The espresso machine (La Cimbali Junior Casa) and grinder (La Cimbali Max/Hybrid) arrived Monday afternoon.
Yesterday, I plumbed it in, started playing with it, and had a terrible time getting the grinder dialed in correctly. The best shots I could pull were horrible.
This morning, I had the grinder figured out to the point where the espresso was approaching decent. Not sour, not bitter, good crema (mottled, neither too much nor too little), okay body, okay mouthfeel, and the various taste "notes" came through reasonably clearly considering I'm still using bunk coffee (a blend of a couple of TJ varietals with some bulk, cheap Brazilian I got from the "Mediterranean" -- read Lebanese/Armenian -- grocery down the street, to "season" the grinder's burrs).
At the current stage of the game, I'm not going to compare the Cimbali's quality of espresso in the cup to my old Pasquini Livia 90 / Moka grinder combination because the new grinder isn't truly dialed in yet.
What I can say is that the other aspects of the machine are outstanding. For instance:
1. If you're an espresso person and wondered whether plumbing in is worth it... it is. That's the line AND the drain, by the way.
2. I'm positive the rotary pump doesn't make better coffee, but it's certainly quieter.
3. One of the big breakthroughs of the Casa -- compared to the regular DT 1 Junior -- was uniting the Cimbali group head with pre-infusion and the rotary pump. Rotary pumps come up to pressure very quickly and without pre-infusion you would end up brewing hot. It's either working as it should, or "so far so good."
4. The dual manometer -- another Casa improvement -- looks nice, might turn out to be useful later, but so far does nothing as I go "by feel" and not by gauge.
5. The final distinction between the Casa and the regular Junior is a slower steam tip on the Casa. It's plenty fast, let me tell you. It took about 15 secnds to steam 10 oz of milk for a double latte. Anything faster would be difficult to control for a non-commercial setting.
6. Automatic dosing by itself would be annoying, but combined with the free-pour button -- it kicks. Who knew?
Let me add that if you're interested in a big deal espresso machine, you NEED a big deal grinder. The grinder is more important to the quality of the cup than the machine.
So... Is the grinder / machine pair worth the $4K it costs retail?
Good espresso is wonderful thing, expensive and hard to find in commercial coffee bars. That's good espresso mind you. Everything considered, I'm probably saving something like five bucks a day compared to what I'd spend if I drank as much outside as I do in the home. Not that I would. Having that kind of quality where you can use it is the real luxury -- and it's worth a lot.
If you want the kind of build quality the La Cimbali offers, you can't beat it at any price. As I understand it (unbelievably) you have to spend more to do as well. My previous machine lasted more than twenty years, I want this one to last that long as well. Within the narrow context of "forever," the La Cimbali was one of the few choices. I certainly got more and better service from my Pasquini than could reasonably have been expected. As to the Cimbali, only time will tell.
Cosmetics and aesthetics are completely subjective. They had a great deal to do with my Cimbali choices. I really love the way they look. In that sense -- complete success. Also, I can hold my head up when lurking at home-barista.com. Priceless, right?
The Max/hybrid grinder does micro adjustment very well, but won't go from espresso (very fine) to drip or press-pot without a lot of tedious turning. The quality of the grind from the conical/flat hybrid burrs is -- for lack of a better term -- frikkin' awesome. Better than anything I've ever used. It's a little less important, but the doser is also quite nice with nice clean sweeps, and a good spring on the lever.
Give me another couple of weeks to finish dialing in the grinder and machine with a really good blend and I'll get back to you with some idea of their capabilities.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 12/29/10 at 11:48pm