Semi-Automatic

  • Choosing a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine - Part 2

    Last week we took a look at some key factors in choosing a semi-auto espresso machine. This week we wanted to touch on some odds and ends of the espresso machine purchasing process!

    What Else Is There?

    In addition to the core elements we discussed last week, espresso machines can do a little something extra too. Gauges, control mechanisms, types of steam wands, and PID Controllers are all bells and whistles that can add substance or just cost. So what are some nifty extras to keep an eye out for?

    One especially common talking point for higher end machines is PID controllers. We have an entire article devoted to how these devices work, so I won't detail everything. That said, to put it simply, PID controllers regulate temperatures. Instead of a thermostat that waits for water to dips below a certain temperature to activate the heating element, a machine with a PID controller is always monitoring water temps. This makes for much more consistent temperatures, and better espresso when brewing.

    What about pressure gauges? This is a question we get a lot. For example, when moving from the Barista Express to the Barista Pro, they dropped the mechanical steam gauge. This bothered some folks, and it's understandable why on the surface. In reality, a pressure gauge is largely only useful for diagnosing problems in the machine. While it can be fun and reassuring to watch the needle on a gauge jump, they aren't really needed for successful operation. This is a nice to have that won't add loads of cost, but don't discount a machine just because it doesn't have one of these.

    Steam and Control

    Control interfaces, on the other hand, can be make or break elements. While we are confident in the interfaces of the machines that we sell at SCG, not all machines are created equal. Oddly placed levers, bad buttons, or worse, can really hamper your enjoyment of using a machine. Personal preference is really going to play a role in determining what your favorite type of interface is, but know that it's reasonable to consider this carefully when shopping.

    Finally, steam wands and water spouts may be a big deal for you too. Some machines, like the Breville Bambino, feature auto steam wands. These can simplify your steaming process and allow you to focus on dialing in your shots. That said, most will prefer finer control. What's nice is that in most cases you can use manual or auto steaming, so you're not locked in. It's a feature you might want to look for if you're brand new to milk steaming in general. It's also important to consider how much a hot water valve matters to you. If you're a regular Americano drinker, you may want to make sure that your machine of choice has this feature, and not all machines do.

    The last thing on the list is, of course, aesthetic. You'll want to love the way your machine looks, because it will likely be a long time before you buy another one!

  • SCG Expert Review: Barista Pro All-In-One Espresso Machine

    The Barista Express has been the gold standard for new home baristas for years now. By combining a quality espresso grinder with solid brewing and steaming, Breville build a winner in the Express. It has always been an easy machine to recommend as a first purchase, or upgrade from a cheaper, less powerful brewer. So how does the new Barista Pro stack up? Is it just a higher price tag with a fancier face? The short answer is no, the long answer is a lot more interesting.

     

    Visual Design

    The Barista Pro features a completely redesigned case that maintains a similar footprint as the Express, but with a totally different look. Most recognizable is the addition of a backlit screen, somewhat similar to the Barista Touch. This screen provides information about grind fineness, amount, and timers. Keeping all of this on one screen makes dialing in the machine a little friendlier. Rather than track numbers in different places, you can review everything about the grind settings at a glance. The screen also offers a shot timer, a huge boon for any machine. Measuring shot time is key to pulling a good shot, so having this information visible on the main display is a great feature.

    Otherwise, the visual design and controls are on par with that of the express. This machine is simple to operate with intuitive controls for pulling shots, adjusting the grinder, and steaming milk or adding hot water. All of this combines for a design package that is a step up from the Barista Express. That said, if these visual improvements were all this machine offered it'd be a hard sell given the price difference. Thankfully, there's a lot more under the hood in this new model.

    Brewing and Steaming Performance

    Breville has always had a knack for fitting powerful heating systems into affordable machines. The Barista line has always been a great example of this, but their new machines push this concept even further. First introduced in the Bambino, the Barista Pro features Breville's new ThermoJet heating system. The Bambino already impressed with its heatup and steam times, but getting this enhanced heating element in a more prosumer machine is exciting. From lightning fast heatup times to a near non-existent delay going from brew to steam, this heating system does work.

    When dialing in, we were able to pull several shots in a row with the Pro heating up. As far as making lattes, the milk steaming both switched on faster, and steamed milk faster than the Express by a considerable margin.

    Another interesting upgrade on this machine is the hot water spout. This spout functions like you'd expect, but it's angled to allow you to make Americanos without moving your cup. Some of this depends on your cup size and design, and it is surprising to see the hot water come out at an angle at first. While this isn't nearly the overhaul that the heating element and look got, it's worth mentioning for even easier Americanos!

    Verdict

    Overall it's extremely easy to recommend the Barista Pro. It's true that its price pushes into competition with machines like the Silvia and CC1, but those machines don't also have a built in grinder. There is certainly an argument for being able to upgrade these devices independently, and both of the aforementioned machines are viable options, but if you're new to espresso or looking to upgrade from the Express, the Pro is a no brainer.

    You do still run into the combo machine issue of sludge in the drip tray, and stepping up into dual boiler machines will provide even faster steam and heatup times. With all that said, we're huge fans of the Barista Pro here, and you should absolutely add it to the list of machines to research before you make your next purchase.

    Check out the Barista Pro on Seattle Coffee Gear here!

  • Holiday Buying Guide: Semi-Automatics

    It’s November, which means Turkey day is rapidly approaching. Let’s be honest, what that really means, whether you’re dreading it or excited, is that holiday shopping season is upon us. Are you looking to spoil someone on your list this year with a new semi-auto espresso machine? Maybe you’re just buying for yourself? We’re here to help! Here’s a guide for what to look for this holiday season if you’re shopping for a semi-auto espresso machine.

    Build Quality

    The first thing you should look for in any machine is build and component quality. Along with this, you’ll want to determine what sort of power you’re looking for, and if the prospective machine delivers. For example, the Rancilio Silvia and Crossland CC1 offer an extremely strong build quality and the power to brew unpressurized espresso. These are features that will matter if you’re looking for a long term machine.

    On the flip-side, less expensive machines my only brew with pressurized baskets. This is due to a weaker pump, which is common in cheap machines. That doesn’t mean the less expensive machine is the wrong gift, it’s just important to know the capabilities going in. The stronger components in machines like the Silvia and CC1 mentioned do come with a cost attached. There’s a reason machines like this retail for under $1,000 while delivering such robust, quality espresso...

     

    Cost Vs. Features

    One of the core things to think about when purchasing an espresso machine is feature set vs. cost. It can be tempting to chase a great seeming deal, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting. Some key features to look for are control methods, programmability, and ergonomics. The machines referenced above offer solid espresso for a great cost, but lack the programmability of some other machines in the segment. By contrast, other machines might offer less powerful and consistent brewing, but provide programming features or more intuitive controls. This is why it’s important to know where the person you’re shopping for’s skill level is.

    For beginner home baristas, it may make sense to look at less expensive options with simpler controls. This will result in a need to upgrade sooner, but it’s better than ending up with a machine that is more than what the user is ready for. Generally we recommend going a little over what you think the user might be ready for. This way you get someone a machine that they can grow into, but won’t overwhelm them. In fact, it’s why we've mention machines like the Silvia and CC1 so much. These machines aren’t the $2,000-$3,000 “generational” machines like a Rocket or an Izzo, but they provide a fantastic starting point. Their limited frills means that the user will need to learn the fundamentals of espresso to use them. It also means they’ll be well equipped to upgrade to a more expensive machine down the line. Even if they don’t machines like these will last for years and years.

    Don’t forget the grinder

    One of the other most important things to look out for when gifting an espresso machine is the grinder! Not every grinder can handle grinding fine enough for espresso. This is especially true of unpressurized espresso. Make sure that the person you’re buying for has a capable grinder already, or that they’re receiving one this holiday! We’ll have more on that and other holiday shopping tips soon!

  • SCG Exclusive: Rocket Espresso R58 - Il Centesimo Giro d'Italia Edition

    Rocket_Giro_FinalSelects (17 of 32) The Rocket Espresso R58 - Il Centesimo Giro d'Italia Edition featuring custom pink dials, commemorative engraving, and an individually numbered face plate.

    What does it take to pull the perfect shot of espresso? Patience. Expertise. Precision. Diligence. A deep understanding of your materials. The list goes on with different preparation techniques from person to person informing your perspective. Espresso aficionados alike strive for that euphoric moment of perfection – a demitasse cup of liquid gold. While many tools exist to get you there, a select few reign supreme. The Rocket Espresso R58 Il Centesimo Giro d'Italia Edition stands at the peak of its class. A reflection of espresso and cycling mastery, the R58 Centesimo is a commemoration of 100 years of Italian Bike Touring excellence.

    The second of the famed 'European Grand Tour', The Giro d'Italia follows a route over 2,200 miles long circumventing Italy in a 23-day race. This centennial achievement is memorialized in this limited edition R58. Each R58 Centesimo sports the names of Giro d'Italia's champions (including 2017s Tom Dumoulin), custom side panels, maglia rosa-themed gauges and matching accessories. Much like a champion cyclist, you'll find the R58—with its classic dual boiler E61 setup, removable PID controls, and optional plumbing—a prime contender for creating some of the best espresso you've ever had.

    Limited to a run of 100 machines worldwide to echo the 100 winners of the race, each R58 Centesimo is individually numbered to reflect it’s place it this one of a kind collection. Only 9 are available in the United States exclusively at Seattle Coffee Gear.

    Rocket_Giro_FinalSelects (11 of 32) Reflecting a cyclist's wheel, each R58 Centesimo features custom engraving of every Giro d'Italia champion.

    The Big Race:

    Giro d'Italia 1953, Stage 4, Wim van Est and Gino Bartali Giro d'Italia 1953, Stage 4, Wim van Est and Gino Bartali
    • Founded in 1909, the original Giro d’Italia was organized as a means to raise funds for the La Gazzetta dello Sport – an Italian publication covering various sports and the most widely read daily newspaper in Italy.
    • The race is held annually during late May and early June, except for two breaks during World War 1 and 2.
    • The Giro d’Italia is one of three races that make up the ‘European Grand Tour’ – the Tour de France and Vuetla a España complete the trifecta.
    • Professional road bicycle racer Tom Dumoulin won the 100th race – becoming the first Dutch rider to win the race.
    Rocket_Giro_FinalSelects (20 of 32) The one of a kind R58 Centesimo stands above the rest.

    Details of Excellence on the R58 Centesimo:

    • Italian cycling history comes together with Milan-made espresso machine mastery featuring custom pink dials, packaging, tamper, and engraved side panels celebrating past winners of the Giro d’Italia.
    • Manufactured in Milan and limited to 100 machines. Only 9 exist in the United States and are individually numbered with a custom front face plant.
    • PID-Controlled Double Boiler allowing for superior control of steam and brew boiler temperatures. PID controller is detachable.
    • Plumb in adaptability; hosing included.
    • Classic E61 Group providing thermal stability at the head of the machine.
    • Insulated Steam Wand allowing for barista-quality steaming ability without the risk of burning your hands.

     

    What does Gail think? Check it out!

    Don’t miss this opportunity to own a piece of Bicycle racing and espresso history. Buy your one of a kind machine here!

  • Seattle Coffee Gear + illy: Be Your Own Barista

    SCG_illy (2 of 24)It’s a frustrating question that has plagued many a coffee aficionado throughout the years: why doesn’t the cappuccino I make at home taste as delicious as the cappuccino I buy from my local coffee shop? The answer to that question can be found by addressing a diverse set of material related variables from the freshness of your beans, to the quality and calibration of your grinder, to the pressure at which you are extracting your espresso. Maybe your machine hasn’t been cleaned? Maybe it wasn’t properly rinsed after cleaning?

    But what about when you’ve covered all of the variables and you’re still not getting the results you are hoping for? Then it’s time to look at your technique!

    SCG_illy (11 of 24)That’s where illy’s “Be Your Own Barista” course came in to play. Meant to empower coffee lovers who wanted to take their home coffee preparation to the next level, this class held at our Bellevue location provided participants with the opportunity to train hands-on with Giorgio Milos – illy Master Barista and Italian Barista Champion. Equipped with all of the tools needed to produce great coffee at home, fourteen students discussed coffee history, learned tips and tricks to consider when preparing their beverages, and were released to put their new knowledge to the test while illy’s education team helped fine tune their technique.

    “I never knew I could make espresso that tastes this good,” shared a participant frustrated with the past drinks she had been making at home. It was a matter of making small corrections to her grinder as well as changing her tamping that helped her produce a cleaner, fuller bodied drink. Many attendees took notes on the discussions while others asked technical questions they had been investigating for months.

    Seattle Coffee Gear strives to be a place where coffee lovers like us can go to the next level in beverage preparation using the best tools available while also being a resource for people to ask questions and learn. This partnership with illy is only one of the many ways we continue to help people “make coffee you love!”

  • Crew Review: Ascaso Basic Espresso Machine

    Basic gets a whole new definition with the Ascaso Basic Espresso Machine! Sure, it’s simple design and easy to use controls are the fundamentals, but this little machine comes with more accessories for budding baristas to grow their technique; the Basic includes both non-pressurized, pressurized and pod baskets to adapt to anyone’s barista skills.
  • Crew Review: Capresso EC Pro

    How Does It Compare

    The Capresso EC Pro is one of our favorite machines to recommend to entry-level baristas. Equipped with a pressurized and non-pressurized naked portafilter, low powered traditional steam wand and user-friendly interface, the EC Pro offers plenty of opportunities to hone your craft. Its affordable price and small footprint make it easy to squeeze into your life too. The DeLonghi Dedica EC680 similar price point makes it a worthy opponent to the EC Pro, but it doesn’t offer nearly as much skill-building opportunities.

    The Capresso EC Pro industrial stainless steel body is a nice touch for this lower priced machine. The Capresso EC Pro industrial stainless steel body is a nice touch for this lower priced machine.

    The Dedica comes with only pressurized portafilter in single and double basket options—if we include looks, the portafilter’s spouts are nothing fancy—that will compensate for subpar coffee grounds and deliver yummy espresso for newbies. The panarello steam wand creates quick and undeniable foamy milk that's great for cappuccinos. You could make a latte, but you would need to work the milk into paint-like texture before pouring latte art. The Dedica’s great for baristas looking to get quick and easy quality espresso whereas the EC Pro will provide plenty of entry-level experience to improve.

    Shot

    The non-pressurized naked portafilter is a shining gem on this machine. The naked bottom—ahem, we’re talking about the lack of spouts—allows barista’s a clear view of the stream of espresso. It’s essentially training wheels for baristas. When the grind size and tamp pressure are correct, the extraction is even and creates gorgeous tiger-striping, which is the light and dark colors merging together. Some call it magic. Others call it the results of a good extraction. We say it's both.

    The EC Pro comes with a non-pressurized naked portafilter and pressurized filter, respectively. The EC Pro comes with a non-pressurized naked portafilter and pressurized filter, respectively.

    We should also mention the portafilters are made from durable stainless steel—that’s commercial-grade right there. Since this is an entry-level machine, however, the interface is simple in design. It features a couple of switches and a dial to change between brewing and steaming. At this lower price point, the EC Pro has a single boiler, which means you can only brew or steam. For entry-level home brewers, that’s actually not a bad feature, so you can focus on one task at a time.

    Pro Tip: With any single boiler machine, we recommend steaming first so that you’re espresso does sit and get cold. Texturing milk first also offers the opportunity to work your milk if you’re doing some latte art.

    The user-friendly interface make this machine easy to operate for first time home brewers. The user-friendly interface make this machine easy to operate for first time home brewers.

    Steam

    It’s so satisfying to pour latte art that actually looks like art. The Capresso EC Pro’s traditional steam wand provides just enough steam power to allow you time to properly incorporate your milk with air for that just-right microfoam. Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up! The one-hole tip provides a steady stream of heat, so getting the wand angled to swirl the milk will help even the temperature and create microfoam.

    The traditional steam wand only moves in an up and downward motion, making it difficult to angle milk containers. The traditional steam wand only moves in an up and downward motion, making it difficult to angle milk containers.

    However, getting a great angle on the EC Pro can be a challenge. The steam wand only adjusts up and down, which limits the wiggle room for containers. The clearance from the machine provides enough space for a pitcher and you’ll easily be able to angle it to perfect your technique.

    Style

    Surrounded with a stainless steel cover, the little Capresso EC Pro looks like a tyke-size industrial machine. Whether you think that’s good or bad is up to you, but we think that steel cover provides a nice, expensive-looking touch—they could have just wrapped it in plastic, you know? Also, this classic cut looks exactly like a miniature commercial machine. We’ll also remind you the EC Pro has some commercial-inspired features such as the stainless steel portafilter—oh yeah, super nice.

    The industrial designed EC Pro looks similar to commercial-grade machines. The industrial designed EC Pro looks similar to commercial-grade machines.

    Where the Capresso EC Pro style lacks in flair, it makes up for with amenities. The small footprint also means it's perfect for tight spaces—say in an apartment next to the microwave? The small cup warmer has a metal top to heat those cups up and tiny rails to keep things aligned. The straight forward switch and dial interface are probably our least favorite look, but it’s efficient and straight-forward.

    The brew/steam and on/off switches are user-friendly but not much to look at.

    Conclusion

    For any entry-level barista, the Capresso EC Pro will have everything you need. It’s like training wheels on a bike: Once you learn how to ride, you take the wheels off. The EC Pro’s naked portafilter shows you how well it’s extracting—goal is to have tiger stripes—and lets you practice to perfect your technique. And we’ll add it’s just downright gorgeous to see. If you’re looking for convenience during training, the pressurized portafilter’s got your back. All in all, the price-point, entry-level training and high-quality features give the other tiny semi-automatics a run for their money.

  • Crew Comparison: Nuova Simonelli Oscar II vs. Oscar

    How Does It Compare

    “Life in plastic—it’s fantastic!” Said no coffee lover ever—we felt the same way about the Nuova Simonelli Oscar. Built with a 2-liter heat exchange boiler, professional-grade portafilter and legendary steam power, the Oscar I was an affordable high-quality semi-automatic machine. However, the Oscar’s quality was hidden under a plastic shroud of semi-sheen black or cherry red that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully, we can all rejoice in the newest addition, the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II, and let us just tell you, it looks nothing like the original.

    The Nuova Simonelli Oscar features a classic cut that espresso lovers are sure to enjoy. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar features a classic cut that espresso lovers are sure to enjoy.
    The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II's updated style stunned us! It looks nothing like the Oscar. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II's updated style stunned us! It looks nothing like the Oscar.

    Designed like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, the Oscar II marries futuristic design with industrial stainless steel. The curved-in shape is becoming a new trend, like with the Baratza Sette 270, and we're digging this style. Comparing it to the Oscar's classic cut, the Oscar II offers ample space for the brew head and a 360-degree rotating steam wand. The new design for the Oscar II has improved its overall look and functionality—A+ Nuova Simonelli!

    Shot

    The commercial-grade 58mm portafilter was included in both models with channel spouts that offer a beautiful bird’s eye view of your espresso. The Oscar II’s pronounced brew group also showcases the new volumetric controls that the original Oscar lacked. On the Oscar II, you can program the espresso volume by time for either a single or double shot. The interface remains user-friendly with the new programmability. As you’re brewing, press and hold one of the espresso icons to set your volume, but remember it’s timed based, so you’ll want to dial in your grind and set it to produce consistent shots.

    The Oscar II features two time controlled espresso volume. The Oscar II features two time-controlled espresso volume buttons.

    The Nuova Simonelli Oscar and Oscar II create consistently hot espresso thanks to a temperature compensated brew head. It's a highly debated topic about the consistency of heat exchanger overall. To mitigate those concerns, the heated brew head should assist with consistency—the debate continues. 

    Pro Tip: With a heat exchanger, it’s ideal to pull water for seven seconds to warm the brew head and portafilter. The extra heat siphoned through the brew head will help maintain the temperature of your shot.

    The Oscar features two simple buttons: on/off and brew, along with a steam dial. The Oscar features two simple buttons: on/off and brew; along with a steam dial.

    Steam

    Nuova Simonelli blessed the Oscar II with high-quality heat exchanger and Championship-worthy steam wand (for those of you that don’t know, Nuova Simonelli is the official espresso machine sponsor for the National U.S. Championship). Both semi-automatics are built with a 2-liter copper boiler and produce virtually the same steam power. The perfectly dry steam is exactly what you're looking for to texture milk—water and milk just don't mix. The Oscar II, however, has insulation wrapped around the boiler, which is noted to increase energy efficiency.

    Hello, steam power. Hello, steam power.

    Nuova Simonelli’s famed four-hole steam tip performs a lot better on the Oscar II’s beautiful steam wand. The Oscar's stouter steam wand proved difficult to angle a pitcher into texturized milk. To be blatantly honest, it was annoying to work with. The fixed finger guard also got in the way when foam expanded, which made it gunky and a pain to clean. The new extended wand rotates on a 360-degree ball joint and comes with an adjustable finger guard for larger frothing pitchers—A+ again, Nuova Simonelli.

    Style

    Of course, you can’t compare the Oscar and Oscar II without talking about their looks. The Oscar II radical makeover has completely stunned us. The all-over stainless steel received high praises from the office. It reflects the professional quality materials Nuova Simonelli has gifted their products. It reflects contemporary taste and mirrors modern appliances to keep home brewers’ kitchen’s uniform. Sure, Nuova Simonelli snuck a few plastic parts of the Oscar II—check that out under the Oscar II Crew Review—but in comparison to the Oscar’s complete plastic casing, we’ll be lenient with the Oscar II.

    Check out that portafilter. Check out that portafilter. We're digging the open-spout view.

    We’re also fans of the Oscar II C-shape design, which looks similar to the Nuova Simonelli Musica. This design creates more clearance to allow important features such as the steam wand and brew group to take center stage. The brew group features ridges and curves that create futuristic dimension similar to, you guessed it, a Cylon. Our one critic of the Oscar II is the steam wand switch that sticks out at the top. We appreciate the Oscar II fresh and lively style.

    The Oscar traditional espresso machine design is wonderful for coffee lovers who will enjoy the nostalgic appearance. The modern features, however, such as the Oscar’s large, in-your-face steam dial and rubber buttons, took away from the classic style. 

    Despite the plastic casing, we appreciate the traditional style of the Oscar. Despite the plastic casing, we appreciate the traditional style of the Oscar.

    Conclusion

    The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II fresh style finally showcases its high-quality build. While we’re still impressed with the Oscar’s capabilities, the Oscar II new aesthetics are not only pleasing to the eye but offer more functionality from features such as the steam wand. If we had to choose, we’d go with the Oscar II. It’s also important to know that the Oscar has been discounted by Nuova Simonelli too, so you’ll only be able to find it on the market as used. If you’re loving the new wave of futuristic and contemporary styled espresso machines, then you’ll love the way the Oscar II shines in your kitchen.

  • Crew Review: Rocket Espresso Appartamento

    How Does It Compare?

    The Rocket Espresso Appartamento’s apartment-size footprint means you don’t have to sacrifice counter space for delicious espresso. Rocket shaved a few inches off the sides of the Appartamento to optimize counter and cabinet space: 10.5 inches wide by 17 inches deep and 14.25 inches tall. That’s 1.5 inches narrower and nearly 2 inches shorter than the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine V2. Even with its healthy trim, the Appartamento doesn’t lack in capability.

     The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is outfitted with the same 1.8-liter copper boiler and E61 brew group as the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione. The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is outfitted with the same 1.8-liter copper boiler and E61 brew group as the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione.

    It’s built with the similar heavy-duty components as the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine V2 and the Appartamento espresso and steam performance continues to shine amongst the other semi-automatics. The Cellini Evoluzione and Appartamento are equipped with a 1.8-liter copper boiler, but unlike the Cellini Evoluzione, the Appartamento doesn’t have an insulated boiler. That extra padding improves thermal stability and increases energy savings. Aside from the insulation, the Appartamento’s performance is on par with the Cellini Evoluzione.

    Shot

    Rocket stuck with what they do best and outfitted the Appartamento with professional grade materials. It’s equipped with a heat exchanger and the legendary E61 brew group for consistently hot performance. Trust us, after pulling a couple shots, the portafilter got nice and toasty—perfect for retaining heat for your shots. Pro Tip: Do a seven-second flush through the brew head to get the best shot possible.

    Rocket’s standard commercial-grade 58mm portafilters made it in the box too, and we’re happy to have them! This tiny tyke didn’t get skimped on accessories: it comes with double and single spout portafilters that can pair with their respective baskets to please everyone’s caffeine needs. And we’ve complained time and time again about plastic tampers—fear not with Rocket, they included the same nice, shiny metal tamper you see with other models.

    The 2.25-liter reservoir The respectable 2.25-liter water tank is easy to access in the back.

    What it didn’t come with is a plumb-in option that a few Rockets do include. At this price point, we’re not missing it with the Appartamento’s respectable 2.25-liter reservoir. While the reservoir is a nice size, the drip tray is a bit shallow for catching that excess water from the solenoid valve. Without any bevels, it’s easy to wear the contents of the tray if you’re not careful—Pro Tip: empty it out sooner rather than later. At least you have a nice view of that beautiful stainless steel while you’re concentrating on not spilling.

    Steam

    Built with a 1.8-liter boiler like the Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine V2, it comes as no surprise that the Appartamento has similarly magnificent steam performance. The two-hole steam wand evenly warms and circulates milk to achieve perfect microfoam. It heats up so quickly that a beginner might find they didn’t have enough time to texture their milk, but we would still recommend this machine to an entry-level to a prosumer buyer.

    Appartamento_3:4 The traditional steam wand and dedicated hot water tap make creating lattes or Americanos a snap.

    Like the previous models, it’s a no-burn wand, which means it’s harder for the milk to burn on after steaming. Keep those finger guards on, though! The steam wand is still extremely hot to the touch after a couple of lattes.

    Style

    Those big, beautiful spots. Choose white or copper, but choose wisely: The pearl white complements everyday kitchen appliances (yahoo…) whereas that copper sing to more modern vibes. OK, so the SCG Crew is a little torn between the two colors. To be fair, the copper is a bit on the darker side—some would say bronze—so that’s where the true-to-its-name white got the Crew’s vote. Check out the video and tell us what color you dig.

    Copper or white? We're digging the retro dots. Copper or white? We're digging the retro dots.

    Someone’s had to notice by now that the colored cutouts match the new wider, stouter feet. This is another debate between the Crew (as most aesthetics are a heated topic around here) and we’re 50/50 on the look. The body’s clean edges against the curved detailing provide a beautiful contrast. The gear-inspired knobs and Rocket’s logo stamped boldly on the front add a nice touch to this machine. The stainless steel casing that Rocket is known for continues to showcase their equally famous high-quality products. It’s no surprise that Rocket continued these fine-tuned details, even in a small and lower priced machine.

    The iconic Rocket logo and power switch on the front of the Appartamento. The iconic Rocket logo and power switch on the front of the Appartamento.

    We thought perhaps the smaller footprint would mean small everything else, but a quick glance at the manual says otherwise: it has a 1.8-liter boiler, 2.25-liter water tank and E61 brew group. So what did it lose? To be honest, nothing. The cup warmer is a bit roomier and Rocket’s given us an (unfortunately plastic) cup rail to wrangle in mugs. We tried to replace it—because you know us and aesthetics—and discovered it’s not compatible with Rocket’s current metal racks. Perhaps a future accessory down the road, Rocket? We sure hope so. Either way, all that room for a handful of mugs means we can finally display our sweet Acme cups.

    Conclusion

    What do you think of Rocket’s new addition? The Rocket Espresso Appartamento has all the makings of Rocket’s bigger models packed into a mini machine. The new colored dots add extra style to an already good looking machine, and with two color options, there are more choices for a home brewers kitchen.

  • Crew Review: Nuova Simonelli Oscar II

    How Does It Compare?

    The future is here. You’ve been asking for it and finally we’ve got it! We unboxed the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II and we hardly even recognize it. The original Oscar was wrapped in a plastic shroud that dulled the mighty power of its espresso. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is decked in steel and features clean reflective angles—hello, gorgeous! The new design did a complete 360 from the original, literally; the new C-shape front allows room for the extended steam wand that rotates on a 360° ball joint to reach every angle of your frothing pitcher.

    Oscar2_font The updated steel body and C-shaped structure create beautiful dimension.

    The innards of the Oscar II and Oscar are nearly the same. It’s still a heat exchanger with a copper boiler, which produces that fierce steam power and allows you to brew at the same time. The reservoir saw an upgrade in capacity and a bigger hole for sticking your hand in to clean out any gunk. Mostly, the Oscar II's design finally reflects the high-quality that makes the Nuova Simonelli machines top of the line.

    Oscar2_water The updated water reservoir holds 2.8 liters of water for more cappuccinos.

    Shot

    Hurray for heat exchangers! If you’re like us, we love to brew and steam at the same time so we can get to our latte faster. The Oscar II features front-facing indicator lights for the boiler and reservoir so you’ll know exactly when you’re ready to brew. Even though our indicator light clicked off at the nine-minute mark, you'll want to give your machine a good 30 minutes to heat up. 

    Oscar2_buttons Program a single or double shot using the soft-padded buttons. Above are two lights that indicate low water and the boiler temperature, respectively.

    The two programmable buttons allow you to set the volume of a single or double shot. Getting the right volume is easy-peasy, too. Press and hold one of the volume buttons and wait for it to flash; once it’s flashing, press again to start the flow of coffee. When the cup’s filled to your desired caffeine intake, press it again to program the volume time. Tada! Coffee is served. Great coffee at that! We noticed the Oscar II pulled consistent shots and even at the set factory settings offered delicious espresso. Pro Tip: unboxing the Oscar II we noticed it pulled longer shots that give you enough wiggle room to program your preferred shot time.

    Steam

    Nuova Simonelli is the official espresso machine provider for the Barista Championship, so you know it’s got it going on. The steam power behind the Oscar II is a force to be reckoned with—they can’t let those professional baristas down. On a 360° rotating ball joint, you can get into any container at any angle to froth. Plus, the four holes releasing steam add extra power on all sides. The steam’s nice and dry, too, so there’s no extra moisture but plenty of piping hot goodness.

    Oscar2_steam

    Grabbing the nearest pitcher of ice cold milk, we put the steam wand to the test. Whole-y milk froth, Batman! In less than 10 seconds, we were looking at microfoam and feeling hot, hot hot! Needless to say, you’ll want to watch out where you put your hands when you’re steaming—remember the four holes that release steam. It’s so quick too, that some of Seattle Coffee Gear’s novice baristas were having trouble texturing the milk just right. The steam power is definitely something you’ll want to get a feel for with practice. Of course, our veterans took to it like a duck to water and were swimming in ponds of beautiful latte art quality milk.

    Style

    Curvy in all the right places, the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is carved to catch your attention. The clean look of the steel complements modern taste while the C-shaped frame adds futuristic dimension. Stand head on, the rippled brew head and reflection off the drip tray are reminiscent of a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica (seriously, go search “Cylon” right now). All these elegant curves and edges are interrupted by something it seems Nuova Simonelli forgot to add—oh yeah, the switch for the steam wand. Sticking out like a sore thumb, the switch flips on or off and we’ll generously add you can push it ever-so-slightly to get quick steam. For power and functionality standing behind the steam pressure of the Nuova Simonelli, it’s unfortunate to see the steam lever handled so carelessly.

    The color block look is another eye-sore on this machine. We love the chrome. We love the black. We’re not fans of the gray. The color of the steam switch doesn’t coordinate with the rest of the design, either, unless you count the muted gray buttons and portafilter as a close match. Rubbing a finger over the surface of each button, it’s like flipping through the channels of an old remote control. The outdated texture leaves us yearning for more.

    Oscar2_sidefront

    The Oscar II comes with a 58mm commercial-grade non-pressurized portafilter with breakaway spouts—can we just say those open spouts offer the best view in the house? What’s not lovely is the plastic handle. You’d think the chrome cap was metal but it’s not. The other faux-steel look is the rippled chrome brew head. While you can’t tell from a distance it would have been nice to move away from plastic and committed to real steel like the rest of the body and drip tray.

    Conclusion

    The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II captures power and style. The updated steel body reflects the high-quality build of Nuova Simonelli's internals and the new angled front adds intriguing dimension as well as more room for a longer steam wand. Just to recap, we steamed milk in 10 seconds! The steam wand on the original Oscar has nothing on the new one! It's much easier to access and angle your pitcher in. While we went off on the plastic components a bit there at the end, the overall design is a refreshing upgrade from the previous model with all the same powerful gears making delicious espresso. 

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