The heart of a professional machine in a stylish home unit. If you have a coffee habit, this is your life support system.
Positive Product Points
Like the rock of Gibraltar, a massive, solid piece of espresso equipment. Nice kit that happens to look as good as the java it makes. Excellent Italian craftsmanship.
Negative Product Points
Removing the top for filling is a hassle. Round lights should replace the trendy ovals to reflect the retro appearance of the machine. Side on/off switch seems an afterthought. Could be better thought out for long-term reliability.
I'd thought about a serious espresso machine for over a year when I visited the CoffeeGeek website. After reading up on the Isomac Zafiro, and eventually the HX machines, it became obvious that the coffee drinks I enjoy were better suited to the HX crowd. The Isomacs, in particular were a better value for my money than the more expensive Giottos, and that meant three machines: the Tea, with dual gauges, the Millenium, and later, the Rituale. I actually took delivery of the Millenium, and found the curved sides seemed trite and did not flatter the machine in person. I returned the Mil in exchange for the Rituale, which was a recent offering from Rock Mountain Coffee. I have to say, David Badenchini was more than understanding, and I had the Rituale on my doorstep in no time. I'll make an aside, and say that I have the mid-gauge placement Rit, which places the pressure gauge higher than right down on the drip tray. I prefer that to the low-mount I've seen elsewhere, even though the case does not get splashed as I'd thought. Plus, the louvers on each side of the case make for a uniquely-detailled machine. I've read about owners with unlevel tops, but I haven't experienced any problem. I've even been keeping my tamper up on the top. The hotter-than-hot E-61 grouphead has a lot written about it, but again, no problem. It's a well-made jewel of a centerpiece to the machine.
After a week of understanding the grind/tamp/pull timing and getting it more consistent, I was enjoying some of the most aromatic, tasteful espressos I have ever had. Tastes from blueberry to honey and nut were coming from a machine I had less than a month of experience with! Astounding! The best coffee until then had come from a Bodum French press, but this was an altogether different experience.
Since then, the Rituale has suffered a steam leak, which ultimately resulted in a cool boiler and a trip back to Rock Mountain. David looked over the machine, where he discovered a defective heating element and a sticking fill level indicator. The happy Rituale made it back in perfect working condition, pounding out cup after cup of high-test bean juice. Good thing, too, since I've become accustomed to the morning habit of a big cappa or a tasty, aromatic espresso. Bellissima.
Being an HX machine, steaming pressure is effortless and the capacity of the boiler is more than enough for me. The water arm is great for occasional Americanos or tea (the beverage, not the machine). What do you want to drink? This machine is ready to please.
Overall, the time I've had with the Rituale has been revelatory, but in this arena of equipment and the product it creates. The machine, while being solidly built, does have some faults, and I can't justify these for the cost of the machine. Isomac needs to uprate their quality if they desire to remain a player in North America, where transportation shakes or creates component problems. David and Rock Mountain were accommodating, however, and the Rituale was up and running strong after these problems were remedied. Big thumbs up to Rock Mountain for helping me through these teething pains.
I did a significant amount of shopping around before getting the Rituale, and I asked a lot of unusual questions. Questions that I learned later were more about which machine was an adequate match for the coffee I enjoy. And any dealer you choose should be willing to answer the questions you may have. I've had an excellent experience with Rock Mountain, and would recommend them to anyone looking at Isomacs. Excellent product, excellent people.
Three Month Followup
Well, here I am, sipping cup three from the venerable Rituale and trying to unbiasedly (is that a word, I wonder?) convey three months of Isomac ownership.
I guess I have to admit that lust has given way to the reality of daily life, and though I enjoy an excellent cup of coffee, espresso, or a cappa, reliability has been questionable. . . .in my opinion. . .for the price of a shiny, stainless centerpiece.
The upsides are many, so I will start with what drew me to the machine-and still do. The E-61 group makes the most consistent espresso-based drink I have ever been able to control. Varying one aspect of the system (grind, pressure, time), has allowed me to appreciate the subtelties of taste I had never experienced previously. Varietal coffees, in particular, draw out tastes like berries, honey, and chocolate, continually surprising me with these new tastes. Incredible!
The machine truly is easy to clean and maintain. Daily cleaning, weekly backflushing, and maintaining good water into the reservoir is never a problem, and getting back to the coffee is what it's all about. Know that going in, and you'll have minimal trouble.
In the last three months, however, the Rituale has shown its Achilles heel twice, leaving me with a dead box in the kitchen due to problems with the internal components. The first, being the most serious (in my opinion), was a sticking float, which left the heating element on when the water level in the boiler ran low. This meant the boiler was not filling, and basically began to melt the heating element. This left scale in the boiler, melted the heating element tip, and required a return trip to Rock Mountain for service. I recieved excellent communication with David there, and the Rituale was again on my counter in about a week. Turns out the sticking valve and heating element were replaced, the boiler flushed, and the machine was bench tested before it left their shop. Excellent!
A few weeks later, I was using the hot water wand to make tea, and after it refilled the boiler, the machine would not turn on. I checked the on/off switch, the water level switch by David's advice, and still, no dice. A trip back to the 'Mountain was inevitable. After a quick check, David found another sticky switch, and it was in my kitchen once more. Note that I have always filled the machine with distilled, RO water, so I am unsure of the cause of the sticking problems.
So, what's my opinion? Let me dole out the positives before I unleash the bad. Categorically, I think the machine is competent, and at times, excellent. The dealer, Rock Mountain may not be as big as other Isomac dealers, but David stands behind his equipment and will do whatever is needed to get you up and running ASAP.
The bad? Isomac machines have a checkered history in the home-use arena. Look anywhere in this forum, and you will find people upset-even angered-for spending $1000+ for a "sometimes working" machine. It's like having a car that "sometimes" won't start. In this day and age, that's unacceptable. People make inCREDIBLE excuses for these machines being unreliable, and I don't buy it. $1000 is a LOT of cash, any way you slice it. The product better be that good. It's downright embarrassing to have company over, and make excuses for an unuseable machine. It leaves a bad taste in anyone's mouth.
So, my final thoughts? I bought the Ferrari. It looks the kit, and when it works, it kicks all butt. When it doesn't, it's a $1000 doorstop. Isomac seems to be crippled with poor equipment from their parts bin, and recent reviews are reflecting this. This, and the dealers who have spent 10, 20+ years backing them are now being consolidated into one North American dealer. I feel sorry for the dealers who have spent time building a base for Isomac's products only to be left out in the long run. They know who they are, and I give them much credit for sticking by their customers.
On the surface, I love the machine, no questions there. I love the service I have gotten from Rock Mountain when needed. I have serious doubts about ever buying an Isomac again. Only another three months of use can help or harm that opinion. Maybe Isomac can add the "fix-it" list to the poorly-translated manual as in flight reading.
One Year Followup
After a year of living with this jewel, it's become a part of my mornings as well as a great way to experience a good relaxing cup after dinner. It always gets the attention of guests, who ask for a cup of, well, whatever, and they are usually impressed with the results. I say usually since even after a year, it's clear I have a bit to learn about barista technique.
Aside from that, I will likely look to have the Rituale plumbed in, eliminating the need to refill the reservoir.