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the first look - super giada
Isomac Super Giada
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: January 19, 2004
First Look rating: 8.6
feedback: (8) comments | read | write
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A little known Isomac machine, and one that is at the lower end of Isomac's offerings is the Isomac Super Giada. This machine replaced the Isomac Giada in the company's machine lineup, and at a suggested price of $400 retail, represents the third least expensive machine from the company.

Two other models from the company are priced lower but are not regularly available in the US. The next model above the Super Giada is the Isomac Venus. CoffeeGeek has a Venus for testing, but our unit has suffered a severe thermostat failure, and still has not been replaced or repaired; this has delayed the Detailed Review for the Venus indefinitely.

In the meantime, full testing is going ahead with the Super Giada, and here is our First Look.

Out of the Box

The Isomac Super Giada comes in a plain box - they reserve a "store shelf look" box design for the two lowest-priced models - this one and the Venus on up come in more plain white boxes.

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Shipping Box
Plane Jane box didn't have a lot of stuffing and cardboard cutouts to keep the machine very secure; note the pierced section on the right side.
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Giada and its Stuff
This is everything that comes with the Super Giada.

Isomac can and should pack their machines better - our test unit arrived with a slight amount of cosmetic damage. The top cup warming tray (removable) was pushed down a bit on the back portion, creating a shallow dent at the edge. Also, the side of the box looks like something pierced it in shipping, but we could spot no damage on the machine in that area. My understanding is that 1st Line is carefully double-boxing these machines as they go out the door, so if you order a Super Giada, it should arrive safe and sound.

Inside the box, you'll find a machine that weighs roughly 16.5 lbs empty, a cast portafilter, 53mm single and double filter baskets, the product manual and a dose spoon. The unit includes a built in tamper and the steam wand, while unconventional in design, is still a "traditional" wand, with no froth aiding attachments.

Setting up the machine holds no real surprises. Fill the ample 3 litre reservoir, plug in the machine, turn it on, open the steam wand, and run the pump (flick the brewing switch on) until you see water flowing out of the steam wand's two holes. Turn the brewing switch off, shut the wand knob down, and let the machine fully heat up.

While the machine was doing its initial prep thing, I had a look see at the build. A pressure gauge up front is nice eye candy, but I don't know how useful it would be to the newbie or even seasoned vet; being a vibe pump espresso machine, the pump pressure isn't really controllable by the end user. If I had my druthers, I'd rather see an accurate temperature gauge up front, or even a clock with a good timing feature - I don't think I've seen a timing clock on a consumer machine, and it'll be interesting to see if a company eventually comes out with one.

Another thing you notice right away is the cup height between the portafilter and the spouts, or the lack thereof. It's less than 3 inches of space - very short. Okay for espresso machines, but forget about getting anything larger than 8 or 10 ounce cups underneath. The allowable cup height is so shallow that I wasn't able to use my standard calibrated beakers for testing volumes, and would have to make some concessions on some of my tests.

Overall construction of the machine seems hit and miss. The finish is nice and polished, which is a huge plus. The slide out drip tray is deep and all stainless steel (and heavy). The cup warming tray up top holds a lot of cups, which is good; you have to remove it to refill the water reservoir, which is bad. The switches have a nice, solid feel, which is good, but the indicators, which look great, barely do the job of "indicating" under florescent lights, which is bad. I had to turn off the lights in the test area to see when they were on or off. The fit and finish of the machine overall is good, but the stenciled on iconographs indicating what each switch does will wear off fast, which is bad.


retroswitches

And then there's the steam wand. It's a "traditional wand" in that it has no froth aider, and that's good. But the thing is short and unconventional in design - it has a ball at the end of the wand, with two holes for steaming and also for hot water delivery. Good luck using anything larger than a 12 oz frothing pitcher with this one.

First Use of the Isomac Super Giada

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Control Panel
The controls up front seem simple, but the light indicators could be designed better, and could also function better.
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Steam Wand
A ball tip seems unconventional. The length is too short. But it does work well within its limitations.
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Big Nut!
This huge brass nut in the middle of the dispersion screen might result in reduced extraction.

Once the machine was sufficiently heated up, I was ready to run a reservoir's worth of water through it to season and prep the machine, then pull some shots and steam some milk.

I like to run a LOT of water through a new machine, just to clean it out and get it used to the my local water supply - usually I'll run 2 reservoirs' worth of water, but the Super Giada has such a large reservoir, one would suffice. I run it through the wand, run it through the boiler and grouphead, and even run some steam through the machine. This involves putting a large container under the grouphead and just letting the pump go for a few minutes. Then I heat up the machine to steam temperatures, and run a bunch of steam out of the wand.

The portafilter and filter baskets are a bit low grade - 53mm baskets and the single piece cast brass and chromed portafilter are okay, but not "commercial quality" by any stretch. Still, they're better than the alum crap you get with most Delonghi or Krups machines, so that's a perk.

Not knowing how much clearance I needed in the portafilter's basket for the machine's grouphead and dispersion screen, I guessed by leaving about 4mm of clearance in the filter after I packed the coffee in. I locked the portafilter into the machine, then removed it right away: I saw this huge hexagonal depression in the middle! What's goin' on? So I looked at the dispersion screen and lo and behold, there's this huge brass nut hanging down from the middle. This can't be good, I thought. (I'll cover more theory on why this nut's gotta go in the Detailed Review - for now, let me say that I think the nut ends up preventing a good portion of the coffee from being fully saturated during brewing).

I decided to see what would happen with this current pack, so I reinserted the portafilter and flicked the brew switch.

My first shot was nothing to write home about. A gusher, all blond and weak. I adjusted my grind accordingly, used slightly less coffee, and tried again. My second attempt was a normal 2oz double (using the double basket). The shot looked okay visually, but tasted sour and weak. I needed to do more dialing of the grind.

It took me seven shot pulls before I got my first acceptable "double" shot: a 1.5oz shot that had okay crema and a none-too-sour taste. I was having some temperature problems, so I pulled out the Fluke for some early temperature testing.

Using the Fluke and a single probe inside the portafilter's basket, I quickly diagnosed a problem with the machine. The cycle range is pretty long on this machine - water coming out of the grouphead can be around 175F or lower, and the boiler still wouldn't activate. I haven't done extensive testing yet to nail down the numbers, but it looked like grouphead temperatures could go to 170F or lower before the boiler would cycle under active use.

The good news? At the peak of a cycle (after the green light goes out on the machine, meaning the boiler is not actively heating any longer), the machine delivers about 200F water to the grouphead for at least 5 seconds of flow. Given that the flowrate is about 85ml per 10 seconds with no load (no coffee), this should be adequate enough temperature stability for a typical 30 to 45ml shot of espresso. The boiler's reported to be 5oz (150ml) but seeing the temperature debit I've seen early on, I'd make the guess that the boiler is closer to 100 or 120ml in normal use.

So, with this early experimentation and observation over, I set up another double shot that I would pull as soon as I saw the green light on the front of the machine turn off (side note: the machine's colour choice for the lights, and the light status is screwy - when you see the green light come on the front of the machine, this means that the boiler is NOT ready to brew - it's cycling the boiler when the light is one. When the green light goes OFF, the machine is ready to brew (or steam). A better colour choice for this light would be amber or yellow - green means go, not stop).

This time, using some great quality Black Cat espresso from our official coffee supplier, I got what I'd call a drinkable shot of espresso. I got about 1.25oz total from the double basket, saw some minimal tiger striping, and the shot finished well, with almost no trace of sourness, and the real flavours of Black Cat coming through the finish (including a nice heady caramel aftertaste).

So, this was a machine that one could possibly work with.

First Week with the Isomac Super Giada

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Cast Portafilter
A 53mm portafilter at this price point is a minor letdown.
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Huge Drip Tray
The tray on the Super Giada is massive, and all thick stainless steel.
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Cool Looking, But...
These lights barely work under florescent light, and green is a not too good choice for "boiler active" status.

As my first week of testing went on, I was hesitant to use the steam wand for anything other than hot water delivery. This was because I had doubts as to how this machine could steam.

For actual hot water delivery, it ain't bad. There's two angled holes in the bottom of the steam wand, but it delivers water well (and fast - too fast in fact); there's a pressure bypass valve between the boiler and the grouphead - if you have the steam wand's valve open, water being pushed through the boiler by the pump will come out of the steam wand. Close the wands' valve, and the build up of pressure will direct the water flow to the grouphead for brewing. Most machines without a dedicated hot water tap deliver heated water this way. And you probably know our bias - we automatically give machines with a way to deliver hot water a bonus point in the final scoring.

The hot water delivery is fast too - so fast that after your first 2 or 3 ounces, the temperature decreases fast. This is due to the small size of the internal boiler. I wouldn't recommend this machine for tea lovers who need 8 or 10 oz of hot water "on demand", but it should suffice for Americano drinkers. The good news is, the boiler cycles pretty fast, once the cheap thermostat kicks in, and tells the machine to reheat the boiler.

Shot performance, once you got used to the machine's quirks, was okay. I think you get much better performance out of machines like the Silvia or our current under $400 champ, the Solis SL-70, but I've seen worse. I do have big concerns about that huge brass nut holding the dispersion screen in place.

Because of the size of the portafilter and how much (or little) coffee you can place into the double basket, I adjusted my expected shot volume output down by about 25% - whereas on a Rancilio Silvia I'd expect tasty 2oz doubles with the stock double basket, on this one, I was aiming for 1.5oz doubles, and I generally got okay shot performance, as long as I kept a close eye on the boiler status light, and only brewed at the top of a boiler cycle.

Then came steaming. And I was pleasantly surprised.

If you steam on this machine like a typical newbie, ie, flip the steam switch, wait for the status light to shut off (about 45 seconds) and steam, you'll be disappointed in the machine. If you bleed off the water at the start of the steam warm up, then steam once the status light goes off (about 55 seconds with this bleed), you'll be a little less disappointed.

But if you actively bleed off moisture from the wand during the steam heat up, then steam about a minute after you first flipped the steam switch (with the boiler light still on, or active), you'll be happy. As long as you use a steaming pitcher that's under 14ounces in size.

The wand is short, but I saw some strong steaming action from it, and was surprised at how well I could do microfoam from the get go. My first serious steaming experiment with the machine (after I conducted initial timing tests for "time to steam") resulted in super dense micro foam that built a great cappuccino, and did some very detailed rosetta art on an espresso shot.

Colour me surprised. The steam wand has some shortcomings (pun intended), but performance, while the boiler is still active, ain't one of them. Times were decent too. To do the foam and steamed milk required for a cappuccino and ristretto (with a few oz. left over) took about 35 seconds or so. That's not too shabby.

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Temperatures
Tested at the top of a cycle, it's not bad, but gets cold fast.
Shots
Shots are what I'd call acceptable.
Big Depression
Depression caused by the dispersion screen nut.
Great Latte
Awesome cappuccino foam and latte art capability.

Wrapup

Isomac Logo

I have to admit I had high expectations for the Super Giada before I first cracked open the box - priced similar to a Rancilio Silvia or a Gaggia Classic, I expected a lot of the same features. This was a let down when I saw the portafilter was 53mm, and the machine had no 3 way solenoid valve, but I soon got over that.

The machine can brew a good shot. It steams surprisingly well, even better than the Gaggias I've tested in the last year or two. There are some things on the machine that are nice, and some features that should be fixed by the manufacturer (the range of the boiler's thermometer needs to be considerably shorter). The steaming performance was first rate if you did a full bleed of the water in the boiler and steamed while the boiler was still active. But a longer wand would be beneficial.

And the cup clearance from spout to tray is very short - some of my 8oz cups didn't fit, and my short height measuring beakers definitely didn't fit under the spouts, unless I removed the entire drip tray assembly.

At $349, this machine competes well with a machine like the Francis! Francis! X3, or an Innova Arc. At $399, it's a bit more of a challenge. There are better machines in this price range, but those also require you to give up certain things, so it's a matter of balance. This machine has a small footprint, looks awesome, and with a little practice, can brew good espresso and steam well, so it would be a good match for many an aspiring CoffeeGeek.

With all this said, this is a First Look, not a detailed review. Anything and everything we have to say about this machine could change by the time we publish a Detailed Review. Keep this in mind when reading this article, should you be making a purchase decision based on it.

Once again, we'd like to thank 1st Line Equipment for supplying us with this Super Giada from Isomac for a full product review. 1st Line is selling the Super Giada for $349 (as of this writing: subject to change), which includes free 2 day (or less) business shipping in the US.

First Look rating: 8.6
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: January 19, 2004
feedback: (8) comments | read | write
This first look and all its parts are ©2001-2014 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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