Given the rain is literally pouring down outside I figured I’d take some time off work and give some first impressions of my new coffee toys that arrived recently – a new Behmor 1600 Plus roaster and a Breville Double Boiler coffee machine.
I need to qualify what I say here by stating that there are various degrees of ‘coffee snobs’ and from what I can see I qualify as one of the ‘domestic’ variety. There are many more serious than me, but given its been 10 years since I drank instant I am probably not ‘casual’ about this.
It was my old mate Grendel who I describe as the ‘coffee evangelist’ who led me into the kingdom of caffeine and my life has never been the same… Well… you get the idea.
After my coffee conversion 10 years back in Grendel’s garage I purchased my first machine – a second hand Sunbeam 6910 and it served me well for several years before the steam wand stopped functioning. Since then there have been 2 more ‘Gumtree’ Sunbeams in the family (the last one a $60 purchase because the owner didn’t how to work it) and they have served us well, although both had steam wand issues that I couldn’t justify paying to get fixed. You can see the pattern here right?
When it comes to machines I am a self confessed tight arse. I don’t have a palette that can appreciate the subtle ‘berry flavours and chocolate hints’ that others seem to be able to detect. I can tell if its good coffee, average coffee or bad coffee. Bad is what you get at the Como deli before going there to preach on a Sunday morning. Average is Dome – bland and unoffensive – but equally unappealing and good (or maybe even very good) is what you get in some of the more boutique cafes around the place – but now also at home.
I never forget being out to dinner with friends and discussing whether or not to stay for coffee. I said quite clearly ‘No way! Come back to our place as the coffee back there will be way better than what we get here.’ I didn’t realise the cafe manager was standing behind me listening… I turned around to see her there – smiled and said ‘Sorry – but its true…’
We even have a camping coffee machine… It was the Breville Aroma that did the big lap of Oz with us and served us well and now its a Sunbeam equivalent that hits the road whenever we travel. When the last 6910 passed away I brought the camping machine into the home, but between the pressurised baskets and the simple technology of the machine the coffees were less than great.
I actually opted to buy a brand new machine this time and went to the Good Guys in Clarkson to pick up another 6910, complete with grinder. It turned out the steam pump in the new machine was spluttering and texturing milk was next to impossible, so I took it back and exchanged it. The next machine did the same… so back it went and I asked for a refund. To their credit the Good Guys did this and I was impressed with their service. I didn’t want to get a refund, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know when its ‘not me’, but the machine. I have to add the free grinder that goes with the 6910 is not impressive at all. It spatters grinds everywhere and doesn’t have a simple on/off switch, but only one operated by the pressure of the portafilter. I’ll be happy never to own one of them.
With the Sunbeam 6910s off the radar now I began to look around. The new Sunbeam EM7000 was getting some pretty good reviews, and some folks were suggesting the Breville Double Boiler. At $1400 approx it was not looking likely for this tightarse coffee snob.
But as I read the reviews of this machine it really did come up smelling of roses 99% of the time. The coffee snobs forum thread devoted to the machine (400 pages since 2011) contains some complaints and some sign of the problems you may expect, but this is only a small sample of the owners, most of whom I am guessing are very happy with their machines.
So I decided to gamble.
I saw one of these on evil bay for $999.00 – a big saving on retail as it was a factory second… And then eBay had their 15% off Sunday and I decided to jump. It means that I got the machine for $900.00 with free postage (Yes – 15% of $999 is more than $100 but that was the max discount) and I figured that even if I hated it, I could sell it on for that price with no trouble. I also liked the fact that it was a ‘second’ and had been checked over by a techy, because it (should) mean that it doesn’t have any obvious flaws.
Well, it arrived yesterday and with a lunchtime finish at work I was able to get home and play with it for the afternoon – and it is very very good.
Some stuff I like about it:
- it fires up to temp pretty quick 5-10 mins max
- the coffee quality was excellent. I roast my own beans and haven’t been happy with the stuff coming out of the camping machine. I thought maybe it was the beans… Nope…
- the steam wand is great and operates via a ball valve which means that if like me, you are often heating 100 mls of milk then you can dial it down a bit rather than having huge amounts of steam smashing the bottom of the jug.
- the front fill mechanism is a great idea, as is the swivel foot that allows the machine to be moved easily.
- the shot clock is interesting and novel, but I doubt I will use the pre-set buttons much as I like to control my own shot
So after a day I can say ‘Yes – this one is a keeper!’ Its nice to see a really cool coffee pour again after the month spent with the camping machine. If I had any criticism at this point it would simply be the size of the unit. We now have a coffee station that doubles as a kitchen…
As well as the coffee machine I recently bought a Behmor Plus roaster. Again, after 10 years of using a heat gun and breadmaker (popularly called a Corretto) I figured I had earnt my stripes and could graduate to a half decent roaster.
These sell for $450.00 on Coffee Snobs and so far I’ve been very happy with it. You can roast up to 450g in it although I have only gone as far as 350g at this point. It has a whole heap of features to allow you to take control over the roast, but for my use I simply run on the pre-set ‘profile 1′ and use the timer to adjust the roast time up or down. I’ve done several batches of roasts and while it does give a more consistent roast than the Corretto it is not ‘worlds apart’. What you can achieve with a retired breadmaker and heat gun is quite impressive!
The machine looks like a microwave and operates with a heating element and drum. You can pre-heat if you wish by running the cycle for less than 2 mins and re-starting. You can have a max roast time of around 21 mins which is plenty for most of what I do. The downside of the Behmor is the cooling cycle takes place in the roaster and lasts for 10-12 minutes. In this time the beans are inevitably being ‘roasted’ a little longer than intended so this needs to be factored into the roast equation. Or if you roast in a garage like I do, you can simply open the front door and speed up the cooling process. It does allow a bit of chaff to fly around, but if a vacuum is handy you can suck most of it up easily.
So I think I’m good for a few years now and a decent coffee is never far away.