I love good espresso. One of the great pleasures in life, for me, is a skillfully drawn little cup of intensely aromatic, intensely flavored coffee with an opulent crema, or foam, on top. I have favorite coffee bars in Rome (Caffè Camerino, La Tazza d'Oro) and Trieste (La Portizza), two great espresso capitals; I maintain that the best espresso in Spain, for who knows what reason, is in Pamplona — a city better known for the annual Running of the Bulls; and I treat myself daily to an afternoon pick-me-up shot downstairs from my office, at the Manhattan outpost of Toby's Estate, a Brooklyn-based small-batch coffee roaster whose brew is about as dense and complex as could be. (What the world's largest coffee chain calls espresso, incidentally, is laughable — flat and burnt in flavor with only a thin film of crema.)
At home? I'd always said that I would never try to make espresso at home until I could afford a professional espresso machine — not some fancy home model, but a real, industrial-strength contraption that could work up a good head of steam and produce something as good, or at least nearly so, as anything I'd get in a good professional establishment. Since these cost many thousands of dollars, I never quite got around to buying one. (Instead, six or seven years ago, I discovered Nespresso and bought Le Cube, a since-discontinued machine made by DeLonghi that continues to produce excellent espresso, complete with crema, for me daily.)The results were close, but the Jura won out here, with a slightly more intense brew and a slightly thicker crema.
My fantasies of one day owning something serious in the espresso-making field were revived recently when, apparently by coincidence, two manufacturers of (among other things) high-end home espresso-capable coffeemakers sent us samples to test-drive. One was the Jura Impressa Z9 One Touch TFT, which retails for about $3,600; the other was the Krups EA9010 Barista Fully Coffee One-Touch Cappuccino Machine, priced at $2,500.
We set them up in The Daily Meal kitchen, filled both with filtered water and Flatiron Blend Espresso beans from Toby's Estate (both machines grind beans to order for each cup), and fired them up.
The set-up: Both machines come with instruction booklets and both require configuration. The Jura asks you to determine water hardness by using a test strip (included), and recommends installing a filter cartridge (also included) for particularly hard water. There is also an option to adjust the fineness with which the grinder processes beans. The Krups similarly wants to know how hard your water is (a measuring stick is included) and lets you configure the touchscreen for language, unit of measurement (ounces or milliliters), date and time, and water temperature, among other things. When you turn the Jura on, it rinses the system automatically and is up and running in 40 seconds. The Krups asks whether or not you wish to rinse, and takes 44 seconds to be ready if you don't. (Both machines rinse automatically on shut-off; the Krups bids you "Goodbye" on the screen before it signs out.)
The choices: Neither machine is exclusively for espresso. The Jura offers a choice of espresso, cappuccino, latte macchiato, coffee, "1 portion milk," or hot water. The Krups provides a whole menu of options: espresso, coffee, black specials (ristretto, doppio, lungo, long black), hot water, cappuccino, café latte, and white specials (flat white, café au lait, milchkaffee, hot milk). We, however, are just here for the espresso.
Quantity and strength: The Jura yields a 1.5-ounce espresso shot, and offers a strength range of one through five. The Krups — which, unlike the Jura, can make two cups simultaneously — proposes espresso in 1.3-, 1.7-, 2-, or 2.3-ounce sizes, with a strength range of one through three.
Timing: The Jura produced a 1.5-ounce cup of #5 strength espresso in 26 seconds. The Krups took 40 seconds to produce a 1.3-ounce cup of #3 strength.
The coffee: The results were close, but the Jura won out here, with a slightly more intense brew and a slightly thicker crema. The Krups gave us a good restaurant-grade espresso, medium in body. When we retested the two, this time using a #3 strength for the Jura, the Krups seemed slightly better. But why would somebody wanting an intense cup of coffee and having the chance to kick it up two notches use the weaker Jura setting?
Other thoughts: The settings are more intuitive on the Krups; the Jura involved more steps, more buttons to push. And the Jura's grounds container is more difficult to empty than the Krups's (you have to remove the whole large drip tray). The Krups has a smaller footprint.
As an added experiment, we used both machines to brew cappuccino and regular coffee. This time, we used Toby's Estate El Potrero Costa Rica beans. To make cappuccino with the Jura, you need to attach a separate thermos-like milk canister with a narrow rubber hose to the frother on the machine. This seemed very strange to us — they make a big, beautiful, multi-function coffee machine and have to deal with the milk with an add-on? The milk heats in the canister, then flows through the frother into the cup. With the Krups, you put the milk directly into your cup and lower the coffee-dispensing nozzle into it; it warms, then froths the milk, then adds the coffee. The process took the Jura 54 seconds, the Krups a minute and 45 seconds. Both cappuccinos were good, but the Krups produced one with a slightly richer flavor while the Jura's froth was thicker.
Straight coffees, both brewed at #3 strength, were on the thin side, inferior to a good pour-over.
The bottom line: Both are impressive machines. We liked the Jura a little bit better, especially for producing simple espresso, but the Krups did pretty well, too, and the price makes it more attractive. We'd say that if you're in the market for a serious coffeemaker, either would probably make you happy. (Me, I'm sticking with my Le Cube, which cost under $300.)