MESSAGE FROM HEAVEN
Ristretto heaven, that is. Finally, I succeeded in my mission: to prepare a perfect ristretto with great reprocreation and predictability. Every time I pull the lever - after waiting for about 10 seconds - a honeylike stream drips very slowly out of the openings of the filterholder of my recently bought Vibiemme Domobar Super into two thick edged, preheated espresso cups. After 30 seconds I lift the lever up and inspect the result: a red-brownish foaming blob of crema. Every time I want, I get this very rich, incredibly creamy and complex tasting stuff out of my new machine. After one sip the stuff is gone and injected into my body. Almost immediately, I get a flash, which transports me directly to heaven. At the same time my tastebuds get excited. Oh yeah, what a taste! And suddenly I feel great. Nice that it is legal. It still is!
So, after a four year search for the best possible way of making the perfect ristretto, my mission is accomplished. It led to a deeper understanding of the four M's of the Art of Ristretto. Looking back, especially the last M (Mano dell'operatore - the hand of the operator) was decisive for the end result. How so? Read on!
Inspired by numerous holidays in that fabulous Italy, it became my mission to make the best possible ristretto at home. After a three year experience with the Vibiemme Domobar (exchanged on a Rancilio Silvia), one year with a Mazzer Mini grinder (exchanged on a Demoka grinder), reading and rereading of David C. Schomer's "Espresso coffee - professional techniques" and trying to practice what I learned, I decided that my mission was not possible to accomplish with my current equipment. The Mazzer Mini grinder was good enough, surely. The Domobar, however, was not good enough for my ambition. I should exchange it for a machine with the ability for more taste extraction. Read: a more complex, bigger and heavier machine.
I imagined a beautyfully gleaming 3-group semi-automatic Vibiemme Replica. Wouldn't that fit nicely at the left side of the sink on the kitchentop? The Mazzer Mini would then fill out the right side of the top, together with the rest of the accessories, and the sink in the middle. Perfect! My wife too liked the idea. Only, where should she prepare the meals? Mmm ... maybe a mediterranean light blue 2-group Faema E-92 Elite is a better choice. Together with the Mazzer Mini they would fit just left of the sink. What ... still not enough space left? Maybe I can live with the 1-group version of the Vibiemme Replica. Should I do that then? Consequence is that I have to drill holes in my 10 cm thick, beautyfull, stainless steel kitchentop. Because the Replica has to be plumbed. Do I want to do that? Or is there another solution possible? Time to investigate.
Internet is a superb tool to gather information. But to buy such a complex thing as an espressomachine via the Internet? I do not think so. Only if you are an American, living in the middle of nowhere with no shops around at a reasonable driving distance. Think of it: who will demonstrate you in person the right way to use the machine? Who will trade-in your old machine for a reasonable price? How about maintenance and service? Boxing it and sending it by mail? Hoping that your box will be handled differrently and arrives in a healthy state?
A deep search on the Internet results in a wealth of information. What is relevant for me? I have to try a hands-on investigation with dealers of espressomachines: looking, feeling, tasting. Most of the dealers are enthousiasts themselves, with a great deal of knowledge of the machines they sell. And - very nicely - an opinion and taste of there own. All the time and energy they put into there skills and all the attention they spend on there potential byers, profitmaximalisation on the short-term is obvious not their primary target.
Especially demonstrated to me are various heat exchanger machines of the 'at home use'-class, like the ECM Giotto, the Quickmill 980 and all kind of Isomacs. One or the other, I was not really enthousiastic. The served ristretto at the scene was mostly of mediocre quality. My impression was that only the disadvantages of these 'subclass' of heat exchangers were well demonstrated. Without exception these machines need a varying quantity of water to run through their heads - between espresso's - to accomplish the temperature in keeping within certain boundaries. The boilers are far too small (between 1,0 and 1,8 L); at least, seen from the principle of the heat exchanger. The result was sometimes reasonable, but mostly not: too cold (sour) or too hot (bitter). Trading in my present Domobar for a gambling machine like these was not acceptable for me, on the contrary.
Finally, I found a shop in Hilversum, named Tiramisu. The owner, Alessandro Mascilongo, is a native Italian and hands-on experienced on espresso since he was nine years old. Italian food and drinks are obviously in his genes. The shop has a huge selection of espresso coffee and machines from Italy (from ECM, Isomac, La Scala to even the 3-group Vibiemme Replica). Alessandro advised me to try the Unico Splendor at home. If I didn't like it, the big brother of the Domobar (the Super), would possibly better suit me.
What a magnificent machine the Unico is. And what a finishing touch. By far sueted the best looking product of BFC (www.bfcsrl.it), a firm known for its Junior (also known as Grimac La Uno or La Valentina). Better looking than all the other machines from this class. Interested people should look at www.der-feinschmecker-club.de/go/unico. This is the same club (for German connoisseurs) who - years ago - organised a comparing test in which the Giotto won (the machine David Schomer was so enthousiastic about).
After a week of trying out the Unico at home, I have to say: it looks exceptional nice in our kitchen, is fun working with, everything feels good, and my wife would likes me to keep it.
But unfortunately ... considering with a wide margin I prefer the Vibiemme Domobar Super. Both machines are equiped with top quality parts and with both is a very good ristretto possible. In the advantage of the Super are the functional design, the proven reliability and the good support of the distributor. Decisive is the bigger boiler, resulting in a better temperature stability and so a lower gambling factor by making ristrettos.
A remarkable difference between both machines is the working of the automatic refueler of the boiler: in the Unico it happens during the passing trough of the espresso, while this never happens with the Super.
In car terms: the Unico is more like an Alfa Romeo, with design as its most important parameter; the Vibiemme is more like a BMW, where the driving expirience comes first.
My purchased Vibiemme Domobar Super is fully constructed of stainless steel and is provided with a separate water reservoir. Also for sale is a version that is 10 cm less in depht, without a reservoir.
- a copper boiler of 2,7 L and copper plumbing
- separate water reservoir (closeable on top) of 3 L with electronic security system at low waterlevel
- heat exchanger of 1800 W (and therefore short reaction time and fast foaming ability)
- can be connected to watertap (plumbed), 3-way bypass
- E-61 head with the famous Faema pre-infusion
- easy adjustable pressostat with manometer (0-3 bar)
- simple big leaking tray
- pleasing feel of the lever and the turning knobs for steam and hot water
- separate pipes for steam and hot water are "swivelling to all sides"
- measurements (WxDxH): 25x51x34 cm; weight 22 kg
Internet sites about the Domobar Super: www.lavibiemme.it , www.eembergen.nl , www.vibiemme.de , www.columbuscoffee.co.nz and www.sierracoffee.co.nz .
Compared to the Unico, the Super has double the size of boiler. Therefore the extra temperature stability is significant. In practice I now make ristrettos with a to me unknown predictability and with extra taste in crema. My wife and some of our guests prefer cappucino's (don't ask me why!). With the heat element of 1800 W I have a beautyfull milky foam camouflaged over the ristretto in no time.
However, I wasn't happy immediately ! A week after my purchase of the Super, I spoke to the distributor about the failing to occur of the expected excellent quality of my brewed ristrettos. The distributor - named René van Eembergen - invited me with the Super and my grinder to visit him and to try to solve the problem together. My wife also went along. At the scene the company Van Eembergen made a professional impression, the founder (the father of René) played an important role in designing and tuning the big multi-group machines of Vibiemme. The brand in Holland is strongly present in an upcoming market. The big machines are more and more present in restaurants, lunchrooms and espressobars. La Marzocco has a difficult time here!
René knows a lot about espresso coffee. To me, he is an inspiring source of information.
So I learned that some distributors, like René, adapt their espressomachines to the local taste. That means long espresso's, so to say: a bit trendy brew of strong coffee in a big bowl. Yuck!!! That adaption concerns the insert of a "floodgate" in the waterchannel of the head, resulting in a decreasing pre-infusion time; within the normal carry on through time the amount of water increases. After undoing the modification to my Super by René, the problem was solved and the making of real ristretto's is possible again (one sip a cup).
After the modification - under the veil of finetuning the temperature - we overindulged ourselves in tasting various espressobeans. The beans imported by René are Caffè Roberta Oro (from Modena, Italy); they are very tastefull! This all was situated in a huge workshop, where we were surrounded by professional espressomachines, and where specialists were fiddling with all kind of tools. What a devine surrounding for a geek like me.
Also nice about the Domobar Super is that René can replace the vibrationpump by a rotationpump, on the condition that the Super is connected to the watertap. After this procedure espressobeans can be grinded much finer, with much more taste in the crema as a result. The only relevant difference (as I can see) with the 1-group Replica is the substantialy bigger boiler (5 instead of 2,7 L). Meanwhile you understand: the bigger the boiler, the more stable is the temperature and so much tastier is the ristretto.
The Super may have a bigger boiler than the smaller machines, it still is a heat exchanger. So surfing on the temperature stays necessary. The result only becomes more predictable. My routine looks as follows:
1 After filling up the reservoir with fresh filtered (Brita) water, the Super has to warm up. After about half an hour, I open the steam knop to drive out the condensation, followed by draining off a can of hot water for preheating the ristretto cups.
2 Just before the first cup or after a larger break, I let the pump carry on through to cool off the heated up head.
3 While in use I "wiggle wash" the filter holder. Just before I install the filter holder with tamped down coffee in the head, I let the pump carry on through until I don't see steam any more. On average that takes 4 to 5 seconds.
For other aspects of daily use and maintenance I refer to the previous named book of David Schomer.
Temperature: An important lesson to me was the following: if the espresso is too hot, I should not want to adjust the pressostat immediately. First try to grind the beans finer. I learned that the difference between overextraction and the right extraction is very small.
A few weeks ago for instance, the ristretto I made tasted bitter; it was hotter than normal and the carry on through time was a lot shorter. I suddenly noticed the heavy rainfall. In just a few hours the humidity has risen from 50 to 62%. Aha, I got the coherence. After I finetuned the Mini Mazzer, the carry on through time was 30 seconds again. The ristretto tasted now like it should taste.
Also, when the espresso doesn't come out of the two holes of the filterholde at the same time, the espresso gets too hot. Both cups have to be equaly full. At inspecting the puck you see a blackened and burned underside. Evenly tamping is the solution. Making a perfect ristretto is an art form, where in every step of the way you need your fullest attention. Just a moment of concentration loss is leading to a complete failure. Stay focussed! Delight is the reward.
Italian is the best: With my Super - often subtle - differences are being revealed between the various coffee brands, more than I was used to. In my opinion, Italian roasters are the best in the world. The better blends are very nice and even so different from each other. What they have in common is a complex taste, that changes in time, an especially prolonging aftertaste and always a big creaminess that film wrap lips and oral cavity. Very special and satisfying!
Prepared good, the taste is never bitter, adding sugar is fully redundant and even unwanted.
At this moment there are two coffees I enjoy the most. One is imported by dealer Alessandro from Tiramisu and called Tiramisu Classico and the other is imported by Van Eembergen: Caffè Roberta Oro. Both are Italian blends of course. My primary goal for the near future is to evaluate a lot of alternative blends.
From the second: In according with a good Italian custom, I throw away the first cup of the day. Though not bad, all the following cups taste a lot better. From the third cup on it is getting really good. An explanation for that is that the first carry on through leaves a thin film layer in the head and filter tray, which leads to a much better taste.
Stay healthy: Again in according with a good Italian custom, after each ristretto I drink a big glas of water. This protects blatter and kidneys.