I had been making espresso with an Olympia Coffex (Same as the MaxiMatic) and a Jericho grinder since 1992. I really didn't have the kind of knowledge required to make acceptable drinks with this machine (but I didn't know that at the time), so my results were pretty inconsistent. I only really enjoyed about 25% of my drinks. Then when *$ came around my area, I tried their cappuccino's and liked them better than mine. The Coffex was put aside. I spent hundreds of dollars over the years at the green mermaid. Then about a year or two ago, I started noticing that I really didn't like most of the drinks I was getting from them. I thought it might be me. Tastes changing....something. That's when a friend of mine in Cleveland told me about coffegeek and invited me down for Vivace Dolce Espresso from his HotTop roaster and ECM Giotto machine. You know the rest of the story.
When I unpacked the Andreja Premium, I felt as if I knew everything I was going to encounter. And I did, because it was packed exactly as described in the home-barista.com review. (Which I had read several times) The first night was spent installing the water supply for the direct connect kit. If you have ever attempted a plumbing project not being a plumber, you know what a nightmare it can be. I had never heard of John Guest fittings before, but now I tell everyone I know about them. Because of the design and ease of use of these fittings, this installation was one of the easiest jobs I have ever done. Including time planning where all the parts would go and really taking my time to get everything perfect, my total install time for the direct connect kit was less than one hour.
With the machine connected, cleaned, warmed up and two pounds of three day old Black Cat standing by, I pulled my first shot. 2 ounces in 40 seconds. Adjust grind, try a few more times and Voila! 2 ounces in 25 seconds exactly. And it looked like a lot of pictures I had seen. I couldn't wait to try it! I thought it smelled good...took a sip...YEECCHH! Well, it was a day of practicing (Half of the Black Cat and a couple gallons of milk) before I started getting drinkable shots. The cappuccinos were very good to me, but I know I'm still developing my tastes and I'm on that quest for espresso nirvana.
I got comfortable with the machine in short order. I was able to easily develop a sort of routine that felt right. This is what a well designed machine can do for you. I noticed that the primary complaints in user reviews of this machine were related to refilling the water tank. For that reason I went with the direct connect kit. At first, I thought that a drain should have been part of the kit, but the drip tray holds about a quart and despite the extra water from the direct connect kit, I really don't have to empty it that often. It's simply become part of the developed routine.
After a few weeks, I started to get fairly consistent results. It was obviously time to start tweaking! When I had the machine open for another reason (see below), I decided to adjust the brew pressure down from 10 bar to 9 bar. This was based on spending too many hours in the coffegeek and home-barista forums. The actual adjustment of the brew pressure is easy enough to do. It's thoroughly described on Chris' website in the FAQ section. http://www.chriscoffee.com/faq#13 I only wish that access to this adjustment were more convenient. I've figured out a way to remove only the back and right side of the machine to get to the brew pressure, but I still wish it were a quicker access so I could do some experimenting. The boiler pressure adjustment requires no disassembly and is done through a hole under the cup warmer. It would be nice if the brew pressure adjustment were as easy. I was surprised at how much difference I could taste just from lowering the brew pressure. I didn't like it, so after many more hours in coffeegeek forums, and pulling shots with the cover off, I've got it at 9.8 bar and the boiler at 1.1 bar max. I checked the set pressure using the backflush disk in a portafilter. I would like to know more about the actual brew temperature, but for now I'm following Dan Kehn's flushing technique. If the machine has been idle for more than 10-15 minutes, I run the pump until the sputtering settles down, then after that I flush about 1-2 oz. while I'm dosing, distributing and tamping before each shot. That gives 30-45 seconds for the water to come back up to brew temperature. The only espresso I've used so far is Intelligensia Black Cat (caf and decaf) so I don't have to worry about different temperature profiles for now.
As far as steaming milk goes, the Andreja is more than adequate. My frothing skills, however, are not so adequate. I've managed microfoam a few times, microfoam-ish most of the time and dish soap occasionally. Another ten gallons or so and maybe I'll get it. The control knob on the Andreja looks substantial, but I wish it were either bigger or maybe rubber coated. (or something similar to get a firm grip or to be able to easily roll the control) To get steam, you have to turn the knob 90 degrees before the valve starts to open, then an additional 360 degrees to fully open the valve. I find when it's time to stop the steam, I have to do three or four really quick turns of the knob to close the valve. I would like it better if the mechanism allowed not only a gradual opening, but also an immediate stop with very little movement. I think the existing valve would be able to do this if the knob design was a bit more ergonomic.
Week 5. The bottomless portafilter arrives. This creates a whole new learning curve. All of a sudden, I'm throwing away a lot more shots and spending a lot more time cleaning the outside of the machine. As a learning tool, this device is fantastic. When everything works the way it should, I can really taste the difference! It shows almost instantly if your dosing, distributing or tamping isnít correct. My shots are getting better every day. As a way to impress your friends, this device is fantastic. Watching a proper shot of espresso being extracted seems to be slightly hypnotic. I'm still having trouble with the triple basket, so I have my double basket in it for now. Many more forum hours coming up.
This is minutiae, but in my world, almost all of my ON/OFF toggle switches operate vertically. Up is ON and down is OFF. I don't know why left is OFF and right is ON on the Andreja, but it is. Also, if it operated vertically they wouldn't have had to use a stick-on OFF/ON label, and it would have been more intuitive to know which way was on. But then, I guess you could just look at the green light to know that it's on. Speaking of labels, I think the ATTENTION!/ACHTUNG! label on the E61 group head mars it's beauty. It doesn't even tell me what to be attentive to! I think anyone who operates a machine like this knows that the group is hot. But as I said, these are very minor points.
I noticed the new Quick Mill Vetrano showed up on Chris' website right about 30 days after I got my Andreja. Let's see...they have a 30 day "No questions asked" return policy...I could box this up... I actually thought about this for a while. The Vetrano is a direct connect only. I already have that, so it would literally be plug and play. I've read that espresso tastes better from a rotary pump, but I don't know that my tastes have developed that far yet. And rotary pumps are quieter. It really didn't take long to decide to stay with the Andreja. First, I truly think the Andreja simply looks better. The cup guard is a nice rail with a little design to it, not just the top of the side panels. The side panels on the Andreja are wider to accommodate some internal parts and have nice rounded corners and nicer looking vents, making the machine better proportioned and more aesthetically pleasing, plus more room for cups! Also, if I ever need or want to relocate the machine (even temporarily), I can easily convert it back to a pour over. I've read posts from people complaining about the loud sound of a vibe pump, but honestly, I don't think the Andreja is a loud machine at all and not a single person has made a comment on the noise level. (They were too blown away by the coffee!) Besides, don't you think that's too soon for upgrade fever?
In the short time I've owned the Andreja, I feel very comfortable using the machine...and I use it every day! The Andreja has really made my espresso experience very enjoyable. It's great to be able to make good coffee drinks and ruin friends on *$ and others. And for the first time ever, my wife enjoys unflavored espresso. No more covering up bad coffee! She and I have even had pre-serious discussions about researching our own coffee business. It seems like we would really enjoy roasting, selling drinks and trinkets and trying to educate people about high quality coffee. Having been inside the machine a few times, I really appreciate the thought that went into designing the machine for ease of service and the use of what seem to be commercial quality components. The only other espresso machine that I've worked on is the Olympia Coffex/Maximatic (In the process of rebuild) and it has many similar high quality components, but the current price is $2200.00! And it's a lot smaller and doesn't have the E61 group. Without sounding like a gushing new owner, I can really give the Andreja Premium very high ratings for quality and usability. The Andreja aesthetics are very good for the cost. There are some really artfully designed machines out there, but they're very expensive. I can definitely recommend purchasing the Andreja Premium!