What we saw here at Host is an alpha concept prototype of the 388 Black Eagle. The machine has two key notable features, the first being its striking aesthetics. Black Eagle is essentially a carefully considered cosmetic redesign of Nuova Simonelli's well-respected Aurelia T3 espresso machine. The design of this machine was developed in concert with James Hoffmann, 2007 World Barista Champion, who first started working with Nuova Simonelli in the development of their new Clima-Pro grinder. Mr. Hoffmann told us, “The more I became involved with the grinder project, the more I started to nag them about direction and developing more ideas.”
As a quick matter of crash course, yes, this is a Nuova Simonelli product, but it's being released under the company's distinct Victoria Arduino brand, which Nuova Simonelli acquired several years ago. James told us, “Black Eagle is being released under Victoria Arduino because Nuova is a very successful and established brand, whereas Arduino – which has a great deal of proud history, mind you – was seen as being ripe for a breakaway and a new brand identity.” This is part and parcel with Nuova re-establishing Victoria Arduino as a kind of boutique line for style-minded baristas and cafe owners, incorporating the company's World Barista Championship competition standard T3 technology into a new, sleek, bespoke package, one that would look quite at home on a contemporary specialty coffee bar.
The second key feature, and the most exciting, is the Black Eagle's built-in gravimetric weighing system, incorporated directly into the grate above the machine's drip tray. The gravimetric capabilities of the Black Eagle are designed around individual load cells, stored inside the machine and mounted within the drip tray grates using a simple and easy to remove latch. These load cells weigh the volume in a cup, which is then displayed in a digital read out above the group head, featuring both time and weight data. Software inside the machine tells the load cell what to read and what to ignore; for example, the software can distinguish between reading shot volume and a barista's hand inadvertently bumping the drip tray. Smart software is the key to making this gravimetric system work as advertised.
We asked James to explain to us what he sees as the benefit of the machine's gravimetric system: “Put simply, it's a matter of scales vs. flow meters. Flow meters are relatively consistent, but in many cafes they aren't terribly reliable. There's a kind of constant flux in cafes, and when you dose up, for example, that messes with extraction. Volumetrics tend to get tripped up in enviornemnts where small changes occur.” And having to account for changes in volumetric conditions in a busy cafe setting amounts to, as James put it, “politely a pain in the ass.”
But is this what matters? Volume instead of time, or evaluating an espresso based on its weight and not visually, as is commonly taught? “Beverage mass is the most important factor in extraction,” Mr. Hoffmann opined. “Any variation will change taste. Beverage mass is king – we're not as obsessed with brew time as we once were.” The degree of variability on the Black Eagle is still being tuned up, but 1 gram of variation is the target for launch.
Ah, yes, the launch – gear heads and enthusiasts alike will still have to wait a few months before the Black Eagle hits cafes worldwide. There will be a standard volumetric version released first – in early 2014 – with the gravimetric version to follow later in 2014, and at a slightly higher price point. Again, what we saw was an early prototype, but the machine is full speed ahead to be industrialized and released next year.
As a matter of summation, we asked James Hoffmann to give us a kind of mission statement for the Black Eagle. He told us the following:
“There's a gap between the astonishing coffees out there and what's typically served in most great cafes. This is a product designed to close that gap. This machine is for people who make promises and keep them. We describe coffee to eloquently, but often deliver it so poorly, and we're trying to change that.”
[Top images via Instagram.]