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Synesso Cyncra Single Group - A Home Barista's Perspective

Postby Abe Carmeli on Thu Dec 15, 2005 9:27 pm

DAY 1

This Bench review is entitled A Home Barista's Perspective. For a home enthusiast, an encounter with a Synesso - in the kitchen, is perhaps the ultimate wet dream. It has been mine for a long time and the idea of reviewing this machine is both exciting and intimidating. Its bigger siblings, the Cyncra 2 & 3 group, have been the gold standard of the ultimate espresso experience since their introduction in 2004, and many of us have followed the machine's development, gathering every bit of information we could find through 3rd and 4th hand intermediaries.

Schomer used a prototype of the machine in his famous Techniques of the Barista video, and anyone who's ever used it cannot stop praising its bottom line quality in the cup. While in Seattle during SCAA 2005, I had a chance to pull some shots on the two group Cyncra, and at Victrola I was served one of the best straight shots ever - pulled on a three group Cyncra.

So we finally meet again.

When I looked at the giant box that landed at my doorstep I was pondering on its significance. As we climb the social ladder, we often expand in size: a bigger house; a bigger car; a bigger waistline (?). How do you know you've made it in the espresso universe? Is it when the package delivering your machine can block the sun?

This one can house a family of six, (well, maybe in Japan). Hook a parachute to it, and it could be dropped from an airplane in mid-flight. The guys at Synesso did a fantastic job in packing it. I feel we are off to a very good start.

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In the box

The machine weighs a ton. Forget about trying to lift it out of the box. The box walls are cleverly folded and attached with 4 screws. As I released the screws the box walls fell leaving the machine happily exposed on its wooden platform. I released two more screws attaching the machine to the platform, one swift lift, and the machine made it to my dinner table.

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Synesso Cyncra - front view, I couldn't get my eyes off that paddle wheel

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Synesso Cyncra - side view

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Look at that cool steam wand lever

A bit of history about the machine. The Synesso Cyncra single group was developed for the small coffee shop market. Its intended market from the get go was not home users. So this is a fully commercial machine with an external pump and commercial plumbing hookup. However, products live or die by the market, and as things turned out, almost all the machines sold to date were sold to home users. So regardless of its birth pedigree, this machine was destined to become a home machine, hence my interest in reviewing it.

In this review I will focus on what caught my attention as a home barista. In between shots, I will collect technical performance data on the machine, talk about the machine's construction, its strengths and weaknesses, and how it does what it does. I will also spend significant time on the machine's performance in the cup. When I asked Mark Barnett, the machine's designer & owner of Synesso if there is anything about the machine's technology he wanted me to keep under wraps, he answered: "No, no secrets. Tell it all and tell it like it is." This is going to be an interesting ride, so stick around.

Sean Lennon has been working with me on the machine for the past three days collecting temperature performance data. For those of you who do not know Sean, he is a robotic engineer extraordinaire, and a great contributor to HB. His data collection instruments are hooked up to a laptop and allow automatic recording of machine performance as I take the shots. The data is then analyzed and presented in a series of graphs. Let the computers do the boring stuff; we're here to make espresso.

After all is said and done, the main two questions I will try to answer are these: does the machine really produce a better cup? And the followup question is, can the average home barista really taste that difference? The focus in the 2nd question is on the home enthusiast, with poor to average palate and barista skills. That segment of home users is about 98% of the market. Can we taste the difference, and if so, is it worth paying $3,000-4,500.00 extra over a prosumer machine?

I will be using a PID'ed Brewtus as my control group. Will I be able to detect a startling difference in the shots between a $2,000.00 prosumer machine and the Synesso? This & more will be revealed in the coming days, so stay tuned.
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Postby lino on Thu Dec 15, 2005 10:31 pm

Excellent!

Looking very forward to this one Abe!

It's too bad that you and Sean are going to be subjected to all that work... If you get tired of it, just lemme know :wink:

ciao

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Postby Woofy on Fri Dec 16, 2005 12:24 am

This is great news!

I'll be very interested as well. Victrola is just a few blocks from home and it's shots from THAT evil device that convinced me that moo-free espresso was indeed capable of astounding sublimity and worth pursuit.

Thanks in advance for all your hard work and sacrifice. Poor Guy! :lol:
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Postby luca on Fri Dec 16, 2005 8:25 am

WHOA!

Those are some nice cups!

If you've got a second, Abe, I'd love you to set the two to the same temp and pressure and comment on the similarities and differences with the same beans.

Is your Brewtus rotary or vibe ... I forget ...

Did they send you a bunch of different steam tips? The four-holed one is a bit different from a domestic, to say the least. But I have to admit that the other day one of the awesome baristi at St Ali was steaming with a 350mL pitcher and their Synesso. The steam wand seems to collect a lot of water; could you compare this to your Giotto?

Also, I'd like to use my Cyncra to warm pizza from the fridge. Could you clear up the cup tray and put one on top to work out how long it takes to warm up? No need to use a thermocouple on the cheese; just whenever is warm enough to eat.

The paddle group is damned cool ... Mark's Cyncra actually has a built-in preinfusion if you just slam the lever to the left; is yours the same?

Cheers,

Luca
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Postby CaffeFresco on Fri Dec 16, 2005 12:46 pm

damn
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Postby Abe Carmeli on Sat Dec 17, 2005 9:07 pm

Day 2

How do you hookup a commercial machine? The big difference is an external pump and a drain. The pump is already hooked up, and what remains to be done is connect the inlet braided SS tube to the water supply. I hooked it up to a big water cooler tank. The drain is a flexible tube coming out of the bottom of the machine and I put the end of it in an empty water cooler bottle.

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The external rotary pump connects to the water supply. It could be a static tank as in this picture.

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The white tube at the back of the machine is the drain pipe. The fender at the top should be installed flush with the body, I was just playing with its configuration.

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The drip tray has a shallow slope that channels water to the drain - that hole on the right.

We are now ready to turn it on for the first time. The control box is located behind and under the drip tray. Remove the tray and there is a safety shutter disconnecting the boilers heating elements. Turn it on, then throw the power switch on, and we are in business. The boilers start filling. The machine has a nice viewfinder that shows the water level in the steam boiler. The auto refill can be adjusted to the level you desire, and there is also a manual boiler fill switch, to bring the water level temporarily to above its set auto-fill point. Steam and brew boiler temps are set on the control box. One can control the steam power & quality by setting both the boiler temperature and the boiler water level. Nice.

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Control Box - it is obscured from view by the drip tray.

A word about hiding the control box behind the drip tray. This may work well in a coffee shop. They mostly use one house blend for espresso, and temperature rarely needs to be adjusted. However, it is very inconvenient for a home user. I often change blends and adjust temperatures. This may happen three to 10 times a day, especially when I am studying the brew parameters of a new blend. Having to remove the drip tray, kneel down and push buttons is annoying.

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The two gages on the front panel show brew pressure and steam boiler pressure. The insulated steam wand on the left is operated by moving that cool lever you see on the side of the machine

Now, how do you pull shots on this thing? The semi-automatic lever we are all so accustomed to, has been replaced by a paddle wheel. That cool black handle on top of the group head controls the brew process. It has three positions: Left shut off; middle - preinfusion; and right - brew. Also missing is the decompression exhaust pipe. On an E61 machine it sits right under the grouphead, and releases excess water into the drip tray. On the Cyncra, that function is handled by a small copper tube inside the machine. The brew lever (paddle wheel) transition to the middle position is very delicate, and it took me a few tries to get it.

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The brew lever (paddle wheel) in the off position

Steaming is done by pulling that beautiful lever on the left panel. It has a no burn steam wand with excellent articulation and a 4 hole steam tip. I'll discuss steaming in greater detail later on, I'll just say briefly that with a 3 liter boiler, the 4 hole produces silky micro foam in 8 seconds.
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A 4 hole steam tip, the ultimate configuration for silky micro foam

Now let's take a long look at that machine. One of the comments I've frequently made about the Synesso Cyncra 2 & 3 group is that it looks like a toaster. All that stainless steel, practically barren and flat panels did not look very appealing to me. In person however, the single group is surprisingly attractive. Dressed up with cups and saucers on top I am quietly taken by its presence. It is unassuming & elegant featuring modern clean lines; its rectangular shape is esthetically balanced, and the steam wand lever on the left gives it a hot rod kick.

Now that we got the introduction out of the way, we are ready to pull some shots. I spent the morning working on Intelligentsia's Kid O's Organic Espresso blend, coffee I've never used before. I will dedicate tomorrow's post to espresso performance, but before I leave, here is a picture of today's winning shot
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Intelligentsia Kid O's organic Espresso. Sweet, heavy body with dry fruit. A very nice straight shot.
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Postby Abe Carmeli on Sat Dec 17, 2005 9:27 pm

luca wrote:WHOA!

If you've got a second, Abe, I'd love you to set the two to the same temp and pressure and comment on the similarities and differences with the same beans.

Is your Brewtus rotary or vibe ... I forget ...


There will be a lot of that down the road. Before I move to comparisons, I'd like to evaluate the Cyncra on its own. As to the Brewtus, it has a rotary pump. Just to be clear, it is a hot rodded Brewtus, with dual PID & a rotary. Those options are not available on the stock machine.

Did they send you a bunch of different steam tips? The four-holed one is a bit different from a domestic, to say the least. But I have to admit that the other day one of the awesome baristi at St Ali was steaming with a 350mL pitcher and their Synesso. The steam wand seems to collect a lot of water; could you compare this to your Giotto?


No they sent only the stock 4 hole tip. I wouldn't want to use anything else on that machine - the microfoan is molten chrome and I, who cannot stand milk, really enjoyed a macchiato. The steam wand does collect a lot of water, but it takes a split second to release it. Not a big deal.

Also, I'd like to use my Cyncra to warm pizza from the fridge. Could you clear up the cup tray and put one on top to work out how long it takes to warm up? No need to use a thermocouple on the cheese; just whenever is warm enough to eat.


You gotta think big here. I'm looking forward to barbecuing on that grill. With two big exposed boilers underneath, I think I can pull it off.

The paddle group is damned cool ... Mark's Cyncra actually has a built-in preinfusion if you just slam the lever to the left; is yours the same?


Yes, the middle position will preinfuse, however, you cannot preinfuse using a static tank as I do here. It requires 40psi line pressure, which I have in my kitchen. later in the review I will discuss the effects of preinfusion.
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Quotable Quote
"US Barista champ Heather Perry and many other espresso experts have said you will make better espresso with a $300 machine and a $400 grinder, than a $600 machine and a $100 grinder." --Jim Wesley, Gaggia Baby vs. Rancilio Silvia for beginner


Postby lino on Sun Dec 18, 2005 8:16 am

Hey Abe,

That looks like a Rancilio PF in a few of the pictures there (for some reason, those are easy for me to identify). Interesting how that fits the machine-- won't fit in an LM. Have you tried a real LM PF in it, or any other brands? I'm curious how "universal" that grouphead is.

ciao

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Postby CaffeFresco on Sun Dec 18, 2005 9:51 am

My world isn't all that level. :wink:

Are the legs on this rig adjustable, or is there some other scheme to level the pour?
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Postby Abe Carmeli on Sun Dec 18, 2005 1:45 pm

CaffeFresco wrote:My world isn't all that level. :wink:

Are the legs on this rig adjustable, or is there some other scheme to level the pour?


Yes, those feet are adjustable, and they are very elegantly designed, reminiscent of Art Deco. I started paying attention to a machine's feet only recently when I had to make and install new feet for my Brewtus after a rotary conversion. Sean made it from spare nuts & bolts we found in a hardware store, and I can see the startling difference there. My machine has chicken legs, but boy, do I love them :).
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