Post By mjj
A long trip and a Fracino Piccino
Hey snobs, long time reader first time poster.
After a longish journey, I've finally got myself geared up and I thought I'd write up a bit of a review, especially given there don't seem to be any reviews of the Fracino Piccino here. They don't seem to be common in Aus, and it's certainly not the machine I was intending to get when I walked into CMS - I had my eye on the Mechanika IV initially.
After a lengthy chat with the staff there though, I decided that the Piccino was a better fit for the home (although not quite as attractive - holy moly the ECM is a gorgeous beast) - the big selling points for us were that it was quick, easy to use, and would get myself and my wife our morning coffees (lattes, generally) with a minimum of fuss.
Now, by the point I'd got there I'd tried a lot of different machines at the lower end of town. We'd had a DeLongi Icona that had bit the dust after a year, tried to replace that with a few Sunbeam options (without success) and also picked up a second hand Gaggia Baby that I tore down and rebuilt. With all of those I Was just using a milk frother (one of the cheap Aldi ones) and not steaming the milk. All of those made variable coffee, and most of them failed to pass the wife test. The Icona was actually the most reliable in terms of making a distinctly average brew, but consistently and without too much bitterness.
I spent the year after it bit the dust trying desperately to get back to that consistency, but with dreams of making real espresso in the back of my mind. I also spent the bulk of that year making drinks that alternated between sour and bitter, watery and choked. My wife would take a sip of most of them, and leave the rest of the kitchen table.
I read everything I could find. I went through kilos of beans. I started getting scientific about weight, choking machines and then easing back. And occasionally a bit of light would shine through. I read obsessively about higher end machines, and thought that maybe I'd just pack the whole thing, spend some real money and grab a Silva and a Rocky as the internet seemed to suggest. I read up on temp surfing, PIDs, heat exchangers, and prepared myself to just upgrade the whole shebang - but with a sense of dread in the back of my mind that maybe I'd keep making these erratic, undrinkable espressos just with more expensive equipment.
However, a bit of a windfall came in and I decided to bite the bullet and get serious - and with a little more cash in the bank I was thinking about going high end, thus the ECM.
Anyway, as noted, I ended up with the Piccino - along with a Vario, an OCD distributor, a naked portafilter and a couple of other odds and ends.
In the course of a week, everything has changed. I really don't have any other mid-high end machines to compare it to, but the ease of making fantastic doubles + great milk is stunning. I'm looking forward to tweaking my technique more, but the coffees I make now are already as good as my local coffee shop, and better than most.
With all the manual work I was doing in the past trying to tweak the grind on a Sunbeam grinder, get the tamp + distribution right, and then temp surf the Baby to right range for coffee and then milk this all feels like cheating. The Piccino will happily bang out shot after shot with pretty much perfect consistency, while steaming enough milk to serve an army. The Vario is dialed in to give me exactly the right dose in the basket with one button, the OCD grooms the top to perfection, then tamping with the right level and pressure feels easy. Every shot blooms from the bottom of the basket before quickly forming into a beautifully striped stream, into the cup with amazing crema.
It wasn't cheap, but I really feel like the quest is over now. I couldn't be happier, my wife is happier, and I haven't thrown a shot away since. There were a couple of teething issues, but the team at CMS are pretty awesome and got things sorted immediately.
I have no idea what the moral of this story is (and it's ended up being more of a ramble than a review) but if anyone is keen on details about the Piccino let me know - more than happy to throw up videos of it in operation if people want. Now that I feel like I've got my technique in, I'd love to check out some of the other dual boiler and HX machines to see how they compare in detail, but there's not a lot I'd change at this point. I'm also keen to bring the Baby back out and see how well I can do now I've got all the other variables dialed in better.
How goes the Piccino? I had a quick look at one last December. I currently have a Sunbeam 6910 and 440 grinder - gives reasonable output, but gives fair share of not so good results. How many milk based coffees do you do in a row. I am looking for a machine that will do 2-6 in one sitting.