If you are looking at investing in a prosumer espresso machine, one of the key features on offer is the ability to steam milk and pull a shot simultaneously. Most of the espresso machines that fall into this category are dual boilers or heat exchange machines. And while these traditional systems are reliable, the machines are typically big, expensive, and take a long time to heat up.
Enter the Ascaso Steel Duo PID. The Ascaso Steel Duo breaks with tradition and employs a dual stainless steel thermoblock circuits to enable simultaneous steaming and brewing. This system offers several other advantages including a compact footprint and quick heat-up times. Read on to find out if the Ascaso Steel Duo is the right espresso machine for you.
Ascaso is a Spanish company that was founded in 1962 by Jesus Ascaso. Jesus has spent over 60 years working in the coffee industry, first for Gaggia before going out on his own. Ascaso specializes in producing espresso machines, grinders, and spare parts. The Ascaso espresso machines are built by hand in Barcelona, Spain. While Ascaso has long been recognized in Spain, it has only just started gaining acclaim in other parts of the world. The Ascaso Steel Duo PID is one of their more popular models along with the Ascaso Dream.
Ascaso Steel Duo Review
The Ascaso Steel Duo PID is a stunning espresso machine that combines style with functionality. As the name would suggest, the Ascaso Duo has a solid stainless steel body, available in different finishes to complement a range of kitchen decors. The machine is available in polished stainless steel, or powder-coated black or white, complemented with wooden accents to make an attractive addition to any kitchen.
Small details like white lights and a white LED display reinforce the modern design. The water reservoir is accessed from the right side of the machine, which is helpful for those with overhead cupboards. Likewise, the drip tray pulls out from under the machine and is fitted with fins to prevent any water from spilling out.
The espresso machine is controlled by four toggle switches on the front. A power switch, a Brew switch, a Hot water switch, and a Steam switch. The brew switch is flicked up for a single espresso shot or down for a double espresso shot. The Ascaso has a separate hot water spout to heat cups or brew Americanos.
The Ascaso Duo comes with a few accessories including a solid 58mm portafilter with dual spouts, 4 professional baskets (single and double-walled baskets holding 7 and 14 g), a tamper, a blank basket, and a dosing spoon. While the smaller filter baskets are common in Spain where they drink single shots, if you are wanting to brew modern espresso, you will have to upgrade to an 18-gram basket. One other quirk of this espresso machine is that it requires a 20 amp circuit to be run safely and smoothly.
The Ascaso Steel Duo PID punches above its weight in terms of price, but it is not without its compromises.
Dual PID Controlled Thermoblock
The first thing to note about the Ascaso Duo is that it is a Dual Thermoblock machine, as opposed to a dual boiler or heat exchange. A thermoblock is a block of metal that has a tube coiled through it. Water is pulled directly from the reservoir and heated instantaneously as it travels through the coil. Thermoblocks are uncommon in prosumer espresso machines but they do offer a few advantages. Thermoblocks are affordable, compact, and energy efficient. They offer remarkably fast heat-up times, the Ascaso Duo is ready to brew within 3 minutes of turning on! The downside is that they do not offer the same temperature stability or steam power as boiler machines.
The Ascaso Duo has dual thermoblocks allowing it to steam milk and brew espresso at the same time. Both thermoblocks have PID temperature control which offers highly consistent temperatures. The brew and steam temperatures are able to be adjusted in one-degree increments using the digital display on the front of the espresso machine.
The Ascaso Duo offers volumetric dosing, so shots can be programmed according to volume instead of time. The brew switch is flicked up for a single shot or down for a double shot. The espresso machine is able to have two volumes programmed into the shot memory.
The Ascaso Duo also has a programmable pre-infusion. Pre-infusion is where a small amount of water is introduced to the puck before ramping up to high pressure. This wets the coffee grounds and prevents channeling. The pre-infusion time can be adjusted from 0-5 seconds.
Adjustable Over Pressure Valve
One of the unique features of the Ascaso Steel Duo PID is that it is very easy to adjust the Over Pressure Valve (OPV). While other machines require you to open the body up to access this, with the Ascaso you simply need a flat-head screwdriver. Turning the screw to the right increases the pressure while turning it to the left reduces it. While you can’t adjust the pressure on the fly like the Lelit Bianca, this is a helpful feature. An analog pressure gauge on the front of the machine helps you dial in coffee beans accurately.
The Ascaso Duo has a digital display on the front of the machine. From here you can program different features like the steam or brew temperatures or pre-infusion time. In addition, the display switches to a shot clock when you start brewing which is helpful for dialing in beans.
The Ascaso Steel Duo can pull some excellent espresso shots, thanks to the PID temperature control which offers stable temperatures. There is, however, one caveat. While the machine heats up within 3 minutes, the group head and portafilter take a lot longer. Ascaso recommends pulling some blank shots through the group head and portafilter to heat it up, alternatively, you can turn the espresso machine on 15-20 minutes before use to make sure the group head has time to warm up properly.
While the updated Ascaso has seen a lot of improvement in the steaming performance, it is still one area that is lacking. The steam power is adequate, but can’t match the power of a traditional boiler machine. The thermoblock guarantees continuous steam, so long as there is water in the reservoir. However, the steaming is rather slow, taking around 40 seconds for a single drink. So this espresso machine is not great for steaming large volumes of milk, or if you are wanting to make multiple drinks back-on-back.
The steam wand is a multidirectional wand with a 1-hole tip. It is double-walled so you can touch it after steaming without worry of getting burnt. It is also easier to clean after as the milk doesn’t stick to the wand.
Cleaning and Maintenance
The Ascaso Steel Duo PID is pretty standard when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. After each use, the group head and steam wand should be purged and wiped down. The drip tray needs to be emptied and cleaned on a regular basis and likewise with the water reservoir.
The Duo PID model has a cleaning program to clean the steam unit and group head. This can be accessed on the digital screen. Ascaso recommends back flushing with the blind filter weekly, to keep the group head clean.
Given that there are no boilers, limescale buildup isn’t such an issue, however, periodic descaling is still recommended.
Who Is The Ascaso Steel Duo PID For?
The Ascaso Steel Duo PID is an insta-worthy espresso machine that will elevate any coffee corner. It punches above its weight in terms of price. If you are looking to upgrade from a single boiler espresso machine, then the Ascaso Duo is worth considering. The dual thermoblocks offer simultaneous steaming and brewing while the PID temperature control provides excellent temperature stability. The Ascaso espresso machine is packed full of thoughtful features like the analog pressure gauge, shot clock, and adjustable Over Pressure Valve.
The Ascaso espresso machine does have a few quirks, while it is quick to heat up, the group head and portafilter take a lot longer than the advertised 3 minutes. The steam pressure is also substandard compared to other espresso machines in this price range. So who is the Ascaso Steel Duo PID espresso machine for? It is for someone who loves the beautiful aesthetics or wants a compact espresso machine that can heat up quickly.
The Ascaso Steel Duo PID is certainly not the best espresso machine at this price point, especially when it comes to steaming power. There are other machines made by reputable brands that have been in the business longer. Here are a few other alternatives worth considering.
The Lelit Elizabeth is an impressive espresso machine at the same price point. Rather than having thermoblocks, the Elizabeth has dual boilers. The Elizabeth has been carefully designed with small boilers to keep a compact footprint. It offers many similar features to the Ascaso like customizable brew temperature, manual or timed shots, and a pre-infusion. The Elizabeth also offers remarkable steam power for an espresso machine of its size. If you would rather have a dual boiler machine the Lelit Elizabeth is the obvious choice.
The Rocket Appartamento is another espresso machine worth considering. The Appartamento is a heat exchange machine, paired with an E61 group head. It has a beautiful design, compact footprint, and exceptional build quality. The Appartamento offers fewer features than the Ascaso, however, it does have better steam power and a premium build.
Ascaso Steel Duo- The Verdict
The Ascaso Steel Duo PID is a stunning espresso machine with a modern design. It utilizes a unique dual thermoblock system, offering several advantages to the home user, namely a quick warm-up and the ability to brew and steam simultaneously. In addition to this, it offers a range of helpful features at an affordable price point. While the Ascaso Steel Duo PID is by no means the best espresso machine at this price point (others will beat it, especially in the steaming department) it does offer a good price-to-value ratio.