LaCimbali Junior DT1
Conclusion


Who would have thought it? Our group taste comparison between the Cimbali Junior and La Marzocco Linea confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time: Top-end commercial machines have different capacities, demand different techniques, but in the hands of a skilled barista, demonstrably are capable of producing nearly indistinguishable results as judged by the average and not-so-average espresso drinker. Some professionals may question these test results, but we went to great lengths to make it a fair evaluation. Truthfully the test favored the Linea in some ways and I considered the possibility the scores would lean strongly in its favor. It didn’t turn out that way. Part of the overall favorable results for both machines, I believe, demonstrate that this class of equipment is at its best when run flat-out.

Enough about the group taste test, what’s the bottom line? Is Junior the end-all, be-all choice for the home barista willing to part with three grand? Let’s see the numbers...

This guide retains the same informal scores of the previous reviews, starting with the exceptional espresso score™. This is a rating of the espresso quality a barista with moderate experience should expect on a daily basis. In one respect, Junior is a dream heat exchanger: Nothing short of a dual boiler could claim a simpler routine of temperature management, which lies in sharp contrast to prosumer heat exchanger machines that require conspicuous attention to the timing and amount of the cooling flush before each shot.

On the other hand, producing an exceptional extraction with Junior proved more challenging; flaws in my technique were revealed with painful clarity. I dedicated several weeks to improving my barista skills in order to reliably pull shots on par with my own machine. This required effort was partially an indictment of my accumulation of bad habits that went unpunished using the more forgiving E61 group, and partially a recognition that the Cimbali Junior’s lack of pre-infusion and rapid brew water pressurization demand closer adherence to proper technique. Is this a noteworthy consideration among professional baristas? No, probably not, but I feel the home barista should be aware that producing exceptional espresso with Junior may require more personal effort. Consequently it’s fair to dock Junior a half point, leading to a score of 8.0 for the barista having moderate skills. If you’re willing to invest additional time and effort improving your skills, expect regular shots worthy of a solid 8.5 and not infrequent 9.0’s.

Before moving to the next score, let’s consider one tradeoff that my previous evaluations didn’t weigh: How well does a particular espresso machine handle a crowd? If I were to add a “crowd pleaser” score to this evaluation, Junior would reign supreme over all the prosumer models I’ve used to-date. According to the manufacturer, Junior is rated in excess of 80 cups per hour. While we never reached that pace during our group test, there were bursts of espresso production that came close. The espresso quality never wavered, and in fact I believe they improved as the pace quickened. If you regularly invite over six or more people for an espresso jam, or you have aspirations of catering small weddings for your family and close friends, the Cimbali Junior will not let you down.

The “morning after” score is where Junior takes it lightly on the chin. Those who are learning should expect a respectable 7.0, owing to the requisite level of barista skills I mentioned earlier. Keep in perspective that such a score is still better than the majority of cafés in the U.S, plus the hints and tips in Perfecting the Naked Extraction will move you along the learning curve quickly. As a consolation to Cimbali Junior fans, the good news is that if this score only considered the ease of managing brew temperature— generally a weakness of heat exchanger machines —Junior would earn a firm 9.0 while other prosumer machines would struggle to merit a 7.0.

The majority of Americans are cappuccino and latte drinkers, so the cappuccino lover’s score weighs the speed and ease of frothing. Junior has lots of capacity—some home baristas may consider it too fast! Producing good microfoam was easy, but excellent microfoam was elusive using the stock tip. Exchanging the S1 steam arm and tip for Junior’s stock equivalent helped and I liked the added mobility, and yet Junior lagged well behind the steaming capabilities of another popular commercial machine of home kitchen proportions, namely the La Spaziale S1. The S1 has the advantage of a dedicated steam boiler that runs at a higher pressure of 1.25 bar compared to Junior’s typical 0.9 bar. Raising Junior’s boiler pressure to increase steam production also increases brew water temperature; few would set its boiler pressure higher than 1.1 bar, except for rapid-fire continuous use or brewing lighter high-temperature tolerant espresso blends. Subsequently Junior places below the S1 by a non-negligible margin with a score of 8.5.

The last two scores are where Junior gets to crow, beginning with the convenience and features score. My own machine doesn’t have volumeteric dosing and I found myself wishing it did after a month or two with Junior. Add to that the enormous cup shelf (twenty-four Illy cups, egad!), quiet rotary pump and convenient direct plumbing, no need to empty the driptray, beefy polished portafilters, good ergonomics like the tactile feel of the steam and water tap, and well-conceived maintenance features such as the water level adjustment with a twist, easy panel removal, and no-hassle boiler drain. The list of smart features goes on, many of which you’ll only appreciate through years of ownership, leading Junior to the top of the charts and establishing it as Home-Barista.com’s standard by which all others are compared, a near perfect 9.75.

There’s no chance of surprising you with my assessment of the Cimbali Junior’s materials and workmanship score. I searched long and hard to find points to criticize and finally concluded that any negative comment would be quibbling. If you appreciate attention to detail and are willing to pay a handsome premium for an espresso machine that you can include in your family wills for generations, you’ve found the answer. The Cimbali Junior earns an unqualified 10.0 in this category and is once again Home-Barista.com’s standard bearer.

Exceptional
Espresso

Morning
After

Cappuccino
Lover’s

Convenience / Features

Materials / Workmanship

Cimbali Junior

*8.0

7.0

8.5

9.75

10.0

La Spaziale S1

8.0

9.0

9.5

9.5

8.5

Andreja Premium

8.5

7.5

9.0

9.0

8.5

Rancilio Silvia

7.0

3.0

6.0

5.0

8.0

Steam-type (no pump)

2.0

1.0

2.0

3.0

4.0

Typical café

4.0

n/a

4.5

n/a

n/a

Note: Home baristas with better than “moderate” skills can expect a regular Exceptional Shot score of 8.5 and not infrequent 9.0’s, especially if serving large groups.

As always, I don’t offer an overall score because it depends too much on the relative weight you place on each of the other scores. Lastly, to help you better appreciate the relative scale of these scores, I offer the same off-the-cuff evaluations for an advanced entry-level espresso machine, the infamous Rancilio Silvia, as shown in the table above. The table also includes the ubiquitous steam-type espresso machine and what one could expect from most cafés in my area, if only to put things in proper perspective.

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