Buyer's Guide to the Expobar Brewtus

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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HB
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#1: Post by HB »

As many of you know, in addition to being an HB moderator, Abe Carmeli is the gatekeeper of the Brewtus User Group, an invitation-only forum for owners of this machine. The group discusses how to get the most out of Expobar Brewtus (often misspelled 'Expobar Brutus'), diagnose problems that may crop up, share experiments, etc. They've also been busy creating an impressive technical achievement in espresso machine documentation known as the...

...cue Dawn of Man scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the music of Thus Spake Zarathustra by Robert Strauss...

Expobar Brewtus Operating Manual

It's available from The Brewtus Group File Repository. Natually when Whole Latte Love joined the HB sponsors and asked about a Buyer's Guide for their favorite son, Abe was my first choice to review the Expobar Brewtus. After a little arm-twisting (and the threat of publishing some incriminating photographs :shock:), Abe agreed. To assure consistency between reviews, I'll also be checking out Brewtus to confirm Abe's findings, plus contributing some "new owner" perspective.

It arrived today. WLL used foam peanuts for cushioning the inner box, so I decided to unpack it in the garage (otherwise those darn things spill out and stick to anything). Once the inner box was out, extracting the machine was easy, thanks to the split clamshell enclosure:

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A firm grip on the machine, then a heave-ho away we go into the kitchen and onto the countertop. Next step is to remove the stainless-steel plastic wrap:

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I wish more manufacturers would protect the surface like this for shipment. While it doesn't happen often, sometimes you'll see micro-scratches on unprotected stainless steel from the vibration during transit. Nary a fingerprint on Brewtus except my own. A quick wipe down and voila:

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A friend of mine owned an Expobar Lever, which is Brewtus' single-boiler younger brother, so the appearance was very familiar to me, except of course the big digital display.

A glance at the owners manual confirmed the startup sequence. The pump droned on for a long time; I even had to fill up the water tank a second time. As the boilers (plural) warmed up, I went about flipping through the aforementioned manual. The term "comprehensive" doesn't capture its depth. My own reviews are mere pamphlets in comparison.

It was, however, painfully evident that a group of engineers contributed to the wording, organization, and style of this tome. Here's an excerpt that greeted me on page 1:
Fittings on the boilers are BSPP thread of various sizes and consist of the following...
BSPP threads? Good to know if you plan to mod the machine on arrival, but my plans are less ambitious tonight. Anyway, if you're impatient, skip ahead 12 pages, bypassing techno-wonders like the introduction to Brewtus' anatomy and the schematic of internal parts, to arrive at the mundane but practical Preparing the Machine for Start Up.

I checked on Brewtus an hour later. The display proudly announces the boiler temperature:

95

Despite my gentle ribbing about the manual's level of detail, I have no doubt it will be a treasure trove of information. But I'm intentionally skipping a careful reading for a couple days because I want to enjoy a little discovery on my own. Tonight there's some test beans with Brewtus' name on 'em. Tomorrow I'll begin with some of the good stuff (Intelligentsia's Black Cat and Counter Culture Coffee's Toscano).
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
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#2: Post by cannonfodder »

I came across an article on CG where a person had their Brewtus gold plated, it looked incredible (link). I am looking forward to the revue. I almost purchased one but ended up going with a HX machine just because I got a very good deal.
Dave Stephens

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#3: Post by HB »

Last night was a quick checkout in preparation for the following morning. The first thing I did was verify the maximum brew pressure using a portafilter gauge:

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This tool is necessary because the Expobar Brewtus doesn't have a built-in brew pressure gauge. As I mentioned in an earlier guide, it's a nice-to-have feature for a few reasons:
1. It gives the new home barista helpful feedback.
  • The expansion valve acts as a "governor" of the vibratory pump by limiting its maximum output, but the puck resistance determines the minimum brew pressure. The brew pressure gauge indicates if you've selected a fine enough grind and tamped appropriately to produce enough resistance for an extraction between 8.5 and 10 bar.
2. It is a helpful diagnostic tool.
  • In addition to simplifying the setting of the maximum brew pressure, it's also helpful for verifying that your pump is in good working order. Of course, a portafilter pressure gauge works equally well for this purpose, if you are willing to spend the extra money for one.
3. It is a useful repair aid.
  • Should the pump ever need replacement, the expansion valve may need a small adjustment to compensate for the variation in output pressure from one vibratory pump to another. This is a relatively minor point, and again, easily addressed with an external portafilter pressure gauge.
However, I don't consider a build-in brew pressure gauge a deciding factor. In fact, my own machine doesn't have one. I installed an external gauge for kicks, but I rarely look at it once the pressure was regulated. In this case the check was unnecessary, since Brewtus' maximum brew pressure was already regulated to a very Schomerian 8.2 bar. Next step, a few test shots...

I misjudged the clearance on the first basket and really cratered the top of the puck. An excellent example of donut-hole side channeling (where the center of the puck has little flow and water gushes at the perimeter). The dispersion screen and basket depth looks similar to other E61s I've tested, so I tared the next shot at the 17.5 grams that's worked well before, leaving about 1mm of clearance. The quality of the extraction was much improved, but whoa! the taste was bitter harsh with an overbearing smokey roast flavor. That's what happens to Black Cat when the temperature is too high, so I bumped the temperature down from the stock setting of 95C to 93C. A couple shots later I settled on 94C because the taste seemed "dumbed down" by a too-low temperature of 93C.

This morning was rush-rush-rush, so I had no time to linger over results. I assumed Brewtus would behave a lot like the Isomac Amica / Zaffiro group (i.e., it would idle a little cold), so I drew water once or twice while I setup cups, dug out the steaming pitcher from the freezer, got out the milk, filled the grinder, etc. The dialing in the night before saved me from a morning of sink shots. :-)

Two espressos down, time for a quick cappuccino. Like the Expobar Lever, Brewtus sports a one-hole steam tip:

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It throttles down the steam a lot and makes for super easy microfoaming. New home baristas will like the ease of the control afforded by its measured pace. This afternoon I swapped in the Gold Pro 2 steam tip, which was slightly faster and marginally better than the stock one. I'd like to see how Brewtus' separate steam boiler rocks with a higher-volume tip...
Dan Kehn

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#4: Post by HB »

As I mentioned earlier, Abe is writing up Brewtus and I'm playing the role of new owner and consistency checker. He's respected our division of roles by not passing along any hints, but I think he's been biting his tongue. With a week down, Brewtus and I are falling into a natural rhythm. Curiosity got the best of me and I ran a series of temperature profiles to see how they compare to other machines I've tested:

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As you see, the peak temperature tracks nicely to the selected temperature. Over a series of shots with no particular attention to timing, I found a peak temperature variance of about +/-0.5C and a similar falling pattern of one degree C from the peak until the end. That's slightly better than my shot-to-shot consistency on an HX and considerably less than the 2-4F variance a newbie would experience with an HX machine.

To test the practical difference of Brewtus' temperature control advantage, Chris promises to hook me up with some blends from Ecco Caffe. You may recall his comments about this espresso from The Grimac Mia - A Pro's Perspective:
There were a couple espressos that were more challenging. For example, the Victrola Streamline took a lot of work. And even at its best, it was not true to the blend we would expect from the Synesso. It was still tasty, but not quite the same. We found it nearly impossible to get good results from one of the two batches of Ecco Caffe Espresso. (emphasis added) An altered formulation of this blend was dramatically easier, although still on par with the Streamline in terms of both challenge and results. These two blends have a number of common traits, including a high brew temperature, and also have some common beans, which may explain the difficulties we had.
"Nearly impossible"? Lucky me! I suppose it shouldn't be too bad since Chris has graciously provided his recommended brewing parameters (203.5F brew temperature, 8.5 bar brew pressure, 17 gram double, 1.5oz, 28 second extraction; look for heavy caramel, medium body, nice dried fruit, tons of aromatics).

By the way, Abe sent me the first pages of his first draft of the Brewtus Buyer's Guide. We still have to settle on the structure and appropriate level of detail, but you can look forward to a fun, exuberant read. He's already demonstrated his eclectic, unpredictable style in Knockbox and I have no doubt we'll get it full-force in his upcoming review.

Speaking of style, allow me a couple quick comments on David Schomer's endorsement of the Expobar Brewtus:

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First of all, I would like to recognize Whole Latte Love for including the whole quotation. I'm sure it was tempting to only publicize the part beginning with "I can recommend..." That demonstrates business integrity. However, David's ability to evaluate so quickly does provoke a certain jealously in me. I would need more than an hour just to become convinced the driptray is the best for the home user. :shock:
Dan Kehn

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#5: Post by HB »

Brewtus has been a bit of an adjustment for me in a couple ways...

1). Temperature Management

The HX flushing regime that's been engrained in my head had to be replaced by something closer to flush-n-go (to warm up, not cool down). Abe allowed me time to fiddle with the temperature management details to capture the new owner experience, and I did resist using an in-basket TC for over a week. When we did start sharing notes (or rather he felt compelled to correct me), my conclusions were reasonably close to the mark.

What did Abe feel needed correcting? The temperature profile I posted earlier in this thread surprised him because of the every-so-slightly declining curve, which was inconsistent with his results. That led to a flurry of back-and-forth notes, proposing hypotheses and sometimes questioning each others' methodology or equipment (e.g, my "dinky T/C" versus his "highly accurate modified portafilter, geared with both pressure gauge, adjustable flow rate valve, and temperature sensors"). In the end we both learned something, and Abe determined the circumstances that reproduce my findings. *whew!*

All kidding aside, Abe isn't alone in his pursuit of manical temperature control. If you go to the Brewtus Group to Sean Lennon's folder (Fileroom > User Folders > Sean), you'll find The Brewtus Compendium. Turn to Chapter 4, Performance charts, which shows a comparison of the stock Brewtus, single PID controller (brew boiler), and double PID controllers (brew and steam boilers). The charted results would shame a PID'd Silvia and embarass a PID'd Amica / Zaffiro. It's just amazing.

I don't claim the ability to discern differences in taste from brew temperatures of less than 1.5F for my test blends (e.g., Black Cat from Intelligentsia, Toscano from Counter Culture Coffee, or whatever surprise blend Mike Walsh shares on Friday). But there's no question that Brewtus' dual boiler and unique inlet water HX preheat eliminates the guesswork. My biggest adjustment was leaving behind old habits; with that out of the way, the espresso has been Consistent with a capital C.

2). Steaming Performance

There is one aspect about Brewtus that has really been nagging at me: Lackluster steaming. Producing great looking microfoam with the stock tip is super super easy, but glacially slow. Further influencing that impression is my last month enjoying the unrestrained power of the Elektra A3's steam capacity. It rocks!

In my opinion, the benefits of a dual boiler espresso machine shouldn't stop at easy brew temperature control. Another reason for having independent temperatures is the ability to crank the steam capacity way, way up -- something you can't do with a prosumer HX machine without necessitating ungodly large cooling flushes. So I asked Todd at Whole Latte Love for an alternative steam tip and it arrived last week. So Brewtus, show me what you got now...

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Some may recognize this as the "standard" steam tip found on semi-commercial machines for years. In many cases, they've been replaced by lower-volume steam tips at the factory and spawned aftermarket replacements (last I checked, all of the HB sponsors offer at least one "exclusive" steam tip). It looked suspiciously like the stock tip on Valentina, which has laid idle in the drawer for years.

This wasn't welcome news, but hey, let's give it a try. Maybe the combination of added experience with commercial equipment and Brewtus' higher boiler pressure (around 1.3 bar) will pay off:

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(click to enlarge)

I never claimed noteworthy latte art skills, but that's not too bad! In the details you can see a few bubbles, but taste was great and the texture ultra-smooth (12 ounce pitcher steamed in about 15 seconds). I'll be tossing Brewtus' one-hole "training wheels" steam tip into the drawer for awhile.

PS: Please humor me by not asking if it was supposed to be a rosetta or a heart. :?
Dan Kehn

Abe Carmeli
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#6: Post by Abe Carmeli »

HB wrote:PS: Please humor me by not asking if it was supposed to be a rosetta or a heart. :?
Dan, that's one hell of an onion.
Abe Carmeli

lennoncs

#7: Post by lennoncs »

Hi Dan,

If you look closely at the double PID chart in the Compendium, I raised my steam boiler pressure to 1.5 Bar to help out with the steaming.

It can use the help...Like maybe a 2.5L steam boiler :D

Cheers
Sean


P.S. Really nice site.

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HB
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#8: Post by HB »

Today's espresso was something unique, thanks to Mike Walsh, who blended up this little treat:
  • 40% Brazil Ipanema
    10% New crop Ethiopean Sidamo
    in one load, roasted to average of light Vienna

    30% Bali
    20% El Salvador (Cup of Excellent sample)
    in one load, roasted to average of light Vienna
He didn't provide suggested temperatures, but judging from the lighter roast, I decided to bump the temperature to 94C. What a sweet, smooth, chocolaty blend. He promised wonderful aromatics thanks to the Sidamo and it delivered. Again I'm reminded of Abe's recounting of The Longest Day and why so many take the extra time to homeroast; it was indeed a nice change and points to one of Brewtus' greatest strengths: Easily dialing in a desired brew temperature for those who change blends frequently.

I've really enjoyed the last couple weeks getting to know Brewtus, but now it's time to turn the helm over to Abe. I'll chime in this thread occasionally, especially once those "impossible" blends Chris promised start showing up...
Dan Kehn

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HB
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#9: Post by HB »

Finishing the last of the 2004 Daterra Reserve from Ecco Caffe, which Chris recommended in his thread on the Bricoletta. I'm ignorant of this blend, so I diligently followed his suggested brew parameters plus Master Abe's directives on Brewtus' flushing regime (codified as "A Lazy Man Flush Chart" for the Expobar Brewtus in his upcoming review). He assures me that will deliver 0.5F accuracy; I dare not dispute his claim without the willingness to put forth a few reams of supporting data from my "dinky TC" (his words).

Coincidentally, Jim Schulman recently wrote up Daterra on www.coffeecuppers.com. He echos Chris' comments and my own thoughts: What a well-balanced espresso! The only caveat I'll offer it this: Don't restrict the extraction or overdose beyond 18 grams, otherwise the delightful early sweetness is replaced by overpowering acidity. I liked it served in small milk too.
Dan Kehn

Abe Carmeli
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#10: Post by Abe Carmeli »

LOL, Dan. Dinky as it is, you are one hell of a probe specialist, and I take back all my insults. As to my lazy man's flush chart, it will deliver 0.5c of dialed in Brew temp. I cannot vouch for 0.5f, though I occasionally get it with a more precise flush chart.

Now to Daterra. I met Luis Pascoal, the owner and the head of research for Daterra. It was on a cold day in January in a cupping session in New York. They brought in five of their top coffees, including the reserve. The reserve won the highest score from the audience, followed by Sunrise. He spent a lot of time telling us about their very advanced processing and growing methods, and it was impressive to say the least. They do a lot of the research for Illy, and Illy buys whole crops from them.

Caffe Fresco http://www.doubleff.com also offers the reserve, and roasts it to perfection.
Abe Carmeli