The SCAA Event is new product central, and Your Sprudge Editors have a team of correspondents on assignment on the showroom floor. Alex Bernson took a look at a few new and/or improved products today, in between shots of espresso and an occasional dip into the DaVinci chocolate fountain.
Original photography by James Hanna for Sprudge.com.
Breville Oracle and 9′
The dual-boiler 900XL has been something of a sleeper hit in the prosumer espresso market, with its combination of advanced technology like PID temperature control and programmable pre-infusion with a consumer-friendly form-factor and $1,200 price tag. Breville is updating this machine in two important directions with two new machines: The Oracle, which pairs the 900XL's internals with innovative automatic milk-frothing and coffee grinding/dosing/tamping systems, and the pro-focused 9′, an experimental machine that adds a rotary vane pump to the 900XL.
The integrated burr grinder used in the Oracle is a system somewhat similar to the La Marzocco Swift grinder, in that it delivers a super-consistently dosed puck into the portafilter at the push of a button, with no grooming or tamping involved. Adjusting the dose takes some hobbyist level tinkering, but the grind is infinitely adjustable; there is an LCD grind level readout for easy use, and Breville tries to make those numbers as consistent as possible between machines. I didn't have tons of time to test, but when I did pull a shot, the extraction seemed even and the puck had no cracking or pitting—probably thanks in part to the machine's gentle pre-infusion. The espresso system also has the full complement of cutting edge features like adjustable pre-infusion force/length and volumetric shot cut-offs and adds the ability to descale the boiler.
The automated steam wand is maybe even more impressive. It uses a built-in thermo-probe to steam milk to a temperature you set and texturizes the milk by injecting air into the steam flow, letting you adjust your desired level of foam. The milk it creates is scarily good – not as good as the best baristas, but definitely better micro-foam than I've been served at many specialty coffee bars. The wand can also be used manually, though the spray pattern and pressure made it harder to use than a standard wand.
Most impressive of all, the Oracle costs $2,000 which puts it squarely in the price range of many potential home users, while requiring radically less practice or fuss than a more traditional machine.
Breville referred to the 9‘ are a “skunkworks project” from their lead engineer, and were coy about whether or not the machine would someday be made available to the public. I really hope they decide to do so, because while Breville is already an excellent choice for espresso catering and other lighter-duty commercial applications, and the addition of a rotary vane pump and descalability to the machine would really make it just about everything you could ask for in a light-duty espresso machine.
The Mythos grinder from Nuova Simonelli is one of the leading espresso grinders on the market, packed full of features, delivering uncompromising quality, and customizable with options like high and low profile hoppers, a covered or exposed front face, and high or low rpm motors. With a few small but crucial updates, they've made the Mythos even more of an attractive option for the high-end cafe.
The first change is a patented series of vanes in the grind path that radically decrease clumping and creates an impressively low 0.5g of grind hold-back in the chute. When I saw it in action, the dose was indeed a completely clump-free pile in the middle of the portafilter, which helps a ton with extraction evenness. Less grind hold-back is great too—I really hate having to waste a bunch of coffee grinding through after I adjust my grind.
The other change is a hands-free activation system where you set the portafilter onto a fork that holds it in places and activates a button to start the grind, while you are free to do other things. This is a small detail, but it's seriously something everything grinder should do. The extra few seconds of working it gives you with every shot let you do things like clean and prep pitchers or dose syrups without having to do the awkward ambidextrous reach while you hold the portafilter in place. Seriously, everyone, please make your grinders do this.
MG Coffee Tools Smart-Tamp
This tamper from new-comer MG Coffee Tools builds a digital pressure readout into the base of a traditional tamper in a clean, attractive way. It also has easily snap-interchangeable flat and curved bases. Accepted industry knowledge has long been that how hard you tamp doesn't really matter as long as it's 30lbs of pressure, but recently some people have started to wonder if this is really the case, especially when you use aggressive pressure profiling.
I'm not sure what I think, but having a tamper like this would certainly make it a lot easier to evaluate how hard you am tamping and if that is causing variance. Even if you don't think to vary your tamp pressure is important, the Smart-Tamp could be a nice training tool to help your baristas make sure they are getting up to 30lbs of pressure. The Smart-Tamp is MG Coffee Tools' first product, but they plan to develop more accessories focused on making the life of a barista easier.
La Marzocco Volcano Swift Grinder
The release is still a way out, and the cat isn't quite out of the bag on this one yet, but there is in fact a fully functional grinder on the floor. This grinder pairs an updated Swift dosing mechanism with a Volcano grinding platform. As I mentioned in my series on barista health, I'm absurdly excited by the potential this grinder has to take a lot of the physical strain out of coffee making, how much easier it could make consistency, not to mention how much cleaner it'll keep the bar.
Of course, the real question is how good is it at making coffee? Well, watching it in action it seemed to live up to the claim of +/- 0.125 gram dose accuracy, and the shots I watched pulled off it (on a spouted portafilter) seemed to extract evenly and were quite tasty. I encourage you to go make your own judgment at the LM booth, and we will certainly be staying on top of this story as it develops.
Look forward to more show floor updates from Alex Bernson right here on Sprudge!