Just got done meeting with Gleb, Rachel and Janet from ZPM Espresso, and am posting my thoughts. First off, they didn’t have a demo machine to actually use, simply a prototype without the working thermoblock they’ve designed. For that information, we were patched into Igor up in Blacksburg, VA via Skype, who gave us a full rundown on the design and structure of the thermoblock. Igor showed us how it attaches to the grouphead, how the flow works within the unit, and how it maintains temperature stability via PID controls.
The thermoblock is a nice chunk of heavy milled aluminum, and is said to retain heat very well, with very little if any recovery time, and steaming milk is controlled inside the same thermoblock unit by adjust pressure and flow. Gleb stated that the path of the thermoblock from insert to out to the grouphead is pretty long, and it certainly looked long. Igor took the thermoblock they have apart, and you could see just this. The fact that it’s PID controlled, adds even more temperature stability.
One of the coolest things I heard from our time was the option to adjust your pressure profiling via the internal programming with an SD card or the USB port attached. It’s also perceivable that you could in the future program the machine and it’s profiling via an iPhone. It will capable of altered programming via Android phones within 3-4 months, and that’s a huge thing. Gleb stated that this is the machine that they’d want themselves, and that the fact you could alter it this easily was a good plus for the machine.
Another key component of the machine is it’s sheer simplicity. From the design to the internal components, to the fact most parts used will be off the shelf parts, will not only make it a nice, clean design, but helps lower the overall cost, giving it that $300 price point. Another cool thing about this machine, is that it will be totally made in the US, using mostly US made parts. All assembly will be done by their very small team in the beginning, and labor costs are very low, Gleb explained to me. So far, it’s Gleb, Igor, and two Princeton grads that handle design, marketing and the business end of it.
The amount of brain power on this team is certainly not being unused. It seems they’ve thought out all aspects of the standard espresso machine, and made it simple and easier. Things like correct pressure, temperature stability, recovery times, limited parts that can go bad, and pressure profiling via programming all show they’ve done their homework. Every question that was asked of them was answered with an answer that made sense to both Chandler and I, and we gave them everything we could throw at them.
Some random facts:
Will use standard 110v. Will be UL Listed.
Will have an easy to fill, clear tank in the back.
Are using open source parts and software.
Will have standard size steam wands, with normal threading.
Will not be able to steam and pull shot at the same time. (As most machines that size don’t.)
Servicing the machine will be something they look to figure out. The response has been overwhelming, leading them a little bit behind in thinking through everything.
Will be easy to clean.
Will produce shots as comparable to any commercial machine, a fact we’ll be testing here at the Batdorf Brewing Lab in 3 weeks when a demo machine is built.
They are working with a company to gain a warranty program, and will have info on it soon.
That’s all I can remember right now. Again, they’ll have a full machine put together in 3 weeks, and we’ll put one through it’s paces against the Linea and Aurelia. If I could ease your mind in any way, and you just threw down $200, hoping to not end up with a Krups comparable unit, I can assure you these guys are smarter than your average bear, and certainly have a grasp on how espresso and espresso machines work, which is surprising giving the fact they’re not coffee professionals. I think people who were able to pony up $200 are going to get a really stinking good espresso machine that has the potential to change the game in the home sector. And for someone who loves to see folks jazzed about making espresso either at home or work, I think it’s awesome to see this being pushed forward.