Easy machine with loads of control over the result. Not too pretty but then not to ugly either!
Positive Product Points
Simplicity of use. Layout of controls. Pressure gauge.
Negative Product Points
Only early days so far but the news is good.
The machine is an Ascaso Dream - Versatile. Build date August 2005 (I believe this is important because I understand some of the early machines were troublesome). Grinder used - Emide that is at least 10 years old and has been asked to grind way more coffee than it ever should have. Coffee used - Local vendor calling himself the bean barn. Buys in green beans, roasts and blends on-sight. I have used his product for over two years with much satisfaction. I favour a blend of Yemmen and Colombian, roasted just past the second crack. Tamper used - the crappy plastic one that came with the machine. Knock box - None, but I really must buy a Grindenstien (my kitchen bin cannot take much more punishment)
For nearly 10 years, I relied on a mere DeLonghi MaxiBar to tend to my espresso needs. I paid (aud$) 300 for it and it has required one heater element and one o-ring during its life. Total maintainence cost (aud$) 11. I think i have over-used it past its expected duty cycle by about 300000 units. I only retired it (for renovation and an easy life at my mother in law's home) because the group head needs renovation.
I had always vowed that when the DeLonghi died, I would replace it with a Pavoni Lever Machine. Trips to Italy and sampling the fare of this classic unit had made me feel so. But reading on this site turned me away. As much as I love the idea that my hand might become the pressure pump, I have no interest in paying a king's ransom for a machine that needs to be swathed in cold towels after the first 2 pulls in order to produce subsequent shots. Let's face it folks, the Pavoni has a fundamental design flaw and they are too arrogant to fix it and want too much money anyway. If Pavoni halved their cost and added a heat spacer, I might own one. The Elektra fares better but a spring piston is not a true lever and at twice the price, well, how stupid do these people think I am?
So no lever machine for me this time. But where to go next? My kitchen is small and so a true heat exchange boiler system unit was not an option simply because of size. Instinct told me DeLonghi had served me well and their Metropolis unit was nearly my choice. The local retailer (idiots) did not have one but I notices the Ascaso on their shelf. Did some homework and that is what I now own.
The first shots were too fast and bitter so I adjusted my aging Emide grinder from 50% to about 70%. No change. I tamped harder and used more coffee grounds, no change. I tamped less hard, released all pressure and then polished the tamp through a mere 90 degrees. The Ascaso's pressure gauge lept - for the first time - from 10 bar to 15, a deeply chocolate syrup began to ebb from the unit and some 22 seconds later, I sipped a very sweet, very perfect ristretto with a tall cremma.
I have repeated this result easily for over a week without replenishing my beans.
My drink of choice is the ristretto but her-to-whom-I-am-married is a lover of latte. Thus I evolved skills for both. To be frank, though it took some time, even the aging DeLongi could deliver fine versions of both.
So beyond the sacred brown brew and on to the steamer. It took only two attempts to learn that the Ascaso can deliver a very nice micro-foamed milk so long as you don't fuss too much. My old Delonghi demanded much twirling and whirling. The Ascaso is happiest if you pour cold milk into a jug, bury the steam wand into the mix and stand perfectly still until the pitch of the steam lowers.
The Ascaso is robust, simple to use and, within a week, producing better coffee than the DeLonghi had - and I was happy with the DeLonghi. It is not meant to pump out dozens of drinks per hour. It can easily and consistantly pump out a dozen at short order and foam the milk you guests demand - albiet in batches. Buy it because it's cute, buy it because it works, buy it because nobody else on you block will have one. Do not buy it if you expect the production rates of a cafe machine and do not buy it if you expect the name to impress anyone.
Use notes: My machine shipped with; A dedicated pod handle and basket which I promptly hid in a cupboard. It is lovely and made of the same heavy brass as the ground version but I still find myself asking "what idiot thinks coffee in a teabag is a good idea?" A filter insert for the group basket that is designed for a single shot of grounds. It is shallow, it has the same hole size as the double insert and the same base area. It is ammusing, unusable and pointlessl. Store it next to your coffee pod holder. A filter insert for double shots. This is all you should ever use. If you do not understand this, do not EVER buy ANY espresso machine.
Morals of the story: This is a good home machine but do not pay the full retail asking price. Learn everything you can about coffee. If you do so, you can make decent drinks with even awful machines. Too much of the espresso folklore centres on that which is spurious. The perfect roast, the perfect blend, the perfect grind, the prefect temperature, the perfect materials, the perfect humidity, the perfect tamper, the perfect tamp pressure, the perfect polish and the perfect every-darn-thing. Temperature surfing, pressure surfing, surfiing on a particulalrly nice wednesday afternoon with a tail wind. Yes, it is all important but it is more importanty to know how these things influence your cup. DO NOT become a slave to convention, rather, use your knowledge to coax a wonderful brew from even the worst of circumstances. There are probably no bad espresso machines, just people too dopey to get the best of them!
Complete rubbish. An Australian retail buying group know as "The Good Guys".
This retailer was staffed entirely by idiots - from the owner down.
As ever, do your homework and know what you want. Do not regard the rantings of reprobates who've as much knowledge of espresso as they do of atomic particle theory.
I actually had to argue with the sales person to convince them that this reletively un-branded machine was an Ascaso, not the what-ever-the-name-of-the-importer was that they had branded the machine as.
If you know what you want, go to idiot retailers such as this and screw for price. Otherwise, go to coffee specialists and listen to what they say.
Three Month Followup
Missed this one as all was well, refer the 1 (actually 3) year followup.
One Year Followup
My 1 year follow up is about 3 years too late. This being primarily because up until about 6 months ago, nothing had changed regarding my satisfaction with the machine. But then...
In fairness, the steamer switch was left on rather too long by somebody in this house who shall remain nameless but regrets her crime. Shortly thereafter, the heater element failed. The unit was sent to an "accredited repairer" in Melbourne (Australia). However I note that the sales blurb for the unit explicitly states that...
"Two thermostats control the temperature for espresso and for steam, and a third that specifically monitors the boiler to protect it from overheating if the machine is left unattended for long periods."
The repairer had the machine for three months during which time various reasons, all of which I doubt, were cited for the lack of supply of the required replacement heating element. When the machine was finally returned, it was accompanied by a bill for 300 australian dollars. Rather excessive I felt for a heater element banged into a lump of brass that forms the upper thermal block water tank. Still, I was happy to have the machine back and working. But then...
6 Months on and despite all parties in this house taking extra care to never abuse the boiler, it failed again. The machine was returned to the same repairer who, quite frankly, defamed Ascaso in the extreem to avoid any liability for replacing a heater elemet that had failed after half a year. Bottom line, they wanted another 250 Australian dollars to replace the heater element for a second time.
Fortunately, my wife located another Ascaso agent in Sydney, Australia who were happy to supply the parts required for the repair for 95 dollars. The machine was retrieved from the Melbourne repairer and I resolved to install the replacement kit myself. This was done quite successfully and once again the Ascaso is serving me well. However...
While replacing the element, I noted that the boiler tank was heavily scaled and that the brass centre stem which feeds the group head had corroded to the point of breaking. This despite my use of filtered water in the unit. I managed to repair the problem but could not suppress the feeling that if the first repairer had had this very water tank open a mere six months earlier, how on earth could they have failed to notice this decay, much less advise me of the fault. Moreover, the valve that is intended to prevent seepage into the group head was disgustingly fouled and not working.
There are a some morals here.
DO NOT EVER trust a repairer you do not know. Shop around, ask questions and compare prices.
Never leave your Ascaso Dream on for one second longer than required and never EVER, leave the steamer switch on longer than required. . Most importantly, always run the water pump to refill the water tank as soon as you finish steaming. I am told that recent Ascaso documentation advises as much but I have not seen it and mine does not.
Considering the sort of circuittry required to prevent heater element burnout would amount to a few dollars, one can only ponder why this is not included in a high end home machine.
Good luck fellow and prospective Ascaso users. It remains a great machine but I am a little jaded by the experience.
For the record, a copy of this exact text is about to be emailed to Ascaso.