. Diameter is just under 53mm. The filter basket actually
has internal markings for 1 & 2 cups of coffee, which represent
about 3 & 6g of coffee respectively(!).
heating up for about 30 minutes, it's time to try a shot. Flush
about 30ml of water, lock & load, press button. The portafilter
design "blows bubbles" of crema, but after 25 seconds I've got a
rather pale 30ml shot. Coffee used was Espresso Meridionale ground
on my standard setting.|
thermostat in the styrofoam cup trick gives a maximum temperature
over 5 shots of 84°C, which is definitely too cool.
||But the water
debit is about 95 ml in 10 seconds, which is fine. A check of the
steaming capacity shows that this is surprisingly good too, although
the steam is a little "wet".|
|Time to turn off
the machine, let it cool down and do a bit of disassembly. Removing
the water distribution nut, the showerscreen and the (surprisingly
long) spring and nipple valve lets about 150ml or so of water out.
Hang on a minute...
be a thermoblock machine! Taking off the top reveals a proper
aluminium boiler, estimated capacity about
|Internally this is a well
built and finished machine, with boiler furniture similar to
much more expensive machines. Interesting feature is the boiler
pressure release valve, first time I've seen one like this on a
domestic machine, and the teflon pipe which carries the steam from
the boiler to the valve, and then to the steam wand. Both the pump
and the boiler pressure release valves feed back into the
reassemble, but first I checked out the group gasket. It appears to
be made from high temperature silicone rather than the usual
back together, I try "temperature surfing", turning the "steam"
switch on for 10 seconds before starting to brew. This gives a water
temperature of 90°C!|
|So It's load up
the portafilter, tamp and pull a "surfed" shot. Now THAT'S more like
spectacular, certainly not a "god shot", but it is an acceptable
|Mind you, I
doubt that I could jam any more coffee in the filter basket, but I'm
looking at those Saeco baskets with a bit of speculation.
diameter of the portafilter seems just 0.5mm too small for the Saeco
baskets, and it is only aluminium. I'm contemplating a bit of work
plastic "froth aider" from the steam wand reveals a more or less
normal single hole steam tip. Much easier to clean, better microfoam
||The teensy jug's
a bit disappointing though, very thin and flimsy, feels more like
tin than stainless steel.|
So what's the conclusion? Well, I reckon
that the machine has a brilliant pump and boiler set up, badly let
down by poor thermostat settings and a ridiculous portafilter and basket.
You CAN'T make an espresso with 3g of coffee. Oh, and the "drip tray"
holds about one drip, if that. At $99.00 it would be an OK "one espresso
at a time" machine if you couldn't afford anything better. You CAN
get a decent espresso if you know what you're doing, which is more than
can be said for most thermoblock machines, but the potential is there for
even better. I really wish they'd left out the cups & jug and put in a
better portafilter and a double basket.
I have access to a fair range of
thermostats, and I'm going to see what I can do with the interior of the
portafilter and the Saeco baskets. Who knows, a bit of inexpensive
tweaking may turn a $99.00 machine into the something much
I have a new article up at http://www.coffeeco.com.au/articles/glossary.html
, an Illustrated glossary of espresso terminology, which should make it
much easier to communicate with my customers, as we’ll both have a
picture of what I’m talking about.
The Imat machines are once again in stock, and should start shipping by Friday 5th
of March. I’ve also committed to the import of a “high-end” heat
exchanger machine, and we’re in the process of working out final
transport details now. More on this next month.