Like all Solis products (and Schaerer products too), the SL-70 is shipped in a good cocoon of styrofoam and other packing materials, and almost always arrives damage-free, even if the box has been roughed up. I mention this because to this day there are still a few machines packed with a little less care or protective materials than they need, so it's good to see vendors paying attention to these details. Not much can ruin the expected joy an expensive purchase gives you than the package arriving damaged and/or unusable.
The SL-70 comes in a very colourful and picture-rich box that is also designed for shelf-display in retail locations. It gives an overview of the machine's functions and features. Ignore the 19BAR claim - I really don't like it when machines claim 15BAR, 17BAR, or more on the promo material - inside the machine, all that matters is that 9BAR (or roughly 135PSI) is delivered to the grouphead, and even these 19BAR claimed machines ramp down to 9BAR or so because of tubing restrictions inside the machines.
You may also notice on the box the crema enhancer is mentioned as a feature. It isn't to this author, but to neophytes to the world of espresso, it can be an okay set of training wheels, but is also deceptive and should be ditched in favour of some aftermarket filters. I'll cover this aspect more as this Review progresses.
Once the box is opened, you'll notice a set of three filters - a single, a double, and a pod-adapted filter. All three are the pressurized devices that "enhance" your crema. The filter is a heavy gauge chunk of metal and plastic and other materials, but is styled as a single piece with built in spouts - not the quasi-commercial portafilters you'd find on more expensive machines (and some cheaper ones too). Also included is the product manual but no tamper - instead, the SL-70 has built into it a tamping device of sorts, to the left of the main grouphead.
| All items that come with the brewer. Click to enlarge. |
One also notices how deceptive the reservoir is for this machine. It seems narrow front to back, but it is actually wider than the entire machine, which is part of its design - you can always see the remaining water from almost any viewing angle. Because of this size and height, the reservoir holds a vast amount of water - almost 3.2 litres by our own measured tests (claimed 3.0 litres).
Pulling the machine out of its box shows some other suprises - the SL 70 has some serious weight behind it. Empty, the machine weighs in at almost 20 pounds (7.8kg measured, 7.6kg claimed). Part of the reason for this is that the machine has a lot of metal on the surface (painted, glossed). Another reason is the amount of brass inside the machine - substantial for something in this class. Remember - more weight in an espresso machine usually means better machine.
I've seen some of the older SL-70 machines. They were not winners in the looks department. The lines are sometimes too angular, but the colour schemes were the real downer. I'm sure green and white would suit in many a décor, but for me, I didn't like it. The Anthracite was another colour scheme I didn't like much, but could live with.
The current silver and black colour scheme on the other hand is very snazzy looking. While polished or satin stainless steel is still my primo choice for a serious espresso machine in the home, this one doesn't look too bad, and again, it would fit in many a décor with no problems. Matched up with Solis' old grinder, the 166, this colour scheme looks great. The current grinder, the Maestro from Solis, has a dark steel blue and silver motif, and doesn't quite match up with the SL machines. I've mentioned this on several occasions to Baratza, and there may be a black and silver maestro down the road somewhat. I wouldn't wait for it though.
| Simple, efficient controls, but Solis could have glued the template on better. Click to enlarge. |
There is one downside to the machine's looks and that is a human error. The front panel is has a glued on template, mainly silver, but also the graphics for the switches. On my test unit, some air bubbles are present underneath the glued on material. It kind of takes away from the "Swiss Made" text on that template, which is supposed to signify quality in all aspects. Solis needs to take better care assembling these things. I know this is a tiny thing in the scope of it all, but it does make the front panel look a bit "low class". (note, the photo to the right had lighting strategically placed to overemphasise the "bubbles". In person it's not noticable from some viewing angles).
Setting up the SL-70 is a relative breeze. A large coil of stiff cardboard is used to protect the machine, wedged between the grouphead and drip tray - remove this, fill the reservoir, lock in the portafilter, plug it in, and you're good to go.
After reading over Solis' enclosed Kruzanleitung, uhm, I mean Condensato delle istruzioni d'uso... uhm, Brief Introduction sheet (it is in 4 languages, with English coming last) and the product manual (turn all the way to pg. 46 for the start of the English instructions), I was rarin' to go. Getting to that point where you can brew your first shot is easy, and follows a common pattern with semi automatic machines (note, this pattern I'm about to outline delineates from the Brief Intro document that ships with the machine, just a tad - it includes some of my own patented "cheat your machine" tips):
- Rinse out and fill the water reservoir.
- Insert the reservoir, plug the machine in, and turn the power switch on.
- Manually prime the boiler by running the pump switch and opening the steam wand (so water will eventually flow out of the wand).
- Wait for the machine to indicate brew ready.
- Run about 5 or 6 ounces of water (about 30 to 40 seconds of pump time) through the grouphead to get it nice and hot.
- Let the machine come back to a ready state (green light is on), then run the pump again, this time opening the steam valve to get the other lines hot and toasty.
- Wait for the green lamp to come on again, and run another 30 seconds or so of pump time through the portafilter.
- Machine is reasonably ready to brew, with good temps inside and out.
During this initial prime and prep mode, I took note of a few things about the SL70. First and foremost, this machine is q.u.i.e.t. Seriously quiet. If the SL70 were an acoustic guitar player in a small room, my Pasquini Livia would be The Who, Live at Leeds, at 11 on the amps. The difference is that noticeable. Kudos to those zany Swiss for their sound muffling abilities - my understanding is that this machine uses the same type of pump that the Rancilios, Gaggias, and even my Livia uses.
The following sampled sounds were recorded under identical conditions, recorded to PCM Wave files using a high quality microphone and an IBM Thinkpad. They were converted to mono 44100 Hz 128kbit MP3 files. Click the file name to download and listen to each sample (kb sizes listed)
Pasquini Livia, No load pump (10 sec, 163kb)
This sample shows the noise produced by the Pasquini Livia with no coffee grounds in the portafilter, and no load on the pump. (Warning: Loud)
Solis SL70, No load pump (16 sec, 252kb)
This sound sample is of the noise produced by the Solis SL-70 with no coffee grounds in the portafilter, and no load on the pump. Water pouring noise can be clearly heard, giving an indication of how quiet the pump is.
Pasquini Livia, 29 second espresso shot (33sec, 527kb)
Under full load of a packed portafilter, note the noise variance in the Livia. Even under full load as the pump sound diminishes, it is still louder than the SL70 by a fair margin.
Solis SL70, 29 second espresso shot (32sec, 505kb)
Under the full load of a packed portafilter, the SL-70 doesn't vary much in its sound output, which is very quiet by comparison with the Livia.
Another thing I noticed about the SL70 is that the machine gets nice and hot. The grouphead got very hot, the portafilter, the steam wand are all naturally hot, but the sides and cup warmer area got up to a nice temperature as well. How this would affect overall shot quality and temperature stability would show itself later in my testing.
So for my inaugural shot I used... some Illy preground. Opened about two weeks prior to this first use. As I said in my First Look at this machine, "Where was my head?"
I'll tell you where my head was - I was going to test just how much darned crema that stale, stanky Illy preground would produce in that pressurized gizmo double filter they ship with the machine. Earlier in that first day, I ran that same old Illy preground through another machine, and all I got was a chocolate brown smudge in the cup, with a bare whisper of some pale golden stuff at the edges. It was time to see what the Solis SL 70 could do.
Can you guess what the machine delivered? LOTS of crema on that shot. Which just goes to show you - crema enhancers are not good for you. It's true. Crema is supposed to be one of those indicators of a good espresso shot. It isn't window dressing or a fancy book cover. It actually serves a real purpose, but you take away that purpose with these crema enhancing doo dads.
And yes, I drank that shot. It took me a long time to recover from the skankiness of the taste and aftertaste. I wrote all about those horrors in the First Look.
After I recovered somewhat, I used some fresh roasted, fresh ground (from a Solis Maestro grinder) in the SL-70 and decided to see if the crema enhancers would hurt what could be a good shot. As a further test, I pulled a shot using the same coffee (ground a bit finer) in a Pasquini Livia to see how they compared. The Livia shot turned out great. How would the SL 70 with its crema enhancing filter basket fare?
I got lots of crema on the shot, naturally. It was lighter than the crema from the Livia - an even medium tan colour. The shot tasted fine, but it wasn't nearly as good as the Livia's shot. Something was missing, and I narrowed it down to body and texture. The aftertaste was lacking as well. I put the blame almost 100% to the crema enhancers, and later tests with non-crema enhancing filter baskets confirmed this (see our Performance section for details).
After these first experiments, I moved on to trying out other aspects of the machine, including steaming ability and hot water delivery. Early on I was impressed with both.
One thing I really like and appreciate on this machine is the lack of a froth aiding device. I know, I know, many people find frothing a challenge. But I also believe many people find frothing a challenge because cheaper espresso machines (and some more expensive ones) have no serious steaming power. The SL-70 is not in this class. It has a large boiler, and after going through the routine of prepping the machine for steam (where you flush out the wet stuff from the steam wand, wait for it to heat up etc), you can routinely froth and steam milk up to 155F in a relatively short time - usually 40 seconds or less for 7oz of milk.
The single hole tip creates a lot of turbulence, and while I would have liked to see more movement from the steam wand (it only moves one way - directly 90 degrees out from the machine - you cannot move it side to side) the "angle of attack" that the wand gives you isn't too bad, and maneuvering a steam jug into position is not a chore.
Hot water delivery is good as well, giving you approximately 150ml above 86C before it starts to peter off a bit, and cool down. The boiler will start cycling no later than 170mls into running the hot water delivery through the wand.
Four Sides of the Solis SL-70
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| Front. Click to Enlarge. |
| Left side. Click to enlarge. |
| Right side. Click to enlarge. |
| Top. Click to enlarge. |