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Buyer's Guide to the
By Abe Carmeli
Whole Latte Love
When WholeLatteLove introduced the Expobar Brewtus espresso machine
in late 2004, interest was immediate and strong. But the details were
sketchy. Was it a dual boiler machine? How big was the machine? Did it
have an E61 group? How did the electronic temperature control work? Was
the water preheated? Questions flew back and forth on the Internet as
potential buyer interest erupted.
As the answers started trickling in, Brewtus quickly became one of
the hottest selling machines among those at its pricepoint. But beyond
the price, it also looked on paper like a great ensemble of the features
demanding home baristas were all waiting for in a compact package. Fan
sites were started, debates began.
The purpose of this review is to give you a seasoned view of the
Expobar Brutus. I've been using it for eight months and have a good
perspective on the machine and what it is like owning and using it. The
review will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the machine, and
will re-examine my initial impressions. By the time you are done reading
this article, you will have a good understanding of what it would be
like to own a Brewtus.
Though the focus of the review is the Expobar Brewtus, I will also
compare it to a well known high-end heat exchanger machine, the Giotto
Premium. The Giotto is representative of many prosumer heat exchanger
machines. So, to some extent, this review will touch on the pros and
cons of dual boiler and heat exchanger machines in a home environment.
Since this is my first formal review for Home-Barista.com, perhaps a
little background about myself is in order. As a teenager in Israel in
the early 70's, the culture of espresso has always been a part of my
daily life. Espresso bars were everywhere, and the mystery of those cool
looking machines added a special flavor to every cup. It was all
straight shots for me, even then, and it cost me 50 cents to take a
three minute round trip visit to Rome.
Many years later, now in New York, I bought a La Pavoni lever and
started my journey into making espresso at home. When I upgraded to my
first prosumer espresso machine, the Giotto Premium, I locked myself in
my kitchen for a weekend, grinding and pulling shots, until I started
slowly hovering above the floor. It took a ton of caffeine and about a
thousand sink shots before I was able to produce what I considered to be
an acceptable espresso. Three home roasters later, my walk-in closet has
been converted to a green bean and espresso parts warehouse. I have a
strong suspicion that if I shook that closet really hard, I could
spontaneously assemble a whole new machine.
Espresso still has not revealed all its secrets to me. It is that
combination of art and science that makes it so charmingly elusive and
impossible to fully master. The exceptional shots I've had are all
etched in my memory, and as time passes, the bar keeps going up. Like
many others, I am engaged in an endless chase which I hope to never win.
But enough about me, let's now turn our attention back to the subject
of this review—the Expobar Brewtus.
The Expobar Brewtus landed on my doorstep enclosed in a giant box and
buried under a pile of packaging popcorn. A word to the wise: don't try
to open that box in your living room. Those little white peanuts adhere
to anything with or without a pulse. After an hour of cleanup, I was
ready for our meeting.
I felt like I had been dating this machine online. I had seen the
pictures, asked a lot of questions and it is now in my kitchen ready to
be unveiled. As if to keep the suspense alive, the machine arrives from
the factory completely covered with a protective polyurethane white
adhesive sheet which encases the stainless steel exterior like Spandex.
With a slow drum roll in my mind, I started peeling off the
protective layer of plastic. That tease went on for about three minutes
before I was able to reveal the machine in its full glory. As I took a
long look at it, I was reminded of my old architecture professor. He
often said that a camel is actually a horse that was designed by a
committee. It appears that visual presence and aesthetics were not a
priority for the Brewtus Design Committee.
Honestly though, that's overstating it because I'm just too darn
spoiled. After living with the Giotto Premium for a year, a
quintessential example of understated elegance, anything short of an
Elektra would be a downgrade to me. Other owners shower accolades of the
machine's beauty in the Brewtus User Group Forum, so don't let my
prejudices influence you too much.
Superficial issues aside, what redeeming values did I notice at first
glance? Let's see:
- The E61 group head. Dating back to the original 1961 patented
design, the Brewtus' grouphead defines retro cool. It is a captivating
embodiment of style and steel. I looked at it again and could not see
anything else. It is no wonder that the E61 has become synonymous with
the best of home espresso machines.
- The drip tray lacks refinement, but it is huge, huge, huge! This is
going to cut down on those trips to the sink.
- The digital brew temperature display—it is big, intuitive and
easy to read.
- Brewtus is tall indeed, but for a dual boiler machine, it is
surprisingly narrow. It fits nicely under a kitchen cabinet where
counter space is scarce. Its direct competitors, the La Spaziale S1 and
the Reneka Techno, are much wider and at least as tall.
- The cup warmer tray defies logic. You must remove the entire tray
in order to refill the water tank, which means removing all the cups
beforehand. (I will describe later how to rectify this shortcoming).
- The steam and water wands swivel nicely in every direction;
however, they are not insulated, as they use the standard wand
inherited from the Expobar Lever. The Giotto Premium is one of the few
machines on the market which has a "no burn" steam wand. In addition to
reducing the chances of an "ouch!", milk doesn't bake onto the
Premium's wand as quickly.
- The water tank is big, which means less frequent refilling. On the
other hand, the refill hole is rather small. And what's this, three
tubes going into the water tank? Usually there are only two for a
vibration pump espresso machine—one to the pump and one return
water from the pump's over-pressure valve. The third tube originates
from an aerator attached to the pump, which helps keep Brewtus' pump
- There is a nice spring-operated switch under the bottom of the
water tank to shutoff the machine when the tank is empty. It prevents
the heating elements from cooking the boilers if the machine runs out
of water (note: the power light remains on but the digital display goes
off when the tank needs refilling as a visual reminder).
- The pump is loud. Noise is a common complaint about vibration
pumps, and it has to do partially with reverberation of the machine's
As I made these mental notes, I kept reminding myself that it is the
only dual boiler machine on the market under $1,500 and that every
machine design is a study in compromises. In the case of the Expobar
Brewtus, aesthetics and style were sacrificed to keep the price tag
down. Fortunately I was able to add a little of that missing elegance to
the machine with a few five minute upgrades (more details later).
Cliffnotes to Espresso Machine 101
The Brewtus is an E61 dual boiler machine. If you are familiar with
the three main types of boiler designs for prosumer espresso machines,
skip to the next section. Otherwise the following briefly summarizes
A single boiler machines without a heat exchanger: These have
a single boiler that is used both for steaming and for brewing espresso.
Steaming and brewing require different boiler temperature, and therein
lays this design's weakness: You must wait while the boiler transitions
from brew to steam temperature. For those who favor milk drinks such as
cappuccinos, macchiatos and lattes, this machine will be inferior to all
others in the prosumer group.
A single boiler with a heat exchanger: This variety allows for
brewing and steaming in immediate succession but in some cases not at
the same time, as a drop in steam pressure in the boiler during steaming
can affect brew temperature. The boiler has to be very large to allow
both to be done effectively. But a more relevant weakness is the added
effort required to dial in different brew temperatures. Brew temperature
in this variety is controlled by a combination of boiler pressure and
flushing water through the group before the extraction, which "fine
tunes" the brew temperature. Adjusting the boiler pressure requires
some fiddling with a screwdriver; often you will have to remove a panel
of the machine's casing to gain access to the pressurestat. Generally
speaking, a HX machine has a higher learning curve because the barista
must learn to bring it to the required brew temperature by flushing.
Errors in flush quantities can deliver large variations in brew
A dual boiler machine: This variety aims to be the best of
both worlds. It does it by having two dedicated boilers: One for
steaming and one for brewing, which are independently controlled. Some
dual boiler machines allow for easy brew temperature adjustments from a
digital display on the front panel. Steaming and brewing can generally
be done at the same time without significantly affecting the other
The Expobar Brewtus Innovation
Brew water pathway shown in
thermosyphon return (T) in blue
The key elements of espresso extraction are brew pressure, brew
temperature, and of course the coffee itself. For some coffee blends,
temperature variations of even one degree Celsius can transform an
espresso dream into a swill nightmare. Indeed, controlling brew
temperature has proven to be one of the more difficult controls to
master and the focus of top cafés in the world. Unfortunately for
the hapless home barista who doesn't have the luxury of owning
commercial equipment, the difficulty of controlling the precise brew
temperature increases with entry-level and prosumer espresso
machines. The home barista who wants exceptional espresso but has
limited time and budget must therefore invest considerable effort and
skill to compensate for their equipment's inability to perform at the
same level as commercial equipment. Well no more! The Expobar Brewtus
brings the same advances in the uppermost commercial equipment to your
kitchen, and at a price that won't require a lien on your mortgage.
The Expobar Brewtus takes the current prosumer dual boiler machine
design one step further by introducing an important element: It
pre-heats the water via the steam boiler's heat exchanger before it
enters the brew boiler, as shown in the diagram to the right. This
feature is essential to Brewtus' jump in temperature stability and
The pre-heated water has another side benefit: It is practically
impossible to outrun the machine. A typical prosumer HX will give up the
ghost after 8-9 shots in a row if done in rapid succession. Most
machines need time to recover. Incoming cold water from the water tank
reduces the water temperature in the boiler, which affects the boiler's
ability to quickly recover. Pre-heating the water before it enters the
brew boiler tackles that problem. The Brewtus is capable of delivering
30 shots in 30 minutes without blinking, thanks to the routing of the
incoming water from the pump to a heat exchanger passing through the
steam boiler. The near brew temperature water then continues to the brew
Brewtus' innovation isn't really new since a similar feature is
available in top commercial dual boiler machines like the Synesso Cyncra
and the La Marzocco GB5, and has been a common commercial modification
for more than a decade. Expobar's innovation was the application of an
existing proven technology and implementing it cleverly to fit a