Four months ago I upgraded to the Andreja Premium and the Macap M4 grinder, after using a Pavoni manual lever machine and a Starbucks Estro Profi unit using a Solis grinder for many years. Having read a lot of reviews and articles on making great espresso with prosumer heat-exchanger machines, I was prepared for a lot of trial and error. After opening the box, unpacking the unit, filling the reservoir and warming it up, I pulled a couple of shots, then tried my first ‘real’ shot. It was unbelievable – great crema, wonderful taste and aroma with almost no effort. Since that first day, I have experimented with different grind settings, dose levels, amount of tamping, etc., and nearly every time get consistently great shots. Changing coffee beans requires some experimentation with getting the appropriate grind, but that can usually be done within one or two shots.
The first time I tried foaming milk, I admit that the force of the steam blew most of the milk out of the pitcher and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to create good foam without using a large (12+ oz) amount of milk. After a half-dozen attempts, and learning to cool the stainless steel milk pitcher in the refrigerator freezer before foaming, I have been able to create absolutely awesome microfoam. It is hard to describe it until you have experienced it yourself. What I have found is that with such tremendous steam power, one has the ability to shape the milk in many different ways, from large bubbles to microfoam, as you desire. Because the milk steams quickly, one has to be alert and adept, but it is actually easier than it sounds and quite a lot of fun. I am getting ready to try some latte art with the microfoaming technique, something I didn’t believe was possible on a home machine.
Once I was addicted to the cappuccino from the Andreja, I wanted to get another unit for our second home. I had the opportunity to purchase an almost new ECM Giotto on e-Bay, giving me the opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison. The ECM model is the Giotto, not the Giotto Premium, which costs substantially more than the standard model or the Andreja.
Rather than repeat many of the things that have already been discussed about the Andreja, I thought I would give a comparison review of these two units that are similar in function and price. While both machines appear superficially very similar, there are some subtle but important differences that only became apparent after using both.
Both the Andreja and Giotto are large, stainless steel marvels. Some will call them beautiful – I like them for their functionality and somewhat industrial look, but my wife abhors both, preferring something (anything) that would take up less counter space. The Giotto is slightly wider but lower than the Andreja, so if cabinet height were a problem, the nod goes to the Giotto. I think the lines on the Giotto are slightly smoother and perhaps more refined, but that is a matter of personal preference. In truth, both are imposing, but each has the look of a well-crafted instrument. The Giotto has a plastic railing (removeable) on the top where you can warm the espresso cups, versus a stainless steel railing on the Andreja.
Unless you opt for the direct connection with the Andreja, you fill it by removing the top cover as you do with the Giotto. Much has been said about the small filling hole in the Andreja, but the fact is, one doesn't use that port -- you simply remove the top cover as you do on the Giotto to fill the reservoir. That said, if you can support a direct water line connection, use that option ( I know it is available with the Andreja, don't know about the Giotto) as it will make your life simpler. Otherwise, as I do, you have to fill the reservoir on either unit daily. Both machines have a shut-off for the pump if the reservoir falls below the minimum level and they both appear to hold about the same amount of water in the reservoir. One day I thought my machine had gone on the fritz as the pump wouldn't work, but after a few minutes of exploring and some choice expletives, I determined that I had fogotten to refill the reservoir. A quart of water quickly remedied the situation.
The controls of the Andreja feel more robust –the on/off switch, the lever control valve for grouphead, the steam-wand and hot water wand controls are beefier and have a more solid feel to them.
Both machines use vibratory pumps, which are equally noisy or quiet, depending upon your perspective. The top of the Andreja doesn't get as hot as the Giotto, a result of having insulation on the boiler I suspect.
Both machines produce an outstanding cup of espresso. Being heat-exchanger machines, one has to run hot water through the portafilter on either to bring down the brewing temperature of the water, portafilter and brew-head. A big plus for the Andreja is the use of two separatel pressure gauges – one for the hot water boiler and one for the pressurized infusion. With the former one can tell if the source of steam is low – same with the Giotto-- while the infusion pressure gauge is extremely useful for getting the appropriate combination of grinder settings, dose of coffee, and tamping pressure. If you are over-extracting the coffee, with resultant bitterness, you will see it by virtue of a higher than desirable (9-10 bar) pressure. This gauge is not mandatory, but does simplify set up or debugging malfunctions.
A major difference is the steaming ability. With the Andreja you can literally blow the milk all over the kitchen if you turn the steam control up full and aren’t careful with the wand. With the Giotto, the steaming ability was much more muted, taking about 30% longer to steam the milk. I assumed that with small milk volumes, this slower steaming would actually be advantageous. In fact, however, I have not been able to produce consistently the same quality of microfoam that I can with the Andreja. I have ordered a different steaming tip for the Giotto to see if that make an improvement. When steaming a larger pitcher of milk, the pressure drops towards the end of the foaming much more so than for the Andreja.
Others have mentioned the insulated steaming wand on the Andreja. I didn’t think that was such a big deal when I bought the machine, but after using both I find that not only don’t my hands get burned during the steaming process, but it is way easier to clean after foaming. If you don’t get all the milk off the non-insulated handle right away, you have to soak the wand in water for a while to loosen up the caked-on milk in order to get it clean. Furthermore, the wand on the Andreja has more mechanical degrees of freedom, making it easier to position the tip within the pitcher accurately for controlling the foaming. With the Giotto and limited counter space, I have to turn the entire machine to one side so that I can get the appropriate angle for the wand in the milk pitcher.
The drip tray on the Andreja is a drawer that pulls out, while the Giotto tray has to be lifted off. The latter has a nice covering grill but a lower capacity and if the tray is full one has to be careful removing the tray lest you spill the contents in the process. The drawer is much simpler and more foolproof, plus it has a larger capacity. My drip tray cover on the Andreja is not as good as the Giotto, but I have an early model and understand that Chris’ Coffee has designed a better unit that ships on the current units.
In summary, both the Andreja and Giotto are high quality, attractive units. Both will make outstanding, consistently good espresso that will delight the connoisseur and a big step up from consumer machines. I rate the Andreja overall a 9.8, versus the Giotto at 9.2. I give the nod to the Andreja for quality of components, several important design features not found on the Giotto, and for its greater steaming capability. If I had purchased the Giotto as the first and only machine, I would certainly have been satisfied. But having had the ability to work with both, the Andreja provides a better machine and if both were purchased new, better value.