Decent Espresso represents a decisive intersection of technology and coffee. This understated Apple-esque espresso machine takes espresso and makes it a traceable and dissectible science.
To put it as simply as we can, the Decent Espresso machine is a coffee maker that allows you to see inside every shot pulled. It is probably the only espresso machine you have seen that can be controlled entirely by a tablet and gives real time data. And this somewhat futuristic looking espresso machine has some serious features that will either make you love it or hate it.
So in this article we will give you a birds eye view of what the Decent espresso machine seeks to achieve, the features it contains, and who should seriously consider purchasing one.
What is Decent Espresso?
Decent Espresso is the brainchild of a collaboration between software designer John Buckman and leading coffee authority Scott Rao (author of some of the best coffee books released to date). This small Hong Kong based company was self-funded by Buckman, his partner Bugs, and his mother. Although it is commonly thought to be the descendent of the kickstarted machine ZPM, this is incorrect and the Decent was designed independently of ZPM technology.
In an interview, Buckman described the Decent as a software-based espresso machine. And that is as good a description as you can get of these very unique coffee makers. What sets these machines apart is the ability to control and monitor virtually every facet of the espresso shot from temperature to pressure to flow to weight.
As such this machine can not only make you superb coffee (which it certainly can), but it allows you to dissect every shot you pull. With the real time data displayed on the android tablet you can see the direct difference that grind size, puck preparation, and other facts have on extraction. There are two factors at play here that we will delve into as we go along; the first is precise control over brewing parameters. With this machine you can even pull a shot which starts at one temperature and ends on another. The second factor is incredibly precise sensors that give you constant real time data on what is happening in the puck and group head through the extraction process.
Decent espresso is fundamentally a R&D company and so the technology and potential of these machines is constantly evolving. Software updates are being constantly released which are automatically available on the android tablet and unlock new features and potential.
Interestingly, perhaps the most well known thing about this company is not their technology but their passionate and considerate customer service. Almost everyone who has made contact with the company or with John Buckman have commented on how conscientious this company is and how willing they are to go above and beyond for the customer.
The production is still based out of Hong Kong although they have other international offices. This in itself gives an insight into how this company thinks. The reason for the continued presence in Hong Kong is the accumulation of a group of highly specialised and educated professionals and the unwillingness to skimp on production quality. This ongoing presence leads to incremental increase and progression of technology rather than simply the cutting of production costs. This is clearly a company that is passionate about what they do.
Current Decent Models
At present there are three models of the Decent that are available on their website. The DE1Pro, the DE1XL, and the DE1XXL.
Of these the DE1Pro really stands as the home barista option (this takes the place of the now discontinued DE1+), while the XL and especially the XXL are better able to manage a commercial workload and have a larger footprint. Some of the differences between these models include the size and number of holes in the steam wands, the peak amperage, color variations, and the countersunk option. The differences between these models can be found here.
This review will primarily interact with the DE1 Pro.
Review of the Decent Espresso Machine
So now we get to the nuts and bolts of this article. What can this rather distinctive espresso machine actually do? And to be completely honest it is hard to know where to begin. In fact the sheer potential of the various features can be almost overwhelming. We will divide the various aspects of the machine into external design and build quality, user functionality, and shot profiling and tracing.
External Design and Build Quality
One of the first things that many people notice about the Decent Espresso machine is its small size and unique design. Especially for baristas or home brewers who are used to commercial sized machines like the Linea Mini or the Spaziale Vivaldi S1, the size and weight of the Decent is frankly astounding. This is an incredibly compact espresso machine which will easily fit even into a smaller kitchen. This reflects their design rationale to bring the quality of commercial machines into the home of committed coffee enthusiasts.
The Decent espresso machine comes with a wheeled suitcase with the intention that it can be moved easily with minimal hassle. Various users have commented on this that the machine can be drained and packed into the suitcase in under five minutes which is incredible. In addition the machine ships with a bottomless stainless steel portafilter, an 18g precision basket, and a blind basket for backflushing.
One of the most appealing things about the Decent machines is that they are full of small indications that quality matters to this company. These machines are full of thoughtful and considerate design decisions. For example, suction cups under the legs provide that the machine won’t move under normal usage, and the connection between the machine and the drip tray is angled to function as a shot mirror. Little details like these (as well as the constant evolution of the software) show that this is a company that is out to make a quality product that will actively benefit the customer.
In terms of aesthetic appeal, this is clearly very different from a traditional prosumer espresso machine. Instead of the commercial and almost industrial feel that you would tend to get with a La Marzocco or a Slayer, the Decent is characterised by gentle curves and elegance. In this way it almost resembles an Apple product. This look will no doubt appeal to some while putting others off. I think the best word to describe this design and feel is understated or subtle. Some espresso machines look like beasts while others gravitate towards elegance; this is certainly the latter.
So now that we have considered the design and build of the Decent Espresso Machine, we can ask the question; what is it like to use? Is this a machine you will look forward to using each day or one that will drive you nuts?
And there are a whole range of factors and features we will consider together in this section. As has been repeatedly mentioned, the Decent DE1Pro, is designed for the home barista. And one way this particularly shows is in the quick warm up time. A typical commercial espresso machine will take upwards of 30 minutes to properly heat up. The Decent espresso machine can heat up from cold to shot-ready in under 5 minutes! This is both incredible and also very convenient with the busy lives we often live. It is also very useful for small commercial settings such as coffee demonstrations and coffee carts.
The Decent espresso machine comes with a ceramic water reservoir of just under 2L that is easily accessible and easily refilled. In addition, there is the option to buy kits to fully plumb the machine. When the machine arrives in the suitcase it can be easily assembled in under 5 minutes.
It is worth noting at this point that the Decent espresso machine CANNOT steam and pull a shot simultaneously. This may be an off put for some customers. However, there is no recovery period required between shots, and steaming after pulling the shot has not been a major complaint for users.
In a similar vein many people ask about the milk wand that the decent espresso machine uses. There is a slight difference between the Decent DE1Pro, the Decent DE1XL, and the Decent DE1XXL. However, there are some general comments that are able to be made. The steam wand is cool-touch and has either one or three holes in the tip depending on the model. Various users have commented that the steam it produces is drier than other similar espresso machines. Also, while it can produce superb microfoam, it is not the quickest steam wand around (which makes sense when you consider the purpose of the Decent machines). Particularly, if you are steaming large amounts of milk, you may find the Decent slower than you are used to. For this reason Decent has come out with the faster steaming DE1XXL model for commercial users.
However, the milk steaming is becoming increasingly ‘hands free’ on the Decent to allow for greater focus on the espresso. So you can simply place your pitcher under the steam wand, set the wand position, desired steam pressure and temperature, and set it to steam for 30s or so. And then focus on other things. And I am confident that this will only improve on further updates with the Decent.
Probably the greatest point of interest, however, in terms of the functionality of the Decent Espresso Machine is the interaction with the Android Tablet. This is likely the only espresso machine you have come across that can be exclusively controlled via an attached tablet. Initially the Decent was controlled solely by the tablet and had no external buttons but in response to customer feedback, the group head now incorporates a controller with a wide range of functions . As of v1.3 the group head now operates as a continuous rotary controller which allows for real time control over pressure and flow. This superb upgrade means that the controls on the group head can now function effectively as a springless lever or pressure paddle.
The tablet communicates wirelessly with the espresso machine via bluetooth. On the tablet there are innumerable different ‘skins’ you can opt for depending on what will work best for your needs. These span from a simple nice background with ‘espresso’ ‘steam’ and ‘flush’ to complicated graphs that track alongside the shot. As well as the official skins, users of the Decent Diaspora community are constantly producing new skins. The advantage of this form of operation is that software updates can be automatically installed via the tablet rather than requiring new hardware with each update. Similarly, the option of skins means that you can find the right mode of operation for you depending on your interests and skill levels rather than being forced into a single mold.
However, the challenge with the usability of the tablet, and Decent Espresso machines as a whole, is what coffee expert James Hoffman has termed ‘analysis paralysis.’ Basically what this means is that the amount of information available at any given moment on the Decent can be completely overwhelming. Especially, if you are used to a normal espresso machine with a few buttons, the option to alter or track virtually any brewing parameter can leave you drowning in a sea of information. We will get into this more in the section below. However, it is worth noting that there is great support for people struggling through the incredibly supportive Decent Diaspora community. You can also can hide the excess of information with your chosen ‘skin.’
In general the Tablet is easy and intuitive to use especially if Android is already your chosen platform. If you are an Apple man or woman, you may find it a bit more of an adjustment.
Both the DE1Pro and the DE1XL are available in both 110V and 220V depending on where you find yourself in the world. However, the DE1XXL requires 220V and 10A to enable the more powerful steaming capabilities.
The only other thing worth mentioning in this section is that Decent Espresso also offers a wide range of espresso accessories to go along with their machine. These tend to be high quality and aesthetically matching. Of particular interest is a pour over portafilter designed by Scott Rao. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Rao designed it along with a pour over program to accompany it on the Decent and claims it can produce even higher extraction than can be done with manual pouring.
Shot Profiling and Tracing
So now we can get into the real genius of Decent Espresso which is shot profiling and tracing. Remember that the Decent above all aims to help you understand and perfect espresso shots. It is not the fastest machine, nor the simplest, nor necessarily the best choice for a cafe. However, it does excel in allowing you to enter the detailed and technical world of espresso.
There are really two aspects to this; shot or extraction profiling and realtime sensory feedback.
In terms of shot profiling there are few espresso machines that rival Decent Espresso. Virtually any parameter that plays into the extraction process can be set and adjusted prior to the shot. In fact, they can even be set to adjust during the shot. These parameters include pre-infusion, water temperature, pressure, flow rate, shot times, and weight (if connected to an Acaia or the Decent scale).
The Decent Espresso machine consequently allows you to set the extraction profile to an almost unbelievable extent. In the v1.1 this profile had to be set prior to the shot and couldn’t be altered during the shot. However, with the v1.3 you can take over at any point during the shot manually. This is done either by tapping the controller on the group head for small adjustments, or holding your finger down to go completely manual. This gives the Decent a superb level of control and customization and the ability for this already flexible machine to now function as a fully manual espresso machine should you desire it.
As you can see in terms of control and customization (both prior and real-time) the Decent is all but unrivalled among espresso machines aimed at the home market.
The advantage of this level of profiling is the ability to both experiment with virtually all the brewing parameters and replicate any type of shot. There are a range of technical shots such as the slayer shot or the sprover shot, that can then be acquired and tweaked relatively easily. In a similar vein it means that once you do reach your desired extraction it is relatively easy to replicate the shot perfectly time and time again. In fact, Decent Espresso owners can now share shot profiles so that you can try other people’s recipes as well as share your own. So on this website Decent owners analyze, share, and compare shot profiles.
As mentioned this profiling includes not only initially setting the parameters but setting them to change during the shot. So with the Decent Espresso machine you can profile a shot to start at one temperature and finish at a different one. Most impressive of all is the ability to do flow profiling by controlling the pumps themselves. However, this is a major step up from pressure profiling and so is really for those who know what they are talking about. There is the option of either going with preset profiles or creating your own ones.
And this is really the genius of Decent Espresso. This isn’t just an espresso machine that can make good espresso, but instead this is for people who want to play around with espresso and really understand how brewing parameters play into extraction. This is the sort of machine where you can try virtually anything you like and see what the results are. Needless to say, owners of Decent espresso machines tend to go through rather a lot of coffee.
The second and related aspect of this is highly precise sensory feedback. When you pull a shot on the DE1, flow rate, pressure, water temperature, and extraction weight are measured and presented on the Tablet as well as being stored for later analysis. This information is given in real time and allows you to watch in moving graphs as your shot progresses (if you desire).
What makes this particularly impressive is the quality of the sensors used. These sensors are extremely high quality and measure the various parameters at the group head itself. For example, the water temperature is measured around 2mm above the puck surface. It doesn’t take much thought to see just how useful this tracing is for perfecting and troubleshooting shots. It means you can see in real time where channels are formed in the puck and possible shortcomings of your current puck prep. It also means that as you watch the flow throughout the shot you are able to see puck erosion.
Basically if you want to go hard core on espresso shots, then the Decent Espresso is your doorway in. It means you can analyse every shot pulled and see in real time how different parameters play into extraction and flow.
Who is the Decent Espresso For?
So coming to a close, who should seriously consider forking out the cash to invest in a Decent espresso machine? Well it is easier to start with who shouldn’t.
If you are just looking for a good espresso machine to pull nice shots then the Decent will be overkill for you. While it can and does do this, its greater strengths and what you end up paying for are its profiling and tracing ability.
Similarly, if you are looking for a commercial machine for your coffee shop then the Decent probably isn’t what you are looking for. While it can be used for this, and the DE1XXL certainly is powerful enough, nonetheless it is still only a single group, can’t steam and brew at the same time, and can do so much more than a coffee shop typically requires.
So who should buy it? My answer would be the authentic espresso enthusiast. If you are someone who finds yourself growing frustrated with your current espresso machine because it doesn’t allow the customization you want, then the Decent may well be for you. The Decent espresso machine is for not only the coffee lover but the inquisitive coffee lover; the type of people who are just interested and fascinated with how espresso works and how parameters impact flow, and why one shot does one thing and another shot does something completely different.
In addition, it is for those who realise and are content to buy a constantly evolving espresso machine. Due to their model of business and updates, it is almost certain that the Decent Espresso machine you buy this year will be able to do new things next year, and new things the year after. Based on their history, they are constantly looking for new innovations and ways to improve their product. So the capability of the Decent espresso machine in 5 years may be very different from its capabilities now.
So if you have managed to read all the way to the end of this review and are excited, then the Decent Espresso machine is probably for you!