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the first look - f9 first look
Jura Capresso F9 First Look
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 29, 2003
First Look rating: 8.9
feedback: (7) comments | read | write
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Seems that Super Autos are making the rounds at the CoffeeGeek offices as of late. We have four units to test right now, plus one from our office (the now venerable Solis Master 5000 Digital), and well, we're finding things to like and not to like.

The Jura Capresso F9 is easily one of the most advanced super automatics available for the home or small office today. With its touch screen technology, wide variety of programming options (including many on the fly options) and brash good looks, it would be an excellent choice for many kitchens and offices. We were supplied our test model by the fine web purveyors over at 1st in Coffee, a web vendor based out of New Jersey. 1st in Coffee sells the Jura Capresso F9 for just a buck shy of $1800, and you get two pounds of Capresso's premium whole bean coffee with it to start you out.

I should also note that if you mention this First Look if you phone in an order, there may be some further unadvertised deals you can take advantage of - but you have to phone in to find out. Mention CoffeeGeek, and you might be surprised!

Note: Starting with this First Look, we've decided to shorten the CoffeeGeek First Looks somewhat, as compared to previous articles. This one is the "bridge" - it's still long, but I've worked hard to keep some concluding thoughts out of the document. This is done to place more emphasis on the Detailed Review, but also to make it easier for us to get First Looks out on a more regular basis.

Out of the Box

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Wow, does Capresso ever know how to pack a box. Or should I say Jura Capresso. Maybe I should explain. A new company was recently formed to highlight top end super autos in the United States (and Canada), under the Jura Capresso moniker. There was a bit of a shakeup in how Jura products were handled in the US, but it's all been sorted out now, and a new brand name, Jura Capresso, is the result. You'll still see Capresso products, but you won't be seeing many new "Jura" only products on the marketplace in N. America. Confused? So am I, but it's not a huge deal.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the packaging. Capresso (and the new Jura Capresso) sure know how to pack a product. Mine was double boxed, but it really didn't need it - the main box is laden with colourful images showing the super auto and pretty scenery pics perfect for the shelves at Williams Sonoma. Inside, the machine is carefully kept in a cocoon of styro fitters, corners, and inserts. The box looks like it could easily take a tumble off the back of a UPS truck (not that I'd want that to happen) and survive. I've gotten some machines in the past that were not well packed, so it's always good to see this.

Inside the box you'll find lots of goodies that show Capresso's attention to the little details. One thing that stands out is the product video. Our mantra around here is to RTFM big time (that stands for Read the Flippin' Manual) but I know that even thought I preach it constantly, there's always a few of you (yeah, you over in NY, and you too, that dude who's reading this in the library in Tacoma!) who just won't read the manual. It's not 'manly enough' for ya to do it, right? Right! Sigh.

So the video. It's exceptionally well produced and gives a lot of hands on information about using the product. I highly recommend watching it. It isn't done on the cheap, and at 20 minutes, has enough detail to have you going.

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The J-C F9's tray slides out to reveal the spent grinds bin...
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Pull it out a bit more to see the long assembly, removable bin and tray components.

Other elements in the box include a claris water filter (Capresso is huge on the water filter thing), a measuring scoop for dealing with preground decaf, a very well documented instruction manual (RTFM! Damnit!), and an interactive CD Rom staring some animated dude named LEO, amongst a few other things. This machine also has a full web site associated with it (and the machine even tells you the web address when you turn it on!): www.impressa-f-line.com. Check it out.

I like the looks of the machine, but it is not a machine that appeals universally. The front is heavy chrome, with nice curves and a dramatic flare for the drip tray. You'll notice right away that besides six buttons on the left side (and two on the right), there's also a large panel up top - it's not readily noticeable, but that panel is a fully enabled touch screen. I can't recall any other machine for the home or office that features this. It sure does look good. The question is, does it brew good? We'll find out.

The layout of the machine is fairly straightforward, but there is one hidden element - I'll get to that. When you look at the machine straight on, you see six buttons up and down the left, two by two style. The top two buttons are power and machine flush, a button you'll be instructed to press often. The middle two buttons are for "special cup" (a programmed volume for one touch drinking), as a single or double. The bottom two buttons are the programming button and the grind bypass button.

In the middle you see the pouring spouts, and a brew "head" that can be moved up or down to accommodate different sized cups. The drip tray slides out with the spent puck drawer. On the right side of the front are two buttons - the hot water button which can deliver hot water for up to a programmed time of 60 seconds (press again to get more water) and the steam button - press once to get the machine up to steam temps, press again to activate the steam. It too can be set to run for a programmed time.

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On top of the machine on the left side is the water reservoir. In the middle looks to be a cup stacking area, and on the right is where the grinder is located. The coffee bin is deceptively small - it actually goes deep inside the machine, and holds a lot of coffee. At the right back side of the machine is the grind adjustment dial, which should only be adjusted when the grinder is running (or completely empty).

The hidden thing? Get this - this thing is wired. It can be attached to a PC and can be set up to access the Internet! The connectivity kit isn't available in the US yet, but it is currently available in Europe. Basically you can hook up your notebook computer to this thing to program the machine, run diagnostics, and even to let Capresso Techs run diagnostics over the Internet to troubleshoot any potential problems. Wow. When's the BlueTooth version coming out? :)

Set up's a breeze. If you watch the video, you'll figure it out, but here's what you do. First, DON'T install the Claris water filter right away (see, I bet some of you will. Man, am I cynical today :)). Just drop some beans in, fill the removable water reservoir, and turn the machine on. The screen will give you instructions on what to do. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

First Use of the Jura Capresso F9

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Set up's a breeze... oh, I already covered that. Let's see. Video... Filter... fill beans... water... check. Okay. Then plug the machine in, and you'll see right on the panel how it advertises the website associated with Jura Capresso's F line of machines. To get the machine started and full of water internally, you're instructed by the panel to press the hot water button, located on the right side of the panel. Put a cup under it and let it fire. Soon, the machine will fill and shut off the flow automatically, and start warming up for your first shots.

For any espresso machine, I recommend running several shots through it for the first time (up to five or more) to season the machine, and this is especially true for the super autos. You should use this opportunity to also tune the grinder. For me, it's a natural - dial it as fine as it will go. I did this on the first "wasted" brew shot - you should never adjust these conical burr grinders when they are not operating - you're basically crushing beans with a mechanism that isn't set up to do it, at least when it's not spinning.

My next task was to program the machine to my liking. I quickly discovered one thing I didn't like, and unfortunately, it's something found on pretty much all Capresso (and Jura) super automatics - active preinfusion that can't be turned off.

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Just add hot water....
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Put the cup in place...
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Press a button, and painless (and not too bad tasting) americanos!

I should take a brief moment to explain preinfusion.

There's good preinfusion, there's good preinfusion for certain types of brewing, and there's bad preinfusion. The Capresso and Jura super automatics fall in the last two categories. Good preinfusion is the progressive, continuous type found on traditional espresso machines equipped with the E61 grouphead. The way they work is like this: When you activate the pump, there's a large chamber inside the massive grouphead assembly that must fill up first before 9 BAR of pressure is applied to the bed of coffee. But, while this is filling up, water is "resting" on top of the bed of coffee at normal pressure. In addition, the preinfusion is continuous, with no pause or relief of pressure, normal or high. This preinfusion time is about 7 to 9 seconds, then almost instantly, the machine delivers 9BAR water pressures to the bed of coffee, and is ideal for espresso. Note, I said "espresso".

Capresso and Jura machines (and the Solis SL-90, as another example) do what I call "active preinfusion". These machine activate the pump for a short period, usually 1 to 3 seconds, then pause, then continue brewing. This active type of preinfusion is actually pretty good for a type of coffee that's popular in Switzerland (where all these super autos and the Solis come from); the coffee type is called cafe Suisse, or Swiss Coffee. This type of coffee is brewed with coarser grounds than espresso, and the coarser stuff benefits from this kind of action, pause, action brewing method.

This active preinfusion method is definitely not the best thing you can do to espresso, however. In fact, I'm of the opinion, based on side by side experiments with the SL-70 (traditional machine, no preinfusion) and the SL-90 (same internals, but more electronics, flowmeter, and preinfusion) that this kind of active system damages certain qualities in espresso.

In my Detailed Review, I will cover this more in depth. But I will say here that an option to turn preinfusion on or off would be very welcome in these Jura Capresso machines.

I think I was talking about programming. Other than the lack of preinfusion control, I like most of the controls and programming functions of the Jura Capresso F9. One thing I liked is that on the front panel, you can choose from 36 different brewing "combinations" just by the choices you make on the touch panel. You can program the water volume for all the brew buttons (three on the touch screen, one on the left side), and you have two choices for water temps - normal and hot. I'd like to see more there as well - perhaps something like what the Francis Francis X4 has, where you can set the water temps in actual degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. Given the price of this machine, I'd almost expect that level of control and the hardware inside to back it up.

Lotsa programming options. Note the precise (in 5ml sizes) volumes you can set!

I did like that the water volumes are programmable in 5ml increments, but the shortest you can make it 30ml, or one ounce for the espresso button.

There's also a hidden "double your pleasure" option on the F9 - the Aroma setting. Enable it in the programming settings, and you jack up your ground coffee used per shot by a healthy amount. Nice feature for those who want the super rich espresso shots.

Once I had the machine set to go and tweaked to what I like (for your reference, maximum ground coffee used for the espresso, 30ml shot size), I was ready to fire it up and brew some shots.

So how were they? Surprisingly good. I have to evaluate super autos on a different "plane of reasoning" when compared to traditional machines. These ain't no La Marzoccos. Heck, they ain't even a Gaggia Carezza. That's not their intended market, and it would be extremely unfair of me to judge them against the standard of the traditional machine.

Here's the real deal. The first day I fired up the F9 and got it ready to go, I had beans that were about a week old in the hopper. That morning, I visited two local cafes - a Bread Garden (the Ironwood location in Richmond, BC), and a Blenz Coffee Bar, also located in Richmond. I knew I would be evaluating the shots from the super auto that day, so I wanted to set them up against cafe espresso.

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The brew area lights up - rock star! Sure, it's window dressing, but I like it.

I gave the Blenz and Bread Garden crew every opportunity to pull a good shot. I told them I was specifically evaluating their shots and would compare the taste notes to a machine at home later in the day. I got both locations to pack with fresh ground (the Blenz shop had to "waste" half a doser full of coffee).

The shots were exceedingly average for a cafe; which is to say, bad. I took notes, and actually subjected my poor tastebuds to the entire shots, sans sugar.

That afternoon, it was the F9's chance. Even though it took only about 9 seconds to brew a 1oz "double" (using max amount of grinds, 30ml, aroma setting to high), compared to the 17 seconds I timed at Blendz and the 19 seconds I timed at Bread Garden, the F9's shot was head and shoulders above the commercial cafe stuff I sampled that morning.

This is why I've come around to liking super autos. If you set the standard as what a complete coffee geek can achieve with a traditional machine, you'll be disappointed always. If you set the standard at what the average cafe serves, you'll get excellence. I've chosen to go with the latter.

The shots are rich, creamy, and while no tiger flecking is visible (I've yet to see any super auto that can produce this sign of superior espresso pulls), the crema was darker than I got with some of the other super autos in our stable.

There was a note of sour in the shots, but not much. I was running the machine at max temperature, which tells me it's still not hot enough (this was after I ran a full two tanks' worth of water through the machine, and brewed a half dozen shots of different sizes).

But it was good... for a super auto.

First Few Days with the Jura Capresso F9.

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I love the steam wand design. Up, it's "traditional"
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Down, it's a froth aider for newbies.
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Steam wand tip closeup - does surprisingly good microfoam.

This is the super short part.

Basically, brewing works good on this machine. It's not the best super auto I've tried (that honour currently goes to the Jura Capresso S (as in Sam) 9, a $2,400 machine), but it brews a better shot than the Solis Master Digital I bought almost four years ago for our office.

I liked the hot water functionality of the machine and how it had the ability to do a preprogrammed time of hot water - set and forget. I also liked the quick-to-steam feature of the machine - it only requires about 20 to 25 seconds to heat up to steam mode. We're dealing with a thermoblock here, so the steam performance isn't stellar, but it's good enough in my early tests to steam up about 4 oz of milk in about 55 seconds.

The steam arm is the same type that ships with the S9 (as in Sam), but the F9 doesn't include the uber cool automatic frothing and steaming attachment the S9 has. (you can, however, buy it as an option).

The wand is ingenious - it can work like a traditional wand, ie, you froth and steam depending on how you hold the tip near the surface of the milk. Slide the sleeve, and you get an auto-frothing wand action that many newbies or PWJDGS types (people who just don't give a shoot) will find very forgiving for frothing. You get big bubble, spoon foam (not the pourable kind a practiced barista can do), but like I said, it's good enough for most folks, and probably as good or better than the performance you get from most cafe PBTCs (persons behind the counter).

I also discovered a little trick to get the kind of shot temperature I want. I was going to save this for the detailed review, but what the heck - if you want hotter shots, simply activate the steam button. Wait 10 seconds (or until it shows steam ready), then brew the shot. My temperature tests showed that this method delivers espresso that is about 183F out of the spouts, and about 170F in the cup. Doing it the normal way (without the steam trick) gives me espresso around 174F at the spout, and 162F in the cup. (note, these are early measurements, and not done in any scientific way or repeated - wait for the Detailed Review for more concise numbers).

Wrap Up

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The Jura Capresso is an awesome looking espresso machine. It would fit into any modern office or kitchen and surprisingly, it does pretty high volume shots. It does brew very fast which is a boon and a bust. It delivers ample hot water, and has a lot of usability features I've barely touched on in this first look. For our Detailed Review Process, we're going to be placing this machine inside a piano studio that sees about 40 people a week tramping through. The machine will be torture tested by a bunch of piano snobs for at least 45 days, and we'll see how the machine fares. I have a feeling it's going to do just fine.

Once again, I'd like to sincerely thank the fine folks over at  1st in Coffee for supplying us with the Jura Capresso F9. They sell it for $1799, and it includes some bonuses. In fact, if you call in your order for this machine and mention this first look, who knows what extras may be thrown in. I always advise folks to call shops for best pricing and options for machines.

I'd also like to give a shout out to James Smith at 1st in Coffee. He's an upstart in this web vending biz for coffee and espresso, but he's dedicated to providing the best service he can, and he's been a long time supporter of this CoffeeGeek website - both morally and financially as an advertiser. This website simply wouldn't exist without our advertisers and supporters, and I really thank James for coming on board - I hope you will too, if you enjoy this resource and the very low-impact advertising we've set up around here. You don't have to buy this machine, but James sells a lot of coffee related stuff, including my faves: Illy cups - give him a try the next time you're shopping for anything coffee or espresso related.

And the very last point? This whole thing you read? It isn't a review! It's a first look! Anything and everything I wrote may chance by the time we publish the Detailed Review! Even the machine's colour and shape! Heck, it could turn into a traditional two group machine, I don't know and won't know until the Detailed Review is published!

First Look rating: 8.9
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 29, 2003
feedback: (7) comments | read | write
This first look and all its parts are ©2001-2015 CoffeeGeek.com and the first look in part or in whole may NOT be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author or this website. This includes all photographs. For information on reproducing any part of this first look (or any images) or if you would like to purchase a printed version of this first look for commercial or private use, please contact us at info@coffeegeek.com for further details.
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