Surfing with the Solis Perfetta espresso cappuccino machine

Solis Perfetta from Quality Coffee SystemsI’d like to think that I am the king of uncluttered when it comes to kitchen layout.

My motto, “Basic is better…” tends to rule the day.

Which is why, to a certain extent, counter real estate dedicated to coffee equipment is extremely limited.
And I like it like that.

The only downside to this philosophy is that it may have been keeping me in a coffee rut as of late – and by as of late I mean… for years.

My home coffee experience is simple: Drip coffee poured through a Hario coffee filter holder (Melitta style) into a glass carafe. Day in. Day out. Day in… Day… well you get the idea.

My wife asks me: “Why don’t we have an espresso machine for cappuccinos, lattes, London Fogs, and gasp* shots of espresso!?"

Well: Counter space, size, accessories, clean up, waste, expensive, power consumption… etc.

Most particularly, size!

I don’t much like a small car parked on my kitchen top. I tolerate my beloved Kitchen-Aid mixer because it gets used constantly – as does our Instant Pot (I could write a book on that thing!) I digress. And if I want the perfect espresso or Americano, well, heck I am going to go out for it. Getting your specialty coffee out and about keeps it romantic right?

But something has to give. The universe hates a vacuum pot after all.

And as fate would have it, the good people at QCS Vancouver called me and said, “Hey Colin, have we got something for you to try!”

The last demo from QCS was the $3500 Olympia Cremina lever powered espresso machine – and they needed to pry that baby from my hands.

This time I was granted a loan of the Solis Perfetta espresso cappuccino machines.

QCS Solis PerfettaI trotted out my worries to Roger at QCS. “No, this is different! It is everything a home machine should be; cafe quality espresso, foamed-steamed milk you can be proud of, all the accessories you need, and a small foot print.”

My reply: “I’m listening Roger…”

At 6” wide, 14” deep and 12” high , the Solis Perfetta does not need a lot of counter real-estate.

That and the Solis Perfetta comes with everything you need – and what’s different about this is that you get high quality accessories in the box so you don’t immediately have to run out and buy extra bits.

The fact that you get a solid coffee tamper and not a plastic toy tamper immediately impressed me.

That the unit came with a stainless steel pitcher blew my mind. Funny story: I gave away all my stainless steel pitchers when I got out of making espresso at home. The Solis Perfetta comes with one!

The Solis Perfetta also comes with pressurized and non-pressurized coffee baskets for the true adventurers out there. For those in the know, if you are in a hurry and don’t want to dial in your particular favorite bean or have some sketchy ‘way past its best before date coffee…’ the pressurized filter basket is just the thing for squeezing goodness from questionable coffee. And, if you have a cafe quality grinder and a selection of something special, you can spend the time dialing in your grind using the non-pressurized filter baskets for making shots of espresso that everyone will swoon over.

The Solis Perfetta also impressed me with keeping a minimum number of buttons on the front panel with the maximum amount of flexible functionality – that is, one button does several different things.

For instance, the programming button can adjust the brew temperature, set the automatic power-down, set whether or not there is a water filter installed and reset the appliance to defaults.

Additionally, the ONE SHOT / TWO SHOT brew buttons can be individually programmed for precise brew times to cater to your own taste.

Some pro creature features: The Solis Perfetta actually has a 3-way solenoid (and this is not mentioned in the user manual…) The 3-way solenoid (found in more expensive machines) opens a valve, post brew cycle from the portafilter to the drip/splash tray to “escape” back pressure and standing water in the portafilter directly into the drip tray.

qcs 06Henceforth:

a.) The coffee puck is dry and not wet and easier to remove from the PF handle and...

b.) Spent water doesn’t drip through the PF into your cup leading to bitter and undesirable residues ending up in your cup and it keeps back-wash or back pressure from pushing coffee or contaminated water from getting into your thermal-block boiler! That is a big bonus!

Boiler be cool! One of the challenges with single boiler or thermal-block machines is the temperature surfing that is often necessary post milk foaming/steaming. The Solis Perfetta has eliminated that issue with “post steaming boiler flush…” Now don’t blush if that sounds naughty but it is a very useful feature. The boiler gets a fresh shot of cooler water and when you brew your espresso, the espresso doesn’t get burnt from supercharged boiler water. Good thinking Solis!

A drip tray with heft. Many home machines fall short in the drip tray department. Because the Solis Perfetta has the 3-way solenoid and does flushes into the drip tray, the 450 ml drip tray can handle a dozen espresso shot sessions and ½ dozen cappuccinos.

Under pressure. Manometers are more commonly found on higher end machines with heat-exchanging heads and double boilers. That said, the Solis Perfetta has a pressure gauge and if you want an accurate visual on what you might be doing right (or wrong) this manometer, placed right above the group head is just the thing!

Steam heat. I fathom that the average home cappuccino chef is not really up on the quality of steamed milk, foaming and latte art. And despite an approaching 3 decade stint as “the coffee guy….” I could not decorate a latte with art to save my bacon. Despite this handicap, good quality foamed milk is more than possible with this machine. With a thermal-block boiler and a single hole wand, there is endless steam. It’s not the hottest steam nor is it the driest steam, but it is steam that is capable of pulling up 6 to 8 ounces of cold milk in under a minute to cap off a nice cappuccino and latte. And I dare say, there is some “art capability” here. I just need a tutor!

Pre-infusion, no confusion. Regardless of whether you are brewing two shots of espresso or one, the Solis Perfetta delivers 5ml of water, give or take, then pauses for a few seconds and then it’s off to the races with your espresso brewing. Pre-infusion or the “pre-brew” cycle enhances the quality of extraction just like it does with any method of brewing – even drop coffee benefits from a brief pre-soak of the ground coffee. It’s a good feature.

Hands on, initial report. I found the user manual an easy read and I was up and running in under 10 minutes. I grabbed 2 or 3 bags of whole bean coffee with a widely varying lineage and origin and set to see what I could get with the minimum of effort. First off, I used the pressurized porta-filter to lock in something drinkable quickly. With my trusty Rancilio Rocky grinder, I had a serviceable grind quality immediately. I wasted 1 double shot of espresso as I zeroed in on an ideal filter basket fill and tamp pressure. Not bad. As I had a request for cappuccinos from the family room, I quickly moved over to milk steaming mode and readied more coffee for espresso shots (which are the base of the cappuccino...) 

a.) Set machine to steaming mode.
b.) Pull out 8 - 10 fluid ounces of cold milk into provided stainless steel carafe.
c.) Open steam valve and immerse one of my digital thermometers into the milk carafe.
d.) Somewhere around 40 seconds into steaming I was flashing past 150 degrees (F) in the milk. Note to self: Do not go much past 160 degrees with your milk or it's going to scald and make a miserable topping for the espresso!
e.) Get milk to 155 (ish) F and set aside - it's mighty good looking steamed milk with good microfoam.
f.) Switch over to shot brewing mode - the Solis Perfetta does a boiler flush to bring the temperature of the water down to brew temperature.
g.) Fill basket and tamp. Lock in portafilter. Brew double shot.
h.) Added steamed milk to cappuccino to make an epic specialty coffee! All in a little under 3 minutes.

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