The designers of the Achille pushed the limits when it comes to
heating element wattage. The Achille was outfitted with a 1300 Watt
heating element to power a 0.8 liter boiler. Running out of steam is not
possible, especially since the volume of steam is restricted by the
aperture of the steam wand. The Achille's steam wand is proportioned for
steaming smaller amounts of milk, around 3 to 10 ounces. While it will
steam more, the time required starts to draw out.
The steam wand is on a ball mount and can be articulated in any
direction or angle. The diameter of the steam tube is small, but well
matched to the machine's steaming capacity.
The Achille comes outfitted with a "Turbo froth wand,"
which is also sometimes called a pannarello. I have never been a fan of
froth aid devices because they frequently "stretch" the milk
too much, producing a voluminous, dry foam. That said, the one on the
Achille is well suited for the beginning barista who simply wants a
decent cappuccino with no fuss, or those who prefer high-foam
cappuccinos. Unlike most of its all-plastic contemporaries, this one is
constructed of stainless steel with a plastic insert.
The key to this device's operation is a small air intake on the wand.
That air intake injects air into the milk producing foam. If you can
surf that hole on the milk's surface, you can control the amount of
injected air and produce acceptable albeit somewhat airy microfoam. The
Achille's froth aid tip is long and the pin-sized aeration hole is near
the top. To submerge the aeration hole in milk, it means you either need
to be frothing a lot of milk, or less milk in a tall and narrow pitcher.
La Pavoni PC-16 (Gaggia Factory)
Seconds required to heat
water from 40 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (boiler pressure of 1.25 bar).
Removing the froth aid attachment exposes a short stainless steel one
hole wand, as shown below (A). Unfortunately that is too short to use by
itself. Although it requires more skill, most enthusiasts prefer silkier
microfoam that can be produced without froth aids. If you're willing to
invest time in developing the skills to properly microfoam milk, there
are two easy modifications to consider for the Achille:
(A) No attachment, (B) stock
pannarello, (C) optional pannarello without sleeve
- Stock configuration with aerator disabled
The hole at the top of the stock pannarello (B) is responsible for
injecting air into the the exiting steam. You can disable it by
removing the pannarello's external sleeve, wrapping approximately four
inches of Teflon tap ("plumber's tape") around the top of the
adapter, and then replacing the sleeve. The hole is thereby blocked
from the inside and effectively disabled. This is the least-cost choice
for those who wish to control the stretching of the milk themselves.
- Optional pannarello from the Gaggia Syncrony Digital with sleeve removed
For a higher velocity steam, the inner extension of an optional
pannarello (C) works nicely as a replacement for the stock pannarello.
It produces a high velocity steam and lots of it at a boiler pressure
of 1.25 bar. Steam exiting with such high velocity has the potential to
produce an absolutely wicked turbulence in the pitcher, which makes
wonderfully silky microfoam. Admittedly the replacement pannarello may not be
as attractive as the stock configuration, but it produces the best
microfoam for the practiced barista.
The machine is accommodating when answering the question, "Steam
or brew first?" Either works because Achille's hotrod heating
element requires no recovery time. You can go from shots to steaming or
steaming to shots immediately with no loss in espresso quality. The
heating element will actually cycle off while steaming. Not many
machines can recover pressure with the steam valve wide open.
Once you get the hang of the Turbo frothing wand, the Achille will
produce an acceptable cappuccino. I found that plugging the device's
hole as described earlier greatly increases the quality of the foam. By
plugging the hole you eliminate the air injection into the milk. You can
then control the rate and duration of air injection into the milk as you
would for any other steam wand.
It is important to note that the sight glass is labeled with a MIN
and MAX line. This not only indicates the boiler level recommendations,
but also affects the quality of the steam. The steam is bone dry when
the boiler level is at the MIN indicator. At the MAX indicator, the
steam is more moist, but not what I would call wet steam. If you
overfill the boiler beyond the MAX indicator, the steam wand starts to
spit water and the steam turns decidedly wet. The only recourse is to
allow the machine to cool down and empty some water out of the boiler,
or open the steam valve and let it steam out the water.
The Achille really soars as an espresso machine. Gaggia has designed
espresso capability that's worthy of the most demanding aficionado, but
coupled it with a frothing aid meant for newbies. The price point of the
Achille clearly targets the serious espresso hound. I wondered why the
designers chose a frothing aid for such a capable espresso machine.
Fortunately for those who are willing to develop their barista skills
for superior cappuccino or latte milk, it is easily disabled or replaced
as described above.