- Created: Friday, 02 December 2005 10:19
- Written by Colin Newell
2004 - Angel of Espresso -- the ECM Botticelli II
More than any other time in the last 25 years, we now have the distinct pleasure of choosing from a wide variety of medium and high quality espresso machines. Here at the CoffeeCrew website and in our test kitchens we are often challenged finding qualities, that are not necessarily obvious from first impression, which help you, the consumer, make some definitive decisions at purchase time.
Consider this, an espresso machine is little more than a strong-box with a boiler, some switches and wiring, a water supply and some sturdy fixtures and attachments for brewing great coffee. How does the new consumer know what's different, unique or otherwise helpful in achieving a superior product?
ECM(Espresso Coffee Machines) was established in Milan, Italy in 1995 and although they are fairly new to the espresso game, their machine designs have some fresh ideas (with a twist) that one does not often see amongst the veteran manufacturers.
The ECM Botticelli II is a case in point. We received an unused sample, new in the box, from four-time consumers choice award winner EspressoTec.Com and Reg James. Reg and Co. at EspressoTec have always maintained an open-door/open-store policy with the CoffeeCrew team. It's all good for us and the home espresso consumers who read our site looking for reliable and unbiased reporting.
The ECM Botticelli II is not a new product. It was introduced in the Spring of 2001. Whether its absence in recent years is a result of a top-heavy market in the sub-1000$ class market, I do not know. For the sake of comparisons, the lab technicians at the CoffeeCrew website found the Botticelli II to be in the same category as the Rancilio Silvia. At $899(CAN) it offers, for me, enough twists and turns in design to stand slightly ahead of the Rancilio Silvia.
Open the Box
The ECM Botticelli II comes in a single heavy-duty cardboard box albeit with about 6 inches of foam on all sides as well as crush resistant cardboard inserts that double as kit holder for all the accessories. Although I did not test this, I would imagine that the packing would save the unit in a six foot drop and anything less but not much more. At 12kg or 26.5 pounds, the ECM Botticelli II comes with two commercial grade portafilters (single and double) as well as the ubiquitous plastic tamper and coffee scoop. I do not know about you but I have a growing collection of plastic tampers and coffee scoops big enough to fill a brown paper grocery bag. Who uses these things? Add a 14 page manual, english only in this shipment, and you are ready to roll.
I would have liked to see some better instructional materials for the newbie like a DVD or a slightly less clinical instructional manual. A blind backflush blank would have been nice (but only for someone who knows what they are and how to use them properly.)
The skin you're in
The ECM Botticelli II is sheathed in sturdy AISI 304 stainless steel. This means that this espresso machine will not be rusting now or anytime soon. Many veteran product manufacturers are taking advantage of these "new steels" because, hey, no one wants an espresso machine to rust out in the first year of ownership. Immediate points for the Botticelli!
The ECM Botticelli II is somewhat taller (at 39cm - 15.4") than the Rancilio Silvia so keep this in mind when you are sizing up a machine for your kitchen. It clears my kitchen cabinets by about 6.5" which is great because the Botticelli II has a novel retractable cell-phone looking thing that raises and lowers the reservoir hoses for quick removal of the water tank. More on that later.
The front face of the Botticelli II presents 4 soft-touch locking push buttons and four indicator lights. With four buttons up and down, the power button is at the very top, steam next, brew water next and lastly the brew switch. This is not the obvious arrangement for me, a user of many, many machines. It shouldn't be an issue if this is your primary espresso machine. The four lights (incandescent or neon I fear) follow the logical order of the push-buttons; power first, heat on, brew water switch activated or brew switch activated. The front panel array includes an analog circular thermometer which indicates in Fahrenheit and Celsius. It is accurate enough (by observation with my Meterman digital thermometer) that its inclusion in the whole package is worthwhile.
The reservoir is, at 1.7L, a heavy-duty deeply smoked plastic vessel. Upside, there is plenty of headroom for a long session of brewing without interruption. Downside, I found it impossible to see the water level. Solution: Drop in a ping-pong ball as a float. There is plenty of room for it.
The portafilters weigh in at an impressive 600g or 1-pound 5 ounces. Nice. This means heat retention and stability. They measure 3 inches surface to spout. They just fit under my Rancilio Rocky doser. A 58MM Reg Barber tamper drops into the portafilter with a puff of air. Nice fit folks.
Measure the dog dish
Sometimes it all comes down to the drip tray. From a side by side view, it would appear that the Botticelli has the market cornered on drip tray volume. True enough, the Botticelli II drip tray swallowed 2 cups or .5L of waste water and had room left over. The Rancilio Silvia holds .5L of waste water and no more. The Botticelli II has a substantial 3-hole steam wand that comes out of the right hand side of the machine. It has no range of motion. Is this a problem? For the average user of this, an upscale machine, it might become annoying in time. Steam power completely makes up for this deficiency. More on that later.
At the heart of the ECM Botticelli II is a securely mounted .4L nickel-plated copper boiler, big for this price range. Power consumption, overall, is about 1200 watts at 110VAC so I would put the heating element at 1150 watts give or take. The standard Ulka pump clocks in at 45W, typical for this grade of machine. With this price tag and array of accouterments, naturally the ECM Botticelli II comes with a three-way solenoid for quick pressure release and water removal from the portafilter post-brew. The exhaust port for this empties directly into the drip day.
.4L Copper Boiler
40W Ulka Pump
She's got legs
The ECM Botticelli II sits on top of four thick rubber feet. This espresso machine is not going anywhere. A thorough visual and physical inspection revealed few if any glaring construction issues. There are no deadly sharp edges on the Botticelli II, very few visible screw heads and (thank heavens) few, if any, pop rivets. The only plastic on the ECM is the reservoir. Sweet.
As with any decent espresso machine, let it warm up. The ECM Botticelli II has a large boiler and a respectable heating plant. It needs a good 20 minutes to reach brew temperature. Prior to first power-up, remove the portafilter, drip tray and grill and then pull up the cell-phone / dip-stick thing that pokes out the top of the warming tray. Pull out the water reservoir. Yes, you have to do all this to add water. There is no top loading of water (like the Rancilio Silvia and most Gaggia's). This is a minor annoyance. Truth is, you should, as a part of any espresso machine hygiene program, pull everything apart prior to each brew session and give everything a once over wipe and visual. Priming or flushing the machine is no more complicated than putting a cup under the brew head and pressing the brew switch. The first big pleasant surprise about the ECM Botticelli is the whisper quiet operation (not unlike the ECM Giotto which I have also used). Next to the Rancilio Silvia, which sounds like an overloaded cement mixer, the Botticelli II purrs like a high-quality electric razor. Now that's quiet! The top of the ECM Botticelli II is big enough to hold 9 espresso cups or 4 12 ounce Latte cups. That said, I always pre-heat all my cups with water just off the boil from a kettle. It always blows me away in cafes that brew espresso into cold cups. Geeze. With my Wavetech Meterman digital thermometer, the Botticelli measured between 197 and 200 degrees (F) which is a skoosh low for my taste. This turned out to not be a worry as numerous brew sessions would reveal. The Botticelli II (like any quality pump powered espresso machine) requires semi-professional tools, like a solid burr grinder, as well as the freshest coffee you can put your hands on. I cannot nag on this enough. A great machine is only as good as the tools and the whole package will let you down if you do not respect this. That said, no one is going to scrimp on a grinder or quality beans after dropping almost a grand on a machine. Of course they are not.
The ECM Botticelli II outshines the Silvia and Gaggias in this regard. The bigger boiler combined with some solid fittings puts this machine into the next higher category. The 3-hole fixed wand pulled 8 to 10 ounces of 39 degree 2% milk to 158 degrees in just under 20s. This is fast. I am not a milk expert nor am I am milk drinker and I do not have the luxury of critical comparative analysis skills where steamer power is concerned. Still, I know power when I see it and the ECM Botticelli II had enough of it to require getting more intimately involved with the steam knob - this is a hands on all the time exercise. If anything, it would be beneficial to ride the steam knob down and keep on it. It buys you a few precious seconds. Microfoam? I cannot comment on it as I do not know enough about milk, Still, there is more than enough power available to achieve all things provided you take the time to learn.
The ECM Botticelli II is one of those espresso machines that falls into "best of breed" in the vibration pump and bi-metal button thermostat control categories. For a few hundred dollars more you could add a heat-exchanging brew head (HX) and for a few hundred dollars on top of that you could have a rotary pump and some volumetric features. Much like a boat owner, you run the risk of serious upgrade-itis! Considering how difficult it is to convince the average lover of good espresso to abandon their sub-300 dollar toys for something better... Well, let's just settle on the baby steps shall we? Overall, the ECM Botticelli II gets most things right with few outright annoyances. Fit and finish is top tier. The little things, like stencil icons on the front face, could be better. We have come a long way in the sub-1000 dollar espresso machine so this one comes across with good marks. If you are serious, really serious about getting something just slightly better than the benchmark Rancilio Silvia, consider the ECM Botticelli II. Many, many thanks to Reg James at EspressoTec.Com for this loaner.
Colin Newell lives and works in Victoria B.C. at a local University. His love of coffee began at the age of 15. He had his first espresso-cappuccino at age 19 and has never looked back. The CoffeeCrew website has been on the air profiling cafe culture and consumer issues for the coffee lover since the Spring of 1994.