ECM Puristika Review

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HB
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#1: Post by HB »

Classic. Forgiving. Attractive. Ubiquitous. These are just a small sample of the descriptions that fans of the E61 espresso machine have used in the more than 60 years since its introduction. One word that is rarely suggested? Diminutive. And that's not a surprise, since its heavy, saucer-shaped grouphead is a beefy chunk of chromed and polished brass. Adding to the espresso machine's size, the E61 is typically mounted on an equally beefy, large, squared-off case that can support the grouphead's more than 9 pounds and accommodate boiler, temperature controls, and plumbing bits.

That's why its refreshing to see an E61 variant that's stripped to the bare essentials, dedicated to the espresso purist -- the ECM Puristika.



The Puristika doesn't do cappuccinos or lattes. It has no steam arm, water tap, or cup railing. On the other hand, it has a few things that are atypical among home espresso machines. For example:

1). You can fine-tune the brew pressure with the prominent knob shown above on the right. It's connected to the expansion valve (OPV in common parlance), enabling the barista to adjust the vibratory pump output within a narrow range of 8-10 bar (approximately). I hasten to add that this isn't for brew pressure profile/flow profiling, it's just for setting the maximum pressure. An optional flow control valve is available that adds a pressure control knob atop the group as well as a brew chamber pressure gauge (it replaces the Allen screw seen on the front of the grouphead).

2). The water reservoir is external and made of glass. It looks like a large straight-sided beaker with two braided stainless steel flexible tubes connecting it to the espresso machine (one for drawing water, another for returning water from the OPV). Many home espresso machines locate the water reservoir inside the casing; that's practical, but leads to the water being heated enough that a bacteria film will eventually form (of course, everyone empties and cleans the inboard reservoir regularly, right?).

Below is a marketing photo that shows both the espresso machine and its external reservoir spaced apart a bit. I'll post dimensions later, but the reservoir is small enough that you can tuck it against the wall in the space behind most (non-Titan) grinders. You could allocate as little as 16" of counter space for the espresso machine/grinder, though I would recommend around 20" for ease of access to the reservoir and wiping up errant coffee grounds.


Photo courtesy of ECM Manufacture
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)
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#2: Post by HB (original poster) »

For taste tests, my go-to method is the side-by-side comparison. It's a fairly foolproof way of comparing the performance of two espresso machines, two grinders, two temperatures, and so on. In this early "getting to know you" stage, I'll approach it informally by not doing it blinded, trying a series of four or five different coffees. Prior to wrapping up this review, I promise to get serious about due diligence by repeating the series blinded, and, if possible, with a small group taste test.

The grinder for these initial comparisons is a loaner Weber Key that I've run quite a bit of coffee thorough prior to starting this thread; the "other" espresso machine is the La Marzocco Strada that's been taking up significant bar space for the last 10+ years. :lol: While it's not a true pressure profiling/flow control espresso machine, the MP version has enough control to do a simple lever-like brew pressure profile (i.e., 3 bar preinfusion, 9 bar brew, decline to 6 bar for the finish). I have a flow control valve for the Puristika, but I'm putting off the installation for awhile so I can get to know the "stock" configuration.

The Key grinder included the single dose caddie with 12 glass tubes and one-way valve tops:



At first, I thought it was a bit over the top, since I've been happily measuring out a single dose on a scale as part of my regular routine for years. It may be the influence of my (slightly?) OCD side, but after a few weeks with the measure-it-all-out-at-once approach, the morning routine is just a teeny bit smoother.

Back to the coffee: For the opening round, I started with a friendly but interesting espresso favorite, WBC World's Best Espresso:
Klatch Coffee wrote:Named Best Espresso in the world at the World Barista Championship, Japan 2007. Initial notes of sweet dark chocolate and orange citrus later give way to a syrupy-sweet taste of wine-like berry and spice.
Meta-comment: They have gotten a lot of mileage out of that win! That said, I'm onboard with the description above and I'll add that it's very approachable for non-aficionados, thanks to the chocolate notes and rich body. It's also a solid performer as a cappuccino.

Since this was a very casual start, I dialed in the two grinder/espresso machine combos separately over a course of 3 days. Once I was down to just four doses, which is sadly very obvious with this pre-dosing caddie, I compared them side-by-side:



It was an unsatisfying split decision. :|

In the first round, the taste profile of the Strada was slightly off, suggesting a teeny bit of channeling (what?!). In the second round, both delivered essentially identical taste, but surprisingly the Puristika edged out the Strada with a thick, lusciously rich espresso body. As I noted earlier, this is an "early days" comparison done with a "getting to know you" attitude, so I'm not reading much into this round -- other than to be reminded that for barista-friendly coffees and repeatable gear, it's not hard to dial in a very good espresso with [nearly] zero waste.

Dan Kehn

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#3: Post by HB (original poster) »

No review would be complete without a bottomless pour video. :lol:

This is a typical espresso pour with Klatch Coffee's Belle Espresso blend. It's a barista-friendly coffee that's also a crowd pleaser. Apologies for the so-so video quality - it was taken with a hand-held phone from a mirror reflection, so there's some jiggling and sharpness degradation.
Belle is one of my favorites for cappuccinos, though it's also enjoyable straight up as a slightly more complex "chocolate bomb" type espresso.



Espresso trivial: The bubbles are due to the long drop from a bottomless portafilter to the cup; they can be eliminated by raising the cup or using a spouted portafilter.
Dan Kehn

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#4: Post by HB (original poster) »

While I discourage overanalyzing bottomless pours, I believe the initial beading can give you a reliable indication of the evenness of the extraction -- before irrelevant contributors to the pour appearance like espresso machine level and flexing of the bottom of the basket come into play. In the video below from the La Marzocco Strada, it's a nicely even in the beginning. I'm assuming this is thanks to the extended preinfusion at 3 bar.
Later in the review when I install a flow control valve on the ECM Puristika, I'll test this assumption by comparing a "standard E61" brew profile with one having a longer preinfusion.
Dan Kehn

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#5: Post by HB (original poster) »

This weekend I'm moving away from "comfort" espressos and switching to single origin coffees. Ethiopian coffees are among my favorites, so this weekend it's Klatch Coffee's Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Koke Honey Espresso. In the same purist spirit of the ECM Puristika, I compared it against a well-known and loved lever espresso machine, the Olympia Cremina.

Comparing their footprint side-by-side, you can see just now narrow the Puristika is!



Of course, the Cremina isn't as deep and doesn't have a reservoir, let alone an external one like the Puristika.

As before, I dialed in the two espressos machines on consecutive days and then compared their espressos side-by-side (unblinded). Unlike the comparison with the La Marzocco Strada where the two espressos were more similar than different, the flavor and body profile of the Puristika and Cremina were unmistakable. Visually, they're not easy to tell apart:


Klatch Coffee - Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Koke Honey Espresso - ECM Puristika


Klatch Coffee - Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Koke Honey Espresso - Olympia Cremina

The Purista's espresso had a larger dose (17.5 grams) and thus greater volume; the Cremina's dose was 12 grams and the volume considerably less. I should have measured the beverage weight; my only excuse being that it's Mother's Day and it's a busy morning of preparation. :) I'll be sure to compare again and note the brew ratio.

The Purista's espresso had significantly more body, slightly more acidity, and more complexity. Based on the taste profile, I'm guessing the Cremina's brew ratio was higher as well as the brew temperature, the result being a more mellow espresso than the Puristika's. In this particular matchup, it was an easy win for the Puristka, but that may be a reflection on the barista. I'll give it a go for the next couple days and update this post if that proves to be the case.
Dan Kehn

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#6: Post by HB (original poster) »

HB wrote:Based on the taste profile, I'm guessing the Cremina's brew ratio was higher as well as the brew temperature, the result being a more mellow espresso than the Puristika's. In this particular matchup, it was an easy win for the Puristka, but that may be a reflection on the barista. I'll give it a go for the next couple days and update this post if that proves to be the case.
Once I broke out the scale and confirmed brew ratios, that indeed proved to be the case. There's some crema settling for the Puristika espresso (left) in this side-by-side photo since there was a slight delay starting the Cremina espresso (right), but the difference in espresso volume is obvious:


Both are "normale espresso" brew ratios

This almost evened up the comparison -- the Puristika still edged out the Cremina on body and complexity. Both were very good and I really enjoyed the simplicity of the "purist" experience these two espresso machines provide.
Dan Kehn