I am of the opinion that if you need an item you are going to use frequently, then you buy the very best one you can afford. Let’s call it the ‘Elite Theory’. That’s why, for example, when we first moved to LA from Sydney, we spent close to $200 (gulp) for a two-slice Dualit toaster from Williams Sonoma. We loved its retro style and all of the nifty design features and functions. That was ten years ago and it’s still going strong. Money well spent.
We also bought a little home espresso machine when we first got here. It wasn’t top of the range and had its flaws, such as insufficient pressure; it made so-so coffee and you had to wait for it to heat up again before you frothed the milk. Annoying. When it broke after a couple of years, we applied our ‘elite theory’ to finding a permanent replacement.
Enter Salvatore Espresso Machines.
My sweetheart had done a search online for a machine – main criteria, the highest pressure pump – and had come upon a guy who hand-makes espresso machines. Sounds expensive, right? Well, yeah. But it also said on their website something along the lines of if you buy a coffee a day from one of those spendy ‘boutique cafes’ (you know the one I mean), you will have paid for this machine in one year. Well, at that time he and I drank a kick-ass coffee every day, and as we both generally work from home, we didn’t relish getting into our cars every morning for our daily fix. Hell, by that logic we’d have one of those babies paying for itself after six months!
It’s true, by the way. A $3.50 cappuccino every day costs you over $1200.00 per year. Did you realise that?
How much do you think you spend on coffee say, each month? Where do you like to go for great espresso?
Anyway, it turns out the guy who makes these machines operates out of Solvang. Day trip! We decided to drive up there on the chance he might have a machine for sale.
When we got there, we even got a tour of Salvatore Cisaria’s
workshop and found out he makes his fantastic machines entirely by
hand. I mean, he makes his own moulds for brass fixtures and
chromes them. He cuts the brushed stainless steel himself. I think
the only part he doesn’t make is the filter baskets.
It also turns out that Salvatore used to fix Italian espresso and pasta machines. He soon figured out what worked and what didn’t and what the ultimate machine should have; things like a separate pressure system for the coffee and for the milk frothing wand, so that you can make coffee and do the milk at the same time. What a concept!! Also he decided on simple rocker switches instead of those clumsy knobs to turn everything on and off, even the steam for frothing the milk. Who hasn’t gone to back off the steam and had milk go everywhere as it takes a few extra seconds to wind the steam off? Well that often happened to me with those crappy other machines.
Depending on his work load, Salvatore takes around 6-8 weeks to make a machine to order. On display were all sorts of wacky ones, like a coffee machine that looks like a jukebox or one that was shaped like a classic car – that kind of thing. The basic semi-automatic model set us back $1200 at the time, and that was 8 years ago. The same one costs about $1360, now… By the looks of their photos, they now all come with a pressure gauge and soft switches.
It was so cool and exciting to meet Salvatore and his wife, Wendy, and to see how it all works.
About 8 weeks later we were the proud owners of a ‘Famosa’ – one of the most beautiful espresso machines around. His design really is quite Bauhaus, by which I mean form follows function. (One of the main objectives of the Bauhaus movement was to unify art, craft, and technology.)
But this machine is da bomb! The ones Salvatore makes for commercial use have the same internal workings as the home machines. They’re all well-made and industrial grade. We love it. Everyone loves it. We used to use it every day, but in the past year we’ve both cut way back on coffee so I use it probably 3 times a week and anytime anyone wants one of my killer frothy hot chocolates. It’s never needed overhauling or anything, but we did have one instance where there was a problem – the water wasn’t coming through properly from the reservoir to the pump (before it expressed). Fortunately my guy is fairly handy with machines and Salvatore talked him through the problem that turned out to be a damaged filter in the water system. If it had been more complicated than that, we’d probably have had to return the machine for repairs and he probably wouldn’t have been able to get around to looking at it for several weeks… Oh, another time Ash replaced a seal (they posted one to us) and all he had to do was deal with was four screws. Easy.
Here I am frothing the milk. If you think it’s easy to do
this and take a photo at the same time, I’m here to
tell you it isn’t!
[thinks: must perfect that microfoam for latte art]
As far as I’m concerned, this is the bestest espresso machine out there. We love its functional design and cool, boxy shape. Best of all, I get Major Dickason’s blend from Peets and – as far as I’m concerned – with my Famosa, I make the best damn cappuccini in LA. This machine is also easy enough to keep clean, which is an important factor to making good espresso.
515 Fourth Place, #3
Solvang, CA 93463
email — email@example.com