Not long after posting the above, Chris Nachtrieb asked for my opinion of a new steaming accessory from Quickmill. He said it was better than other auto frothers. "Sure, why not," I replied, and a couple days later a rather large box arrived at my doorstep.HB wrote:During the holiday shopping, I stopped by Williams-Sonoma where a salesman was enthusiastically demonstrating the Nespresso capsule system. I tried two samples (Ristretto and Capricco). If I applied the SCAA barista competition scoring, they would be in the 1.5-2.0 range. It was a pleasant surprise since I was bracing myself for the super-auto dreck I sampled during my last visit. The salesman also demonstrated a combo milk heating / frothing unit ("Nespresso Aeroccino Automatic Milk Frother"). It produces airy "white cap" foam that looks inviting, but is devoid of texture and sweetness. To their credit, the Nespresso capsule / frother was about as good as a typical cafe in my area and far more consistent.
Together the pod system and frother go for around $300. Each capsule makes a single espresso and costs around $0.50. If you simply must have espresso/cappuccinos and have no time, it's worth stopping by Williams-Sonoma to judge for yourself. It's cheaper than a super-auto and the two drinks were better than the super-auto espressos I've tried. That said, my recommendation for the no-budget no-time crowd remains a good grinder and presspot for a truly memorable coffee rather than a minimally acceptable (N)espresso that is forgotten moments after it's consumed.
For the first time out, I took it to our regular Friday get-together at Counter Culture Coffee. While it's an unfair comparison, I wanted to put the Quickmill auto milk steamer against the best of the best, the La Marzocco FB-80 (in fact, this particular espresso machine was used at the last World Barista Competition). After two or three practice rounds with the Quickmill, I prepared two steamed pitchers, one from the La Marzocco, the other from the Quickmill. Kevin prepared two espressos in identical cappuccino cups. Both pitchers were swirled and thunked. We did this two times and tasted them without identifying which sample was which.
The results? The milk from La Marzocco for the first cappuccino was quite good, but the second was spot on. Sweet, creamy, wonderfully polished chrome surface, nothing but microscopically small bubbles. I found that by "center cutting" the Quickmill's steamed milk, I could nearly eliminate visible bubbles. At its best, we agreed the Quickmill's texture was on par with milk prepared by an "average" barista on the La Marzocco, but it would easily be blown away by someone with better than average skills (for reasons of discretion, I will omit who in our trials prepared the designated "average" and "better than average" samples ). The La Marzocco also demonstrated its superiority in terms of sweetness. While the Quickmill auto steamer was a lot better than the Nespresso Aeroccino in texture and sweetness, not surprisingly, neither auto steamer competes with the La Marzocco.
Below is a demonstration video:
As shown in the photo below, milk is drawn directly from its cold container and steamed using water from a separate bottle. A thermoblock does the "on demand" steaming. The mixing chamber (black plastic) has a needle valve for adjusting the steam / milk mixture. It's easy to use, even if you don't read the instructions. In total, I went through about a half gallon of milk tweaking the setting and practicing the "center cut" technique for best results.
Photo courtesy of Chris' Coffee Service