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ChefTalk.com › Culinary Schools, Cookbooks & Cookware › Small Appliances › Coffee, Tea & Espresso › Espresso › Ascaso Steel Special Edition Espresso Machine

Ascaso Steel Special Edition Espresso Machine


Pros: Beautiful on your counter top

Cons: Takes time to learn how to make a good espresso

 Every once in awhile at ChefTalk we get the opportunity to test drive some really great equipment, from knives to spatulas and more. Most recently we received a beautiful Ascaso Steel Special Edition Espresso Machine and Ascaso "Mini" Grinder courtesy of 1st-line Equipment, LLC. But first, let me share a little history about ChefTalk's journey to a higher end espresso machine.

Years back when ChefTalk first started out we were the new kid on the cooking websites' block. With that came plenty of press and popularity with mentions in the New York Times, USA Today, Seattle Times, BBC website, Netscape homepage top 10 (remember them?), LA times and-without trying to sound boastful-the list goes on. One of the fun things that came with that press were companies who wanted to promote their products to get some of our traffic. One such company was Nespresso espresso machines.

Nespresso at the time was just starting out in the U.S. with their capsule-based machines and wanted ChefTalk to help promote their products. We were more than happy to do so as long as they sent us a machine to test out. After all, why promote a product if you have never even tried it. We received a machine and after that we were hooked on having good, convenient espresso on a regular basis.

Through the years we stuck with the Nespresso machines swapping out old ones for new ones. But there was always a small drawback. With Nespresso you are locked into using their coffee blends and capsules and you can never branch out and try other varieties. This past year I was eager to see ChefTalk move to a machine that would allow us to use both ESE (easy serve espresso) pods which would give us the convenience of the nespresso, and give us the ability to brew fresh ground espresso. Let the research begin.



Espresso Machine Research – A Vast Ocean


When I started to investigate different possibilities for an espresso machine upgrade I had no idea of what I was getting myself into. There are thousands of different types of espresso machines from hundreds of different manufacturers to research. Anyone new to the espresso brewing world can easily become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of choices in espresso machines. Finding the right resources when you do your research is important and I recommend.

1st-line Equipment, LLC -- Very knowledgeable and friendly staff. The sales staff listened well to our needs and did not try to oversell us. They helped outfit us with a great machine.


The deeper I immersed myself into researching espresso machines the more overwhelmed I became with all of the different options. Did I want everything automated? Did I want to use pods, fresh ground? What about programmable features, computer controlled temperatures? Should I get a brass boiler or a stainless steel boiler? Do I really need a 3 way solenoid whatever the heck that is valve? Do I get a single or a double boiler? First you have to figure out what category of machine you want so let's start there.

Super automatics – These do it all, grind, tamp, brew and in some cases froth the milk for you. If you are looking for super convenience this is the best option and in most cases the most expensive.

Semi Automatics -- Here you grind the coffee, tamp the grounds, control the temp and amount of water.

Manuals – These beautiful machines require you to actually pump the water with a lever through the grounds. They also are expensive and only for the purists in my opinion.



The Machine


We decided to go with a semi-auto machine since it seemed like the best option to meet out needs and budget. We needed a machine that could use pods or fresh ground coffee, was well built, reliable, and reasonably priced. After talking with 1st-line Equipment, LLC they suggested that we consider the Ascaso Steel line which I had never heard of before. After a little research I found out that Ascaso started in Barcelona Spain in 1962 and has been producing high quality espresso machines ever since. They are probably best known for the "Dream" line of espresso machines which come in various colors and are very stylish in design. The "Steel" line is one of the newer lines and is perfect for an office setting or light commercial use.

1st-line Equipment, LLC is the main distributor for Ascaso in the United States which explained the recommendation. My first thought was to buy Italian such as a Rancillio Silvia, but after some research I was sufficiently convinced that Ascaso would be a good choice. The specific model that 1st-line Equipment, LLC recommend was the Ascaso Steel Special Edition .

After several months of use we have found that it works very well with pods has an excellent steam wand for frothing milk and does a good job with fresh ground coffee. This is a great machine for the person who will probably use pods most of the time but would like the ability to use fresh grounds from time to time.




The Ascaso Steel Special Edition comes with just about all the features you need to brew great espresso. Some of the top features are:

  • brass boiler
  • 2 liter water tank
  • Auto shut off if water tank is empty
  • Up to 16 bar pump
  • No water reservoir warning light
  • Temperature gauge
  • Slide out drip tray
  • Top heating plate for cups,

The Ascaso was also in the right price range for what we were looking for (between $500 - $600). When you start researching an espresso machine you might be shocked to find out just how much a good cup of coffee can cost. A good quality espresso maker, grinder and tamper can easily set you back a $1,000 dollars. Pro-sumer machines can get very pricey very quickly (upwards of $3,000 – $7,000 for a top of the line machine). Don't forget the grinder which can easily cost you $250.00 – over $1,000 depending on the model you choose. One you begin investing in quality espresso equipment you will gain a newfound respect for why good coffee shops charge what they do for espresso and cappuccino. Keep in mind, though, investing in a top of the line machine is a good investment. It is a machine that with proper maintenance and care you will have for years to come.




The Grinder


So we had the right machine, now we needed to find the right grinder. Again 1st-line Equipment, LLC suggested going with Ascaso's mini grinder which matched the machine nicely. The mini is a fantastic "burr" grinder which will meet just about any espresso lover's needs. The mini has the following key features:

• 1200 rpm grinding speed
• Grinding conical diameter 38mm
• Bean hopper capacity 250 g
• 1 years parts and labor warranty





Counter Space (who would of thought?)

So the day came and the shiny steel Ascaso arrived and I was ready. At least in my mind I thought I was ready. Set up was very straightforward nothing complicated here. It is recommended that you use a surge protector in order to protect the machine from electrical line issues that over time can damage the machine. Other research I did also informed me that it is necessary to let these types of machines warm up for a minimum of a half hour prior to use to allow the portafilter to get to the right temperature to brew good espresso. The recommendation is to use a timer so the machine is ready to use first thing in the morning. Since we have limited counter space neither of these recommendations seemed practical at all.

I can't stress how important it is to consider the counter space you are willing to part with when selecting your espresso machine and grinder. Choosing a machine such as the Ascaso Steel Special Edition and a grinder will cause you to lose a considerable amount of counter space. I highly recommend reviewing the machine size measurements and making sure you have the space as this was something I failed to do.




Making the espresso


Having been completely green to the art of making espresso I confess I had no idea what was involved. A good friend of mine is a sniper in the US military and he once talked about all the factors involved in hitting a target. Wind, temperature, distance, humidity, speed, type of ammunition and many other factors come into play when shooting long distance targets. Making espresso is no different there are numerous factors that come into play in trying to make good espresso. As a matter of fact I would like to point out that good equipment is only one small part of the mix. The coffee beans you use, the freshness of the beans you use, water temperature, grind of the beans, how tightly the grounds are packed into the portafilter (tamping), the length of time extracting the coffee, and more. So here I was reading all of this thinking what on earth did I get myself into? I mean I just want a cup of coffee man and half the time I am so spaced out in the morning I can't even find the button to turn on the drip coffee maker. Now I have to heat up the beast, grind the beans, tamp them down, temperature surf till the water is just right then hit the button.

That being said, the amount of time and effort you want to put into making your coffee is another very important factor. If you are not interested in the "art" of making coffee, the heating, grinding, tamping etc. then you are probably better off going with a fully automatic or strictly pod-based machine like Nespresso.

Since I literally had no idea of what I was doing, my first attempts were utter flops. That is to be expected but practice makes perfect. There are many great videos on YouTube of how to grind the beans properly, how to tamp as well as many great "how-to" articles on the web of how to make espresso properly. Below is a step-by-step photo guide to making an espresso with the Ascaso Steel Special edition. Before we start, here are a few key things to shoot for when you make espresso:

• From the time you hit the button to the time you finishing brewing the espresso, it should be between 20-25 seconds. No no more, no less. This is for a double shot (2 – 2.5 ounces) of espresso.
• The water temperature should be around 190 - 196. No more. 
• When you first start your espresso machine, run a little hot water to get rid of overly-hot water and get the machine temp to the right range. This is called "Temperature Surfing".
• Tamp the grounds down with around 30LBs. of pressure. I used a good old fashioned bathroom scale to measure how much pressure I was applying.
• The espresso should have a nice crema when it pours out of the portafilter. The coffee should be a nice, deep, reddish brown color.
• Fresh coffee beans should be allowed to age a few days before use. To Allow proper amounts of carbon dioxide to escape from the bean which affects the flavor.


Grinding the coffee


The tamped grounds



Nice crema coming from the Ascaso



The finished 2 oz. pull in 25 seconds


After about two weeks of making espresso, using up a good amount of beans and feeling a little frustrated, I decided it was time to get a little guidance from the pros. Yes, there are many books, websites, videos and coffee making resources, but nothing beats a "hands on" class with the pros. Intelligentsia coffee happens to be in my home-town, Chicago and they offer regular barista classes. For $200.00 you can spend the afternoon with two seasoned baristas and learn the finer points of brewing espresso, grinding, tamping, frothing milk and machine maintenance. The class was just what I needed to build my confidence and work out some of the common mistakes beginners make. Unless you know an experienced barista who is willing to give you a few lessons, taking a class at a local coffee shop is a great way to go.


It has been several months since we received the Ascaso and we are now quite proficient with making good espresso and cappuccinos. The experience has truly made me appreciate great tasting espresso so much more. In short, we are extremely happy with the Ascaso Steel Special Edition. It is a fantastic machine that is not only beautiful to look at, but also very well made and easy to use. Be sure to visit1-st line coffee equipment. They carry just about every brand of espresso machine and if you don't see the brand you're looking for just contact them. They will probably be able to get it for you.

Ascaso Steel Special Edition Espresso Machine

This is the same machine as the Ascaso Steel Uno Professional except that it has a smaller brass boiler (~225cc) and a 57mm portafilter grouphead and handle. This machine's three way solenoid valve only acts to relieve the pressure in the grouphead immediately after the extraction is complete. However, by design, it will not dry the extracted puck as well as the Professional version of this machine. On the flip side, this machines does a much better job with E.S.E. espresso coffee pods when compared to the professional version.

Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
ChefTalk.com › Culinary Schools, Cookbooks & Cookware › Small Appliances › Coffee, Tea & Espresso › Espresso › Ascaso Steel Special Edition Espresso Machine