Profitec Pro 800 Review

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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Postby HB » Dec 26, 2016, 3:19 pm

Lever espresso machines aren't nearly as well-represented in the reviews as pump-driven espresso machines, but they're overwhelmingly well-represented by enthusiastic members in the forum! The Lever Espresso Machines forum is among the most active forums on the site, featuring in-depth discussions of technique as well as what is arguably the highest level of camaraderie among members. With this acknowledgment in mind, it's overdue that we review a lever espresso machine sporting this classic group design:

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Profitec Pro 800 - image and evaluation model courtesy of Profitec GmbH

In years past, I admit to inadvertently promoting the myth in some of my posts that lever espresso machines are difficult to use. While it's true that smaller ones reviewed on this site like the Elektra Microcasa a Leva and Olympia Cremina require the barista pay careful attention to temperature management, the huge brass group on the Pro 800 tempers the temperature of the incoming brew water with little fuss. And while the Bosco grouphead design may be old school, the boiler is modernized with an electronic temperature controller (PID) that's easily adjustable (the digital display and setting controls are behind the drip tray).

Other modern features include a "no burn" steam arm, easy switching between water reservoir/direct plumbing, and even a stock bottomless portafilter. No kidding! It comes with that plus a double and single spout portafilter. Over the course of this review, I'll document the features and usage of the Profitec Pro 800. Before closing out the writeup, I'll hold a group taste test too.
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Postby HB » Dec 28, 2016, 12:46 pm

BASIC SETUP

As delivered, the Pro 800 is set up to draw water from the reservoir. You can confirm it's correct by checking the rocker switch labeled with a faucet behind the drip tray on the left is in the off position and the stopcock underneath the machine, near the right back corner, is pointing to the left (when facing the machine). In reservoir mode, the onboard vibratory pump fills the boiler. In plumb-in mode, the pump and reservoir fill sensor are disabled and the main's line pressure fills the boiler.

The first time the machine is powered up, it will draw nearly a full tank. Let it heat up for 45+ minutes; you can monitor the steam boiler's progress by watching the pressure gauge on the right, or if you're really curious, the digital readout on the temperature controller behind the drip tray. The grouphead is connected directly to the boiler and heats by conduction.

The green light on the left is the power on indicator; the orange light below it is the water present indicator. The reservoir uses a magnetic float to detect a lower water condition; the orange light will go out when the reservoir needs to be refilled.

QUICK OVERVIEW

In order to properly operate the Profitec Pro 800, it helps to have a basic understanding of its design. If you prefer "just tell me what to do" type instructions, skip to the next entry!

The Pro 800 has a single boiler that serves two purposes: It provides steam for steaming milk and it provides brew water for making espresso. Since steam boiler water is heated to over 250°F, you may be wondering how it delivers water at brew temperatures, which are typically around 202°F! The answer lies in the water delivery mechanism and more importantly, the massive brass grouphead. The Pro 800's brew water delivery mechanism is commonly referred to a "dipper". Below is the hydraulics diagram of the Pro 800, courtesy of Profitec Espresso:

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The tube shown in orange leading from the boiler to the grouphead is the dipper tube. The water initially leaving the steam boiler is way, way, way-y-y over brew temperature, but along the pathway to the grouphead along the boiler/grouphead bridge, it starts to lose heat. Once it reaches the grouphead, you have the thermal equivalent of egg-meets-bowling-ball. That is, the grouphead idles slightly below brew temperature and tempers the incoming water that's over brew temperature, meeting happily in brew temperature range during the extraction.

This design explains why there's a torrent of hot water and steam when the lever is pulled down without coffee/portafilter in the group. The design by Bosco dates back more than 50 years; a few of its advantages include simplicity, reliability, and when properly tuned as with the Pro 800, ease of use.

Another advantage often overlooked is the simplicity of maintenance: Since there's only one boiler, the water in it is constantly refreshed, whether you're making only espresso or a mix of espresso and cappuccinos/lattes. In contrast, a double boiler has a dedicated steam boiler, so water and dissolved minerals enter and only distilled water in the form of steam exits, leaving the minerals behind. Regularly flushing a double boiler's steam boiler via the water tap and using low TDS water delays the need for descaling measures, but by design, the steam boiler on a double boiler needs regular descaling.

That explains how the Pro 800's brew water temperature is delivered, but what about brew water pressure?

That's the job of the spring in the grouphead; it's compressed when you pull down the lever. When the lever is in its down position, the piston is at the top of the cylinder, exposing the port that leads to the steam boiler. Water is pushed out of the steam boiler via the dipper tube, across the boiler/grouphead bridge, and into the brew chamber. Once the lever is released, the spring pushes the piston downwards, closing off the port to the boiler and forcing out brew temperature water through the coffee/portafilter basket below.

For more details on espresso machine design types, see Espresso Machines 101 (single, double boilers and levers) and Espresso Machines 202 (heat exchangers).
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Postby HB » Dec 29, 2016, 8:28 pm

You should allow at least 45 minutes for the Pro 800 to heat up. If you're in a rush, you can reduce the warmup time by flushing water through the group once the steam boiler is fully pressurized and then waiting another 5 minutes for the group temperature to restabilize.

LEVER OPERATION

It requires a fair amount of strength to pull down the lever since you're compressing a powerful spring capable of generating enough pressure for brewing espresso as the spring decompresses. By their very nature, lever espresso machines offer a more hands-on experience than pump-driven machines. You should begin your familiarization with the Pro 800 by noting the three key positions of the lever:

  • Fully upright when idle
  • Midway for initial flow / prewetting
  • Fully down for preinfusion at boiler pressure
As mentioned in the overview section, the midway point is where the piston uncovers the cylinder port leading to the boiler, allowing water to flow through the dipper tube in the boiler to the brew chamber. Most baristas simply pull the lever from the up to down position in one fluid motion, allowing the puck to preinfuse for 2-8 seconds while the lever rests at the bottom detent position. But once you have a bit more experience, you may want to experiment with prolonged preinfusion (what I refer to as "prewetting" since it's done with no pressure). If so, mark the point where water just begins to flow, as shown below:

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Then instead of pulling down the lever in one motion, you can pause at the midpoint for a moment, allowing a slow shower of brew water to gently wet the puck prior to pressurization. This prewetting can help reduce the risk of channeling with more challenging coffees (e.g., lightly roasted single origins). The video below shows how gentle the flow is at this point:



NOTE: Keep a firm grip on the lever! Never allow the lever to return to its upright position on its own if there is no portafilter/coffee offering resistance. If there is no portafilter/coffee to provide resistance and you simply let go, the lever will violently return to its start position!

PULLING A DOUBLE ESPRESSO

Once the machine is warmed up, preparing a double espresso is easy-peasy. To start the review, I selected two coffees from Caffe Lusso, Lionshare and Gran Miscela Carmo (the latter was reviewed earlier this year in Favorite Espressos 2016). Below are the steps:

  • Dose 16 to 18 grams, depending on taste
  • Engage the portafilter firmly, pull the lever smoothly to the detent at the bottom (optionally pause at the midpoint for a moment)
  • Preinfusion total time varies by barista preference; I allow 6 seconds
  • Slowly return the lever towards the start position; it will slow and then stop due to the coffee puck's resistance
  • If using a bottomless portafilter, beads should form around the 10 second mark
  • Espresso will continue to flow to the volume of a full double plus a few milliliters. Pull the cup away if stream blonds completely.
For the espresso below, the brew parameters were 17.5 grams coffee in, 32.7 grams total beverage. This particular coffee is a low-acidity traditional Northern Italian with chocolates and roasted nuts predominating. It plays to the Pro 800's strength since the barista can emphasize the perception of sweetness by suppressing acidity with an on the fly tweak of the extraction temperature and taking advantage of the naturally declining brew pressure profile to smooth the roast notes in the finish.

Lever espresso aficionados have come up with lots of different ways to manipulate brew temperature. Search the forums and you'll find ample discussions. Below are some instructive discussions of techniques applicable to the Bosco group on the Profitec Pro 800:

I'll document my preferred method over the course of this review.

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Double espresso - Lionshare by Caffe Lusso

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Extraction parameters - approximate brew ratio of 50% (normale)

UPDATE: See Profitec 800 review in the works for early feedback discussions related to this review.
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Postby HB » Dec 31, 2016, 2:10 pm

Below is a video from a recent cars and coffee event. It demonstrates the workflow for preparing several drinks in succession:



If you review Spot the errors in my barista routine, you'll probably see some of the same mistakes! I still don't have a pitcher rinser. And I often forget to wipe down the work area. And I'm not flushing the group between shots, although in this case, it's not just my laziness, it's also to avoid driving the brew temperature up. As mentioned earlier in the review, the Pro 800 design relies on the grouphead to temper the brew water temperature coming from the steam boiler. If you make drinks in rapid succession, the grouphead loses its ability to dampen the brew temperature.

By making the drinks at a more leisurely pace, the Pro 800's Bosco grouphead has sufficient time to shed heat gained during the previous extraction. While admittedly it's partially my laziness, the lack of a flush between a succession of drinks for this type of group also helps keep the grouphead closer to the ideal brew temperature. When preparing drinks at home with no line to worry about, I flush and scrub the dispersion screen between shots and allow a few minutes for it to restabilize.
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Postby HB » Dec 31, 2016, 7:55 pm

Below is a much more polished routine by Dritan Alsela:



Ten cappuccinos in six minutes, served with more style than I managed. :lol: Thanks to Philip @ Caffe Lusso for bringing this video to my attention! Notice that Dritan doesn't really bother with preinfusion time. It proves the old adage that when it comes to lever espresso machine usage, there are no rules, only suggestions.
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Postby HB » Jan 07, 2017, 5:43 pm

Below is the obligatory bottomless espresso pour video with a twist: It shows two side-by-side pours at the opposite extremes of brewing ratios. The left video is a lungo pour (brew ratio of ~40%), the right video is a ristretto (brew ratio of ~70%).

Apart from the obvious volume differences, you'll notice the lungo beads sooner, blonds more rapidly, and ends sooner. The ristretto beads and the lungo has already begun pouring; the ristretto also has dark, intense striping from start to finish.



An absolute must-read reference is Jim's How to Adjust Dose and Grind Setting by Taste. It explains how taste is affected by changing the dose and pour speed. For the pours above, the excerpt below explains the impact on balance:

another_jim wrote:
  • If the coffee is too bright, with lemon, fruit, apple, wine and other acidic flavors, keep the dose the same, make the grind finer, to lower the flow rate. Make a slower flowing, more ristretto shot. This will reduce the acidity relative to the bitterness.
  • If the coffee is too bitter, with too much "bright bitter" flavors in lighter roasts, like toast, wood, or lemon peel, or "dark bitter" flavors, in darker roasts, like blackcurrant, clove, tobacco, smoky pine sap, or peat, keep the dose the same and make the grind coarser. Make a faster flowing, more lungo shot. This will increase the acidity relative to the bitterness

DanSF offers this helpful diagram:

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Postby HB » Jan 08, 2017, 2:09 pm

As noted earlier in the review, the initial test coffees were supplied by Caffè Lusso. Following the Favorite Espressos 2016 featuring their coffee, they're frequently recommended by other site members. While perusing their site, I noticed they sold Bosco espresso equipment, which shares the same grouphead as the Profitec Pro 800. Curious why they advocate for an "old school" commercial lever espresso machine, I reached out to their owner, Philip Meech. He provided some of the backstory for Caffè Lusso and their affinity for levers:

Philip Meech wrote:Q: What is the background of Caffe Lusso?

I started drinking coffee with my grandfather near our family farms in Windsor, Colorado, when I was 8 or 9 years old, just wanted to be like grandpa. So caffeine has been in my blood for a long time, maybe 30 years. By 1991, I was captivated with the espresso machine at the Last Exit on Brooklyn, Seattle's first real coffeehouse, established in the late 1960's. The old Faema 3 group was positioned on a side counter, not directly between you and the barista, so you could take in the entire theatre of espresso production. They did some strange things back then - like the espresso was probably ground at least a day ahead of time, and left in a giant glass cookie jar that the barista scooped out of for each shot. There was no traditional knock-box... just a big square of plywood bolted to the back wall, that you would slam the portafilter against and the grounds would drop straight down to a garbage can on the floor. Real quaint ambiance, this place.

I took the next few years to read and practice as much as I could in the early high school days. This all culminated with my first professional bar shift in July of 1994. I've been working in coffee ever since. Although I headed off to college to study medicine (orthopedic surgery was the plan), something about coffee just wouldn't let go. I was an early lurker in the old alt.coffee days in the mid 90's, learning more and more. In the fall of 1997, I started apprenticeship roasting with a small outfit in Lewiston, Idaho; not long thereafter, I changed majors from Biology/ Pre-med to Business with a concentration in corporate finance. Another couple years of study went by, and more playing in coffee, and I finally sat down and wrote the business plan for what would become Caffè Lusso Coffee Roasters, in the spring of 1999. I graduated a year later, took a week off, and then began roasting coffee for people in my parent's garage on a Diedrich 7 pound batch roaster. After a couple years, we moved to our current location in Redmond, and we still roast on a Diedrich IR-12. We're not a big company, but approaching 85,000 pounds or so per year. Our plan is to move into a bigger space this year, and continue to add staff to accommodate growth. The next big focus is opening a regional training center for professionals who wish to be tenured in the coffee industry.

Q: Why did you choose the Bosco?

We switched over to lever machines about 4 years ago, and began showcasing their advantages to commercial and residential clients alike. I have a strong affinity for other leading brands (and we still sell them, too), but after 23 years, I can honestly say that my preference is for lever machines, hands-down. The advantages include less things that can go wrong, less downtime, and lower cost of ownership. Spread over time, these advantages are very real and significant to our clients. Plus you have the original pressure profile curve, a design that I believe was patented in 1938 (though it wasn't commercially released until Gaggia did it around 1947). Add to that the old world charm, simplicity and elegance and a bit of theatre, not to mention the best shots I've ever tasted were from lever machines - well it's hard not to love them. So we've been importing the Bosco line directly from the Bosco family in Napoli since 2013.

Q: What advice would you offer to someone starting out with a lever machine?

Allow yourself to be surprised. I've had 40+ second shots that were absolutely delicious. Not exactly normal - we tend to go 3-5 seconds of pre-infusion with the lever in the "locked" down position, then gradually releasing for another 25 seconds of extraction. But there have been times when I've been caught off-guard with how good some longer-time shots have been. Also, there is a huge difference in the extraction between super-fast releasing the lever from the "locked" down position, versus a slow, more deliberate releasing the lever to around the 45 degree angle where transitions into pushing the water through the espresso puck.

Thanks Philip! On a related note, he expressed interest in hosting a get-together for HB members in the Redmond, Washington area. If you're interested, contact them and mention HB sent you. :D
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Postby HB » Jan 12, 2017, 7:45 am

Courtesy of Profitec GmbH, this amazing animation shows the internals and operation of the Pro 800 hydraulics system:

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Postby HB » Jan 21, 2017, 5:34 pm

Most reviews include a group taste test, graciously hosted by Counter Culture Coffee in Durham. They have an excellent training center filled with the latest and greatest coffee and espresso equipment. Last Friday, I brought the Profitec Pro 800 to compare it against their commercial barista training espresso machine, the La Marzocco Linea PB.

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The grinders were their usual training setup, two Nuova Simonelli Mythos. I arrived early to dial in the Pro 800. We originally discussed using Hologram as the test coffee, since it's a popular blend with modest fruit notes. But due to a busy training session the day before, there wasn't enough left over, so we decided to go with a single origin from Papua New Guinea:

Counter Culture Coffee - Kobuta wrote:The Kobuta community has been famous for high-quality coffee since it was first planted there in the 1960s. Today, farmers around the community work together with the Colbran family—our partners in the region—on a one-of-a-kind project to produce this exceptional coffee with sweet, clean notes of ginger, molasses, and green apple.

Variety: Typica, Bourbon, Arusha
Elevation: 1,600-1,800
Harvest Time: April-July 2016

Kobuta is currently an off-menu offering from Counter Culture Coffee for a handful of shops.

As noted in Best method for comparing home espresso machines?, we agreed to spend around 20 minutes dialing in the coffee as best we could. Jesse is an experienced barista with several years behind the bar at one of the best cafes in our area.

I had not tried the Kobuta before; the first espresso from the Pro 800 was tangy bright. Hoping to bring out some sweetness, I tightened up the grind setting. Jesse and I finished dialing in around 8:15AM as participants were filing in. Each taster was served two espressos, one marked on the bottom to indicate it was from the Pro 800. After eight rounds, we revealed the winner (left):

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Final score was 6-2, in favor of the Profitec Pro 800 (!). Below are some of the participant comments collected after the reveal:

Bob wrote:My preference was the shot from the lever machine because there was significantly more body in the shot which contributed to a pleasant, lingering aftertaste. This shot also had a darker and richer crema, with muted acidity and 'earthy' flavor notes.

The shot from the LM machine was pleasant but quite different. It had a thin body, light colored crema, with pronounced acidity and perhaps floral notes.

Lem wrote:I wonder about the validity of the showdown. When we taste test coffees in a cupping format, we try to be as fair as possible to the coffees by:

1. Same dose
2. Same amount of water
3. Same grinder

It's the best way to assess. After the showdown, Ben dosed the same dose from the same grinder and used the same amount of water and both shots were so much closer in body, brightness, flavor and appearance. In conclusion, I would have to say our showdown/test was inconclusive.

Kurt wrote:The differences between the two shots were surprising to me. I would have expected them to be very close. I found the lever machine produced a nice full body shot with a sweet ending which would be nice base for a cappuccino. While the other was good for sure but, a little thin. Also, there was more crema off the lever machine with a nice rich color as well.

Ben wrote:I had a slight preference for the lever shot as well, for most of the same reasons as Bob. More body, more interesting flavors. Linea shot was slightly thinner and flatter.

I agree with Lem, though, that I'm not sure this was a completely fair fight. Although I do appreciate the complaints of normalizing, and that standardizing might force one machine not to be given a chance to shine. That being said, while those grinders were the same model, I'm not sure the age of those burrs in those grinders were quite the same (it's possible they're even different burrs types altogether).

In any case, it was a fun experiment! And I'll always have a place in my heart for lever machines.

Jesse wrote:I think that I echo what everyone else said. The body of the lever shots was considerably more syrupy and heavy and in turn was a preferable shot to the the Linea shot, which had good flavor and acidity but lacked substantial body. I do think that while the test seemed to put each of us on a level playing field in terms of the grinder, as Lem and Ben pointed out, I think there were significant differences in how the two grinders performed. That being said, you dialed in the more tasty shot which was the test, and I chose your shot as my favorite of the two.

I agree with the other participants - the lever espressos were more syrupy and balanced. The Linea's were thinner and less sweet; the taste reminded me of an extraction that suffered from channeling.

The final score was not as close as I expected, but it's not the first time the group taste test results have surprised me! One of my lasting impressions from this go-around wasn't as much about the taste difference, it was the ease with which I had dialed in the Pro 800. In the past, I've written that levers can be harder to use than pump-driven espresso machines. Judging from my experience during the background research for this review and underscored during this group taste test, it's just the opposite for the Profitec Pro 800.
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Postby HB » Feb 05, 2017, 2:43 pm

Marc from Whole Latte Love goes over the Profitec Pro 800's features and internals; he also provides the rationale behind some construction choices (e.g., why is the boiler made of copper when the Pro 700 has a stainless one?). Given they sell them, I was impressed by the even-handedness of the presentation:



Marc also contrasts a single and double espresso on the Pro 800. Most of his videos are highly scripted, but not this one:



This one looks more spontaneous. Judging from appearance alone, the double pour showed evidence of channeling right out of the gate (2:48). But hey, it happens! I admire his willingness to respond to questions, go off script, and publish less than perfect pours.

Next up, I'll finalize my notes on the Pro 800, publish closing thoughts, and then open this thread for comments. If you want to comment without waiting for the conclusion, please see the unofficial comments thread Profitec 800 review in the works.
Dan Kehn

 
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