After 10 years of moka pot coffee, it was time to step up my morning coffee experience. I received the Saeco Aroma for Father's Day, after much homework on Coffeegeek. I bought a nice Reg Barber tamper & non-pressurized portafilter too (from seattlecoffeegear.com), which all arrived in time to launch my espresso life.
This is a fantastic machine for the money. The machine is very easy to use, looks great in the kitchen, and above all makes excellent espresso (& lattes for the wife!). The main thing to remember, as pointed out in several reviews, is that this machine needs to be primed often, but this is a simple thing and takes just a few seconds to do. If you don't prime you'lll wreck it. It comes with a pressurized portafilter, which as I understand will pretty much take any grind of coffee and make great looking espresso. It was really fine by me at first, especially since I was using fresh (& tasty) Peets Major Dickasonís beans, and am a newbie to boot. But I wanted to get the most out of the machine, so I put the pressurized PF away and began my espresso journey with the non-pressurized portafilter.
Figuring out the best grind & tamp has been the big learning curve for me, which hasnít been a chore by any means. Itís simply been an enjoyable process every morning. Iíve learned just how big of a role the grind plays in espresso making. My big problem is I donít have a fancy grinder. Iíve read in the forums to get the best results on the Aroma/Classico, itís best to have a very good grinder, like a Rocky. I would agree with this. However the Rocky isnít in my budget right now, so Iíve made do with my trusty old Cuisinart Supreme Grind ($35 from Costco). The finest setting on my Cuisinart Supreme wasnít fine enough, as my shots pulled in probably 12-15 seconds every time. I was able to modify the Cuisinart to grind even finer than it was set up for (by adding three #6 lock washers - thanks Jeff M for the excellent tip, to make the burrs closer without touching). After some dialing back and forth around finest setting, I get a good grind and can now pull a shot in 22-25 seconds consistently (with a 30 - 40 lb tamp), and the espresso is fantastic. Iím still feeling it out, the nuances of the grind an tamp, so the learning process continues daily. Iím not quite down to a formula, but Iím getting close.
Another nice feature is the huge clear water tank. You always know the level and itís easy to refill. Just pull it out and take it to the sink to refill. The drip tray is deep, so thereís no overflow to worry about, making cleanup a snap. It also heats up quickly, so Iím able to make multiple shots as fast as I can dose & tamp for the next round. Frothing is easy too. The Aroma comes with its ďPannarelloĒ attachment, to make frothing easy. It worked ok I suppose, but Iíve taken it off and can make excellent froth without. I say itís better to do all the things you need without special tricks.
Again, regarding priming the machine: Just remember to prime to start the process, prime after frothing, and prime after refilling the water tank. Seconds to do, that's it. No hassle.
Wet pucks is my only complaint for this machine, but I understand thatís because the Aroma doesnít have a three-way solenoid shut off thingy Iíve been reading about in the forums. But this is a reasonable concession for a machine having so much value for the money.
So hereís a rundown of how I work the Saeco Aroma:
- Hit the grinder to grind my Peets Major Dickasons or Garuda beans, and turn on the power to the Aroma to warm up the machine. (Machine is warm when the green light on the brew switch goes off).
- Fill up water tank.
- Prime the machine : I point the steaming wand into a coffee mug, turn on the brew switch, open the steam valve and let a few ounces of hot water run into the mug. Machine is primed.
- Attach portafilter to machine & hit the brew switch, to run hot water through and warm the PF. Dry the PF, dose & tamp my freshly ground Peets beans.
- Re-attach the prepared PF. Put my two shot glasses underneath. Hit the brew switch & start the timer set at 25 seconds.
- Watch the liquild gold pour into the shot glasses. Theyíll reach the 1 oz levels in 22-25 seconds. Set aside.
- Quick cleaning: Clean the PF. Knock out the wet puck into my Grindstein knockbox. Rinse it out under the sink, take it back to the machine and hit the brew switch and run hot water over it. Also, clean the grouphead. Turn on the brew switch again, let the water pour out and brush grouphead with a nylon brush for a few seconds. Dry off everything with a towel.
- To Froth: Open up the steam valve, hit the steam button and let water purge out into my mug until hot steam only is blowing out. Put 8 oz of cold milk into my 20 oz. stainless steel pitcher. Froth the milk using Coffeegeekís steps. Try to achieve that perfect microfoam. When done frothing, clean the steam wand with a towel. I like to prime the machine again at this point, which makes the machine ready for the next use (just takes seconds).
- Build a macchiato for me and a latte for the wifey (with attempted latte art in the pour).
- Enjoy the tasty drink.