A superb super automatic machine. You can tell that a lot of thought has been put into such a small package.
Positive Product Points
Very easy to use.
Designed to be compact and will fit comfortably under average height kitchen units.
Offers a fair bit of flexibility with the following all adjustable:
grind fineness grind dosage, water dosage per shot, grind bypass (for your decaf etc).
Ideal for someone that wants pretty good and consistent results.
Less mess and fuss than the traditional espresso making process.
No waiting for the machine to be ready to make steam then espresso.
Air tight-ish bean container to help keep the beans fresh.
Negative Product Points
The cup heating plate takes 10 minutes to warm up..
The instruction page (manual) leaves a lot to be desired.
As of this review, the manual is not available via download.
The steam nozzle is a little restrictive.
From what I can tell, this machine is not available in the US.
If you want to remove all the beans from the machine you will have to get your vacuum cleaner out.
I am not someone that could be called a coffee geek. I like good espresso but do not have the time or the inclination to spend hours on a traditional machine getting a shot perfect. Living where I do if I want an espresso ‘how it should be done’ then I am fortunate enough to be able to purchase them from a number of local cafés. I bought this machine because I wanted espresso based drinks at home with minimum fuss and maximum speed.
It took me a while before I got round to buying this machine and the other half was a rather set against it. It was the amount of money that put her off. £450 is a lot of money for a machine that just makes coffee based drinks. (No laughing in the corner). One day we just happened to be in a department store, (honestly), that was performing demonstrations of various super automatic machines. Until that time I was veering towards buying a Gaggia Syncrony Compact machine. Two things put me off buying that machine:
1) It looked far too plasticy for circa £400 quid. I mean really, the pictures make it look far nicer than it is. 2) If you wanted steam you had to wait for it to build up temperature and then cool down again. (Something I was unaware of until the demo).
After stating my concerns to the nice lady performing the demo, she pointed me towards the Saeco Incanto Rapid Steam™. It looked much nicer than the Gaggia and had no steam related problems. Unfortunately it was a whopping £600 in the shop. I thanked her for her time and promptly went home and started looking for a cheaper price on the Interweb. If you are in the market for a super auto I highly recommend going to a department store that does demonstrations of these machines. I am sure they would be willing for you to bring your own beans if you felt the ones they are using are not of a satisfactory quality.
It took a while for the machine to arrive (see below for that story) but when it did finally come even the other half was getting pretty excited. (She won’t admit it but she started jumping up and down like an excited kid). I unpacked it, threw in some beans, (Bourbon Espresso Blend from Hill and Valley), some bottled water and turned it on. From off to ready state it takes about 60 seconds so no problem there. I pressed the espresso button and it promptly overfilled the 2oz cups that I especially bought. So back to the manual. I found out that it is easy to adjust the quantity of drink and started again.
The machine makes surprisingly good espresso. For people that are interested it takes 30 seconds from start to finish to produce a 1½oz drink. 5 seconds to grind, 5 to tamp and 20 seconds of pump time. The creama is thick and looks rather nice, it looks a little like the head of a Guinness but darker. If you want to make 2 espressos you press the button twice it is as simple as that. 2 espressos take 55 seconds, while the first is brewing the grinder grinds up the second shot. What counts is the taste and I am pleasantly surprised. After tweaking the grind and water quantity I am getting consistently nice shots that taste rather pleasant.
The machine also makes large cups / mugs of coffee using the same espresso process via a second button. Because of the programmable nature of the buttons you could theoretically set the button to make a ristretto instead of the café swiss.
The steam nozzle is a little restrictive. It is not possible to steam large jugs of milk because the wand is rather short. But I suppose the machine is not designed for that. It is more designed to foam milk in the cup that you are making the latte / cappuccino in. When you turn the steam jet on it will start outputting water. After about 15 seconds this starts turning into lethargic steam. After 22 seconds it is a torrent. Once the machine is producing that torrent it will continue to do so until it runs out of water so there is no problem there. There is no problem producing micro foam with this device and with a third of a mug of milk it takes 25 seconds to foam up. Because this model is the Rapid Steam version there is also no wait for it too cool down to make the next espresso. What I don’t think you can do is foam milk at the same time as make a shot.
Other interesting features: (and my comments)
Bypass chute for an alternate coffee for example decaf. (Useful if I had a separate grinder I suppose).
Hot water button to top up a drink or make tea with. (This works fine. It takes a second to cool down if you previously used the wand for steam).
Removable water tank. (Which can stand up on its own and does not leak water when removed from the machine even if full).
Cup warmer which will get hot after 10 minutes or so. (If you use the machine then this time is reduced for some reason. The warmer also does not get hot enough to burn).
Automatically prompts you to de-scale the machine when needed. (The machine only knows when to prompt because you get supplied a water hardness test strip which you have to program the results of).
Sits on some sort of swivel base. (Useful for getting access to the water tank seeing as it is under a kitchen cupboard).
An air tight-ish coffee bean holder. (I say ish because the top is sealed but the bottom where the grinder must surely allow some air in).
Finish and Cleaning:
The bits of the machine that you can see are primarily made of plastic. Don’t be put off by this though. The top and front are made from a very hard plastic that has a pleasant physically rough feel and is a metallic grey colour. The sides are metal and coloured silver. The water tank is clear but because it is at the back of the machine you are not able to take much advantage of this. On the other hand there is an indicator light on the front when the level gets low.
The machine is a doddle to clean. Open the front and the drip tray / puck collector is easily removed. Rinse them every day and detergent should not be needed. The brew group removes easily and again rinsing under the tap is all that is needed. That just leaves all the other surfaces which can be cleaned with a damp cloth. The bean holder can only be cleaned when you use up all the beans. Once this is done a wipe with a dry kitchen towel is enough to clean up any coffee oil that is in there. While I am talking about the bean holder I have a little gripe to mention. Although it is possible to scoop beans out of the bean holder, it is not possible to remove beans easily when they have entered the grinding unit. The only way of getting beans and old grinds out is to get a vacuum cleaner and suck them out. I am under the impression the only way of cleaning the grinder is to throw a whole bunch of new beans through the machine.
As of this review the downloadable manual available via Seaco’s website is buggered. The formatting is wrong, leaving you with a useless piece of paper if printed. In theory the manual is the same as the non rapid steam version, but if you try and download that you will get the digital version which is also of no use.
This was the first time that I have made a web purchase outside the UK. The website itself is not too bad. It has an English language version that unfortunately needs a native to give it a once over to correct the worst of the spelling and grammar mistakes, but for a saving of £150 over the recommended retail price I was willing to look past these minor matters. Please note that the priced paid was 450 pounds sterling not dollars.
Here is where things got a little more complicated. I placed the order and waited a week. Nothing happened. So, on their web form, I asked for a status update. After a few days I got a reply stating that the order cannot go ahead without a copy of my card and passport. It would have been nice if they had told me without my prompting. After a couple more days I sent this information and asked if they were now ready to proceed with the order. I got nothing back. After waiting another week I decided that the only way to get anywhere would be to get a German speaker to write the emails in German asking what is going on. This worked and not long after I started communicating in German things got sorted out and the order was confirmed.
I received delivery 1 week later, not bad for standard delivery, and it was well packaged. One gotcha of ordering from outside the UK is that the mains plug will be the wrong type. This would not be a problem if the machine took standard kettle plugs but it does not so the only way to change the plug is to chop it off.
Three Month Followup
It has been more like 6 months rather than 3 for this follow-up, but I have more of interest to say now. After about 4 months of daily use a fault developed with the machine. Basically something to do with the steamer broke inside so when I turned it off, any residual pressure spurted out inside the machine. As you can imagine, not a good thing. Fortunately if you didn't use steamer the brew bit still worked fine.
After a short time I decided that I needed to get the machine sorted out under warranty. Because I bought the machine from Germany and I live in the UK I decided to try asking Seaco UK to fix it instead of TECHNIKdirekt.de. I emailed Seaco UK via a form on their website about the problem and received a prompt reply. I gave them my work address and they picked it up via courier the next day. After a couple of weeks they sent it back all fixed. No fuss and excellent service if you ask me.
Except for the steamer problem the machine has worked flawlessly so I have no problem with recommending this machine for someone like me, the home coffee drinker that can't deal with real espresso machines.