- Created: Saturday, 09 May 2009 01:00
- Written by colin newell
In over ten years of testing every imaginable coffee brewer and espresso machine, I have come to one important conclusion. There is no one particular machine that is perfect for everyone - but there is a method or machine for just about everybody.
For lovers of drip coffee there are a few devices that seem to please just about everybody; electric drip brewers for instance. There are lots to choose from all price points - and some of these units are pretty good. Now keep in mind, they do not do everything. You still have to acquire beans and (ideally) grind them yourself just prior to brewing.
In the World of espresso and cappuccino, it is an entirely different place - machine wise. In ten years we have witnessed an extraordinary evolution in design and engineering from the brewing perspective. On one hand we have manual espresso makers, the designs of which go back 50 to 100 years. And on the flip side we have these fairly new counter-top all in one units that make pressure brewed coffee, espresso, latte and cappuccino at the push of a button. You add water and beans, power up, warm up, make a selection, press a button and enjoy your beverage... your way
The Saeco Talea Ring Plus system of coffee brewers has taken the consumer to a new level. And for an old-fashioned espresso man like me - some of this technology comes as bit of a shock... and in the end analysis, a pleasant surprise.
Those who know me (well) have a pretty clear picture of my opinion on specialty coffee technology. Old is better right? Well, yes and no. The CoffeeCrew mission is to bring knowledge and specialty coffee happiness to as many people as possible. Truth be told, it is simply not possible to bring superb specialty coffee to a large audience with just the basics - you know, the old style.
There. I said it and the World did not explode.
The Saeco Talea Ring Plus coffee system approaches the dilemma of mass customer satisfaction thusly:
Gather together the very best methodology for the super-automatic coffee systems available and then push it that extra few yards with some sassy technology - that actually works.
Ok. So here is the skinny on the World of Super-Automatic espresso machines large and small. The Swiss invented and perfected the internal mechanisms. (correct me if I am wrong... but SOLIS and SCHAERER Switzerland created everything we know about SuperAutomatica large and small) - Walk into any Starbucks now-a-days and you are drinking espresso, caps and latte brewed by a Swiss made robot. Baristi in the Green mo-chine are thing of the past. Good or bad, it is just the current reality.
And for those folks who want to bring a reasonable facsimile of this particular coffee house experience into their homes... Saeco has packaged it for you in the Saeco Talea Ring Plus. It is tried, tested and solid technology and it has arrived.
My sample Saeco Talea Ring Plus came from Saeco West in Vancouver, British Columbia - courtesy of Amanda, Dino and the fine folks at Saeco Canada. Truth is, Saeco has been after me for some time to give the Saeco Talea Ring Plus a fair shake. For residents of Vancouver and the GVRD - do consider popping over to Saeco West on Boundary Road to check out their fabulous show-room. You will come away thoroughly caffeinated.
My Saeco Talea Ring Plus came boxed to withstand the elements and the roughest, toughest shippers imaginable. The factory box is also sufficiently over-sized to allow for a generous block of styrofoam - it holds the Saeco Talea Ring Plus in one piece - everything assembled. All you do is pull it out of the box, plug it in with the heavy-duty plug provided. Per usual, the Saeco Talea Ring Plus ships with a comprehensive and intelligible multi-lingual manual, some cleaning and adjustment tools and a water-filter unit (suggested for use everywhere - more on this later).
Because the Saeco Talea Ring Plus brewing system is designed to serve a broad spectrum of the specialty coffee community, there are a lot of variables to consider when setting up for your initial brew. There are two approaches to this:
Option One: Load up the Saeco Talea Ring Plus with coffee beans and water (per the manual instructions) and power up. The Saeco Talea Ring Plus heats up in a timely fashion - power up to brew ready in a few minutes. The Saeco Talea Ring Plus (on factory default settings) does a rinse when after it warms up - so always keep a cup ready under the delivery spouts. The factory defaults on the Saeco Talea Ring Plus are fairly middle of the road - the resultant product may be to your liking. Then again, it might not be.
Option two: Read the manual a couple of times and find out what you can do with the Saeco Talea Ring Plus. There are lots of system adjustments and most of them are in menu items or firmware. There are very few physical things you can do with the Saeco Talea Ring Plus. And what I mean by that: There is one switch (the power switch) and two knobs (brew strength and brew/steam/milk island activation). Everything else is in the space-age i-Pod touch screen technology built into the Saeco Talea Ring Plus.
Everyone has seen the i-Pod. Many, many have used one. I have not but I have used (and installed) a lot of touch screen/slider technology in the multi-media labs I design and install (in my real job). Touch screen technology has come a long, long way in the past few years. The Ring component of the Saeco Talea Ring series of brewers is functional and intuitive. The Saeco Talea ring system has just enough touch buttons to get you where you want to go in product selection quickly and without confusion.
Tip: Get a sense of what you like to drink and how you would like to drink it and program it in as a default selection. In my initial adventure and usage with the Saeco Talea system I found myself making minor tweaks to coffee and espresso strength when I could have set it "sticky" in firmware - Oh well. Part of the learning curve.
Overall I found the learning and usage experience with the Saeco Talea brewing refreshing, challenging and fun. Oh yes, and flexible... very, very flexible. With super-auto's of old one was stuck with a finite number of settings and tweaks. The Saeco Talea Ring series of coffee and espresso brewers has lots and lots of things to adjust - all of them useful and meaningful. Sadly, in the few weeks I have been engaged in serious play with this brewer, I scarcely took advantage of some of the presets and ability to create and memorize some of my favorite drinks. That said, I have been offered the option of playing with every other Talea Ring series in the next few months.
Side-bar: The Saeco Talea Ring Plus comes with a couple of small tools - one of them is for adjusting the grind. One of the first things I did was set the grind to as fine as possible. Personal preference pretty much.
I took option one above. I powered up the Saeco Talea Ring Plus and took what I got. I am a big fan of very hot and very strong coffee. With default settings on the Saeco Talea Ring Plus, I was let down a bit. The coffee was not hot enough to my taste and somewhat watery. Into the manual I go. I quickly found where the temperature setting was and I determined how to get the strongest possible shot for the brew mode selected (in this case espresso).
With everything maxed out I managed to brew some passable shots of espresso. And to be fair and open, I was somewhat dubious of the capabilities of the Saeco Talea Ring Plus to actually brew something other than swiss brew coffee or cafe creme as it is often called. Judging by the following series of photos taken with my Canon EOS-30D, we can clearly see that this is not the super-automatic coffee brew of old. Yes, that is the Guinness effect in action!
From my old-fashioned perspective on classic espresso, these shots would be throw-aways (based on my bench mark from the Rancilio Silvia or the ECM Giotto) - even compared to any of the Gaggia series of espresso makers, these shots would not please a fan of standard espresso coffee. My opinion of course.
The product from the Saeco Talea Ring Plus will probably satisfy newcomers to home specialty coffee. The "espresso" shots are stronger than the coffee normally encountered in the home and there is enough "edge" to resonate with consumers looking for something more.
As building blocks for fancy drinks, I think the "espresso" from the Saeco Talea Ring Plus is more than adequate for hiding in a cappuccino or latte. (Tonights exercise is to actually play with the optional "Milk Island" system that ships as an accessory to the Saeco Talea Ring Plus. More on that later.
The milk island accessory comes as a luxury option for the Saeco Talea ring series of brewers. The wand on the Saeco Talea brewer line would make Harry Potter proud. It packs enough punch to froth milk quickly and efficiently. If that is not enough and you want to take the guesswork out of milk frothing then the Island might be for you. It interfaces with the Talea ring series of brewers quickly. It looks like a fancy glass (It is not glass BTW) carafe and it plugs into the body of the Talea ring brewer. The Talea ring provides the steam and the power for the unit - but you still need to shut it off when your milk appears to be frothed sufficiently. You are probably not going to do latte art with it - that is what the main wand might be good for. I do not know. I am neither a milk drinker or milk foaming expert. So, I may examine this more in the future.
Colin Newell lives in Victoria B.C. Canada and finds testing specialty coffee technology fascinating, challenging, rewarding and sometimes amusing. Man, I love this job!