Our brewtus has been on my counter for 2 weeks (edit: 5 years!) and it has fully delivered. The brewtus really is the best machine on the market. I'm looking forward to exploring the full taste of the great roasts seattle offers.
Positive Product Points
You bring the beans and this machine will produce the coffee. As good as any cafe with a minimum of hassle. Brewtus2 is 62 pounds of espresso prowess.
- Proper espresso at home. - Great temperature stability, two boilers means no surfing. - Great steaming (with dual tip). - No burn steam wand. - Hot water tap. - Fully instrumented with digital temperature plus brew and steam pressure dials. - Push button brew temperature adjustment - Simple brew OPV adjustment.
Negative Product Points
- Pump is noisy. - Not plumbed in (yet). - 40 minutes to heat up, so I leave it on all the time. - Looks like a commercial kitchen appliance.
I've now had the machine for two weeks, and am very satisfied.
If you are in the market for a $1600 espresso machine, you probably have a lot of reading to do. Just so you know: with the right beans this machine will pull shots consistantly as good as any cafe in seattle - vivaci, lighthouse, zoka, pick your favorite. Beans vary far more than this machine's performance, and machine adjustment, tamping and the machines feedback are essential to producing great shots.
Before ordering this machine from whole latte love I visited many Seattle shops. I used Nuova Simonelli Oscar, ECM Giotto, Isomac Tea, La Pavoni, Rancillo Silvia, Kitchenaid, a used Bricoletta, an Expobar Office, and this machines main competitor, the La Spaziale S1.
Of these excellent machines I personally preferred the look and finish of the Isomac, but for me nothing was as easy and effective to use as the brewtus. What sold me was the simple temperature control and ease of adjustment. Full, blossoming and exquisite flavor, every time. Talk all you want about how easy it is to manage the temperature of a heat exchanger machine, I've done it and I don't want to anymore.
The Spaziale also has a dual boiler, electronic temperature control, and is plumbed in. It also has a quieter rotary pump which actually isn't that much quieter. With the Spaziale I didn't like the interface, it didn't seem right to push a button to pull a shot. It reminds me of the coffee machines on the ferry or at starbucks. I'm also skeptical of servicing the control computer 10 years down the line. What do I do when the computer breaks? I also prefer the finish on the Brewtus over the spaziale. No plastic surfaces on the brewtus, everything is simple stainless steel or chromed brass. I think it looks great with its bold brew temperature and active guages. I also like the larger diameter portafilter of the brewtus. I have big hands and had a harder time tamping and cleaning the narrow and deep portafilter of the spaziale (and barista).
With the brewtus I run a shot to preheat the group head/portafilter, then tamp and insert portafilter. Next I gently pre-infuse the coffee by lifting the brew lever slightly. After about 10 seconds I lift the brew lever further to engage the brew pump and watch the needle on the brew pressure rise. 8-8.5 bar for 23-25 seconds means I ground and tamped well, and out comes beautiful goodness. Finally bring the brew lever full down and the brew pressure is released with a rush into the drip tray. Most cool!
The brew pressure gauge is fun to watch when a shot is in progress. Sometimes the pressure rises, but stops too early, indicating the tamp was soft or the grind is not fine enough. Sometimes the pressure rises to 8-9 bar, then suddenly drops to 4-5 as the puck fails. And now usually the pressure rises to 8-9 bar and stays there thoughout, and I watch the sweet black nectar flow from the portafilter - shutting the brew off as the color begins to change 25 seconds in. When I feel like a shorter pull I grind finer, tamp harder, and perhaps raise the temperature a degree, excellent and exactly to my taste.
While I will usually order a macciatto at a cafe, I haven't usually put milk in my home drinks - I don't like the hassle and the cleanup. The brewtus at its stay-cool wand is great. It takes literally 15 seconds to turn a glass of cold milk to foam, and there is no burning yourself on the wand when you clean up. In the weeks that I've had the machine I've made 25 or so macciattos for myself and guests, and appreciated the quick steaming and cleanup.
Drip tray: Huge, and contoured on the bottom should I decide to plumb the output. Comes out easily and so huge that there's no change of spilling. Drip tray and screen are stainless so they clean in the dishwasher.
Water reservoir: Since we use the hot water tap so often, the water reservoir has needed filling 3 times in the past week. To do this I pick up the cup tray and cups using the cup rail, place it on the counter, fill using our kitchen sink's extendable head, then replace the cup tray - about 30 seconds. There is no level indicator, and this morning my wife drew 3 cups of tea and emptied the reservoir. This triggered the shutdown switch. When I came in the machine was reporting no steam pressure and 75 degrees brew temperature. When I filled the reservoir the weight of the water brought the machine to life and within 3 minutes was back to full pressure and temperature.
Transition from Starbucks Barista:
While I've experienced friends Silvias and Expobar machines, at home we've had a starbucks barista that we've used for several years now. It has taken several days to acclimatize myself to what the brewtus is capable of.
For my first shots I carefully read the instructions that arrived with the machine, then ground, tamped to 30 pounds and pulled a shot with my nuova simonelli's usual grind of "3". Pull was 10 seconds and no brew pressure. Grind is too rough. I cranked the grinder down past what was the 2.5 danger level for the barista. Still 10 second pull. I increased the grind to the incredibly fine setting of 1.5, the shot time went up to 18 seconds. The correct grind is much finer than the barista, around 1 to 1.2 on my Nuova Simonelli doserless grinder. Even without tamping this grind would absolutely choke the starbucks barista, and the brewtus appreciates a good hard tamp with this fine grind.
No issues. It arrived quickly, well packed, double boxed. Purchase also included digital scale (wife is happy to use it for cooking), cup rail, steel bottomless portafilter screen, 4 pounds of coffee. Also included detailed instructions.
Whole Latte Love included two pounds of some Lavazza, which was simply foul. They shouldn't send that stuff out. Grinder and machine needed a solid cleaning to get the filthy smell out. Akin to running maxwell house though your good gear. They also included some beans from "java joes" which was good at 95 degrees, and a pound of malabar gold which I thought was really nice at 97.
There has been no further need to contact them, no complaints so far. I wish they'd included some machine cleaner - better and more useful than that lavazza :P
==================== 5 year follow up ========================================
I've called several times for maintainance stuff. There is one guy there that knows what he's talking about and he was able to explain the thermostat reset button.So far there's been no need to send the machine in.
Three Month Followup
It has been 6 months and life is good. No problems with the machine. Wish it was plumbed, I need to check the fill every morning because we use a lot of hot water during the day. No much is worse than to waking up to a cold machine due to insufficient water. Starting from room temperature the machine takes at least 3 hours to heat up. Before that you'll get coffee but not espresso. Machine is noisy, but not nearly as noisy as our grinder. I got some espresso cleaner and have cleaned it twice, quick and no problem. Drip tray is emptied once a week I just rinse it out with tap water.
I finally got a tamper, a Vaneli stainless. Very heavy and fits portafilter perfectly. Really does make a difference. I tried a rounded tamper but like the flat base better. Good to have nice sharp edges and a mirror polished base to make a nice surface.
We usually drink straight shots, sometimes add more water. The machine makes us picky of the beans we use. So far we've rotated through and have been happy with Vivace dolce and vita, Victrola streamline and inconsistantly the mao horse harar, and sometimes lighthouse espresso or ethiopian and vita espresso. Lots of different flavors out there and the variety is nice. For a few weeks the Victrola Harar was very special, its since changed and I miss the good stuff. Grind is always being fiddled with. Temperature setting ranges from 96 for vita down to 93-94 for lighthouse espresso, imo the hotter water seems to make the best widest most flavorful shots, but some beans won't tolerate it. To my taste the temperature also needs to fall as the beans age, otherwise you'll extract bad flavors.
Guests are usually happy and surprised to enjoy the straight shots. With the coffee we use the shots can be very sweet. The crema of a good shot is pretty. Sometimes red crema, others dark brown, others tan. Vita explodes from the portafilter bubbling and glugging like hot lava, the harar pours our like a mango pure.
The few times I've steamed milk for guests or kids cocoa the power's been impressive. To my eyes the milk steaming is unbelievably fast and convenient, unlike any machine I've used.
Anyway, I think a good choice. Its all I hoped it would be.
One Year Followup
==================== 5 year follow up ========================================
Its 2011 now, 5 years living with this machine...
Still no regrets. The coffee is still wonderful, an important part of my daily routine. Coffee has stabilized around Vivace Dolce with occational visits by other local beans.
You really don't want to screw around with a crappy grinder. I upgraded from a Nuova Simoneli Grinta to a Mazzer Super Jolly. $200 on Craigslist. Grinds finer and more constantly. Clean the grinder regularly.
Several longer term-ish issues to report:
- Get an outlet timer: Not healthy to leave machine on all the time. Save electricity. From openening up the machine it is clear that the machine is getting cooked. The plastic zip ties that hold the fiberglass insulation around the boilers broke (replaced with a few twists of wire). Both thermostat reset buttons broke (I now need to press them with a bent paperclip). After 3 years the plastic that was going to fail has failed and its been stable since. Machine now turns on at 5am, turns off at 11:30am.
- Reverse pressure relief valve: There is a rubber doghnut in "reverse pressure relief valve" that cracks and fails. This is a spring relief valve on the brew boiler, its designed to close when water comes under pressure, and to open when the machine is cool. I suppose this is to prevent the boiler from being crunched by positive air pressure (maybe if shipped on an airplane or driven over the himalayas?) Anyway, its simple to open the valve with a pair of wrenches. I first sourced new doghnut from home depot. This was a mistake since they couldn't live under the pressure for more than 3 months... Second I found white high temperature doghnuts at Home Espresso Repair in seattle. These last about 1-2 years and take about 5 minutes to replace. Symptom when it happens, the machine hisses and won't come up to temperature.
- Overtemperature sensor: Had a few cases where the steam boiler "over temperature thermostat" was tripped. There is a small red button on the top of the temperature sensors. Push it back down and machine will work again. This seems to be caused by drawing a significant amount of water from the hot water tap, and is avoided if you always run the group head after drawing hot water. Symptom, for steam boiler the machine indicates room temperature, for brew boiler the machine shows ~70 degrees.
- Group head seals: these last about 2 years. Easy to get out by pulsing the brew pump, no need to pry at them.