What can I say. When it comes to espresso, the Isomac Zaffiro is a primo performer, as long as the thermostat is holding out. It was a such a joy to use this machine as an espresso purist - it gave me great consistency and amazing shot performance.
It does let you down in terms of being a "cappuccino machine", because of a long draw time between brewing and steaming (I do not recommend steaming first, then cycling the machine down to brew a shot - it takes almost as long, and can use half a reservoir of water in the process). But with that said, the actual steam performance of the Zaffiro was superb once the machine is heated up properly.
I don't actually have a lot to write here - what I could say has already been said on the Operation page. Quite simply, the Isomac Zaffiro is a superior machine when it comes to brewing espresso.
There's very little guess work to the machine - where E61 equipped machines with heat exchangers require a substantial flush to get the grouphead down to brewing temps, the Zaffiro is essentially "good to go" at any time. I found the 6 to 8F (2.5C measured) variance in the top to bottom cycle range of the boiler to be very acceptable (I've tested some machines that let the boiler drop as much as 20F (11.1C) or more!), but there's something even better - the grouphead leads to exceptional temperature stability during the shot, with a scant drop of maybe 1 or 2F (0.8C measured) during an actual shot pull.
The machine handles brewing multiple shots in succession very well. I've seen the boiler take as long as 66 seconds to "cycle" when I force it, but passively, it takes about 30 seconds. When the boiler is active, it pretty much matches water throughput when brewing. In other words, if you brew while the boiler is cycling (middle light is on), the machine will essentially maintain temperature while you brew.
As a torture test of sorts, I brewed six back to back doubles on the machine, starting in the middle of a boiler cycle (I had all the coffee preground to accelerate the brewing process). I saw a total jump of only 6.5F (3.6C) from the first cup to the last - pretty decent timings. I wouldn't even hazard to guess how a machine with a 100ml boiler and no E61 would cope.
As an espresso brewing machine, this machine rocks, in both numbers and in taste performance.
| This is the original steam tip on the Isomac. Our supplier sent us an aftermarket steam tip that wasn't photographed for this review - the new tip is included now with Chris' Coffee's machines. It improves steaming, and marginally improves hot water delivery. |
The Zaffiro is also a great hot water providing machine, with the exception of being a bit messy. It doesn't have a hot water diffusing tap like the Pasquini Livia has; instead, your hot water comes through the steam wand, and it tends to sputter. You should be wary of splashing boiling water on the back of your hand while accessing hot water from this machine.
Chris' Coffee does have an aftermarket steam tip for this model, and it works better for both hot water delivery and for steaming and foaming, but it isn't perfect - you can still scald yourself while accessing hot water - so exercise caution.
In my testing of the hot water delivery, I found out something that should be taken into account - the first few mls (about 1 ounce) of hot water is actually colder than if you ran 4 or 5 ounces - so when making an americano, run the first ounce or two to heat the cup, dump, then fill with another 3 to 5 ounces to build your drink.
In my testing, the Zaffiro laughed at the 1 cup (8oz, 235ml) test, delivering that volume and measured at 185.2F (85.1C) for the full 8oz. I gave it an unprecedented 1.5 cup (12oz, 355ml) test and the measured full volume was 181.4F (83C). Wow. Colour me impressed.
Steaming with the Zaffiro is both a pleasure and a disappointment. The disappointment comes from the excessive ramp up time needed to get the 800ml boiler up to steam temperatures and pressures.
Here's some testing numbers, with all times in seconds.
|Steaming Analysis, Isomac Zaffiro|
|Mode||First Bleed Starting Time||Second Bleed Starting Time||Steam Ready*||Steam Time (7oz)||Total Time||Froth Quality|
|No bleed, top of cycle||n/a||n/a||105.2 sec||29.9 sec||135.1 sec||Good|
|Initial bleed, top of cycle||0-10 sec||n/a||118.1 sec||27.5 sec||145.6 sec||Very Good|
|Init, mid bleed, top of cycle||30-40 sec||122-130 sec||152.4 sec||17.7 sec||170.1 sec||Exceptional|
|Init, mid bleed, random||30-40 sec||126-136 sec||151.8 sec||18.1 sec||169.9 sec||Exceptional|
*Steam ready means either the ready lamp went off (first two tests), or the boiler showed 3.7BAR with lamp on (and I started steaming).
No bleed, top of cycle means that as soon as the boiler cycles in brew mode, I activated the switch, and only did a quick water purge bleed when the machine steam lamp came on.
Initial bleed, top of cycle means I bled the wand as soon as I turned on the steam switch for 10 seconds, then let the machine reach "steam ready" status with the status light going off.
Initial, mid bleed, top of cycle was a bleed at 30 seconds into the warm up, then again when I saw 2.5BAR on the machine, then steaming when the boiler gauge showed 3.7BAR (light still on)
Initial, mid bleed and random is the same as previous, but I didn't wait to see a boiler cycle complete in brew mode first.
I should also note there's other variations, including letting the machine cycle up to steam with a scant initial purge, and then bleeding at 3.5 bar and immediately starting to steam. In my informal testing, this was fastest, and gave pretty good steam performance - almost up to the level of the full purge tests.
Also, if you don't purge at all, the boiler gauge readings are unusable - the gauge will go up to 9BAR (and fluctuate wildly) with the steam lamp still on. Purging early on gives you a better accurate reading - the boiler ready lamp will go out at 4BAR almost precisely.