The review below is a summary of my thoughts and not intended to be a full in-depth analysis of each machine
Today I had the pleasure of spending a delightful 4 hours at Bella Barista, hosted by Claudette and her team.
The aim was to evaluate the R58 vs Alex Duetto Mk IV (aka new Alex Duetto III in the US) side-by-side and walk away with the winner.
I had previously narrowed my search to replace my home machine to either of these dual boiler espresso machines.
click to enlarge
Also on the bench was the ECM Heidelberg espresso machine
(HX), which I used to dial in the grinder (the Eureka Mignon) and pull reference shots on, for a coffee that I was familiar with.
This machine was so forgiving and produced not only lovely espresso but some of the best milk I have steamed in a long time - a glossy paint finish which was perfect for latte art.
I would have happily parted with £1099 if I was in the market for this type of machine.
Of the 3 machines this had the best drip tray too, shallow and wide, with plenty of cup clearance and ample room to move cups around.
I initially pulled shots using the stock basket before switching to a 20g VST basket for the evaluation of the R58 and Alex Duetto Mk IV.
The same coffee, grinder, basket, portafilter, tamper and milk was used for all tests.
The Rocket R58 was up next. The first shot ran a little too fast, so a tweak to the grind was required, and the next shot was sublime. Easily one of the cleanest espresso's I had tasted this year. You could pick out the individual flavours and the aroma was more intense than on the ECM. With a rotary pump the Rocket R58 was also quieter than the ECM. There was no 'whine' as reported on earlier models and the pressure was pretty steady - no flickering of the manometer needles at all.
Both the Rocket R58 and the Alex Duetto Mk IV were set to the same service boiler temperature and held steady at 93c throughout the evaluation period.
Changing the settings using the external controls on the R58 was easy and the interface is fairly intuitive, but I wasn't a fan of the coiled cable connecting the control box to the chassis, cluttering up the workspace. If you intend to 'set and forget' then this is not an issue.
The Rocket R58 is a real looker and wins the beauty contest - but I wasn't judging beauty so tested the steam capability to see what I could achieve.
Better than expected is how I would describe the steaming on the R58. Noticeably more powerful than the ECM the steam through the standard 2 hole steam tip was consistent and handled different volumes of milk with ease. My second jug was the best from this session. I would have liked to spend more time adjusting steam boiler pressure to see how the different increments affect the milk. This however would be best achieved when I could focus on the one machine.
The shots and milk I enjoyed would have justified the £600 price difference between these machines.
After spending 20 minutes on the machine, tweaks and changes to the grind produced some lovely looking (and tasting) espressos and my wife was starting to feel the effects of the coffee.
We took a quick break and Claudette roasted
some Tanzanian coffee on the Gene Café roaster
. I was genuinely surprised at how little smoke there was. My wife was showing a lot of interest in the Gene Café roaster as well, which is encouraging! Although for the time being I'm quite happy to let the experts roast and discover the fruits of their labour.
After a pint of water later and a quick tour of the Towability
factory next door it was time to evaluate the Alex Duetto Mk IV. I pulled a shot on the R58 then tried to replicate on the Duetto.
A minor tweak to the grind was required (again a fraction finer) and the resulting shot was excellent - with more crema and viscosity than on the R58.
I had to check this was no fluke and pulled several more in quick succession - each tasting the same - rich and silky smooth. I could have had another but needed to evaluate the steaming capability so set about preparing my milk jug. The Alex Duetto Mk IV steam is very dry. Plenty of power behind it and that's with the no-burn steam arm insert still in. I have been told by a couple of owners that I spoke to earlier this month that one of the first mods to make after getting to grips with the machine is to remove the tube - giving you even more steam power.
However, putting aside those thoughts I gave the steaming a shot. I hadn't expected such power and too many bubbles were created. Starting afresh I adjusted the angle and depth and turned the steam knob. Not as easy as the R58 but I'm glad that no 'radiator tap' retrofits have been made as some distributors in the US have done. This jug was pretty good and I could see what to do to make the next one even better. Several small adjustments later (this biggest change to me was steaming on the left instead of on the right like I'm used to) and I could produce lovely milk time after time. I still have a way to go but already notice an improvement on my previous technique.
So, the Alex Duetto Mk IV was producing nicer espresso than the R58 and milk every bit as nice as the ECM. Although I think the R58 has the edge in milk steaming (that is until I remove the no burn steam arm and evaluate again)
The R58 won on looks and had better cup clearance than the Duetto. However removal of the drip tray was not as smooth on the R58 compared to the Duetto (which also holds more water / liquid).
The rotary pump on the Alex Duetto Mk IV was even quieter than the R58. I hadn't anticipated the difference would be so tangible.
By this stage I had written out the cheque in my mind, and nearing the edge of my caffeine tolerance levels (I think I pushed them a little today) decided upon the Alex Duetto Mk IV as my new home espresso machine. After informing Claudette of my decision all that remained was to choose the box from the stock room and get the machine bench tested.
The bench testing process was very thorough and Bella Barista's techie Jordan ran me through the PID settings and set the defaults based on testing undertaken by their reviewer. The factory defaults are also provided for future reference.
After the great service provided of loading the machine into the car, carrying an awkwardly shaped 44kg+ box containing the machine and accessories up 3 flights of stairs by yourself isn't fun. But after mounting the feet and warming up the machine, pulling a shot was the best reward.