One of the first double boiler
Choosing the right espresso machine isn’t easy. Different styles, different features, and most importantly—often dramatically different prices! The choices can sometimes seem overwhelming. How is one to decide?
That is the purpose of this series of buyer’s guides—to help you make the right choice. The guides will cover the strengths and weaknesses of each machine, present useful hints for getting optimal results, and hopefully contribute to an informed decision that will be confirmed as the best choice for your needs. Much of what you’ll read is based on day-to-day use of several espresso machines in a home setting.
This guide makes only one assumption about its readers—a love for espresso! Whether this is the first time you’ve considered making espresso in your home or you’ve been doing it for years, you will find tidbits of information in this guide to help your selection process.
The new La Spaziale S1 double boiler espresso machine is the first of the Buyer’s Guide series. To help you better appreciate what distinguishes it from other choices, I’ve selected two other machines that are eminently capable but have fundamental differences in design that go well beyond appearance. As you will see, these distinctions can influence both the result and the means of preparation.
Let’s briefly introduce the S1’s comparison espresso machines, each of which are well designed for making espresso and are widely recognized as among the best in their class:
Isomac Amica: Known as the choice of “espresso purists,” the Amica is a single boiler machine. It has two boiler thermostats — one for brewing and another for steaming. Pressing its steam button raises the boiler temperature for frothing otherwise the boiler is at brew temperature. The transition between these temperatures takes a little over a minute. This unit is internally identical to the Isomac Zaffiro; you can read the flash review to learn more.
Isomac Rituale: This machine also has a single boiler, but relies on an original design that enables it to keep the boiler at steam temperature while also being able to produce water at brew temperature for espresso. This dual-use single boiler accomplishes this feat with a heat exchanger (HX). I’ll return to how this works in the next section. This unit is internally equivalent to the Isomac Millennium.
Commercial machines have been built with double boilers for decades, perhaps mostly notably by La Marzocco. Consumer product manufacturers have scaled these designs down for the home market. The S1 was conceived for light commercial and home use. It has one 2.5-liter boiler dedicated to steaming and second 450-milliliter boiler dedicated to brewing. It also has other electronic convenience features that I’ll cover in detail.
I’m an espresso enthusiast and professed techno-geek. For me, playing with these machines is like a boy and his new scooter. Can I go around the block just one more time? Please!?!
All joking aside, I’m also a practical consumer that wishes to help you understand, appreciate, and visualize what it might be like to welcome one of these admittedly expensive beauties into your home. These guides will focus on the practical aspects of espresso making. I’ll include some performance statistics but the principal emphasis will be on addressing “real world” questions. Below is a sample of the types of questions that I consider when evaluating espresso machines:
- How easy is it to pull a good shot of espresso?
- How easy is it to froth velvety-smooth milk for cappuccinos and lattes?
- Does one machine require more skill than another does? Is it intuitive to use?
- How convenient is the equipment to clean and maintain?
- What sort of usage patterns does this machine match the best?
Beyond these pragmatic questions, there is also a flurry of physical parameters to consider— boiler size, wattage, brew group design, convenience features, styling —the list can go on and on! With all these factors to consider, it’s easy to forget to pause and reflect on the unique personal experience of espresso making at home. An undeniable old-world romance surrounds espresso. Why is that? Is it the memories of laughter and heated discussions with colleagues around the table of a favorite after-work café, good times shared with close friends and family, or perhaps moments of quiet solitude with only one’s thoughts?
For me, there’s all of the above plus the satisfaction that surrounds the preparation and serving of fine espresso. So I will sometimes point out attributes that may well have little to do with the in-cup result such as appearance, construction, and smart ergonomics. Sometimes you may nod your head in agreement and think, “Yeah, that’s a great touch.” Other times you may shake your head in bewilderment and think, “What!?! I wouldn’t spend one dime extra for that!” This is expected because all of us appreciate these qualities differently. It’s my hope that enough of my observations ring true to convey the excitement and enjoyment of preparing and consuming one of the world’s simplest and most complex beverages: Espresso!