Comparing LaCimbali to other prosumer offerings is a study of what separates "9" build quality from "10". Lugging Junior around is the first clue that you're dealing with a heavy-duty machine in both senses of the word—it weighs over 70 pounds wet, which is 20 pounds heavier than a typical prosumer espresso machine. You don't need to be an engineer to see where the extra poundage is going—the group is massive and the boiler is made of thick stainless steel. Even the boiler's safety overflow catch is made of solid brass and the boiler's endplates look to be one-half inch thick.
In terms of maintenance, Junior is designed with the demands of a commercial environment in mind. For example, you remove only three bolts and the chrome-plated grouphead "donut" detaches, eliminating the need to crane your neck or poke with screwdrivers to replace the grouphead gasket—a quick tug and it's out.
Accessing the machine's interior is even easier.
Two small rubber caps atop each side of the cup warming tray (near the center looking at it lengthwise) cover access holes to the screws holding the top edge of each panel flush against the frame. To take off a side panel, first remove the rubber cap and loosen the screw beneath it (a couple turns only, there's no need to remove them). The bottom corner of each panel snaps into a retaining pin; gently pull the top of the panel away about two inches and then tug each bottom corner out and slightly upward. Repeating the same steps on the other side and half of the machine's interior is exposed, all by untightening just two screws. (The back panel is held in place by two screws on each vertical edge; the side panels must be removed to access them).
The photo to the right shows the side of the boiler and its fill level sensor (f) attached to a thin, light-blue wire, and heating element connections (h). Notice how the thick blue heating element wires near (h) are firmly attached to their connections and covered with a silicone tubing wrap; this eliminates the chance of touching wires shorting or them pulling loose during shipment. I tugged on them very hard and they did not budge.
Keeping these connections snug and sealed avoids potential problems—not that there's much chance of burning out the heating element in the first place because Junior has an over-temperature thermostat inside the boiler, running right along the heating element (thin, dark green wire entering hole above (h)). Most machines have an over-temperature thermostat on the top of the boiler. In most cases that works just fine, but a safety sensor in nearly direct contact with the element will react sooner than one mounted on the boiler's exterior.
As I inspected more closely, I noted other prudent design decisions such as:
- Wiring is well within required gauge, neatly routed and tied off,
and secured firmly with locking connections. Junior's boiler
pressure is controlled by a micro-pressurestat.
Why this matters: Electrial appliances have connections that can jostle loose during shipment and installation. Securing them properly avoids day-one headaches, and keeping them away from vibration points avoids insulation being worn away over years of use, thereby preventing electrical shorts.
Many pressurestats carry an electrical current of 10 amps or more. Each time the contacts open and close there is potentially some arcing, creating carbon build-up that degrades their connectivity and ultimately causes pressurestat failure. The Cimbali Junior's micro-pressurestat is a low-voltage switch that signals the controller instead. Low voltage and no arcing means no problems.
- Junior's solid brass overflow catch is offset from the boiler
and has two bottom drain holes to route water away quickly.
Why this matters: In hard water areas or after years of [mis]use, the fill sensor probe can fail to detect the water level due to scale build-up, causing the boiler to fill until water exits the pressure relief valve. Since this is a reasonably rare event, some machines have no catch for this valve, while other manufacturers locate an overflow catch directly atop the boiler. This exposes it to more heat, which potentially degrades non-metal fittings and increases the likelihood of water cascading over sensitive (and expensive) components if the catch cannot drain water away fast enough.
- The electronic controller unit ("brain box") is located
beneath the driptray.
Why this matters: At first this may strike you as an odd location for a costly electronic controller. But with more careful inspection, you would see that the electronics are contained within a watertight box, and more importantly, isolated from the heat of the boiler in the main compartment. Electronic components don't like heat.
- The pump pressure is directly adjustable, but there's also an
Why this matters: This valve vents water to the drain if the pressure is accidently set too high, protecting the rest of the brew group from excessive pressure. Unlike the expansion valve on a vibration pump machine, quality commercial rotary vane espresso machines use this valve exclusively as an added safety device.
Note: The over-pressure valve adjustment is the big brass slotted screw in the photo above near (h); it is properly set by the manufacturer and there is no need to adjust it. Don't confuse over-pressure valve adjustment with the brew pressure adjustment, whose regulation is very clearly documented in the owner's manual.
I could go on and on, but I think this level of detail has already proven my point: The Cimbali Junior is conceived to deliver reliable service for many, many years. In the event of a problem, a repair technician can return it back to service quickly, which is of paramount importance to a café whose reputation and customer loyalty rests on the reliability of their equipment.
Minor adjustments and maintenance is a normal part of owning top-end espresso equipment. If your water has more than three grains of hardness, then it is particularly important to address the problem of scale build-up. Section 4, Water Treatment and Preventive Descaling for Espresso Machines, of Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ describes in general terms how these homeowners can prevent costly damage by performing regular maintenance. Fortunately the combination of the adjustable boiler fill level sensor (f) and boiler drain (d) make this easy. For reasons of brevity, this article doesn't cover the procedure step-by-step. All machines sold by Chris' Coffee Service include water test strips, and again if your water has more than three grains of hardness, you should contact them to discuss your options for addressing this issue, which may include water treatment, preventative descaling, or combination of both. Improving the quality of the water you use by filtration will improve the taste of your espresso and save money on bottled water; and again, proper water softening will also avoid the #1 cause of costly service calls in espresso machines—scale build-up.
Although overall I was quite impressed with what I found, there was one miscue: Accessing the pressurestat to adjust the boiler pressure / brew temperature requires the removal of all three panels. Given that this is one of the more common adjustments for new owners, it should be more conveniently located.