October 8, 2006

Review: Capresso Ultima 121 Espresso Machine


The Jura Capresso Ultima Espresso Machine is not your usual espresso maker, and is hard to classify in the typical categories, but one thing that you can say about the Capresso Ultima is that it’s a pretty good machine that turns out a convenient little shot of espresso. The general idea is that it’s like a super automatic without the bean grinding capability, and all the expensive LED readouts and associated electronics. The ease of use is really the main feature of the unit, along with the ante to the game of the fact that it turns out great espresso.

The Capresso Ultima is not designed like a classic espresso machine, and that can be its weakness or its strength; it depends on how you look at it. The main design feature is the crank on the top of the machine that is the foundation of its great functionality. Drop ground espresso in the doser top, turn the crank and tamp the espresso with the knob, then hit a switch and pour. Finish the pour and crank the crank again, ejecting the spent espresso grounds into the bin and set it for the next round of brewing. Walk away and you’re done.

Life with the Capresso Ultima - Design
CapressoUltimaControls2.jpgIn use there are a few things that you learn about the machine that are still comforting and not worrisome in its design. While the water tank is in the back of the machine, it’s not hard to access, and is easy to seat in the machine once it’s full. Getting the whole, crank, pour, eject process down is about as simple as it gets and takes a couple of shots to get your espresso just right, not bad at all. The extra water spills into a fairly big drip pan that holds a fair amount of liquid. CapressoUltimaMug2.jpgThere is a little red “Sludge Indicator” that pops up when the pan needs draining. I like that; no more emptying a pan that was almost overflowing. The controls are easy too. The control panel has two buttons, the on/off switch at the top, and the “brew” button below that. Continuing down there is an “Empty Bin” light and a heating indicator light. The Selector Dial allows you to brew into a cup, add hot water into a cup (from the frothing wand) and steam milk.

The Ultima also has an adjustable spout to accommodate espresso demitasse cups and mugs to make Americanos and Crèma Cafes right into an 8- 10 ounce mug.

Using the Capresso Ultima
So one of our readers astutely asked what life would be like with having to grind the beans separately from the maker, and dosing into the machine. After coming off the Capresso Impressa E8 super automatic (see our review), I felt like I might not want to ever have to scoop ground espresso again. Well, I have a small burr grinder, and found a setting that got me about one shot’s worth of ground espresso. I simply set the grinder, let it run, and then scooped out of the grinder cup into the Capresso Ultima. This extra step wasn’t very hard. I usually clicked the Ultima on, and then ground the espresso beans and by the time the beans were ground, the Ultima was ready to brew. This was a very fast warm up; I liked that. No undue waiting around. To brew, you click the brew button on. The brew time was about 25 seconds for a 2-ounce shot; a little faster than what I see on other machines, but it made a good shot of espresso. CapressoUltimabrew2.jpgYou’ll need to click the brew button off as there is no set brew size, which allows you the freedom to set your brew size. The brew temperatures of the espresso in cup were consistently 175F to 179F – this was into a preheated Bodum Pavina Double-Wall Espresso Glass. There is no cup warmer on the Capresso Ultima, but that doesn’t bother me. If I need the cups warmed, I usually dosed in some hot water from the tap on the side, which was ready to dose water about 30 seconds after turning on the machine; again fast.

If you want to froth milk, you turn the selector dial straight up to the steaming position and the steaming will start in a few seconds. There was plenty of steam to do what I wanted to do for my 1-2 cappuccinos at a time, but the unit will shut off steam after about a minute and a half. You’ll need to give it a bit or time to re-heat (< 30 seconds) if you want more steam. Again, this isn’t really a limitation in practice. I didn’t do 6 drinks in a row anyway, and if you are, you might want to do them in pairs to keep them all hot anyway.

Cleaning the Capresso Ultima
So, in the end, apparently you really do have to clean the machine. You might forget this point on a daily basis. You might be fooled for a while into thinking that this thing has no clean up when you can just crank the spent grounds into a bin, but yes, you have to clean. The Ultima makes it easy. The tray and grounds bin slide out for rinsing and emptying. I found that I could go through about a dozen or so shots before the grounds bin was full. The round cranking assembly also comes off for rinsing. Looking down at the top of the machine gives you a pretty good view of the other areas to wipe off. I just took a paper towel and wiped everything down to remove grounds and sludge. The whole process took less than 5 minutes, and it is something that I am doing on a weekly basis. This is MUCH easier than cleaning portafilters after every shot.

Review Summary for Capresso Ultima
The Capresso Ultima 121 is a great workhorse of a machine that takes on the job of making espresso and does it with ease. The unit is built to run, and letting it make espressos is letting it live up to the job it was born to do. The unit makes good espresso, and makes that good espresso consistently day in and day out with an easy routine that fit into my day like a glove. The clean-up and easy quick habit of making espresso with the Capresso Ultima was effortless. I happen to like the design, but maybe I am superimposing my appreciation of the functionality onto it. If you want a pretty little classic looking espresso machine that sits there on the counter as a decoration and only looks good, maybe you need to look elsewhere.

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Posted by Scott Martin at October 8, 2006 11:01 PM
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