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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.
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.
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).
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.
Communicating with my phone via Bluetooth wireless connection, the app also let me flip through the many styles of coffee drinks the machine can make. Here you have the option of either brewing beverages using the default settings or you can tweak several factors to tailor the outcome to your personal tastes. Range values to fiddle with include "Aroma" (very mild to extra strong), "Temperature" (low to high), and "taste" (delicate to full-bodied).
To finally command the machine to create your drink, just tap the "brew" software button (also labeled with a teardrop icon). If you truly enjoy the resulting drink, hitting the heart icon will add the personalized beverage to a "my coffees" tab within the app for future recall.
So what sort of drink quality can you expect from the Philips Saeco GranBaristo Avanti? In a word, excellent. Frankly I'm beside myself with just how good the coffee drinks I sampled from this machine were. Starting with my humble Costco House Blend test beans, espresso shots pulled from this inexpensive java variety were rich and full of intense coffee flavor.
More interesting was how this pleasant taste lingered for minutes on my palette before fading. Perhaps related to this effect, I also noticed that the shots the Avanti pulled had the thickest, most robust crema of any espresso maker I've yet used.
The GranBaristo carried this same level of brewing performance over to lightly roasted beans which are challenging for coffee makers to brew properly since their flavors are harder to extract. When I bumped up the Avanti's brewing temperature to its highest setting and kept the "taste" control parked right in the middle, at "balanced," the results were spectacular.
1.7 ounce shots I made with my supply of freshly roasted Quills Blacksmith Espresso Blend were jam-packed with all the highfalutin flavor notes listed on the bag -- the first time I've experienced this from a home appliance. I clearly tasted sweet pear rounded out by chocolate, then finished by pings of bright herbal lime citrus.
Refractometer readings confirmed the story my tongue was telling me. I logged TDS percentages ranging between 3.7 and 4.7 percent, which translates to an average extraction percentage of 14.4 percent, with the ideal being between 18 and 22 percent to achieve pleasing coffee flavor without sourness or bitterness. Keep in mind this calculation assumes the 0.35-ounce coffee dose Philips says is used in each "extra strong" espresso shot is correct.
Indeed when I ran the same beans through the Krups EA9010, either Costco or Quills, shots I tasted were great but not as delicious as what came out of the Avanti. Specifically the Krups delivered espresso that had a slightly bitter bite and less body in comparison. Shots from the Krups also had a higher average extraction percentage of 28.8 percent, which points to possible over extraction, a typical cause for bitterness in coffee.
Great-tasting drinks aside, the GranBaristo does suffer from one weakness. Keeping the machine running in tip-top shape requires adopting an onerous maintenance routine. The manual recommends mundane tasks such as daily emptying of its spend coffee container, drip trays, along with rinsing and refilling the water tank and purging the water filter. According to the manual, it's also a good idea to wipe down the surfaces of the Avanti with a damp cloth.
And since the GranBaristo can't conduct a more in-depth cleaning of its milk frothing system, something the Krups EA 9010 can tackle, you'll need to perform a daily flush of the milk carafe's flexible suction tube with water and by hand. Likewise, each week you must disassemble the milk carafe entirely (six parts in all) and clean in lukewarm water. Thankfully you also have the option of dropping them into the dishwasher.
Similarly each week you'll need to get down and dirty and clean the Avanti's bean hoppers and brewing assembly (aka brew group) free of coffee bits with a supplied brush. Don't forget to remove this brew group, then rinse it in the sink.
Each month you must appease the machine with even more maintenance involved tasks. For instance you'll need to perform a monthly coffee oil cleaning of the brew group, using proprietary tablets sold separately by Philips (in a two-pack for $15). The milk system asks for monthly TLC too in the form of water and packs of "Saeco Milk Circuit Cleaner" ($29, also purchased separately).
Just when I thought I'd seen the limit for sky high-priced home espresso machines like the $2,500 Krups EA9010, along comes an appliance that's even more exorbitantly expensive. Still I'm willing to give any gadget a try in the name of creating stunningly good java, even the $3000 Philips Saeco GranBaristo Avanti. I'm happy I did because this machine did not disappoint. In fact the Avanti exceeded my expectations and consistently pulled superb espresso shots and outstandingly tasty coffee drinks.
Unfortunately you do pay a steep price for the pleasure, and I don't just mean the GranBaristo's exorbitant upfront cost. A maintenance regimen consisting of daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning is an annoyance and potentially expensive pain considering the extra packs of special chemicals Philips advises you purchase. All this leaves me wary of recommending this appliance unless you're fully onboard with its added expenses. If you're willing to spend time honing your skills, you'll likely enjoy similar results using a more reasonably priced ($700 to $1,000) Ranchilio Silvia semi-automatic espresso machine paired with a high-performance Baratza Vario W grinder ($585).