By Melanie Rose
Unlike shopping for coffee machines, when one is sorting through espresso machine reviews espresso machine reviews, who is manufacturing and delivering that machine is a very important question.
There are a lot of companies jumping on the very hot espresso wagon since Starbuck’s made coffee and espresso drinks an international trend. Many have been making coffee machines for many years. But an espresso machine is a very different animal.
Espresso is fussy at best and impossible at worst. Many factors go into creating a great shot, such as the grind of the bean, the temperature of the water and the pressure applied when tamping in the portafilter basket.
So when you begin to shop for an espresso machine, all of these factors and more come into play. Nobody addresses them like the legendary Italian espresso machine manufacturers. These companies are the forerunners of the industry who came first with machete blades to carve a path for the rest.
Nuova Simonelli is one of those luminaries. Located in gorgeous Belforte del Chienti in eastern Italy, Nuova Simonelli is an industry leader who consistently designs reliable high-performance products. They have been making espresso machines since 1936, when Orlando Simonelli made his first espresso machine: the appropriately-named “1936″.
This first endeavor was an inNuovation for the period, and technically at the forefront of its kind. Since then Nuova Simonelli has had many years to hone and perfect the craft of creating espresso machines.
In doing the research for this article, I found Nuova Simonelli’s vision statement:
“We have based our identity on the emotions aroused by a great espresso. Experience, technology, inNuovation, and design are the means we use to convey this.”
It’s a great vision statement that speaks directly to the espresso lover.
But Nuova Simonelli has primarily been a designer of the big commercial machines you see at fancy restaurants and the local boutique cafes. Oscar is for the home and office. So how does it measure up? Read on.
The Oscar is a super-automatic espresso machine that offers the following features:
- Suitable for home, office or small eatery. Won’t produce enough espresso per hour for a boutique cafe.
- Heat-siphon circulation heating. Simultaneous steam.
- Coffee dispensing option.
- 2.3 liter water reservoir.
- Water-stop valve.
- Direct water connection option.
- Use espresso grounds or pods.
- 1 liter drawer with position adjustable according to height of cups.
- 360° adjustable steam nozzle.
- 12-cup holder.
- Full-color ABS bodywork, which guarantees that scratches will be invisible.
- 58 mm commercial group and portafilter.
- 1200 watt heating element.
- Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches.
- Shipping Weight: 65 pounds
Don’t worry, I realize that if you haven’t shopped for espresso machines before that most of these features will read as gobbledygook to you. We’ll be discussing most of them going forward.
The first thing to know about Oscar is that the casing is ABS plastic, not stainless steel. This is unusual for an Italian machine, but the plastic casing is durable, portable (catering events, anyone?) and a lot of folks are so fond of Oscar that they have chosen to personalize the plastic casing by decorating it. The unit comes in black, red and gray.
The biggest plus to this plastic casing is that it doesn’t show scratches. Still, if you are a lover of the sleek and stunning stainless steel Italian designs, you might turn your nose up. But, you won’t get one of those machines for $1,000, which is about what you will pay for Oscar.
Espresso is made by forcing pressurized water near boiling point through a tamped disc of ground coffee and a filter in order to produce a thick, concentrated syrup. Therefore, the boiler is a crucial element of the process. Nuova Simonelli outfits Oscar with a 2.3 liter heat exchange boiler made of 99% copper, which is widely known to be the best conductor for stable water temperature.
The semi-professional Oscar is also manufactured with other commercial grade components, like the heavy duty grouphead made from marine quality brass. Piping materials are carefully considered for perfect balance and temperature stability as well. You get the same 58mm portafilter baskets that the commercial machines on the market use. Also, Oscar can be plumbed into your water system or you can use it’s substantial 3.2 liter reservoir.
A rare feature amongst home espresso machines is the ability to brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. But the heat exchanger in this espresso machine allows you to multitask so that there is no lag time between pulling shots and adding the milk for lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatios. The machine takes from 10 – 20 minutes to heat up.
Oscar’s buttons and settings make it easy for anybody to use this machine, and it’s quite possible to pull a superb, quality shot of espresso every time, with no wasted coffee going down the drain.
The 360-degree adjustable panarello wand for milk frothing is powerful and efficient for getting the right temperature and consistency for your steamed milk.
One feature that a lot of reviews won’t get into is customer service, but I feel that it is very important where espresso machines are concerned because of their finely tuned design. Particularly the Italian machines, which can be more temperamental. In researching the customer service at Nuova Simonelli I was very pleased to find that they have high dedication to customer service, and spend roughly 240 days of their year educating customers in using their equipment. They also offer a 2 year warranty with the Oscar espresso machine.
If you take a peek at the inside of this machine, you will be thrilled with the quality you find. And cleaning plastic is so much easier than stainless steel. Just wipe it off with a damp cloth.
The quality of espresso and the consistency of quality are spectacular, and it’s so easy to use Oscar with it’s minimalist interface. Two buttons and a steam knob are all you have to worry about. You don’t even need to figure out what each feature does if you don’t want to.
The factory settings are right on, so just take Oscar out of the box, set up your espresso grounds or pods and push a button. Easy.
Oscar has a compact footprint so you don’t need a ton of counter space, and can hold up to 12 cups in the railed cup warmer at the top of the machine. But you won’t be able to put a large mug or glass in the brew area. The drip tray can be adjusted by reversing it to accommodate different cup sizes, but don’t expect to put your 20 oz ceramic mug in there. This is an espresso machine, and it’s designed for the smaller espresso cups.
If you want a sexy Italian machine, this isn’t the one. Oscar is perfect in almost every respect, but the plastic casing eliminates it from the chic and hip categories.
The plastic accessories like the portafilter handle and the grill are susceptible to cracking, but not to any great extent or hindrance of using the machine.
Some people don’t like that it does not have a hot water valve, but in all honesty this is usually a commercial machine feature, and most home espresso machines don’t have one.
Oscar’s low water indicator isn’t as efficient as it could be in that it certainly tells you that the tank is low on water — right about the time the tank is out of water, so you could get stuck mid-shot without water. Best remedy: keep an eye on the water level.
Whether you are a new espresso fan or experienced home barista, with Oscar you may never have to upgrade to a newer or better machine.The few drawbacks that Oscar does have do not qualify as deal breakers.
However, the stability and durability of manufacturing and quality and consistency of the machine’s espresso output make it a solid winner and great purchase.