ECM Technika IV Profi Review

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#1: Post by HB »

For those who are new to the types of espresso machines available for the home, the heat exchanger boiler design may be confusing. Espresso Machines 101 explains the most popular boiler designs: Single boiler (sometimes called "single boiler, dual use"), heat exchanger (HX), and double boiler. Over the course of this review of the ECM Technika IV Professional, I will compare and contrast the practical implications of its HX design with other espresso machines.

As you can see in the photo below, the ECM Technika IV Professional is sharp looking. Next to it is the new Baratza Forte, the beefy brother of the popular Vario grinder; the two make an attractive pair:

Evaluation model courtesy of ECM Manufacture GmbH in Heidelberg Germany

What may be difficult to judge from the photos is the ECM's top-notch finish quality. Even my wife noted that it was "prettier and more shiny" than some of the espresso machines she's seen pass through her kitchen as part of the site's reviews. I noticed the tight tolerances on the body seams and nicely finished chrome fittings. The E61 lever and matching portafilter have extra bling appeal thanks to the black inlays; the steam and water tap both sport nifty looking joystick valves. It's perhaps a minor detail, but I also noticed that even the overpressure exit tube beneath the group was a solid metal chrome-finished piece rather than a simple plastic spout I've seen on some espresso machines.

UPDATE: Read the final writeup ECM Technika IV Profi Review.
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#2: Post by HB (original poster) »

The Technika is available in three models: The base Technika IV, Technika IV Profi ("Professional" in the US), and Technika IV Profi WT-WC (switchable between plumbed-in/water reservoir). The evaluation model above is the last model, the Professional WT-WC, recognizable by its extra bling factor and plumb-ability.

While doing some initial research on the Technika (e.g., what do people really call this machine? Technika? Technika IV? Technika Pro? Technika Profi?), I found a marketing video, evidently produced by the manufacturer:
It's low on demonstration specifics, but if you ignore the wobbly table and fast pours, the production quality is pretty good. As those who have followed the Newbie Introduction to Espresso series know, I've made a few videos this year and learned how difficult it is to make a quality video, so I hesitate to be nitpicky since my own videos are riddled with amateur-hour mistakes. Anyway, back to the review commentary, the model shown in the video is the base model, the Technika IV; it's easy to tell by the spin steam/water valve knobs instead of the joystick types on the Professional.
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#3: Post by HB (original poster) »

As part of this review, I plan to look closely at the thermal routine that works best for the Technika. Along the way, I'll offer general advice that can be applied to just about any HX espresso machine. The thread Ideal brew temperature management by HX espresso machine type presents the nomenclature I use to categorize the key characteristics of the heat exchange espresso machines I've reviewed. For convenient reference, I have excerpted parts of that thread below:
HB wrote:As an addendum to the article How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love HXs, I would like to share my observations of how "heat exchanger-centric" a particular espresso machine affects the ideal brew temperature management regime. These categories of heat exchanger espresso machines help answer important questions like "How often do I need to flush? How much? Does the flush amount change depending on how long the espresso machine has been idle?"

My shorthand for these distinctions are:
  • Dragon - key characteristics are lots of flash boiling, fast recovery, nearly zero thermal memory, and slowly rising brew temperature profile. Simply stated, after the cooling flush, the heat exchanger output is the brew temperature. Examples include the Elektra Semiautomatica, Bezzera BZ07, and the Olympia Maximatic.
    • Mixer - key characteristics are modest flush, medium to slow recovery, considerable thermal memory, and initial rising then falling brew profile. Unlike the Dragon, the Mixer's brew temperature isn't determined solely by the output of the heat exchanger. Other factors, such as cool water mixing via an heat exchanger injector, backflow from a thermosyphon, and the attenuating effect of a heavy grouphead temper the final brew temperature. Examples include HX E61 espresso machines like the Vibiemme Domobar Super and Quickmill Vetrano.
      • Agnostic - key characteristics are small, fixed volume flush or none at all, and long thermal memory. Careful tuning of a Mixer with tweaks in the design can produce an espresso machine that is heat exchanger in name only. Examples include the Cimbali Junior and Nuova Simonelli Aurelia.
      As the last entry suggests, these categories are not immutable. With minor modifications or boiler pressure adjustments coupled with barista techniques, an espresso machine that naturally fits in one category can morph into one of the other categories (e.g, Ian's HX Heaven or 1½ Boiler).

      The practical benefit of recognizing the characteristics of heat exchangers is the time saved learning the correct brew temperature management scheme. For example, I recognized the Olympia Maximatic as a Dragon by flushing the group until the water stopped flash boiling, waiting a minute or so, then repeating; it was fully recovered. The Elektra Semiautomatica is also a Dragon with a slightly heavier grouphead, but they share the same flush-n-go technique for targeting the brew temperature.
      When I first start a review, I eschew fancy measurement tools to (a) avoid the risk that measured results influence perceived results and (b) experience the evaluation model as most buyers will "au naturel". The hands-on approach I apply is described later in the same thread above:
      HB wrote:I'll offer some general comments on recognizing the type of heat exchanger:

      It's easy to recognize a Dragon because the flush time/sound will be the same every time (e.g., 90 seconds later). The second flush of a Mixer will be much less vigorous and shorter than the first. An Agnostic will be short the first time and zero the second time. The rebound time for Dragons is very short, usually less than 10 seconds. Mixers require more time or the tail end of the temperature profile will plummet; 10 seconds is a typical minimum and 30 seconds is a typical maximum. An Agnostic will typically have a short rebound time similar to a Dragon.
      Once the Technika was warmed up, I flushed water through the grouphead until the water stopped flash boiling. It was a fairly brief flash boil; waiting 90 seconds, the flash boil was short. It lasted long enough to fill half a demitasse. The recovery time to the same idle flash boil vigor was several minutes. Clearly the Technika is a Mixer.
      Dan Kehn

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      HB (original poster)

      #4: Post by HB (original poster) »

      Having two E61 espresso machines on the bench, one a double boiler, the other a heat exchanger (HX), I convinced Phillip to join me for an encore of the Newbie Introduction to Espresso video series:
      The video covers how double boiler and HX espresso machines work, their relative advantages, and a quick side-by-side taste test. I also give a brief introduction to how I map out the best flush routine for evaluation equipment using the Scace Thermofilter.

      Below is the HX hydraulics diagram for the ECM Technika IV, similar to the one by Eric Svendson and Lino Verna that I used in the video. If you're interested in the E61 thermometer adapter I mentioned in the video, please contact Eric directly via e-mail or PM.

      Diagram courtesy of ECM Manufacture
      Dan Kehn

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      HB (original poster)

      #5: Post by HB (original poster) »

      To better explain how the barista varies the HX flush routine based on idle time, I put together a short video. It demonstrates the required flush for the ECM Technika after it's been idle for a long interval, medium interval, and short interval:
      The Technika is tuned to reduce the need to flush (hence the "short" and "mini" flush described in the video), but this increases its shot-to-shot recovery time to a minimum of 2 minutes. The temperature reproducibility is best with recovery time around 3 minutes. Keep in mind as you watch the video above that the "sss-s-s" sound is the best indicator of how long you should flush (long, short, or mini) rather than keeping track of idle time. To put it another way, long "sss-s-s" sound = long flush + mini flush, medium-short "sss-s-s" sound = short flush, no or little "sss-s-s" sound = little or no flush.

      As I mentioned in the Heat Exchanger vs. Double Boiler Espresso Machines video, double boiler espresso machines have the edge on simplicity and consistency of brew temperature, but heat exchangers like the Technika deliver respectable reproducibility under varying conditions. Below are the peak/finish temperatures from the flush video:
      1. Long idle = 202.5 / 199.8°F
      2. Medium idle = 201.5 / 199.2°F
      3. Short idle = 200.9 / 197.9°F
      4. Long idle (redux) = 200.1 / 197.8°F
      Not surprisingly, the first long idle time has the greatest variance from the median temperature of ~199°F. That's because the water in the heat exchanger had ample time to reach its highest idle temperature. In the video above, I did a long + mini flush if the espresso machine was idle for a long time, but for improved first-time reproducibility, if you have the time, it's better to do a long flush, wait a few minutes, then do a short flush. This initial "wake up" flush improves the temperature stability of nearly all espresso machines, but especially for HX espresso machines.
      Dan Kehn

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      HB (original poster)

      #6: Post by HB (original poster) »

      The discussion that followed the video Heat Exchanger vs. Double Boiler Espresso Machines revisited many of the same points as previous debates on the pros and cons of these two designs. To add the viewpoint of a "newbie", I asked Phillip to follow up his comments on the double boiler Izzo Alex Duetto with his thoughts on the heat exchanger ECM Technika Pro:
      Phillip wrote:Having now had the ECM Technika for over a month now, I've had enough time to really put it through the paces to start to pick up the differences between it and the Izzo Alex Duetto I had before. There are both things that I like and don't like about both espresso machines, and if you were to ask me which one I'd prefer, my answer would be a combination of both, which I'm sure I could find in one even more expensive than both of them.

      The Duetto was great to use. I just found myself enjoying espressos the most while I had it. Maybe because I'm still pretty new at this, but it just seemed very easy to dial in and stay consistent. I wasn't a fan of the turn knobs for the steamer. I think I understand why they do it, but a couple times I panicked and turn the knob the wrong direction to turn off the steam, and it made quite a mess. However, even with those little nuisances, it made a great espresso almost every time without me paying too much attention.

      When I first received the ECM Technika, I was absolutely in love. It looks and feels like a million bucks. I was shown how the HX needs to be operated a bit different, and really didn't have a problem with that. I used it a lot over the holidays while we had people in town. However, the more I used it, the more I realized that it just wasn't quite as consistent as the Duetto. Now I'm sure that has more to do with my operation of it than anything, but even so, it made preparation a little more tricky, and frustrating at times when I had to dial it in and had several people waiting for a drink. Once it was dialed in it was smooth sailing... most of the time.

      So if I really was forced to choose one... it would be the ECM Technika because of the cost savings. Like I mentioned before, they are pretty even, but for the level of quality you get with the ECM for the price, I have no problem with an HX machine that is that nice.
      Phillip's comments about the cost/value proposition were under the lower introductory price. That price is no longer available, increasing the retail cost by $400 (!). Knowing this might influence Phillip's assessment, I asked him to weigh in:
      Phillip wrote:Yes, that price increase has definitely changed my opinion. Not saying that I don't understand why they are raising the price, because it is a very high quality machine. I just think at that price I'd go double boiler.
      Before wrapping up this review, I plan a group taste test with the ECM Technika Pro, hopefully within the next two weeks.
      Dan Kehn

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      HB (original poster)

      #7: Post by HB (original poster) »

      To close out the review of the ECM Technika IV, last Friday we held a blind taste test using Counter Culture Coffee's Apollo single origin espresso. The ECM's challenger was the espresso lab standard equipment, the La Marzocco Linea PB. Both espresso machines used the same grinder (Compak K10 Pro Barista), dose, and pull time. The agreed upon brew temperature for Apollo was 200°F (measured with a Scace II thermofilter at 20 seconds into the pull).

      Before the test began, our host Nathan Brown and I marked the bottoms of a set of identical cups for one espresso machine and left another set unmarked. Before being presented to the taster, the baristas manning each espresso machine would give the drink they just pulled to a third person who would then swirl and shuffle the arrangement like a shell game, so neither the baristas nor taster knew which cup was pulled from which espresso machine.

      Timing was approximately 30 seconds

      ECM Technika double espresso

      La Marzocco Linea PB double espresso

      ECM and La Marzocco espressos side-by-side

      Once the taster decided which was better, they would place the "winner" on the left side of the collection of dirty cups; at the end of the session, we counted how many winners belonged to each espresso machine. Here's what it looked like after 8 rounds:

      And the great reveal:

      The marked cups were from the Technika. Although most agreed it was a close competition, the La Marzocco Linea PB (again) won overall by a convincing margin, 6 to 2. In my opinion, the two were closely matched, but the La Marzocco espressos were slightly sweeter and therefore better balanced than the ECM.

      While brew temperature is frequently attributed outsized influence on espresso taste, judging from the look of the pours, I thought the slightly higher forgiveness factor of the E61 over the La Marzocco group produced results that alternatively favored better temperature control (La Marzocco) and reduced risk of channeling (ECM). Nathan and I started each pull at the same time and sometimes the La Marzocco's showed evidence of channeling. The first time we agreed to discard that round, but when it happened a second time, we decided to follow the golfing rule of "playing it where the ball lies". These extraction inconsistencies may have contributed to comments about outliers.

      Below are participant comments:
      Bob wrote:Realistically, I thought that it was a tie. If both shots had been served to me in sequence I would have thought them identical. With the benefit of side by side comparison, I noticed a slight increase in body, and sweeter aftertaste with the Linea shot.
      Ian wrote:Although both espressos were quite close taste-wise and I would be hard pressed to tell the difference a day apart, there were subtle differences that were discernible side-by-side. I picked the LM for a few reasons, firstly I found the LM cup a bit sweeter than the ECM; it had a tad more body which gave me a better mouth feel - a little like a single malt versus a blended and the finish was less sweet and more bitter in the ECM. That all said both shots were very good, fruity, reasonable body, very nice acidity not quite as high as I would have expected from Apollo.
      Brett wrote:You know, I'm really not a coffee guy.
      Kurt wrote:I could definitely notice a difference in the 2 shots coming off the La Marzocco and ECM. The one I preferred had more flavor, a richer body with a sweeter taste. I was surprised that there was that much of a difference. What could account for some of this is that the volume of the two shots were different. I could have been one of the two outliers given that I have the least refined espresso palate in the group.
      Brian wrote:I thought the LM shots were tighter, more dense and slightly sweeter. The other shot was a little more nutty and less sweet.
      Nathan wrote:Compared with the "incredibly similar" shots that others experienced, I was an outlier, I think. In two rounds of shots (we gave it two chances), the better shots were both sweet and mildly citrus-y with medium body - somewhat better-than-expect body, for the flavor profile. The lesser shots, were sharp, unbalanced, and harshly fruity. It could be the outliers are attributed to channeling (?).
      Thanks gentlemen for your comments and thanks to Counter Culture Coffee for hosting our comparison test and supplying coffee. Below are the participants from the blind taste test panel, except Nathan who managed to elude the camera:



      Bob, Ian, Kurt, Dan (apparently dozing off)
      Dan Kehn

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      HB (original poster)

      #8: Post by HB (original poster) »

      Below is a nice feature presentation from one of the HB sponsors, Whole Latte Love. It calls out a few points that help explain the premium price of the ECM Technika IV (e.g., stainless steel boiler, all copper and braided stainless steel tubing, nicely rolled and polished edges, easy brew pressure adjustment access, toggle steam/water wand, heavy polished fittings on the E61 group and controls).
      This concludes the research phase of this review. Comments or questions are welcome; the final review will be published soon.
      Dan Kehn

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      Team HB

      #9: Post by TomC »

      If I wanted to dip my toes into the E61 world again, this would likely be the only one I'd go for. It really has some awesome features that combined in one counter friendly unit, make it hard to pass up. Especially when you see blind cupping results that although may not beat a titan class espresso machine, it certainly can shadow them.
      Join us and support Artisan Roasting Software=

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      #10: Post by keno »

      HB wrote:Below is a nice feature presentation from one of the HB sponsors, Whole Latte Love. It calls out a few points that help explain the premium price of the ECM Technika IV (e.g., stainless steel boiler, all copper and braided stainless steel tubing, nicely rolled and polished edges, easy brew pressure adjustment access, toggle steam/water wand, heavy polished fittings on the E61 group and controls).
      Great review Dan and company! I've been very happy with my ECM Technika over the past year. The price has gone up a bunch since I purchased mine for $1899, which I thought was a great value at the time.

      From the WLL video it looks like they made three changes to the machine: (1) addition of no-burn wands, (2) insulated boiler, and (3) drip tray rails. I don't think those three things are worth $400. Before it was a great value, but it's still a good value if it can compete with a much more expensive LM machine.