| This is the simple conversion kit used to change the machine from an ESE rated pod machine to ground coffee use. |
CoffeeGeek was given an Oscar with the newest (and in our opinion, the best) colour scheme currently offered by Nuova Simonelli (NS), the aluminum-silver colour model. These products are packed well, and should not be a concern with any shipping method. NS sells the Oscar as a pod model or as a grounds model, and comes in either a plumbed in version or reservoir model. CoffeeGeek was given a reservoir / pod model, as well as a conversion kit to change it over for ground coffee use.
In the grounds version box, you find not one, but two portafilters, which is fairly unique in the consumer / prosumer espresso market. You also get standard single and double filters, a tamper, and an instruction manual. The pod version model differs in that there was no tamper in the box, though you did still get two portafilters, with special pod filters.
I have to say that the silver model is probably the best looking Oscar - and this is because it looks almost "metal like". The cup area on top is massive, easily the biggest cup stacking area of any machine in its class or lower, and the water reservoir in the back is covered by a lid.
I noticed right away that the Oscar also has a very large drip tray, again one of the biggest ones found on home machines. This is a big plus for me because of the way I normally make my espressos - I like to rinse the portafilter and grouphead after every shot, doing a "portafilter wiggle" to dislodge any grounds up around the grouphead. With my stock Livia, I'm emptying that drip tray a few times a day. Not so with the Oscar.
The control panel wasn't much to write home about - soft-touch push buttons don't quite have the solid feel of industrial rocker switches. The indicator lights are recessed behind cutouts, and are difficult to see from angles. I also found the symbols used a bit confusing at first, and definitely had to refer to the product manual before understanding the functions of some of them.
The big beefy knob on the left side controls steam, which is on demand - as you would expect with a heat exchanger machine.
The Oscar is big, but not overly so. It does fit under most kitchen cupboards, but you will have to remove the machine to refill the reservoir. This may be a big concern for some because the reservoir's size is relatively small, and does need to be refilled often if you use a lot of water, or brew a lot of shots.
The Oscar is notably without a hot water tap. For someone like me this is a concern because I like my Americanos and I want hot water on demand. For others it may not be as big an issue. And because it is a heat exchanger machine with steam on demand, you can steam cold water to boiling relatively fast.
| Oscar "warning" label. Click to enlarge. |
When you first unpack an Oscar, you notice a massive sticker on the top warming plate with a big notice about the procedure you need to follow each time you turn the machine on. Basically, you have to open the steam wand when you turn the machine on so that the boiler can equalize pressure, and be accurate in its pressure readings while heating up. If you don't do this, the boiler will have a false pressure reading, and will not be hot enough to produce steam or brew espresso at the right temperatures. I will cover this issue more in the Detailed Review, but suffice to say, you either always leave the Oscar on, or remember to do this everytime you power it on - so plug timers are not an option with this machine.
I did read the manual thoroughly and fired off some questions to NS before I filled the reservoir, powered it up for the first time, and watched it go through its initial priming session. The Oscar is a self-managing machine, with auto priming, auto refilling, and low water sensors. Because of the massive size of the boiler, you need to fill the reservoir again right after this initial priming, and I did so.
My first shot was actually probably the best "first shot" I've ever attempted on a home machine. Most things were intuitive with the Oscar, except for one thing - the Oscar's portafilter is locked tight when it is roughly 90 degrees straight out from the machine (like a T). This differs from most other machine which require a portafilter to be at around 5 o'clock out from the machines; the Oscar's PF is at 6 o'clock.
By my third shot, I was getting really good results. For these first shots, I had the Oscar working with the flat burr Innova grinder, and they really seemed to work well together.
| A closeup of the Oscar pod version grouphead. To the left is the multi-direction steam wand. |
Operating the Oscar is relatively straightforward. Let it heat up for a half hour or so, make sure you open the steam wand until powerful steam comes out (to do that boiler equalization thing), then prep and brew. Press a switch to activate the pump, press the switch again to de-activate it.
My first acceptable shot (the third one I made with the machine), was followed by an equally acceptable fourth shot, and at this time I decided to test the steam power of the machine. It has steam power to spare. I was able to froth up about 4 oz of milk in literally seconds, although there may be too many holes in the steam tip for adequate microfrothing - only further experimentation will tell the tale.
By the end of the first use, I walked away really impressed with the Oscar's potential as a pure espresso brewer. I wasn't so convinced at its other abilities as an all purpose, hot drink preparing machine.
The First Week with the Oscar
In my first week with the Oscar, I noticed some really cool things, and also started to suffer minor annoyance at other things.
On the good side, the Oscar really left a lasting impression with me that it is a serious tool for the espresso aficionado. Boiler power to spare, with a great wide pattern dispersion screen, backed up by a water circulating grouphead, locked and loaded with NS's commercial group portafilter all equal a machine quite capable of producing the elusive "God Shots" or the holy grail of espresso in the home.
The Oscar also produces ample amounts of steam, and can easily be used to boil (literally) 4 oz of hot water, or enough for a medium sized Americano with a double shot of espresso, all in under 25 seconds. My timings on steam time up to 155F for milk are equally impressive, though having the full commercial steam tip on the Oscar is what appears to be a mistake, as it doesn't create the considerable amount of turbulence you need for easy microfrothing.
| The Oscar's tray can be inverted to allow for larger cups. |
On the not so good side of things, I found myself wishing the reservoir was double its current size of about 2 litres. I run through a lot of water with my espresso machines because I produce a lot of shots, and I like to run water before and after each shot. I run water before to flush out the extra hot heat exchanger water, and I run water after to clean the grouphead area (with a portafilter wiggle). If I have to change reservoir water more than once per day, it's too much. For most people, this probably isn't an issue, but produce more than a half dozen shots on this machine using my typical method, and it gets noticeable.
I also found myself missing the hot water delivery that many other machines in Oscar's class offer as standard equipment. Being able to steam water to boiling is nice, but not as convenient or fast as just turning a knob and getting instant boiled water. I use this hot water for Americanos, but also for heating cold mugs, for hot water for tea and hot chocolate, and even for instant boiled water for soaking filter baskets in an Oxy-Clean solution. I couldn't do this with the Oscar.
One thing I lost most concern for was the plastic shell. Sure, it's plastic where others are metal, but after the first week, I stopped noticing it. The Oscar's ability to produce a first rate shot, and to do so consistently really belayed any concerns I had over the external "skin" of the device.
Still, it would be so much more appealing if it was metal-skinned :)
Remember this is not a Detailed Review of the Oscar, and our opinions and words may completely change by the time we finish our month long evaluation of the product. We now have the Oscar matched up with Nuova Simonelli's new grinder, the Grinta, and the bulk of our product evaluation for this brewer will reflect the Grinta's ability to be a good match.
We would once again like to thank Nuova Distribution and Roberto Bresciani for their help and support in getting us the Nuova Simonelli Oscar for Detailed Review, and for being patient with our initial questions and inquiries.