Articles From Whole Latte Love

Prosumer Espresso Equipment

Posted: 08/20/03

The concept of Prosumer equipment is relatively new but it is not for lack of consumer desire. Before I begin, let me explain what Prosumer means. "Pro" = professional, "sumer"= consumer. Put this odd couple together and you get espresso fanatics. They want the best equipment they can put in their kitchen and still leave room for the toaster. What is so special about Prosumer level machines? To put it in simple terms; they duplicate the commercial quality and experience.

Whole Latte Love caters to the needs of those customers who have joined the coffee culture and savor the experience of making exquisite coffee drinks. The Mocha, the cappuccino, the caramel latte, the café crema and of course, the mother of all drinks, the espresso. Prosumer machines are built to commercial standards with beefy brew groups, sledgehammer heavy portafilters, and heat exchangers with enough steam pressure to make a locomotive envious. Put it all together and there is nothing like it.

What is "It"? It is grinding exotic coffees blended and roasted by masters. Their guarded recipes are pure genius developed over years of trial and error. No Folgers here. Maxwell House...not even the first drop. Grocery store specials are fertilizer. Yes, we are talking snobbery! But believe me, once you have had the good stuff you can never go back. This is where the addiction begins, probably the only one without serious side effects that I can think of. So far we have only talked about the coffee and the experience it can provide. You can’t get there with a department store machine. You’ve got to have the right equipment to do the job. The flavors locked in each bean number in the thousands at last count. They are delicate but fragrant. They play hard to get but are easy to capture. Above all they are rewarding enough to have entire industries dedicated to the art of "it".

The Grinder

grinder close upAfter you have selected the beans it is up to you to unlock those flavors. Having the right grinder is important for several reasons. Let me start the illustration with the Blade style grinder. This grinder has a blade that whirls around at blinding speed. It cuts, mashes and slashes the bean with reckless abandon. And it keeps doing its dirty work like a barbarian in a china shop until you decide to stop the carnage. burrsThe coffee grounds are shattered in pieces of all different sizes - dust and chunks. It generates flavor-destroying heat and even creates a messy static charge. I may sound a bit dramatic but no good coffee can withstand that kind of assault and keep its flavor intact. Your Illy is toast and the Malabar Gold has been mined out. How can you unlock the coffee flavors wrought by the hand of man? A burr grinder. They come in many fashions and are well described in Grinders 101 and our Grinders Buying Guide. The best grinders are the low speed direct drive types. They are specifically designed to open the bean and reveal its treasures. Grinders that we consider worthy of the label Prosumer are:

The Espresso Machine

This is where is all comes together. The espresso machine must have certain features to be considered Prosumer level equipment. They must be constructed to professional standards for durability. They also have to be scaled down to fit in the home. What features do we look for?

Heat exchanger boiler: This is a fundamental difference from what you will find in a normal home machine, no matter how good it may be - even the Gaggia Classic or Rancilio Silvia. boilerThis boiler type is far larger in size which allows it to sustain a long and steady steam of enormous strength. The large capacity boiler has a natural reservoir of steam just waiting for your command. Once you are up to temperature there is no waiting. You can even brew and steam at the same time. At the turn of a knob you will have a much drier steam with the power to create the micro-froth or steam up a cup of milk for a latte in 30 seconds.

Commercial Portafilter: This is the handle where the ground coffee is placed. Nothing fancy here, just a load of marine brass coated beautifully in chrome. They generally will be 58 millimeters in diameter and come with either single or twin spouts. They weigh over a pound giving them a great feel; an integral part of the "experience". That mass also serves another purpose - temperature stability. Temperature stability is so important to the brewing of espresso. Remember how delicate those coffee flavors are. The temperature they are brewed at is equally important. Too hot and you can literally burn the espresso or yield a bitter taste. Too cold and your espresso will be sour and lacking the full body of expression.

Commercial Group: This is the part of the espresso machine that the portafilter locks into after it has been filled with freshly ground coffee. brew groupThe group, like the portafilter is caste of marine brass. Temperature stability is equally important here and it is accomplished by one of two methods. Heat conduction from the boiler or a thermal siphon system. With a heat conduction system the group is physically attached to the boiler. The heat of the boiler is transferred to the group by simple contact and as a result it maintains a minimal temperature delta (variance) of a couple of degrees. The E61 style group which you find on our prosumer machines, is a typical thermal siphon system that circulates water from the boiler to group. There is no pump action or moving parts involved. It is accomplished by simple physics created by water moving from a high temperature to a low temperature. The siphon system is also highly effective and quite renown in the Prosumer circles.

Three-Way-Solenoid Valve: If you want to maintain your espresso machine in the Prosumer way you have to have one of these. It serves two keen functions. solenoid valveFirst, it allows the pressure built up from the brewing process of about 8 atmospheres to be instantly relieved. As a byproduct it removes any excess water from brewing and diverts it to the drip tray. It activates automatically at the end of each extraction by turning off the pump. Some machines like the Expobar Brewtus II use a lever to manually activate the valve. The leftover coffee knocks out from the portafilter in a fairly clean puck instead of a soupy mess. The other important aspect to this control is the ability to backflush the espresso machine. Backflushing is the ideal way to keep your espresso machine clean of coffee residue buildup. It dissolves the left over coffee and clears any grounds. The residue consists of coffee oils that will turn rancid and add a bitter tasted to an otherwise perfect shot of espresso.

constructionConstruction: The Prosumer machines are built to last and have all of the key components to protect the boiler from overheating and allow you to leave it on all day. The brewing controls and switches will vary but you can be assured that they are designed to standup to commercial usage.

These machines are not rocket science. However, they are built from the ground up with one thought in mind - to brew the best espresso without compromise. The roaster did his job to roast a bean full of flavor. The grinder did its job to prepare the bean for the perfect extraction. The Prosumer espresso machine is designed to finish the job and brew espresso as it was meant to be brewed.

Whole Latte Love has scoured the world and offers the best Prosumer espresso machines for your approval. We have without a doubt the most complete line of machines and our lab has thoroughly tested every machine for compliance to our own Prosumer standards. We bench test them for performance and post many of the results up in our Compare-O-Matic so you can compare them and decide for yourself.

So, when you are ready to go to the ultimate level of coffee enjoyment we are here to guide the way.