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It's not often that you hear of a 100% Robusta Single Origin being fit to drink as an espresso. Robusta (Coffea canephora) beans are usually added to Arabica (Coffea arabica) beans to form a blend, raising the caffeine content and in some cases keeping the price of the blend low (as Robusta coffee is easier to grow and the price at market often reflects this). Robusta beans by their very nature are (usually) slightly more bitter. However, that said, Reiss from Londinium Espresso has done a sterling job of roasting this single estate offering in such a way that it exudes sweetness (for a Robusta) and makes it drinkable as an espresso. With a hint of caramel, the main attributes are (Brazil or Hazel)nuts on the palate and on the nose. Easily cutting through the milk, these beans worked well as the base for a latte, with the sweetness of the milk enhancing the sweeter flavours, but delivering a hit in the process. The difference in caffeine content between these beans and Arabica beans was noticeable, so I had to limit myself to an espresso, and a latte (as I have more beans to taste this afternoon) Dialling this coffee in took a little more care than usual. The grind had to be set quite fine and the tamp very firm. The beans seemed bigger than usual too. If you have not tried a 100% Robusta before then this coffee is a must try, and can be purchased from Londinium Espresso's website
From recommendations on this site and Home Barista amongst others I got interested in Londinium Espresso for their beans and also because I found out that Reiss ("Mr Londinium") is a lever machine fan and - no less important - has now become the UK distributor for Olympia Cremina lever machines (as well as their grinder and Maximatic heat exchanger pump machine). Having been very impressed with Londinium's roasting, which is not only nice and light - letting more of the character of the bean and where it's grown to come through - but also very consistent, I agreed to have a demo of the Cremina. This was after years of being rather sceptical about why a lever machine should cost so much. Don't mistake me, I was already a big lever fan, loving not only the quality of the espresso these machines can produce if you have a decent burr grinder, but their silence compared to pump machines and - more importantly - their longevity and reliability, with no pumps, solenoid valves and all the other stuff to go wrong, as they inevitably do (no domestic pump machine has ever lasted me more than a couple of years between major repairs/replacements). Now Reiss is very devoted to these Olympia machines and gives great service. He will demo them in London and if you buy one he will insist on delivering it personally anywhere in the country, ensuring it is set up properly (the pressurestat setting can go off during bumpy journeys) and teach you how to use it properly. Anyone who has a lever machine will tell you there is a learning curve before you start getting great coffee, and much of this is getting the right feel - for the grind, for tamping and for actually pulling the lever. Having an expert there to pull a series of shots with you can ensure you're soon happily up and running, which is what Londinium want. That said, here's my experience of the new Creminas: they are MUCH better made than even the Elektra lever machines, and considerably better than the Pavonis and Ponte Vecchios. They are also more precise. For example, though they now use a Mater pressurestat to keep the brew temperature just right, which is the same make as the Elektra and Ponte Vecchio, the model they choose is twice as accurate, cycling between 0.7 and 0.8 bar. What's more, the design of the boiler and grouphead on the new Creminas means you can leave them on all day and they won't overheat. Try that with a La Pavoni! Very convenient for an office machine. The Cremina is also easier to use than most lever machines because - being a manual lever - it is more forgiving of a tight grind than say a spring-operated Elektra or Ponte Vecchio, which will just choke if you take things a little too fine. At the same time, because it is so much better made than the Pavoni, Zacconi, Caravel and others it is both easier to maintain a constant pressure throughout the shot and easier to gauge what is going on because the feedback is superb. The result is that you get very sweet, full-bodied shots with voluminous, persistent crema. No less important, you get a level of consistency that I personally have never encountered in any domestic machine and that you would be hard-pushed to exceed in many commercial machines as well. In short, I'm very impressed with my new purchase. Yes, it is a very expensive machine, but it will last a lifetime with minimal servicing, give great satisfaction and great coffee from a minimal footprint. The only cavet I'd add is that if you like fruity single origins you may prefer the Elektra Microcasa a Leva, which produces thinner shots with less body and cream, but amazing mouthfeel and incredibly layered flavours. I couldn't choose between the two machines and have both. But you can't really leave the Elektra on all day... On the other hand you may feel it looks dead sexy compared to the more functional Cremina - or you may feel it looks like a kitsch icon.... people tend to be divided on that one, or of course find the Elektra a beautiful kitsch icon.... If you're a "leverhead" and have ever wondered what all the fuss was about regarding the Cremina, give Reiss at Londinium Espresso a shout. The Cremina deserves its Rolls Royce reputation and the new models with various refinements introduced in 2008 are even better. No less important you get great personal service from Reiss and the Londinium team (which is a lot more than can be said for certain Pavoni resellers). It's good that Olympia machines are available in the UK again and particularly from such a great distributor. If anyone has any questions about the new machines, don't hesitate to fire away. Cheers Mike