Feast your eyes on the $3,000 Philips Saeco GranBaristo Avanti, a super-automatic espresso maker that not only pulls shots like a pro, it can whip up extraordinarily delicious coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. Equipped with a ceramic burr grinder, water tank, plus a milk reservoir and a frother, this the impressive Avanti also requires minimum skill from its owner, and, of course, it comes with an official mobile app that connects via Bluetooth.
There is a big trade-off for having these advanced espresso-making abilities at your fingertips, even beyond the luxury price. Keeping a device this complex, capable, and compact in good working order demands dedication in the form of consistent upkeep. Indeed the hidden cost of the GranBaristo is a grueling maintenance schedule measured in days, weeks and months each with specific and escalating levels of effort. If you're not comfortable making this sort of commitment, perhaps a "step-down" model like the $2,500 Krups EA9010 is more your speed since it's also less expensive and requires less upkeep.
Design and features
The Philips Saeco GranBaristo Avanti certainly plays the part of a futuristic java dream machine. It's sleek and rectangular profile more closely resembles that of a desktop computer than an ordinary kitchen appliance. Completing the high-tech look are the Avanti's rounded corners sculpted in shiny chrome highlights, a front face cut from fancy brushed metal, along with a control panel festooned with blinking lights, buttons and an LCD screen.
Below the panel is a block-shaped spout for dispensing brewed coffee. Sporting silver reflective surfaces, the dispenser is attached to the espresso machine by a stubby arm. To accommodate a range of cup and glass sizes, you can adjust the dispenser to a certain degree as well. For instance you can slide the spout back and forth (about an inch towards and away from the machine). Likewise, pulling tabs on either side of the spout either raise or lower its coffee dispensing nozzles a short distance (1.5 inch).
To the left of the spout is a small, square receptacle which accepts one of two steam-powered attachments at a time, a water spout for hot H2O and a milk carafe for creating frothed dairy. Sitting underneath the spout is the GranBaristo's external drip tray, which is removable and also functions as a cup rest. You'll find a mechanical float inside the tray as well, colored red, that will bob upward when it's time to empty the trough of liquid.
The top surface of the machine features numerous doors and flaps that hide its many orifices and storage areas. Specifically there's are a large compartment containing the Avanti's removable water tank, a bean hopper (also removable) which stores whole coffee beans and channels them into the appliance's grinding mechanism, plus an area for adding preground coffee if you're so inclined. One welcome touch, Philips included an extra bean hopper that you can swap in for a quick coffee or if you'd just like to remove and wash the current one.
There's a cup warming surface here too which works surprisingly well. Unlike numerous other espresso gadgets I've tested including the Krups EA9010 and De'Longhi Dedica which provided cup trays which were mildly heated, the GranBaristo's cup warmer gets noticeably toasty.
Before you can brew
As with the similarly advanced, and expensive, Krups EA9010, the GranBaristo Avanti must be properly prepped before brewing coffee for the first time. Specifically the manual first asks you to flush a whole tankful of water through its espresso brewing system. Another important step to complete is installation of the bundled water filter.
While not a mandatory requirement for successful operation, the filter is designed to remove trace impurities and guard against calcification and other material buildup which could damage the machine in the long run. To that end the Avanti asks you to test your local water hardness which is a good indicator of Calcium levels in your water supply (here's one from Amazon for less than $15).
Espresso drinks galore
Just like the Krups EA9010, the GranBaristo Avanti is capable of creating a litany of coffee drinks at a moment's notice. Along with the traditional espresso shot styles such as short "ristretto, and long "lungo" pulls, the machine also offers various permutations of black coffee. There's regular coffee, double strength coffee, Americanos, not to mention something called "energy coffee," which tastes like a potent Americano fortified with extra hits of espresso.
Of course the GranBaristo, thanks to its milk carafe and frother, can make many cafe favorites such as cappuccinos, flat whites, lattes, and espresso macchiatos. Additionally you can froth milk separately and combine with the machine's library of black coffee drinks to soften flavor blow a bit.
For the most part, brewing coffee with the GranBaristo Avanti is straightforward enough as well. The control panel has clearly marked keys for major types of coffee drinks such as "espresso," "espresso lungo," "coffee," and "americano." These buttons for black coffee beverages reside on the right-hand side of the LCD screen while controls for milk-based drinks sit to the left. Examples include "espresso macchiato," "cappuccino," "latte macchiato" and simple "frothed milk."
Additionally you'll find buttons to navigate through the Avanti's various menu screens, plus a power key, clustered around its LCD. All buttons are backlit too with simple to comprehend icons for either navigation function or their drink type. That said, I found pushing the Avanti's buttons and scrolling through its menus far less intuitive than interacting with other espresso machines. For example, the Krups EA9010 and its big touchscreen provided visual direction and feedback (through slick animations) much easier to follow.
Of course the GranBaristo Avanti's ace in the hole is its slick mobile application and ability to link directly with nearby smartphones and tablets wirelessly. Not only was the app easy to install on my Google Nexus 6 Android handset (also available for iOS), it's a breeze to use too. Showcased prominently on the app's home screen is a horizontally scrolling list of recently brewed drinks, each attractively illustrated.