I wanted to try to add to some of the info that exists on the CT1 and share my experience. This site and all of you who contribute have been a massive help to me and have saved me many hours of frustration as I've learned to become a more proficient barista, and so I wanted to try to give back with a relatively in depth look at the CT1. I am guessing some of this info also applies to the ES3. I am far more an amateur at this than many of you on here and I am not the most mechanically inclined, so I apologize if I don't go into as much detail as you might like, but I will do my best to answer any questions you might have. Also, if any of my info seems off feel free to point it out, I don't pretend to be an expert.
I ordered directly through Wouter, and he took an initial deposit, and didn't charge me the rest until time of shipping. He initially estimated a 4 week lead time, however this did end up turning into a 12 week wait. In this time, Wouter quickly answered any questions that I had and let me know where he was at in regards to getting my unit out to me. I don't mention this as a complaint, but just to let people know that there may be a bit longer of a wait than anticipated. Also keep in mind that if you are in the states you will have to pay an import fee. I think it cost me around $70. However, shipping was quick and I had the unit in a matter of days. The unit came safely packaged and without any problems. So after the "long" wait, CT1 #32 was in my hands!
The unit comes with a bottomless portafilter, 3 identical 15g filter baskets, A tamper, an anti-dust lid, and an interesting take on a double spout adapter. My initial impressions:
The CT1 is just a bit bigger than I was expecting and has some heft to it. It weighs around 16 lbs. This is really nice when pulling a shot because the machine is very stable and doesn't move. In general the machine is very solid and seems to me to be built to last.
The portafilter is wood and brass and also has a nice substantial weight to it. Feels much nicer in my hand then the Cremina and Pavoni portafilters, but I really appreciate glassware and other handheld objects with good weight to them.
I was skeptical of the wood handles before receiving the unit. Primarily, the shape. I did not think that I would like the way they feel in my hand. However, they are a little larger in diameter than I was expecting, and even though I still prefer a shape that conforms more to my large hands, I am rather fond of the rougher farmhouse style design.
The double basket that Wouter had made for these units is really nice. Would it be nice to have a larger size basket? Perhaps. I've not experimented with larger baskets and so haven't come to a conclusion on that just yet, but so far it has not impacted my experience pulling good shots of espresso in any noticeable way. I am not an expert on basket designs, but from what I can tell the precision on these is very nice.
Elektra double vs. CT1 double
For those concerned with the size of the basket, the Elektra double does
fit in the portafilter just fine. I have not tried using it, though, as I find that the extractions I get with the CT1 double basket are really great, and an improvement over what I used to get with the Elektra. Much more centered extractions and less deadspots. To be fair, this was also my experience when comparing the Cremina standard double to the Elektra double, better extraction with the Cremina standard.
It's also worth mentioning another unique aspect of this machine, which is that the portafilter locks in from outside the group, and the way it is design encourages preparing the basket outside of the portafilter. I really enjoy the way the portafilter locks into the group. It's easy, secure, and you can lock it in from either the left or the right. Prepping the basket outside of the portafilter is different, but I wouldn't say I like it any better or any worse. For me, it's just a change from what I've come to expect and become familiar with.
The antidust lid is important for more than keeping dust particles out of the kettle, which I talk about below. It sits loosely on top of the kettle. The first day I had it I had a clumsy moment and accidentally knocked it off and lightly scratched the SS base. So I do wish that it had some kind of tighter fit on the kettle, but that not may actually work since it gets hot and you need to be able to remove it easily to actually be able to lift the lever.
The drip tray is a nice size and I have not had any problems with spilling or overflow. I find there is very little water waste with the CT1. The only time you will flush is if you are trying to warm your cup or clear grinds from the shower screen. Like the anti-dust lid, the driptray lid sits on top of the reservoir. I do wish that it somehow snapped into place or had a tighter fit. It's a small issue, but it bugs me just a bit. On a positive note, the driptray lid has a mirrored finish to it, which allows you to watch the shot without having to bend over. The cups I use are perhaps on the taller side, so it really only lets me see the beginning of the shot, but if I were to use a shorter cup then I think I'd be able to watch the whole extraction.
The tamper is interesting. It has the same handle as the lever and portafilter. For those of you who like the tamper to fit snug in your hand, this will be an adjustment if you want to use it or you may just decide to use your own. The tamper base is thin and slightly convex. I've found I like using it best with 4 fingers at each side. The thinness of the base helps me with making sure the puck is level. I don't have any thoughts just yet on the convex shape, as it's the first tamper I've used with this shape. Using the machine:
In its stock settings, I am finding that to get the CT1 up to temperature it is important to keep the lid on. So, while it is referred to as an anti-dust lid, my experience so far is showing that it is also important for reaching brew temperature. With the lid on, there are no issues with reaching temperature. The thermostat does cycle and seems to fluctuate between 4-5 degrees F. It does not take long for the machine to reach or return back to its target temperature, we're talking seconds, not minutes.
I am also finding that there is a small window in which I would actually want to adjust the temperature knob. Instead of fiddling too much with the knob I am finding it easier to track where the unit is in its heating cycle and just wait until it reaches the desired temperature. This isn't always the case, though, if I am switching between beans that need a larger difference in temp. Also, Wouter has let me know that the thermostat setting is adjustable, and that there is a calibration knob in which I can change the max temp that the unit will reach and increase that window a bit. I am still getting to know the machine better in this area, so I will maybe have more to report back with in the upcoming weeks. I'd be interested to hear other user's experience in regards to temperature.
The fully saturated grouphead is very nice due to the ability to lock in the portafilter and go without having to flush, do half pulls, submerge the group in water, etc, to get the group up or down to proper temperature. Just lock in and go. If you do flush to warm up a cup or clear the screen, you again don't need to worry about the group temp fluctuating. You're good to go. Piston
The piston is also very cool. You'll notice when beginning to raise the lever that there is a little bit of play before the lever actually begins to move the piston. This "play" allows for a thin stream of water to exit the piston out a small circle in the bottom. What is actually happening is that the initial raising of the lever opens a hole in the piston that allows water to enter and begin filling the group. This prevents air from getting into the group as you raise the piston. I'm not sure if it is due to the piston design, but it seems this results in a couple of things. First is that you don't need to raise the lever part way before locking in the portafilter. You can lock the portafilter in immediately. Second is that raising the lever does not seem to disturb the puck. I have no evidence of this other than that is what I feel under the lever as I lift it. The raising action is smooth and feels undisturbed. Lastly, there is very good feedback under the lever as you press water through the puck and extract the shot. This actually does a huge service to the barista making it easier to dial in the grind and the amount of force you need to put into the pull. It also emphasizes a point that I think is true of all manual lever machines, which is that it favors a softer pull. All of these points, imo, make this a manual lever machine that would be on the easier side for somebody with no lever experience to learn on, and if you are somebody transitioning from a Cremina or Pavoni, I think you might it an easy one.
Piston open/closed from side/bottom:Removing portafilter
In regards to removing the portafilter, I have not encountered any portafilter sneeze. Hallelujah. I can remove the portafilter with 5-10 seconds of finishing a shot without any problems.Volume and lighter roasts:
One area where I'm finding the CT1 really excels is in pulling lighter roasts. The group cylinder holds a large volume of water and you are able to pull a longer ratio shot with a single lever stroke. I think that this paired with the softer pull and profile really works well for light roasts. This caught me off guard the first couple days as I would do a full pull with a medium roast like I would on my Cremina, and find that some of the shots looked good and didn't taste off, but the flavors were dull and muted. I started weighing the shots and realizing that I was pulling lungos in the 35% range, instead of the 50-60% ratios that I was used to. So aside from pulling the cup early, I realized with the medium/medium dark roasts that I can also just raise the lever 3/4 of the way and achieve an extraction closer to what I am looking for. However, with the lighter, fruitier, more acidic roasts, being able to pull closer to a 3-to-1 ratio is really great. With a light roast I will dose 15 g in the basket and extract anywhere from 39-41 g in the cup. I can fit more in the basket, but I find that it is more likely to cause channeling. So I've been avoiding overdosing.
This is a quick video I took of a lighter Ethiopian from a Seattle roaster called Kuma. It's not a good video or the prettiest extraction, actually maybe it's even a little cringeworthy, but I wanted to show a pull of a lighter roast and the volume of the extraction. Sorry for the video going sideways halfway through. I thought about redoing it, but I'm already caffeinated and don't want to waste any coffee.
But, as you can see, 15.1 g to start and finished with 39.7 in the cup. I also show removing the portafilter without any "sneeze".Maintenance
One other aspect of the machine that I haven't touched upon yet is maintenance. I don't have a ton to say so far.
I have noticed that if you leave the group full when the machine is off that it leaks a little bit and that the leak stops when you turn the machine on. I asked Wouter about this and he said it is not uncommon when the machine is still new, but will cease happening once the piston gasket is worn in after a couple of weeks.
The piston is easy to remove. You just need to carefully remove one c-clip on the lever pin and then push out the pin to take out the piston. The shower screen is also easy to remove with a flat screwdriver or paint can opener.
Being somebody who is in general quite underwhelmed with the aesthetics of almost all espresso machines, I think the CT1 is a beautiful machine... and of course, that means just like with a new car or anything shiny, when you get that first ding or scratch it's heartbreaking. That aside, I'd say purchase a nice polishing cloth and copper/brash cleaner/polish that isn't too abrasive. After a week or so of use I polished the machine for the first time and it was looking great. Wouter does recommend using a non-acid grease to lightly coat and protect the outside of the copper portion. He says on his website that he uses bearing grease. This is not an area that I have much experience in... I've read elsewhere that you shouldn't use any kind of automobile grease on copper or brass, and I've had trouble finding a grease that can handle high heat and specifically says it doesn't contain acid. So I'm still on the search. Any thoughts?
Anyway, there you have it. A very wordy tl;dr type post on the CT1 which I am really enjoying using so far. I love having it on my counter, the espresso it produces is delicious, and paired with the Mahlgut it is hard to see me wanting to replace or "upgrade" any time soon. I don't actually know what an upgrade would look like. Maybe a PID'd CT1? At any rate, I hope this was helpful. I also would like to note that, in general, Wouter has been very helpful and patient answering any questions I have had so far.