In some people’s eyes, prosumer espresso machines are no more
than shiny boxes with minor styling changes to separate them, but I
believe the outside tells only a small part of the story. It’s an
investment of over $1000 and one that’s expected to deliver
hassle-free service, so learning a little about their construction is
time well spent.
Choosing an espresso machine built from quality components and
designed with low-maintenance and easy repairs in mind will save you
money and aggravation over the long haul. Keep in mind that all of these
beauties are hand-built in factories having a fraction of the capacity
common to mass manufactured consumer products like televisions. Since
prosumer espresso machine manufacturers don’t benefit from the
naturally low-defect rate inherent to large-scale automation, the human
attention to detail is paramount to the quality of the finished product.
I don’t claim to be an expert in evaluating the specific
reliability of each particular component of an espresso machine, but I
can recognize comparative improvements. Removing the covers and
comparing the components of each machine to one another and the
attention to assembly detail helps judge the likelihood of enjoying
trouble-free use. Examples of the manufacturer design decisions I look
- Is the wiring properly rated? Is it routed away from vibration
points and exposure to excessive heat?
- If there is a leak, are the electrical junctions and sensitive
electronics safe from exposure to steam and water?
- How easy is it to perform simple repairs and adjustments? Are
replacement components easy to access and remove?
In addition to poking around inside, I follow breakdown and repair
stories reported online to learn what problems areas a given machine or
manufacturer have already been identified by consumers (and hopefully
corrected by the manufacturer at its source, although this doesn’t
happen as often as we would prefer). With the above caveats, I offer
some observations about the quality of materials and workmanship of our
It may seem like a trivial concern, but keep in mind that small
adjustments and repairs are a normal part of owing semi-commercial
machines. Fortunately it is easy to do and online vendors, forums like those found at Home-Barista.com, CoffeeGeek, and newsgroups like alt.coffee
can provide assistance. The Andreja Premium and Isomac Rituale tie for
ease of initial disassembly, requiring the removal of just ten
readily-accessible screws to unfasten all the casing. Removal of all the
Giotto Premium’s panels involved six screws, six 7mm bolts, and
two hard-to-reach 7mm nuts.
Once open, the thoughtfulness of the assembly of the Andreja and
Giotto Premium stands out. Wire harnesses are carefully routed and tied
off every few inches and the vibratory pump is isolated on the floor of
the machine away from electrical junctions. The Andreja Premium scores
extra points for insulating the boiler with a thick neoprene sleeve; it
saves energy and reduces the interior temperature, which can increase
the longevity of electronic components. Judging from the modifications
that Chris asked Quick Mill to apply to the Premium model, it’s
evident that his eye was on reducing service costs. These upgrades
- Heavy-duty vacuum breaker valve that resists sticking
- Access panel on the bottom of the machine for easy replacement of
the heating element
- Y-connectors made of brass instead of nylon (plastic and nylon can
split or crack due to heat exposure).
As I mentioned earlier, the Andreja and Giotto Premium have the same
steam arm and water tap. These valves have a reliable O-ring type
closure found on commercial machines, compared to the ceramic
compression-type valve closures on the Rituale (independent of the valve
type, remember to close them gently to reduce wear and tear).
The Isomac Rituale’s drip tray wins this comparison and its
overall casing is equally impressive. It’s hard to beat the good
looks and durability of heavy-gauge stainless steel! The only drawback
to its thick panels is the limited forms it can be made in, explaining
why the Rituale and others in the product line have squared off
exteriors. The Giotto Premium sports gull wing side panels that give it
an old-world café feel and the quality of the polished finish
work is excellent. Under the covers, its supporting frame is black
painted steel. While I would have preferred to see stainless steel
similar to the other two machines, it’s a feature that speaks more
to my engineering side than practical necessity.
There are a number of other minor differences in component choices,
but I won’t bore you by enumerating them. Instead I’ll
gather them together as part of an overall score in the next section.