The Decision and Customer Service
This is my second espresso machine, the first having been a PID'd Silvia. Although I've played with many other machines, the Silvia is the only other one with which I'm thoroughly familiar; so you'll see some comparisons below. Silvia could make great shots so why upgrade? The most common reasons apply to me as well: a) For near perfect shots, Silvia is unforgiving of imperfect technique: b) For multiple drinks, there is too long a wait for adequate steam while shots cool, crema shrinks and guests stand in line....
I did a lot of research looking into Giottos, Isomacs, etc., talking to Chris of Chris' Coffee and others before my purchase and even so, I was hesitant to be among the first to buy a machine that was brand new on the market; at least this up-dated "Premium" version is new. I couldn't find anyone who had one (I think I bought the 3rd machine they sold) so I drove four hours to Albany, N.Y. to see the machine in person and give it a test drive.
I was given a cook's tour of Chris' Coffee and a thorough look at several machines including this one. I came away impressed enough with the Andreja to take it home based on its looks, its construction inside and out, its operation, and with Chris' ability to provide service. Chris' excellent customer service is evidenced by many others who have posted to CoffeeGeek, but as a tiny example, just as I was about to drive away with my new prize, they came running out with an additional brand new shipping carton and four poly-foam corner supports for double-boxing the machine just in case I need to return it for any reason in the future. A small but significant gesture, I thought. The machine is usually shipped double-boxed. Since buying the machine, I've had questions and some tiny issues: the staff at Chris' Coffee have been friendly, helpful and knowledgable to a fault.
A look at this machine reveals a drop-dead gorgeous, mirror-finished stainless steel exterior, obvious solidity, rounded corners, dual pressure gauges, hefty steam and hot water arms and three old-fashioned jewel light displays with a toggle power switch. I really like the way it looks. The E-61 brewhead is imposingly shiny and massive. The drip tray that pulls out like a drawer, with its more than one-quart capacity, is enormous compared to the Silvia (about three times the capacity) often allowing me to go a full day with no emptying. Carrying a full Silvia drip tray 10 feet to the sink several times each day was no fun! The tray slips out easily but so did the screened cover and in one instance, the cover slipped out along with the tray, spilling my drink, so I gave the cover a slight tweaking bend and all was well (the tray now pulls out and the cover stays in place a little more firmly).
The cup warming top is plenty warm but a bit too loose and "rocks" in place, slightly. I haven't gotten around to bending it to prevent the rocking because it's not that bothersome at present. The top has a small opening with a cover for refilling the water tank beneath it. At first glance this looks like a convenience but after trying to use it on a daily basis, my suggestion for future consideration is a larger water-filling cover. It is close to impossible for me to get a decent quantity of water into the small opening without spilling it on top of the machine and/or having the water drip off the sides of the top. It is also very difficult see the water level through the hole. To solve the problem, I have a cork floating in the water and a mark on the inside of the water tank that can be seen from outside the opening with a flashlight. But generally, I just move the top aside and pour directly into the tank.
If the water is too low, both of the two indicator lights that normally signal a heat up and a ready status (one red, one green), go out, activated by a magnetic switch rather than the weight of the reservoir or other less accurate methods. The dual gauges are positioned so that one must bend down just a bit to read them accurately but that doesn't bother me because I'm now using a bottomless portafilter so bending down for viewing is part of the routine. Although the machine comes with 2 Faema-style portafilters and single, double and blind baskets, I had an additional Rancilio and LM portafilter left over from Silvia and with a little filing of the ears they fit this machine just fine. The machine weighs nearly 50 pounds so locking in a portafilter does not cause the machine to move as it did with Silvia.
This machine is an obsessive tinkerer's delight (me) and within a few minutes, the 10 screws that hold the shell and water platform can be removed and the innards exposed. The wiring is robust and cleanly organized in tied harnesses, the boiler is insulated and the components are very accessible, making adjustments easy.
The machine came with the boiler pressure set at 1.2 bar with a dead band of about 0.3 bar and the brew pressure at 11 bar. Within minutes, I had the brew pressure down to 9 bar by turning the bottom nut on the big brass expansion valve (OPV) about half-a-turn CCW. That seems like a relatively large amount of rotation for a small amount of pressure change making the adjustment that much easier.
The boiler pressure ("pressurestat") adjustment is available through an access port in the top of the machine without removing the shell by using a very long trimmer-adjustment screw driver and a flashlight through the vent holes to guide the screwdriver, but it was much easier and obvious with the shell off. Additionally, the dead band adjustment alongside the pressurestat adjustment, is marked plus and minus and is easily accessible. I adjusted it from 0.3 to 0.2 bar and brought the boiler pressure down to 1.05 bar, max. Those values seem to hit the sweet spot for my shots (at the moment!). At this boiler pressure, there is still plenty of steam to spare for the amounts of milk I steam. Following are some steaming measurements I made with a boiler pressure of 1.05 bar starting with refrigerated 2% milk @ 38F in a stainless steel pitcher: 3 oz in 12 sec; 8 oz in 27 sec; 12 oz in 47 sec.
I very much like the steam and hot water valves that have the feel of professional machines with their O-ring closures. The valves turn smoothly with the side of my palm and don't need to be seated all the way to turn off the steam and water. I was told that this will prevent wear on the seats and they should last indefinitely. But if not, the O-rings are easily replaceable. With the steam and water valves turned off, but not tightly closed, there is absolutely no leaking of water or steam as there was with Silvia and the arms themselves swivel on ball joints and can be positioned as one wishes, even while steaming. This is because the water and steam are actually coming through Teflon tubes within the stainless tube-arms so the arms themselves stay relatively cool and can be touched during steaming.
The fact that the steam arm doesn't get hot means that milk doesn't bake on the tip and cleaning it is a breeze. And what huge amounts of steam! It took me a while to get used to the steam power after having somewhat mastered steaming for microfoam on the Silvia. On Silvia I would open the steam valve to max but with Andreja this produced vast quantities of air bubbles and very fast heating. I finally got back to decent microfoam by gently opening the steam valve and not using its full power for the stretching phase, opening it up full only for the later phase of steaming.
Although the same "no burn" construction is used for the hot water arm, I found that it gets quite hot because the steam from the hot water heats the outside of the stainless tube. In fact, and this is a minor niggle, the steam from the hot water rises directly up to the valve and a hand on the valve can get uncomfortably hot unless the water arm is pointed well away from the valve towards the brewhead so that the flow remains over the drip tray, or towards the outboard side.
The fun part is casually shoving that fat lever up, causing a cam on the lever to press on the switch that turns on the pump. It makes me feel like a pro barista! When the shot is complete, the lever is pushed down and the pressure relief squirts water into the drip tray.
Just one note about E-61, HX machines, in general. I thought I had finally come to an end of "temp surfing" when I PID'd my Silvia. I had a rude awakening when I realized that controlling the brew temperature on an HX machine is difficult and a type of surfing (flushing, etc.) must be incorporated into one's technique. I really miss the ability to control brew temperatures and accurately change them at will. Because of this, I have spent a lot of time learning the correct flush timing and quantities using a portafilter with a thermocouple embedded, in order to be able to return to some degree of control over brew temperatures. Most people will not do these measurements and need not do them for good shots. All that's really needed is the development of a consistent flushing routine.
For example, using my machine, as a rough guide, I have found that if the machine has been sitting idle for 15 or 20 minutes or more, a flush of roughly 6 ounces will get a couple of seconds past the point where a flash-boil sputtering is heard from the brewhead. The temperature will then be suitable for pulling shots and from then on, if I just flush a couple of ounces every 1:15 (m:s) or so, it will pretty much stay at the correct brew temperature indefinitely. I often use the initially flushed water to heat my cups. There are lots of other variations on flushing and this subject is covered in depth in Dan Kehn's review found here: Buyer's Guide to the Andreja Premium. I highly recommend reading this review. Dan covers a lot of ground that will be of interest to all HX owners.
And how good is the espresso it produces? Just great! After tinkering with the pressure (and indirectly, the temperatures), I get very consistent, high-quality shots. The key word here is "consistent". Not every one is a G_d shot, but it's a definite improvement over Silvia because it's so much easier to produce great shots, one after the other. And having steam and hot water always available, opens a new world for a former Silvia owner.
Cleaning the brewhead is much easier than with Silvia. The shower screen never comes off unless it and/or the gasket is undergoing replacement. Because of the way it's designed, coffee grounds don't seem to get stuck as much in the area around the shower screen. A couple of ounces of water through the screen and a portafilter wiggle with a blind basket, and she's good to go again. That procedure really cleans the brewhead: with Silvia it required additional wiping in the groove around the shower screen where the portafilter flange fits, weekly removal and cleaning of the shower screen, etc. Since scaling isn't a problem here due to very soft water, a couple of water backflushes after a session and a monthly detergent backflush will probably keep me in business indefinitely. The machine comes with a clear, well-written set of beginning operating and maintenance instructions for new owners geared more for those who have little previous experience with espresso machines. I believe that Dan had a lot to do with the writing/editing of those instructions.
I'm very happy with my decision after a month of daily use and recommend that anyone considering an E-61 HX machine take a good look at this one before making a decision.