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Product round-up: espresso machines

19 August 2015
Product round-up: espresso machines

An espresso machine isn't just a tool: it's a design statement. Ian Boughton considers the options, from levers to leopard-print

One of the most eye-catching espresso machine designs, the Elektra Mini Verticale, is available in the UK for £1,100

But they are not just effective coffee-makers. Espresso machines can be eye-catching and provide practical theatre, which will make potential customers stop and look twice at what you have to offer.

This is not just suppliers' sales talk - an attractive espresso machine does make an impact on the customer, says Thomas Anderson of the Manhattan Coffee Club in Reading. He uses an Iberital espresso machine from Jaguar Espresso Systems.

"The look of the machine is important because people now know about the automatic bean-to-cup machines that some café brands use, which don't require any effort or skill," says Anderson. "We needed to compete directly with Starbucks, and we wanted to make it clear that we look like an independent coffee house in East London.
"From the customer's point of view, the more nozzles and buttons it has, the more technical it is to use - it is not a push-button instant coffee machine, and that justifies the price of the cup of coffee."

The design of most 'traditional' espresso machines comes from the basis of a square metal box. One of the most eye-catching counters to this is the Kees van der Westen range from Holland. Andronicas offers these, and has one in use at its espresso bar in Harrods.

Kees van der Westen Speedster

These machines are designed on the sports car principle - they are long and low. This has practical uses, says Andrew Knight of Andronicas, not least in that it removes the usual barrier between barista and customer.

"In a catering situation, if you want your coffee to be attractive, you have to stand out. So, although some people leave their coffee machine back-of-house, others realise it can be a visual focus.

"A big aspect of espresso machine design is about retaining eye contact with the customer. In an ideal situation, you position the espresso machine at right angles to the customer, so you can converse with them and they can also see the amount of attention to detail you are putting into their coffee.

"The Kees van der Westen Spirit is one-third less in height than a conventional machine, and even if you really do have to put the machine on the front counter, you can still communicate… which is definitely better than the coffee machine being on the back bar."

Where an espresso machine is cited square-on, it is the rear of the machine which faces the customer, and the rear of many machines is just an uninteresting blank panel.

"The whole of the Kees van der Westen is a thing of beauty," says Andrew Knight. "Thisis a fabulous looking machine, and technically it is right up there with the best; when you make coffee on one, you feel like you're flying an aeroplane. It's such a piece of art that we even get people coming up to take a picture of it.

"Yes, it's about double the price of a standard machine, and they start at about £6,000 - but when you calculate the interest it gets, that's liveable-with!"

The most classic design in espresso machines is the 'lever' machine - this is the style in which the barista draws the water through the coffee by using something very similar to an old beer hand-pump in a pub. It's the kind of machine which makes it clear that the staff are putting some skill into making coffee, and Tudor Coffee distributes the Valchiria Ultra lever machines from Italy.

Valchiria Ultra lever machine

"The positive factor is that a lever machine makes a statement that you are really serious about the coffee you're serving," says Tudor's managing director Nick Klos.
"Some in the catering industry have a negative view of lever machines, but that is through a lack of familiarity… the machines are often less expensive than standard espresso machines, are less costly to run, need less daily maintenance, and there are fewer electrical parts to fail.

"Those who know the machines know that the operator gets a much greater coffee extraction (a proper espresso) from these machines, and that they offer much higher dry steam performance to enable quicker milk preparation."

There is a skill involved. Through experience, bar staff come to 'feel' how well coffee is brewing, and can adapt their technique to pour the kind of shot they want.

"Using a lever machine is not difficult - draw the coffee from the grinder and tamp as normal, pull down the lever for three or four seconds, and release. The machine is adaptable enough to let you pull an 18-second extraction for takeaway business or a standard thirty-second espresso extraction. Or even a one-minute 'artisan Neapolitan' extraction to give you a real, silky, full-bodied, intense espresso. The theatre is as much a key point as the coffee."

The most recent eye-catching lever espresso machine on the market is very new and there are less than a handful in the UK. It is made by Wouter Strietman of Eindhoven, and it has the extremely unusual feature that it can be mounted on a wall (something similar was used on Italian trains 50 years ago, notes Strietman, but the concept is still unusual).

Streitman

The Strietman machine was originally intended for domestic use, and so it has an open-fill boiler rather than a mains water supply, and is extremely lightweight - there is no body casing, except the heating element and thermostat are closed in for safety.

And yet it features details that a barista expects - the water temperature is adjustable, as required by those who know that even a change of half a degree can make the difference between any old espresso and a great one. And it is far quieter than a conventional machine.

"I have been working on this full-time for the past six years," says Wouter Strietman. "The lever technique has a rich heritage, of which not much is left when you look at today's market. So for me, it was essential to redevelop this old technique and integrate modern features - the Strietman machines are quite different to look at and really very simplified."

The machine is practical for small-quantity commercial use - that is, the kind of restaurant which prides itself on quality coffee, but only sells maybe a dozen espressos an evening, as opposed to a coffee bar, which has to turn out 200 coffees in a lunch hour.

"Due to its heavy build-quality, you could label it as a 'semi-commercial' machine, which is about quality, not quantity. There are some small bars and restaurants using it, and a high-end Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium has it because they don't want a big commercial machine or mass-beverage drinks.

"With a hand lever you have a lot of control over the pressure and the pre-infusion, which consists of pressing the lever down very softly and slowly at the beginning of the shot to develop the aromas. Lever machines are known to create a sweet aftertaste due to the light decrease in pressure.

"The temperature stability is good, it doesn't overheat due to its open boiler design, and maintenance is simple. If you use filtered water you don't have to bother with de-scaling, and the piston rubbers needs to be greased once every half-year."

The Streitman machines are priced at around £1,000.

Customised coffee

Personalised finishes on espresso machines are perfectly possible and often fun to see. Fracino, the UK's only maker of espresso machines, has done special colours and vinyl wrapping with some remarkable results - gold is a relatively common finish, but the leopard-print version may be unique.

Qualitasse, distributor of the Fiamma range of espresso machines from Portugal, has exhibited one clad in cork. The reasoning was that cork is produced in the same region as the machines, and though there have been some reservations about the practicality, some restaurants have asked to buy it.

At La Cimbali, the company which created the MUMAC espresso machine museum near Milan, they have recently created a tangerine machine to fit the corporate colours of the Rhode Island Coffee chain. "I believe that the look of the coffee machine is important, as it is the heart of the business and what we do," says Rhode Island's operations manager Dave Howarth.

"The location on our counter has been designed so that the machine and barista are on show - this gives our guests confidence in our skill, andour customers love watching a barista doing latte art." Personalised finishes on espresso machines are perfectly possible and often fun to see. Fracino, the UK's only maker of espresso machines, has done special colours and vinyl wrapping with some remarkable results - gold is a relatively common finish, but the leopard-print version may be unique.

Qualitasse, distributor of the Fiamma range of espresso machines from Portugal, has exhibited one clad in cork. The reasoning was that cork is produced in the same region as the machines, and though there have been some reservations about the practicality, some restaurants have asked to buy it.

At La Cimbali, the company which created the MUMAC espresso machine museum near Milan, they have recently created a tangerine machine to fit the corporate colours of the Rhode Island Coffee chain. "I believe that the look of the coffee machine is important, as it is the heart of the business and what we do," says Rhode Island's operations manager Dave Howarth.

"The location on our counter has been designed so that the machine and barista are on show - this gives our guests confidence in our skill, andour customers love watching a barista doing latte art."

Contacts

Andronicas/Kees van der Westen 020 7729 4411
www.andronicas.com

Fracino
0121 328 5757
www.fracino.com

Iberital/Jaguar Espresso Systems
0118 959 9204
www.jesuk.com

La Cimbali
020 8238 7101
www.cimbaliuk.com

Qualitasse/Fiamma
01256 300050
www.qualitasse.co.uk

Strietmanwww.strietman.net

Tudor
01708 866966
www.tudorcoffee.co.uk

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