Is there a better way to get to know something than to actually try it out? In a way, Whole Latte Love is a lot like Car and Driver, we just deal with sleek looking dream machines minus the Pirelli tires, right?
So when the booming voice from above, that incidentally has Pirelli PZeros on his rear-engine German import, suggested that we spotlight the Franke Flair for February’s newsletter, there was some immediate campaigning within the writers sanctuary, aptly named the Cube of Destiny, to be the chosen one.
It was a landslide though, and I won. That’s because there are only a handful of people in our office that have commercial experience, and having owned a coffee shop for two years, I made the cut. So without delay, I commandeered a Flair from our warehouse and set up shop.
Knowing the Flair was designed for the relatively inexperienced user in an office-type setting, I was already ahead of the game. Without making any electrical modifications like some commercial machines I’ve worked with, I plugged the Flair right into my kitchen outlet using the 120v, 15amp plug. Then I added water to the removable 5.5-liter reservoir located on the right side of the machine and waited a few minutes for it to warm up.
By the time the Flair was nearing brew temperature, I had added both decaffeinated and regular beans into the two top-loading half-pound bean hoppers, attached the auto-frother to the optional MilkMate System, and I was ready to go to work.
The Flair has eight pre-programmed buttons, so it’s ready to brew cappuccinos, single and double espressos, macchiatos, café lattes and café Americanos right out of the box, whether you’ve got the optional MilkMate System or not. The Flair also allows you to customize up to 24 different drinks by simply pressing a combination of the eight buttons. Personally, I advise experimenting a little before you begin programming the customized drinks. However, once you’re comfortable with the Flair, it’s easy to change the amount of coffee to be ground, amount of water desired or even the temperature of your coffee and milk.
Located on the front of the machine, these versatile buttons are clearly labeled so customers or employees can make espresso-based drinks without any training. The Flair also has what you might call a v-chip or parental control system, so managers and supervisors can disable the manual steaming and programming options. This is ideal if you want to leave the Flair unattended in a hotel lobby or cafeteria without the fear that someone will be scalded or that the machine will be reprogrammed accidentally.
Dual Grinders and Bean Hoppers
If you were blown away by the Flair’s programming ability, you’re sure to be impressed with the versatility that the dual burr-grinders have.
The Flair is shipped with both grinder mechanisms set for medium, however, it’s very easy to experiment with the settings to find the grind that works for you. If you want to change your grind settings, all you have to do is give the bean hoppers a turn – clockwise for a finer grind and counterclockwise for a coarser one. Once you’re familiar with the Flair and its grinders, it’s easy to adjust them by simply turning the large knobs on the top of the machine. Turn them to the right for finer grinding and to the left for coarser grinding, and always remember to adjust the grinder while it’s running. And, if I may make another suggestion, turn the grinder one notch at a time, as each notch tends to make a big difference. It’s important to bear in mind that the grinder changes don’t take effect immediately - it takes two doses of coffee before the changes are executed because there’s coffee already in the machine ready to brew.
Each of the smoked plastic bean hoppers hold a half-pound of coffee beans. However, if you’re using the Flair in a busy office or retail setting, and are looking to refill the hoppers less frequently, there are one-pound hoppers available to purchase. Either way, the hoppers are easy to fill and feed the grinder quickly and smoothly without jamming up.
Steaming and Frothing
When I commandeered the Flair for this month’s spotlight, I also managed to smuggle out the Franke MilkMate System. The MilkMate is a double-lined, 12-volt refrigeration unit that sits on the left side of the machine and is designed specifically for use with the Flair.
It’s ideal because of the discreet milk hose that snakes alongside of the machine. And while the MilkMate System is not essential because the Flair pulls the right amount of milk from any style jug using the auto-frother, it’s nice to have because it seamlessly blends with the design of the Flair and keeps the milk at 41 o all day long.
The look isn’t the only thing that’s seamless on the Flair - the auto-frothing system itself is completely automatic. When you brew a café latte for instance, the Flair pulls the desired amount of milk from any external container, then froths, steams and dispenses it along with espresso directly into your cup.
And if you’re a die-hard coffee geek and refuse to use the auto-frothing system, the Flair also allows you to use the integrated frothing wand. Just press one of the buttons on the front of the Flair and you can froth manually.
Cleaning and Descaling
If all this these automated features have you worried that the Flair will be impossible to clean, think again. The clever engineers at Franke thought of everything, because when the machine is inactive for a 10 minutes, there’s a routine rinse cycle that cleans out the automatic frother and brew group, so you’ll never have to worry about unsanitary milk conditions or stale coffee.
Like everything else on the Flair, you can program the rinse cycle for longer than the 10-minute delay that comes pre-programmed from the factory. This integrated rinsing cycle, combined with a cleaning and descaling program that is as simple as inserting a tablet into the top flap of the machine, makes the Flair one of the easiest commercial machines to clean on the market today. The Flair is also programmed to notify you on the digital LCD display panel when cleaning or descaling is needed – so you’ll always know exactly when to perform maintenance.
While I didn’t try out the white glove service that comes with the Franke Flair because I snagged it from our warehouse, Whole Latte Love does offer free Flair set-up as well as a complete training program by certified technicians. That’s a huge bonus for those with no barista experience.
With the Franke Flair package, a service technician will explain to you and your company all of the features the Flair has to offer and they’ll even program the machine specifically for you. So if you want to offer large, extra hot, extra foam cappuccinos, the service representative will make that happen. The service representative will also give you an in-depth tutorial on how to clean and maintain the Flair for years to come.
We rated the Flair at a production rate of 100 cups per day, with the ability to brew about 50 cups in your busiest hour – so it serves as the perfect commercial espresso machine for a small office, restaurant or café. As for the 0-60 mph, breaking distance and other performance stats, check out the Franke Flair at our Commercial site