A unit that was issued to me in fall 2006, I am finally getting around to writing the much-needed short take on the Bellman stovetop espresso maker. Although I have been distracted with other extravagent grinders and espresso machines from the CoffeeCrew.com team, this small unit does need recognition.
Before I get started, my first piece of advice is this: only gas stove readers need read on! One caveat of the Bellman is the requirement of a gas stove. The intense heat is a must for creating the pressure to simulate a more traditional pump espresso unit. From a first look, the Bellman does not look like a normal espresso machine, but for those needing something a bit cheaper for homemade espresso, this unit does the job!
Getting started with the Bellman takes some getting used to, as it is a far cry from any other home unit in terms of design. The unit has a series of valves and removeable pieces which can be confusing out of the box. After determining the right capacity setting inside the boiler, and filled with an espresso grind, this unit models after the steam pressure method. It is very similar to the aluminum stovetop models, but is capable of greater steam pressure due to the tightening knob and rubber seals around the stainless steel boiler.
After two to three minutes on high heat, the Bellman is capable of even producing some crema (very rare for a stovetop unit!). However, it is not capable of producing espresso of the same intensity as a traditional pump-pressure unit. Nevertheless, mixed with some hot water, a decent Americano can be achieved!
After the brewing the espresso, all valves can be closed and placed back on the heat to increase the pressure again to switch over to steam pressure. Done through the stainless steel steam-tube in the same way you see your local barista steam your milk, the milk can be steamed sufficently, although you have to ensure there is enough pressure left in the boiler - otherwise you may run out before reaching the appropriate temperature.
If I were to mention the one downside of the Bellman - it would be that the unit is completley manual for heating and is not being driven by a continuous electric pump and heating element. This means you can run out of pressure middway through brewing or steaming. I will say that using the Bellman does take some getting used, very similar to a La Pavoni lever-style espresso machine. However, if you do take the time to learn and are looking for a stove-top unit, look no further.
The Bellman Cappucino is available from TerraCaf.ca in Montreal and Cairo Coffee - Victoria, B.C. Canada. For more information, go to: http://www.fantes.com/bellman_parts.htm .
Dave Reimer lives and works in Vancouver B.C. Canada - His day-job puts him in the heart of coffee country - and take advantage of great coffee, he does!
Additional thoughts from Colin -
I have always wanted a Bellman. It's a classic design with a lot of functionality built into an inexpensive package. There are, however some pluses and minuses.
The first one is - The Bellman demands a robust and fierce heat source. My electric stove is a wimp and the Bellman did not fair well, Gas, although not totally necessary is a big plus. With gas you have lots of minute control of the heat. This is important for a successful brew cycle.
The Bellman is a stove-top coffee maker (not espresso) but with the steam wand and impressive steam power available, one can make some serious latte and cappuccino style drinks. Better yet, you can skip the coffee and make steamers, London fogs (Earl Grey tea and foamed milk...) and an assortment of non-coffee drinks.
Keep in mind - it might not make espresso but it does killer steamed milk and foam that can be used for a wide variety of drinks. If you have a home pump powered espresso maker, the Bellman makes a good second-fiddle in home cap and latte production -- that is, if you electric is not up for the task.
The one other downside is - the Bellman has an odd assortment of extra gaskets and fittings that might take a bit of getting used to initially. I did. It took a while but I figured it out.
Thankfully there are complete gasket kits available for the Bellman at a reasonable cost.
Overall, the Bellman is a neat unit that travels well, camps well (perfect with a camp stove or camp fire) and it fits virtually any budget.
The CoffeeCrew rates the Bellman as a must-have for all serious coffee fans that have to have a variety of brew methods.
Colin Newell is the editor and creator of the CoffeeCrew website - from his perch in Victoria B.C. Canada, he has a birds-eye view of ground-zero | Coffee Country.