About three years ago, John Buckman reached out to me wanting to chat about what was to become the Decent Espresso machine. That effort lead to his working prototype I spoke about here. I've had John's latest work "mule" (his own test unit they kept on the bench in their factory, for two months now. Long enough to say with a good deal of confidence that it will likely greatly impact the home espresso market, due to it's features and usability. This machine is a lot of fun to use and fits in well with my home-use regime. My other espresso machines have sat idle while I've gotten to know the Decent Espresso machine.
I initially put the brakes on running immediately with a review because this unit doesn't fully represent the units that will actually ship to customers (small things like drip tray, plumbing options, the possibility of physical buttons being on the top of the group head) and I wanted to make sure what I wrote about actually reflected what potential buyers would end up having on their counter. Many nicely polished reviews already exist on the DE1+/Pro ( shortened to simply DE for simplicity here), so my review will only serve as a companion to many of them. I'm not a videographer by any means, so I'll focus more on a few images and descriptions of features. With the latest firmware updates, the machine works well and is a joy to use. I'll be describing the good and the bad, but in the long run suffice it to say that I'll be happy to buy a DE1 Cafe soon. It might replace all my other machines if it proves to hold up over the long run. That is the main goal in this review. To see if all this technology holds up to regular use and to find out if all the other home espresso manufacturers are going to be left behind. Too early to tell, but I am optimistic so far.
We're starting to enter the "Age of Ultron" when it comes to home coffee/espresso gear. Having a machine that can add features simply by downloading the latest update is pretty cool, I'm not aware of any other home-friendly espresso machine with this level of upgrade capability. I initially encountered a few struggles with the Skale paring with the DE and it's gravimetric function wasn't working consistently, but that too was fixed with the latest update.
The footprint and general layout of the machine is already widely known, so I won't bother repeating it here in excess. Suffice it to say it's not much bigger than a Cremina or other similar home machine.
Right off the bat, the easily praised features include it's very fast warm-up times (around 5 minutes or less), it's small, lightweight, but stable footprint, it's relative ease in navigating thru the tablet for basic functions, and yes it does make incredible coffee, including pulling sweet, developed tasting shots from tricky light roasted coffee. It's steam function, once you get the grasp of it, makes exceptional microfoam quite easily. I'm left handed and it took me a bit longer to adapt to the orientation of the steam wand, but with the One-Tap Mode enabled, I find it much easier to use. Much has been speculated upon previously from "dry steam" technology, but without a large blind panel to assess the differences, I don't feel it's worth debating. Suffice it to say it makes great microfoam for milk drinks. This unit cannot steam and extract coffee at the same time. But I find that I'm usually studying the tablet screen anyway during the shot, so I wouldn't be steaming milk in parallel anyway. Maybe an end-user someday with the Cafe model will just want the dialed in features to work, without the expenditure of effort of staring at a screen and move seamlessly thru their drink prep. I've gotten to the point that once I've tapped the Start button, I'm reaching for my milk in the fridge and dosing that into the steaming pitcher, but keeping an eye on the gravimetric feature.
The portafilter handles are long and comfortable. Users can easily swap them out to custom wood if they choose, the stainless steel heads aren't glued into the handle. This is one instance where I feel like being left handed is a benefit. I am already naturally holding the portafilter in my left hand, so locking it into the group feels very natural and ergonomically better in my opinion. It also locks in more to the left than most other groups, which is needed so the bracing hand on the mounted handle doesn't bump into the hand holding the portafilter. All in all, the movement feels natural now and it's not like a lot of weight or torque needs to be applied to either handle in the procedure.
My steam wand orientation that works best for me is about a 45 degree angle as seen in the above photo.
On this unit, I haven't noticed any loud fan noises at all. The machine at idle is nearly silent for me. It has been, since the day it arrived. Some folks noted a louder fan sound, but I thought it was worth mentioning that I haven't encountered any issues so far. The trade off of a small overall size and all the modern controls of the pump and various features means you'll hear the clicks, blips and chugs as the machine goes about it's business. The water reservoir in the base is easy enough to keep topped up and it offers the end user the benefit of having tailored water for different types of coffee if one chooses. I have two lab flasks sitting next to my Speedster that I can use for exactly this reason. I can replace the water reservoir rather quickly, flush some water thru and go. I notice that the reservoir slides very smoothly into place. I don't get any sloshing or spilling. The lever in the back is intuitive and everything can be done blindly as far as the lever goes.
Looking closer at the capabilities of the machine within it's Presets menu, the options are legion. Within the Presets, you're given the choice of modifying each stage and parameter of the extraction. This is in addition to being able to select the desired temperature goal, via a sensor in the group that targets puck temperatures rather than older technology that just tell you a boiler temp. I'm interested in seeing how shorter puck height ( as with a 15g VST basket) paired with really precise temp feedback, can lead to better extractions of light roasted coffee.
- Rise and Hold
- Stop at Weight
With the Skale, users are able to incorporate gravimetrics, aiming at consistency. If a specific recipe is dialed in, it can be saved and repeated.
Some of my favorite Presets are the two flow profiling options for either straight shots or milk drinks, then the Italian Australian espresso Preset is fun for my go-to milk based coffee choice, Caffe Lusso. The machine is capable of replicating lever espresso profiles as well, something to be considered by potential customers who don't want a large commercial spring lever group in the home, with it's inherent risks or required arm workout.
Users can add/delete Presets as they want, and they can rate them based on the specific espresso extraction with an "Enjoyment" level, and a space for notes. Along with that, you can enter technical data if desired, including shot weight, TDS, EY, etc. There's even a section for describing your setup, to include the name, roast date, etc of your beans. "God Shots" can be noted and saved for later efforts to replicate as well.
Separately, I'll take a deeper dive into various features, namely the Preset menu options individually and compare them to the other machines I have (Speedster and Leva) on bar. The flow profiling Linea was taken off the bar to make room for the Speedster, so I won't be able to compare flow profiling machines. I think potential owners want to know if all this tech really makes a difference in the cup. Having a small machine that can replicate a Slayer style shot on light roasted coffee, as well as copy a traditional Italian commercial lever machine, all in one, will likely be it's biggest selling point.
The tablet is fairly intuitive, but not without a few head scratching obstacles at times. If I'm perusing the Presets menu, and want to read thru the Description section of each type, I cannot see the entire description and taping on it will often bump me to a different Preset. Case in point, if I bring up the last Preset, the "Two Spring Lever Machine at 9 Bar" option, when I want to read the entire Description, touching it keeps bumping me into the "Italian Australian Espresso" Preset If I don't mess with trying to read the Description, I can just proceed straight into the extraction and not worry about it. As well, I had to reboot the tablet because regardless of which Preset I chose, it still stuck with the Two Spring Lever Machine description.
Disposable lens and tech wipes will become your best friend for keeping the tablet pretty. The angle the tablet sits and my kitchen lighting seems to exaggerate the fingerprints and smudges. Here it is all clean and tidy. I don't use a microfiber on the screen since it's just fingerprints and even a clean damp microfiber will leave minor streaks when cleaning the fingerprints. The wipes work a lot better and leave it pristine.
The bent lower "shot mirror" works well enough, but it is small. I'm rarely looking at the shot mirrow however, because I have a beautiful tablet read-out happening in real time, so my focus remains there for the most part. With WDT, my shots fall into a nice straight mouse tail, even into very small cups. Spatter happens sporadically, I keep a separate, damp microfiber towel to keep everything clean looking. You can see the fine stream of channeling on the left side of the basket however (in the photo just beneath the one of the shot mirror). This is more so an issue of grinder and basket prep, than the machine. On light roasted coffees, I'm often playing around with a 15g VST baskets and all the barista tricks like 6 bar pressure, big flat burrs etc. These photos were taken with an Espresso Parts HQ basket since it works well with the darker roasts of Caffe Lusso Lionshare and GMC.
It would be spectacular to eventually have Acaia Scale integration work. The Skale does it's job, but is rather less attractive compared to the rest of the machine, and it's bulky, which obscures a bit of the sight-line of the shot mirror. Since I've updated the firmware, I haven't encountered any problems with the Skale pairing and keeping it's connection with the DE. The tablet read-out is often off by a gram or two from the Skale however. That alone requires a deeper dive into how the shot is setup and controlled.
The view of the shot mirror. Folks of average height will likely be lined up perfectly to see it. I have to take a bit of a step back, with my height in order to see it. It's a simple feature, but nicely executed. I think an extra 1/2" of "mirror" might help, but the Skale would have to sit a bit further out in order to accommodate that.
I wiped the Skale, and reshot this image so the focus wasn't on the water on the front of the Skale, but rather on the occasional splatter that hits it and the backsplash.
The spatter can be seen on the top of the Skale, occasionally a bit on the backsplash too. Note the small channel on the left side is likely what's making the mess.
Minor things like the nut that mounts the steam wand onto the front has fairly deep machining marks, it would be nice to see better finishing there, especially since there's a very minimalist appearance to the facade, that small details sorta jump out at you. I'm not sure if this is present on the production units.
I don't know if I have the most current iteration of the drip tray. I know John and his team spend an incredible effort getting the drip tray and its function just right. But on mine, I can't wipe the backsplash of the machine (shot mirror etc) without sliding the drip tray off to one side. That's a minor annoyance. I think the whole thing has been redesigned since.
Major pluses are that I can dial in a shot extremely quickly, with great precision. With so much feedback and data available, users can quickly determine which way to sculpt their next shot. If you've missed your gravimetric goal grind coarser and repeat, etc. I look forward to more users owning these machines, because the ability to share shot parameters will be a great feature.
I love having the ability to switch the buttons to one-touch actuation. It simplifies both steaming, purging the steam wand and also flushing the group. I live in a very mild climate, year-around, but I still appreciate the small footprint that doesn't heat up the surrounding area. Even in my small kitchen, the DE fits in well and is easily moved. This many features in this small of a package is pretty much unbeaten yet.
With the steamwand itself, I find the amount of holes and their diameter perfect for controlling the whirlpool with little effort. The current firmware update brought with it much greater response times and precision.
The water in the reservoir stays clean, even with prolonged periods of no use. I had a particularly hellish week a bit ago, and wasn't home during my days off much, so it sat unused for about 8-9 days. The water remains clean and free of debris. I probably wouldn't mind ending up with a reservoir unit primarily, for it's ease of use and mobility. I haven't packed the machine up in the supplied luggage case, but it's certainly a welcome addition.
Much more to come.