Expobar Office Lever Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Review

Expobar Office Lever Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Review

Last week I stepped up my espresso game by upgrading to a more professional espresso machine. I ordered the Expobar Office Lever Semi-Automatic from Whole Latte Love. Previous to this machine I was using the Gaggia Baby Class semi-automatic machine. Before that, my first espresso machine was an $80 De Longhi from Amazon.com. That was three years ago and now that my espresso making skills have vastly improved, it was time to step into the big leagues.

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The Expobar was recommended by a good friend and fellow coffee fanatic who owned one himself. At its $1,300 price point this is probably the best bang for your buck for a home user. Machines priced higher than this add additional features that come in handy more in commercial operations where shots are being pulled all day long. For those cases, far more expensive machines are available.

This machine has the features I really wanted, which include the E61 brew group, a hot water dispenser, pressure gauges and a large drip tray.

The E61 brew group is the whole assembly that circulates the water around and through the front of the machine, down through the grinds in the portafilter. It is made up of the group head. The manual lever, which activates the pump for the brewing process and the pressure release system. And the pressure relief valve. What makes it uniquely an E61 group head, is that the lever and valve are manual. The moment you put an electrical unit in, like a solenoid valve, it ceases to be an E61 brew group.

The hot water dispenser is very nice to have on the machine for use in pre-heating the cups prior to pulling a shot. Otherwise, I use, or used to use an electric kettle to pre-heat water since the Gaggia, nor the De Longhi have dispensers. Now I can get all the tasks done from one machine.

The drip tray on the Expobar is huge! It’s like a small deep sink which is great because that means you don’t have to empty it as often, or worry about over filling it when pulling shots and cleaning the machine. With the Gaggia, you really had to be aware of the drip tray filling up because it was very shallow.

The gauges on the Expobar help you ensure you’re pulling the appropriate amount of pressure through the brew group, approximately 9 BARS of pressure is what you want. Lesser machines don’t have this to show and will leave you wondering if you’re getting the right amount of pressure through the portafilter.

Anyway, here are the unboxing photos, some with Puma in them doing his arrival inspections. Cassini (my new kitten) was in the area watching from a distance before approaching the boxes.

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Here’s the box with the new knock in it. Its much larger than the one I have and that it going to be very nice.

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Here’s the first look inside the box and the packing.

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Below are the accessories it came with. Portafilter handle, extra water filter, a single and double basket, a rubber seal for use when cleaning/back flushing (I won’t use that since I have a blind basket for this task) and a scoop. I’m not using the baskets it shipped with and instead am using the VST basket I bought which is a higher quality one. Same goes for the tamper; I have a very nice high quality tamper of my own. Though using the plastic one is very tempting. Not!

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Here’s the machine on the counter prior to taking the plastic off the stainless steel and getting the stuff out of the drip tray.

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Here is the machine with the plastic off. It’s really shiny and nice looking.

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Here is the machine all set up and the Rancilio Rocky, Cafelat tamper, new knock box and scale.

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Here is the first shot I pulled with the Expobar! The crema was much larger, but I waited a bit before I took this picture because I had taken a couple of sips first.

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Even for the first pulled shot on the Expobar, it turned out quite nice. The shot extracted in the appropriate amount of time, 20 to 30 seconds, and poured evenly out of the spouts.

Everything I saw online about this machine said warmup time is about 20 minutes. The booklet that shipped with it said about 10 minutes. I can confirm that it only took about 10 minutes to get to temperature! The water coming out of the steam wand, group head and water dispenser was HOT!

As for noise, it’s noisier than the Gaggia, but not by much really. It’s not too bad at all, and it’s only noisy when it’s filling the boiler or extracting.

The reservoir is on the top of the machine, as you would expect, and you have to lift a stainless steel lid off the top to get to it. I bought a small funnel to aid in filling it up. I don’t want to have to remove it from the machine to refill, and I don’t want to risk spilling water into the machine if I refill it while its inside. A funnel will help protect and control the intake of water into it. Since I live in an apartment, I don’t have the option to plumb the machine so I have to use the reservoir.

Invoking the emergency boiler shutoff feature

I just had a scare Saturday morning. As per my usual routine in which I wake up early and go to the gym, then go grocery shopping afterwards, I returned home with the groceries and put everything away. While I was putting things away I turned on the Expobar to get it warmed up. Once the groceries were put away and the machine warmed up I was going to pull a shot. I prepared everything, ground the coffee into the PF, tamped it, already had my cup pre-heated with hot water from the Expobar dispenser, the PF was pre-heated too from the group head, and I flushed the group head and the inserted the PF. I pulled the lever to begin the shot and the pressure went up as it should and I received a few drips of coffee and then it quit! The pump shut off, and the coffee stopped.

At this point queue the term “freaking out” on my part.

This brand new $1,300 machine that worked so well for the two shots I pulled the day before just broke! Instantly, I went over in my mind everything I just did to ensure I was doing everything properly, and as far as I knew, I had. I used 18 grams of coffee, tamped the usual 30 pounds and so forth. So I pulled the PF out and flipped the lever again. Nothing. No water, no pump or boiler running. Nothing.

Okay. The machine is broken. I have to call Whole Latte Love tech support or customer service when they open to exchange it for a new one.

Well, maybe it blew a circuit or fuse. It wasn’t a circuit because the Rancilio is on the same one and that still works. Perhaps there is a fuse in the Expobar that blew because it pulled too much voltage.

I unplug the Expobar and pull it out so I can see where the housing screws are to open it up and look for a fuse. I’m going to have to take the reservoir out too, so I take the top lid off and grab the reservoir.

Queue the “Oh shit” moment.

The Reservoir is empty! That’s what the problem was. The boiler’s internal circuit sensed that the reservoir was void of water and engaged the emergency shutdown to protect itself. I had forgotten about that feature, a good and useful feature. When I put water into it Friday, I hadn’t quite filled the reservoir all the way up, and maybe only filled up a third of it. Little did I realize that after two shots last night, and a little water usage this morning, I ran it dry already.

While I was at the store shopping, I picked up a funnel, to easily and safely fill the reservoir with water. I looked in the section with kitchen utensils and didn’t like anything they offered. The spouts were too small, which is probably fine for general cooking, but I wanted something a little bigger since all I’m using it for is water. I strolled down to the automotive section where they offer motor oil and found a funnel to my liking.

After washing the funnel I used it to fill up the reservoir with clean, filtered water, all the way up and put the stainless steel lid back on, plugged the Expobar back in and situated it back in its normal spot on the counter. I turned the switch to ‘On’ and voilà the pump and boiler came on again!

I knocked out the coffee from the PF and began the process of creating another shot. This time it all worked and I pulled a decent shot and enjoyed it very much.

With that said, I think my biggest criticism of this machine is the lack of a water gauge to tell you how much you have in the reservoir. One would think that should be a standard feature on any machine that isn’t plumbed and on any machine at this price point and higher.

The other criticism I have is the placement of the hot water dispenser. Its very close to the extraction lever and if you’ve used it, it will be hot to the touch and you either have to leave it pointed outward, which means not hanging over the drip tray or keep it inward, risking a mild burn to your hand when you reach for the lever. Of course, that is the compromise for a machine of this size. While it takes up a considerable amount of counter space, its still narrow by comparison to many other similar models.

All in all, I think I am going to be very happy with this machine for many, many years to come.

https://vimeo.com/174046555

Are They ‘Friends’ Who Insist You Live By Their Standards?

Are They ‘Friends’ Who Insist You Live By Their Standards?

Anyone who insists I live my life according to their standards doesn’t earn the moniker “friend.”

I was inspired to write this post, based on the above quote from an article on the page The Introverts Corner.

A persons standard of living is usually defined by themselves; what they do, how they act, where they go, and how they treat others. A persons friends, if they really are friends, would accept, and maybe not always agree with, how that person chooses to live. However, what defines a person as a friend?

The people in my life who I consider friends are such, to me, because there is something about them that I like, or, perhaps we have a shared experience together, and common interests that bind me to them. Things like that are what I use to consider someone a friend. We can share good times, and bad times, have some laughs and go out into the great big world and experience new and different, and even familiar, things together.

As a rule, I accept that those friends of mine aren’t exactly like me in nearly every way. If they were, they’d be clones of me then wouldn’t they? Hardly friends even. The differences among us are what make up the wonderful and dynamic part relationships we have. I don’t always think like they do, act like they do, or do some of the things that they do. That doesn’t make a difference to me because I am not them. There are even times when I don’t agree with something they may do, but I don’t get in their way and I don’t try to make them conform to what I think. I may say something asking them to consider something else if I think it might be a better way and let them choose their own path. Asking questions, thoughtfully put, is a great way to get to understand someones thought process and reasoning.

But what happens when a person, deemed a friend, goes about trying to make you, rather than ask you to consider, live by a standard they set and not by one of your own? Making, or attempting to make, you live by their rules doesn’t sound like a friendship, but more of an authoritative relationship – like a parent to a child.

I don’t see relationships like that working out very well. If one person is forcing a standard on another, the other person might become unhappy and bitter towards the first person after a while. Resentment will undoubtedly ensue and an end to the supposed friendship may result.

In a personal relationship with someone, a friend, I neither need, nor want someone trying to make me live by standards they believe is right for me. The only time this is acceptable to me is in an employer/employee situation where I’m being paid to do a job and meet a standard that they expect of me. But living my life is my business and I’ll live it how I see fit.

The topics of standards can be endless and some of the things I can think of are about personal finance, political, religious and social issues, interpersonal relationships and so on.

If a ‘friend’ thinks they’re going to try to make me live by their standards, it might not be long before I no longer consider that person a friend and break off communication with them.

I’m no going to judge my friends on their life’s choices and I don’t expect them to judge me on mine. Otherwise, would we really be friends? I accept my friends for who they are regardless of their standards and views on things.

Do you have anyone in your life who is a friend who tries to impart, even forcefully, their standards onto you?

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