La Spaziale S1
Getting Started


Contents

Introduction
Espresso Primer
First Impressions
Getting Started
Espresso Performance
Steaming Performance
Conclusion
La Spaziale S1 Cheat Sheet (download)
  

The S1 is controlled by a panel of five buttons with a row of colored LEDs above them. The BOILER light on the far left flashes when the steam boiler is below temperature. Next is a series of three green, three yellow, and one red light that indicate the brew group temperature. When illuminated, the ECON light on the right indicates that only one boiler will heat at a time with the group boiler having priority. Finally the ON/STBY light indicates if the unit is on (solid) or off (flashing). The buttons that fill out the rest of the panel are, from left to right: Water tap, programmable one cup and two cup dosers, steam boiler power, and the on/off power button. I’m not a big fan of electronic buttons—I prefer the audible click of an all-metal toggle switch. To the S1’s credit, its thick rubber buttons have a solid feel to them compared to flat membrane buttons that are typically found on other automatics.

Control panel

Water tap, one and two cup, boiler on/off
and power on/off buttons

A three-second hold-and-press of the ON/OFF button gets things started. The display flashes briefly to verify all the indicators work and then the current temperature and ON/STBY indicators illuminate. Both boilers will start heating if you have the 20 amp version and the ECON indicator isn’t on. The BOILER indicator will flash to show that it’s below temperature. The steam boiler was ready in about fifteen minutes. Progress towards the selected brew temperature is indicated by successive flashing and then solid lights (e.g., first the 85°C light will flash and then illuminate continuously, followed by the 90°C light flashing and then illuminating continuously and so on until the target temperature is reached). The brew boiler will reach its target temperature before the steam boiler but the rest of the group requires a good 25 minutes to finish warming up. Remember the number one rule of temperature stability is getting everything to the same temperature, from boiler to portafilter.

While I was waiting, I read the instructions that came with the machine. Chris rewrote the original manufacturer’s instructions, scoring bonus points on my readability and usefulness scale. Setting the auto-dosing is straightforward but the temperature control instructions, especially for the one-degree “fine tuning” mode, are not intuitive. I decided to take the easy way out and adjust only the five-degree “coarse temperature tuning.” This is accomplished by pressing and holding the ON/OFF button while the machine is on for three seconds to enter programming mode. The current temperature setting will then blink. To adjust it, you press and release the water tap button once to rotate through each five degree increment (i.e., 85°C, 90, 95, ... 120, and then back to 85°C). I started at a rather borderline 90°C (194°F) — well, perhaps borderline by North American standards. I would have preferred 92°C (198°F) but decided to risk it if only to see how useful the available coarse settings are.

Setting the Auto-Dosing

The instructions enclosed with the machine suggested setting the auto-dosing while pulling a shot. I decided to cheat again by drawing a very long blank of three ounces, the extra water to allow for what the puck will absorb plus more than enough for a double. Then when it comes to pulling the real thing, I planned to stop the shot as soon as it started to lighten. This choice became my norm as the weeks went by. That is, I programmed the two cup button for a true double and the single cup button for “free pours.”

Many automatics include a free pour button. Typically a third star (“*”) key in addition to the usual single and double buttons, a free pour button engages the pump for as long as it’s pressed. I appreciate why such a convenience would be omitted since after all the S1 was designed for light commercial use. In such an environment, more choices only offer more chances to mess up. However, its absence is noted in the more controlled home barista’s milieu.

To program the one-cup button as a free pour button, place a cup under the grouphead, and then press and hold the ON/OFF button for three seconds to enter programming mode, just as before to change the coarse temperature. Then press and release the one cup button and draw three ounces or so. Stop the flow by pressing and releasing the same button. With the green 90°C light still flashing, I ended the programming mode by pressing the ON/OFF button again.

As was mentioned earlier, the basket for the S1 is 53mm in diameter. It is quite deep, about the same depth as the La Marzocco triple basket. Before settling, grounds level with the top of the double basket amount to approximately 15 grams, depending on the grinder and blend. It took me about six or seven shots to get one with a reasonable pour time of 25 seconds, complicated partially by the ill-fitted 49mm plastic tamper than comes with the machine.

Reg Barber tamper

Remember to budget
for a well-fitted tamper

Reminder: You should budget for a well-fitted tamper. The plastic “throw away” tamper included with the S1 and most espresso machines may allow water to channel along the sides too easily because of an uneven tamp. In desperation, I hand-sanded an extra 56mm plastic tamper that I had lying around in the drawer down to 53mm. Even Reg Barber himself would have been proud of the tight fit of my el-cheapo homemade tamper.

I noticed immediately how the shots began much sooner than the other machines in this lineup. While the Rituale or Amica meditate on the pour for 7-9 seconds as the preinfusion chamber fills before the first drop appears, the pour from the S1 is out of the gate in a mere five seconds due to the higher pump flow rate. The pour flow looking good, I tasted what appeared to be the first reasonable shot. It was abundantly clear that the 90°C setting was too low since the shot was very sour. A lemon smoothie with a lime chaser would have been a welcome relief!

A quick check of the group temperature verified that the temperature control wasn’t at fault. In fact, I was impressed to find that after pulling two blank warm-up shots, the actual temperature tracks to the selected temperature �1 degree centigrade. Similar accuracy is possible with the Amica and Rituale with careful attention, otherwise randomly spaced pulls will vary by 7-8°F for the Amica. The Rituale naturally tends to overheat when idle, so its temperature accuracy depends on you. It isn’t difficult to get it within 4°F or less with practice by narrowing the cool down flush amount. The S1, on the other hand, delivers nearly effortless pinpoint accuracy thanks to its electronic temperature control. Similar temperature control has become the norm at the best cafés and among enterprising espresso aficionados who modify the stock Rancilio Silvia (read Me Be PID or search “Silvia PID” in alt.coffee to learn more).

Bumping up the coarse temperature to 95°C produced a more respectable shot. The crema rose to over three-quarters of an inch during the pull and settled to one-half inch after 30 seconds. Over the course of several weeks, I changed the temperature by a degree or two using the fine-tuning feature. This proved to be quite useful, despite that its programming was as evident as setting the time-of-day on a typical VCR. Let me explain why in the next section.

Setting the Brew Temperature

As I mentioned earlier, the S1 programming for the coarse temperature adjustment (5°C increments) and auto-dosing begin the same: Press and hold the ON/OFF button for three seconds while the machine is on.

The fine temperature programming begins with the machine off. Yes, the machine must be off (ON/STBY light is blinking). You then press and hold the two-cup button for three seconds. The two amber lights labeled 100 and 105 will illuminate continuously to show that the S1 is in fine tuning mode. Zero to three other lights will blink to indicate the number of degrees that will be added or subtracted from the coarse temperature.

The table below shows the various increments you can change. Pressing the one-cup button will subtract a degree. Pressing the BOILER button will add a degree. If only the two solid amber lights are illuminated, nothing is added or subtracted. Once you have the desired temperature, pressing the two cup button exits programming.

Note: The above description and the table below are for the current versions of the La Spaziale S1. For machines shipped prior to February 2004, the blinking fine-tuning lights on the left indicated an increased incremental temperature and lights on the right indicated a decreased incremental temperature. Current shipments operate in the more intuitive direction. That is, the blinking fine-tuning lights to the right of the amber 100°C and 105°C lamps indicate a decreased incremental temperature and blinking fine-tuning lights to the left indicate an increased incremental temperature.

LEDs indicate fine tuning setting

Fine tuning temperature adjustment corresponds to the
number of flashing LEDs

The delta is applied to whatever is set using the coarse temperature programming. For example, if the coarse setting is 95°C and the fine tuning setting is +1, the target temperature is 96°C. If the coarse setting is decreased to 90°C, the target temperature will include the +1 and therefore be 91°C. Since I often couldn’t remember what fine tuning setting I had last, I found myself rechecking the fine setting whenever I wanted to make an adjustment. A numeric LED display and two plus/minus keys, while perhaps not looking as sleek, would be more convenient. The sequence to enter the two different programming modes (press and hold ON/OFF button while the machine is on enters the coarse temperature adjustment / auto-dosing programming; press and hold the two-cup button while the machine is off enters the fine temperature adjustment mode) and the subsequent adjustment key sequences are maddeningly similar. Several times I forgot to turn off the machine first before pressing the two cup button to enter fine temperature adjustment mode (result is a blank shot), or I forgot to exit the other programming mode first (result is the reprogramming of the dose for the two cup button).

Fortunately, like setting the time on your VCR, you won’t face this hassle very often. To make it easier to remember, this guide includes a “cheat sheet” (PDF) that you can laminate and store under the machine. When you need a reminder, pull it out and follow the brief instructions. And speaking of VCRs, here’s some really, really good news: Even if you unplug the S1 for days, it won’t forget its programming.

Comparing the 15 Amp and 20 Amp Models

First of all there aren’t really two different models of the S1, rather slight modifications of the same machine to allow for 15 amp and 20 amp usage. This boils down to the 20 amp version permitting both heating elements to activate at the same time versus alternating with the group boiler having priority, plus different plug configurations as was mentioned earlier. Independent of the configuration, you can explicitly turn off the steam boiler by pressing and holding the BOILER button for three seconds. This setting will return to its default of active after the unit has been powered off.

The 20 amp version’s economy mode produces the exact same behavior as that which is hard-wired into the 15 amp version. I tried the economy mode for a few days to see if I noticed a significant difference. Most notable was the steam boiler startup time was prolonged by five minutes from 15 minutes to slightly over 20 minutes since it now waited for the group to reach its initial temperature. You may note a difference as well if you prepare a large Americano followed by a cappuccino since the steam boiler will have an additional thirty or forty seconds added to its normal recovery time. My impression is that the difference won’t hold much sway with the majority of owners.

The S1 is designed with 24/7 operation in mind. It’s plumbed in and has independent control for each boiler. You can turn off the large steam boiler to save energy and avoid heating your kitchen, which is especially noticeable in the summertime. Since electronics control this unit, an outlet timer (even a heavy duty one) cannot be used to switch it on at the beginning of the day. If you are pressed for time in the morning— and who isn’t —you’ll have the choice of turning the machine on first-thing to be ready twenty-five minutes later or leave it on all the time. Again the steam boiler can be shutoff when you’ve made your last cappuccino or latte for the day and restarted the next day since it only needs 15 minutes to heat up.

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