The Rocket R58 dual boiler espresso machine performs as expected for a machine in this price range. It looks better than the rest in my opinion. But to each his own.
WHATS IN THE BOX:
I bought it from idrinkcoffee in Milton Ontario. It came with a box containing a stainless cup rail, two portafilters - a single and double, a tamper, a blank portafilter basket for backwashing, a grouphead brush and the PID interface controller and cable. The machine itself was packed with ample foam packaging material.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF WHAT WAS INSIDE THE BOX:
I donít use the cup rail as it will not fit on under my cabinets but it is a nice touch. On the other Rocket models it is an expensive upgrade. I also like how the portafilters have "Rocket" embossed on the bottom of them. Very nice. The "free" tamper that comes with the Rocket R58 is all aluminum and has rocket laser etched on the end of the handle. Much better than a cheap plastic one. The cable and connection system for the PID is not the most robust and I would not want to be connecting/re-connecting it daily. I am somewhat afraid that the cable may get damaged easily. The PID interface is easy to read and use however.
OVERVIEW OF MACHINE IN ACTION AND FEATURES:
As expected it took me some time to dial in my first shot. I had also purchased a new grinder along with the R58, A Macap MC4 that had to be dialed in. Once I dialed in the grind the espresso was beautiful. Having a PID controlled boiler made pulling repeatable shots easier. No temperature surfing, no temperature "flushing" like on a heat exchanger machine. I run a bit of water before I pull a shot to ensure the group-head is nice and hot but that is about it. It never taste like the shots are "burned" by hot water. This is my favorite part of the R58. Repeatability.
The overall feel of the machine while using it is fantastic. It feels solid and well built. Locking and unlocking the portafilter in the group-head feels solid and commercial-grade. The valve controls for steam and hot water are smooth and easy to use. I find they do not need to be "cranked" all the way closed after using them, as they will stick closed. They work best if you just turn them until water/steam stops then leave them partially "open".
MAKING JUST ESPRESSO- fairly easy and repeatable as long as you have nailed down the grind, distribution, dose and tamp variables. The machine does what you tell it to. I had to adjust the over pressure valve from the factory setting, it was initially set to about 8bar. I turned it up to slightly to just over 9bar. I have had much better luck with taste/crema at this pressure (however I am far from an expert). I found that the overall setup with a higher pressure provides a better espresso for my taste, however it is less forgiving and I need to have everything more dialed in. I also adjusted the temperature for the brew boiler to better match that required for the coffee I am currently drinking. I turned it up a degree or two, using the chart provided to estimate brew-head temperature. It seems to work well and this is the beauty of the R58. Adjustability. As far as using the machine for espresso, the only issue I have had to date is group-head lever "drift". When I first pull the lever up to initiate the brew cycle it stays there. But most of the time after it reaches 9 bar pressure the lever drops and sometimes-even stops the brew cycle. I have to press it up when it starts to drift down and then it will stay up for the rest of the cycle. I have researched this problem and it appears it is possible that there is too much lubricant inside the lever mechanism but I am not sure. I plan on taking the machine in for service after I use it a little longer. It has not stopped me from using the machine and it does not appear to affect the shot. (unless of course it turns the machine off.)
MILK BASED DRINKS:- well it all starts with espresso. See above. As far as milk goes, it took me quite a while to figure it out but I think I am getting it. I found that if you try and use the steam and pull a shot at the same time it tends to give precedence to the brew boiler, and steam pressure dissipates quickly. If I use them one at a time it works much better. It is possible to use them both at the same time, but I feel more comfortable with the higher steam pressure. In fact, for best results when I bleed off the water in the steam wand prior to use I blow off the initial steam to get the service boiler running hot. Once it begins to heat up I start using it and get great results. Due to the fact that the service boiler is controlled by a PID and not a pressure-stat system I think there is a little delay before it starts heating after losing pressure. If you use the service boiler when it is already in the heating cycle it will give you the best result in my opinion. Frothing milk is excellent once you get the technique down. It is not the machine that is the problem. When my technique is nailed down I get great microfoam. You can steam and brew all day long with this machine and it does not slow down or give you any reason to wait. Only negative comment I have regarding the steam function of this machine is that I have notice I have a minor leak coming from where the steam valve assembly meets up with the body of the machine. I have only seen a drip or two come from this location on two occasions to date, however I was told when I bought it that it was already repaired as they noticed this problem when testing the machine. Just want to add that I have an R58 with the updated service boiler temperature probe/sensor, and it was factory set to the highest possible temperature setting.
GENERAL COMMENTS/NOTES: Love this machine. I like how the PID controller is separate. I think they really did a good job keeping this machine looking uniform and "analog" without throwing a digital readout on the face to ruin it. I donít change coffee daily as that would be too much to constantly adjust the grind. So for the occasional switch of coffee it is easy to pull out the PID controller and change temperature accordingly. I do not need to have the temperature constantly displayed as I leave the machine on all the time so it is always ready to go. Keeps cups nice and warm. I typically am pulling 3-6 shots a day with a milk-based drink in the mix somewhere.
Drip Tray- The drip tray seems to be fine, maybe a little on the small side but I have not had any real issues with it so far. It is really well built compared to other machines on the market. Just go to a local dealer and put a heavy cup on the drip tray of several different machines. The rocket has a thick plate for a drip tray and is solid.
Rotary pump- I have plumbed in this machine. Took a bit of work. It came with a hose and an adapter from British standard to North American Standard pipe thread. It was then connected to a filter system, which is also British Standard. I am glad I went through all the trouble to get it working plumbed in as it is fantastic to have hot water on tap and I never have to fill up a tank. It is easier to flush it all the time and keep it clean when it is plumbed in. The pump is super quiet and even sounds like a commercial grade machine.
I am very happy with this machine. I bought this hoping it would last a long time, and after using it for a couple of months I believe it will. It is adjustable, easy to use and well built. Most importantly it looks AMAZING. Even the pressure gauges look professional. I also think it is a nice touch to have a stamped ROCKET emblem on the front rather than just a sticker. I like all the details about this machine. I like the mechanical feel of the on off switch. I like the single green light on the front. I like the fact that you can turn the service boiler off if you want. I feel that it was good value for this price range, however there are cheaper double boiler systems available depending on what you are looking for.
If you were willing to put the money down on this machine and look at it as a long tern investment, I would highly recommend it. I will try and provide an update in the near future.