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So, how do you make espresso without using a pump to create the pressure used in the extraction process? And what kind of machine produces espresso that many say is softer, smoother and sweeter?
Hey espresso lovers, Marc here from Whole Latte Love. The answer to both those questions is a spring lever machine like the Profitec Pro 800. Today, an in-depth look inside and outside the Pro 800 and a look at some key features that set it apart from other spring lever machines.
First the basics. From it’s massive 3.5 liter copper boiler to the the fine detail of it’s mirror finished case, the Pro 800 is definitely a beauty. Boiler temperature is controlled by a Gicar PID. But you wouldn’t know that at first glance. In an effort to give the machine a clean look the PID display and controls are hidden behind the drip tray.
The machine is plumbable or can run from its 3 liter reservoir. When plumbed direct to a waterline the machine is silent—the pump never operates. Line pressure fills the boiler and boiler pressure fills the group. When using the reservoir the vibration pump operates only to refill the boiler.
To change between reservoir and plumbed operation a switch behind the drip tray turns off the reservoir’s water sensor and a mechanical valve is turned to select the plumbed connection. Included with the machine is a braided stainless line for that connection. Personally I prefer mechanical valves over electrically operated solenoids. It’s a simpler setup that’s unlikely to ever have a problem.
For machines sold in North America, the Pro 800 uses a 1500 watt heating element in a 3.5 liter copper boiler. A dip tube in the boiler uses boiler pressure to push water into the group. And, that lever group is massive weighing in at 17 pounds—that’s 7.8 kilograms. While some lever machines use a heat exchange boiler to feed the group, the dipper setup on the 800 has some advantages.
First, the machine’s pump is never used to apply pressure to the coffee. It only runs to fill the boiler when using the reservoir water source. As mentioned, when plumbed the pump never operates.
The second advantage over a typical heat exchange setup is the ability to do a true low pressure pre-infusion. When you pull the lever down only the boiler pressure of about 1 to 1.5 bar is applied to brew water in the group and in turn the coffee in the portafilter. In a heat-exchange setup like on a Bezzera Strega for instance the pump would come on to refill the chamber in the group and exert its full pump pressure on coffee in the portafilter.
For me, the ability to do a true low pressure pre-infusion is a key benefit of the dipper system in the Pro 800. Now I’ll be honest, when I first used the machine I was a little freaked out when I pulled down the lever without a packed portafilter in place and out came lots of steam and definitely overheated water. Turns out, that’s exactly what should happen as boiler pressure pushes out water when there’s no restriction from a loaded portafilter. I had to really resist the temptation to keep letting it flush like I would on a heat exchange machine.
So some in the espresso community are curious as to why Profitec is using a copper boiler on the 800 when they use mostly stainless steel boilers on their other machines like the Pro 500 and 700’s. And the reasons are straightforward. On the 800 the group has a large direct connection to the boiler to facilitate passive heating of all that metal. Pulling down the lever creates a lot of force on that connection and copper is more flexible than stainless so deals with that stress better.
So why consider a lever machine in the first place? Well with the Pro 800 and the dipper setup there’s the ability to do a true low-pressure pre-infusion. Then when you raise the lever you get a pressure profile of sorts. The springs in the group rapidly increase pressure up to 12 bar. As the extraction continues the pressure gradually decreases down to zero bar. And during an extraction you can always re-cock the lever at any point to introduce more brew water and effect the pressure profile.
Now every coffee is different and as always with espresso there are variables to consider like grind size and brewing temperature but in general the gradual ramping down of pressure ovoids over-extracting at the end and tends to produce a sweeter shot. In my testing it was very noticeable especially in quality high-altitude coffees.
Looking at other parts of the machine the 800 uses the same massive sprung valves found on the pro 500 and 700. These reduce valve seat wear as it’s internal springs that close the valves and not a user’s force on the knob. The steam and hot water wands are no-burn with internal lining. The stock steam tip is a 4 hole and steaming power and longevity is what what you’d expect from a machine with a huge 3.5 liter boiler.
Inside the machine you’ll find a thoughtful design and quality components typical of all Profitec’s. The PID is Gicar as is the pump and fill controller. The boiler is well insulated and given the simple layout all components are easily accessible. All internal plumbing is copper and braided stainless. A large counterweight at the rear keeps the machine on its feet when cocking the lever.
Other quality touches included the frame that is one solid piece from front to back, stainless slide rails on the drip tray support and height adjustable feet.
The Pro 800 comes well equipped with single and double portafilters and is one of the few machines out there that comes stock with a bottomless portafilter as well. The drip tray is pre-drilled and includes a collection cup for permanent waste line setup.
Overall, the Profitec Pro 800 features all the quality touches and attention to detail found on their other machines. In the right hands this spring lever is capable of delivering impressive shots that many say are softer, smoother and sweeter than pump driven machines.
That’s the Profitec Pro 800 and it’s available now at WholeLatteLove.com. I’m Marc, and thanks for reading.