Isomac Alba Review Looks great (obviously subjective) Very solidly built, totally reliable Does the job Heats up quickly
Negative Product Points
Slow recovery when making tea
Buying an HX E61 machine is often a question of aesthetics as most of the machines use pretty much the same standard parts as one another.
This review is actually of the Alba which is a mostly cosmeticly changed version of the Tea II. The external design with the clock face dual gauge is, in my opinion, the most attractive of all machines that are similar in specification. The Alba has "no burn" wands which I consider a must have feature and ceramic disc taps.
A key differentiator between Isomac and other well-known brands is the smaller boiler. The plus points of this are a quicker heat up time from cold, and a lower running cost (keeping less water constantly hot). The negative is a quicker loss of temperature/pressure stability. In practise, I find that in what I consider a typical domestic situation the temperature/pressure issue is of very little consequence. I typically make a max of 2 espressos at any given time and the machine performs excellently. The only time I notice an issue is if using the water wand to make tea etc and then higher proportionate use of water from the systems means you have to wait a bit longer before it is ready again. If you make a lot of espressos at once you should consider a bigger boiler machine. For me I prefer the plus points of this one, particularly the quick heat up time as I usually leave the machine off after my morning fix, turning it on again if needed.
The external build quality is great, very substantial marine grade stainless, the metal lever an improvement over competitor's plastic ones.
It steams well, a bit slower than some models but fast enough when making 2 lattes.
The machine was a year old when I bought it 2nd hand online. I've had it about 5 years and it has never missed a beat. I've replaced some elements in the group head through normal wear which would be the same for any machine
As you pre-flush an E61 group head (and I also post flush to clear out remaining coffee) you use a lot of water. The 3 litre tank actually holds less due to holes built in it near the top, and so needs filling every 2 days even with my moderate use and so I would seriously consider having a plumbed in machine if that would suit your kitchen.
The warming tray on this machine is split into 2 parts, the larger 2/3rds is removed to fill the tank which means you can leave a few cups in place compared to other models where the whole tray lifts off, but in practise this makes little difference because the 1/3 permanent space is not that big. You will spill some water into the machine at some point when filling the tank (don't fool yourself that you won't) and this model has plastic sheeting to protect the electronics which is very important.
The drip tray is meatier stainless compare to some competitors, and holds sufficient volume (can last 2 weeks between emptying with my use).