Review: Hamilton Beach 40729 Espresso Machine Review
When I sat down to start using the Hamilton Beach 40729 Espresso Maker, I wondered if it could turn out a decent espresso – I mean come on a $68 pump driven espresso maker? I have been using it for about 2 weeks at this writing, and let me tell you that I am impressed at what this little baby can do for $68. To start, the espresso machine is targeted at new espresso machine users – it has an instructional video in the box that gets you acquainted with espresso and how to use the machine to turn out good looking drinks. It delivers good espresso that you can be happy with.
The unit itself is fairly sharp looking with nice brushed metal accents. There is certainly a lot of plastic, but for the price you shouldn’t be expecting gobs of stainless steel. The unit looks good without looking cheap, and has some nice design cues that fit my expectations for a classic espresso machine.
In the box, you get the espresso machine, a scoop/tamp that fits nicely in a little compartment in the rear of the machine, a 2-cup water reservoir that slides into the side of the machine, a portafilter with two inserts (1 for ESE Espresso pods, and 1 that will hold a double shot of espresso coffee), and a drinks card that can serve as an easy reference for making coffee drinks. You also get the VHS instructional video.
The unit has a passive cup warmer on the top of the machine, which means that excess heat that comes off of the heating unit rises and heats the cups. This gets warm eventually, but I don’t usually have the unit on for that long.
Operation – Hamilton Beach 40729 Espresso machine
The operation of the espresso machine is fairly easy, and over the weeks that I used the machine for this review, I was able to get into a routine that made it a part of my day. The unit has a single 1100 watt heater that is shared for both brewing and for steaming milk. Higher end machines will have dedicated heating paths to get the steam above boiling while keeping the brew water heated below that level. What this means for the Hamilton Beach espresso machine is that when you are done brewing, you need to hit the steam switch and wait to heat the water up a bit more. In practice, this is easy to do, and only takes about 30 seconds.
My normal routine is to turn the brewer on, and let it heat while I get the ESE Espresso Pod out and put into the portafilter, and then attach it to the machine with. I will then get the cup ready, and get a bowl of cereal. By that time, the heater is up to temp and ready to give me what I need in the morning to get going. I place my cup underneath and press the brew button. It takes a while to prime the pump the very first time you run the machine, but in normal operation, you have your shot in about 30 seconds. You need to press the button again when you want the pump to stop. Because of this, you need to pay attention to the pour, but on the other hand it allows you to adjust the amount of espresso to brew.
I typically drink straight espresso in the morning, but I did try out the milk steamer to see how that would do. After you are done brewing your espresso, hit the steam button to heat the machine up to steaming temperature. Once the heating light goes out, you are ready. Put your milk under the steaming arm and turn the knob on the right side of the machine to start the steam. In my use, the Hamilton Beach machine could crank out the steam for a long, long time. I easily frothed enough milk for several Lattes and it had no trouble keeping up.
Using Ground Espresso – While I was using the Hamilton Beach machine for this review, I also checked out using ground espresso coffee for a few days. I have to say that I like the easy laid back ESE pods better. Freshly ground espresso can have its flavor advantages though. Anyway, it was easy to pull out the filter basket for the Pod and put in the one for ground coffee. The filter baskets had nice tight seals, but weren’t impossible to get out either – this is important because 1) You Don’t want these things flopping out when you get rid of the spent espresso grounds, and 2) You don’t want to break out the Craftsman tools when you want to switch back. I usually put in enough coffee for a double, tamped it with the back of the scoop and brewed as usual. The tamp is a little flimsy, so don’t tamp the heck out of it, or you might have a broken scoop and tamp. The fact that it stows nicely in a little compartment is nice; it will always be in its place and it won’t leave coffee grounds in my drawer where I keep other scoops. Overall, I had a bit more trouble getting a good crèma with the ground espresso, which could be many things including the grind, the coffee itself or the tamping job that I did.
Like I said, I brewed mostly ESE Espresso pods, during use, and was happy with the results. For the purposes of this section, I am using the Starbucks ESE Espresso Pods.
Across the two-week’s time, the flavor of the espresso coming out of the Hamilton Beach machine was good, and typical espresso. I was able to get a good crèma on my cups that I made with the Starbucks ESE Pods and enjoyed the espressos quite a bit.
I was also interested in how the espresso from the Hamilton Beach 40729 Espresso Maker would stack up against my Grimac made model (essentially the Espressione Nuvola Pod Espresso Machine), that costs about 15X more expensive than the Hamilton Beach. Fair comparison? No not really, but it’s the standard you get around this kitchen.
Overall, the Starbucks made in the Grimac was a bit stronger, and had a darker crèma than the Starbucks out of the Hamilton Beach model. The taste out of the Grimac has a bit more body to it, and a bit more intensity. This taste difference is noticeable in head to head cupping, but not in single cup taste tests that I randomly sprung on my guests. Most couldn’t notice the difference at all. So what does that say for the $68 Hamilton Beach? A lot.
Overall, I am impressed with the performance of the Hamilton Beach 40729 Espresso Maker, and I think that it’s a great entry-level espresso maker. It has the basic features that you need to turn out a good cup of espresso or latte while not having the extras that drive the price sky high. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone wanting to get into making espresso drinks and would go on to recommend that for an easy way to get great drinks go ahead and use the ESE pods that are available. No hassle and inexpensive espresso in no time.
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Posted by Scott Martin at September 5, 2006 9:42 AM