About ECM CASA IV
(available for sale in our e-shop):
To be a relatively new company, ECM has an impressive range of espresso machines strategically designed for different markets. Many well established espresso machine manufacturers would love to have the amount of models, features and level of craftmanship applied on the ECM machines. This may bring to our mind some understandable thoughts about ECM: are these machines really good or they only look good? and more importantly, how do they performe compared to similar machines from other manufacturers? Let’s start answering these questions with Casa IV!
Casa IV is the most basic model of ECM manufacture and was designed for the home market. Like the famous Rancilio Silvia, Casa IV is a single boiler machine. This means that the boiler operates with different temperatures during brewing mode and foaming mode. Thus, unlike semi-professional machines or professional machines, these two processes cannot be done on parallel. The simplicity of this technology allows for cost savings, very important factor for a home machine. In this review I will mention the word “Rancilio Silvia” many times and is because both machines share similar hydraulic and electrical systems.
Casa IV arrives to the roastery
Casa IV is packaged in a thick corrugated box. It is nice to find that the accessories and the machine are placed in separated layers so as to protect the machine from scratches. The layer on top is visible once you open the machine. Protected by a special packaging foam we can find the following accessories (as you can see from the picture on the right): ECM portafilter, single basket, double basket, plastic tamper, dosing spoon, manual, the steam lever (which is packaged separated from the machine to avoid damage during transportation) and a silicon pipe (needed in case you want to add a water softener to the machine, we will talk about this later).
At this point, I would like to highlight the quality of the ECM portafilter, one the most beautiful portafilters that I have ever seen, and I include on the comparison commercial portafilters from other brands too! Just when portafilters are becoming more and more extravagant, for the sake of ergonometry, the design of ECM’s portafilters is just simple but with a matt and soft touch feel and chromed ends, very elegant! Another good point of the ECM portafilter is its compatibility with E61 groups, i.e., you can use the ECM portafilter (or its bottomless version, to be ordered separately) on many machines such as Rancilio Silvia, Quick Mill machines, Vibiemme, Izzo, Isomac etc.
The show begins
Casa IV comes in three different presentations: white, stainless steel and black (used on this review). At this moment we only have the black and stainless steel version but the white version will come soon.
The size of Casa IV is quite suitable for environments with reduced spaces. Compared to Silvia, Casa IV is a bit narrower but significantly higher than Silvia. Like Silvia, Casa IV has buttons for the selection of the following operation modes: hot water, steaming and espresso. A lighting indicator is used to indicate the activity of the heating element (light ON=heater is working, light OFF=heater is off).
When you open the upper tray to fill up the tank you will notice that, unlike most of the espresso machines with water tank, there is no silicon pipes hanging on the water tank. This is because ECM incorporates a special system where the pump sucks the water to the bottom of the machine.
This same system has a special lock on the bottom of the water tank so you can take the water tank full of water from the machine, should you require so.
At this point you may be thinking how to connect the water softener to the machine. For that you will need the silicone pipe that is included in the accessory box. Just connect the end of the silicone pipe to the connector of the water tank and the other end to the water softener.
Special features of Casa IV
58mm gruppo and portafilter
A heavy 58mm gruppo resting below the boiler’s machine is the proposal of Casa iV for the coffee erogation. The gruppo is E61 compatible which gives the user the freedom of choice for using alternatives portafilters. And viceversa, the nice chromed ECM portafilter incorporated with Casa IV or its bottomless portafilter (to be ordered separately) could be usef on other similar espresso machines such as Rancilio Silvia, Quick Mill, Vibiemme, Bezzera etc. The replacement of the screen’s gruppo is easily done by turning an hexagonal screw that is placed conveniently on the gruppo’s screen. The screw’s head is located at the same level as the screen, a nice detail that avoid ruining your tamp.
Commercial grade steam wand and steam knob
The steam wand incorporated in Casa IV is a commercial grade wand with 2 holes tip. Unlike other home machine brands the ECM wand is satisfactorily large and with a 360 degrees rotation. Steam is released from the machine easily by a single push of the lever. Due to security reasons, ECM decided to choose a type of lever that requires continuous pressure for the relase of steam. I found this to be a minor disadvantage since many users would like to keep both hands on the jug. Despite this , I consider the whole steaming system to be well designed to reproduce consistently high quality microfoam. We will see more about the steaming performance in the performance chapter.
Functions and panel control
The control panel of ECM Casa IV consists on buttons and leds that assist you through the following functional operations:
- Erogation of coffee (espresso)
- Erogation of hot water
As we explained earlier, being ECM Casa IV a single boiler machine, operations 1 and 3 cannot be done on parallel. To switch from “espresso mode” to steaming mode you would need to wait some tens of seconds for the boiler to increase its temperature.
Brewing pressure monitoring and adjustment
The most attractive feature of Casa is, without any question, the incorporated brewing pressure gauge located in the front side which gives the home baristas a useful monitoring tool to check the performance of their shots. Without this gauge the baristas are almost blind whenever performance problems on the shots arised and the use of the gauge will save precious time and lot of worry. But there is something else: Casa IV allows you to change easily the brewing pressure via an adjustment screw located on the top side of the machine. Both, the monitoring and adjustment of the brewing pressure are easily accessed from the front side of the machine and this gives the possibility for the user to play with different pressure values during the espresso erogation. This is called “pressure profiling” and at the moment only few commercial machines above 15,000 eur have this capability offered as a standard feature.
Incorporated filter for impurities
ECM has incorporated in Casa IV a tiny filter at the output of the pump. This is not a softener but a mechanical filter intended to block impurities coming from the water tank and hence will keep your boiler clean and will avoid performance problems associated to clogging.
High capacity drain tray
Home espresso machine users would agree with me how unconfortable is to work with espresso machines with small drain trays: either you are forced to empty the drain quite frequently or spend some time to clean all the mess caused by tray overflow. The capacity of the ECM Casa IV drip tray is an outstanding 1,2 liters, surpassing by far the capacity of Rancilio Silvia’s tray (0,5 liters) and many semi-professional machines. The picture above shows the trays used by Rancilio Silvia and ECM Casa IV.
High quality parts and technical design
A careful look inside Casa’s internal components shows that this machine is as good as it appears to be from outside. Casa IV is built with high quality internal components including a heavy brass group, robust boiler (300ml capacity, similar to Rancilio Silvia) and with resettable thermostat to protect the boiler/heating element against high temperature. In Casa IV, the boiler and heating element are not coupled, like in Silvia, and this brings the repair cost significantly down in case the heating element stops working (only the heating element but not the boiler would need to be replaced).
The hydraulic system is quite similar to Rancilio Silvia, except for the special features already mentioned above and for one important observation: in Silvia, the three-way solenoid valve is located just below the boiler while in Casa IV the solenoid is a few centimeters away. This means that we should expect increased heat loss in Casa IV compared to Silvia and this translate to different brewing temperatures. This is an interesting design difference and the impact of this on the brewing performance is reported in the next Chapter.
Because of the high quality components deployed in Casa IV, you can be confident that this machine will last for quite many years and, if any technical issues happen in the future, it should be easily fixed and with low maintenance cost . ECM is so confident on the reliability of Casa IV that this machine has an unusual 2 years warranty for any production failure.
So far so good with Casa IV. However, the use of high quality components and the addition of special features tells nothing about how good the espresso drinks are. In this Chapter, we present some performance results obtained with Casa IV and compared them with results obtained with Rancilio Silvia, which is a good point of reference due to its well known performance and similar technology used.
- Casa IV espresso machine
- Rancilio Silvia
- Mahlkönig Vario home grinder
- Espresso Caramelo
- Accessories: ECM tamping station, Rancilio tamper
- Measurement tools: 1) digital temperature meter with a short delay K-type thermocouple 2) portafilter with pressure gauge and slot for termocouple
Warm up time
Here, we define warm up time as the time it takes for the machine’s boiler to reach the design temperature for espresso after the machine has been switched on.
|ECM Casa IV||2′ 15″|
|Rancilio Silvia||2′ 50″|
According to the results, Casa IV reaches the boiler’s design temperature 35 seconds earlier than Rancilio Silvia. In real life, both machines are ready to make the best espressos after 5-10 minutes. However, these test was a good indicator of the heating capability of Casa IV.
The brewing temperature is one of the key factors that affect the taste of the espresso and it is proposed be to use a value between 90 to 96 degree Celsius (WBC standards). As the brewing time may vary during the time, we figured out that it would be more illustrative to show measurement samples of the brewing temperature at different stages of operation:
Stage A: brewing temperature around the time the heating element is switched off (“hottest stage”).
Stage B: brewing temperature 40 s after the heating element switches off
Stage C: brewing temperature right before the heating element start working (“coldest stage”)
Stage D: brewing temperature during machine’s heating period.
The results of such measurements are shown in the following table:
|Stage A||Stage B||Stage C||Stage D||Average|
|ECM Casa IV||96-98°C||94-96°C||89-92°C||91-94°C||93°C|
The results clearly show that the brewing temperature in Casa IV is about 2-3°C below the values delivered by Rancilio Silvia. I believe that, as mentioned in the previous section, the lower temperatures delivered by Casa IV is due to the longer path that the hot water need to travel from the boiler to the gruppo’s shower.
In simple terms, we can say that there is a big probability that your espresso shots in Casa IV would be around 93°C while in Rancilio Silvia it would be around 96,5°C. Casa iV’s brewing temperatures are satisfactorily within the range for excellent espressos and, even better, you do not need to follow tricks and tips in this machine to make espressos with the right brewing temperature ( as you need to do with other machines).
Results on the cup
In comparison with espressos brewed with Rancilio Silvia, we obtained with Casa IV espressos with fruitier flavours and softer mouthfeel. This is due to the lower brewing temperatures delivered by the machine. During our tests we found out that Casa IV would require finer grounds than used in other machines. This is because of the current design of the jet breaker in the group. We have reported our findings to ECM and we are happy to hear that our feedbacks will help them to build an improved version. In the meantime, ECM has sent us some spare parts that will improve the brewing of the espresso. All our machines will include those modifications.
Switching time (espresso mode -> foaming mode)
This is the time you need to wait when switching from espresso mode to foaming mode and because of this, the shorter the time, the more confortable you will feel using the machine. From the below table we can see again that Casa IV offers a shorter switching time and the machine is ready for foaming 35 seconds earlier than in Rancilio Silvia.
|ECM Casa IV||1′ 15″|
|Rancilio Silvia||1′ 40″|
This is the time it takes to heat 250ml of milk (required for two cappuccinos) from the environment temperature (12°C in Finland) until 60°C. From the table below we can see that foaming with Casa IV is slightly quicker than with Rancilio Silvia.
|ECM Casa IV||30″|
Recovery time (steam)
This test shows how quick the machines start heating the boiler due to low steaming power (low temperature). For this test, we just opened the steam valves and counted the time it takes for the heating element to start working.
|ECM Casa IV||35″|
The recovery times from these machines defer considerably. This result implies that in certain cases, such as trying to heat large amount of milk (more than 250ml) or trying to heat milk in consecutive attempts, Casa IV will be able to increase its steaming power faster to obtain a reduced foaming/heatime time.
As I mentioned earlier, the long steam wand with two hole tips and 360 degrees rotation all together make very easy to reproduce consistently high quality micro-foams. The two holes tip allows the introduction of air into the milk smoothly without causing turbulences on the fluids.
The design of the Casa IV’s steam system is therefore translated into a nice micro-foam that creates superb cappuccinos, like the ones shown in the left picture (made during the first time of using Casa IV).
The excellent performance and quality components of Casa IV demonstrates that this machine has been manufactured with high aspirations and with careful attention to the new requirements from the home baristas. With its target price (850 eur) and available features, Casa IV is filling the existing gap between the traditional home machines (e.g. Rancilio Silvia, Gaggia) and the semi-professional machines. As a matter of fact, Casa IV has some nice features that cannot be even found in most of the semi-professional machines.
So, is Casa IV the right machine for you? After this review we think that Casa IV is the ideal machine for home baristas that want to enjoy extra-features that will result in more enjoyable user experience than what could be offered by traditional home machines. Brewing temperature is also an important factor. If you want to experiment with medium brewing temperatures (not too hot, not too cold), Casa IV is the machine that can offer you good average temperatures (93 °C approx.).
Price also matters. Yes, Casa IV is 300 eur more expensive than the best seller Rancilio Silvia but at the same time is also 400 eur cheaper than the semi-professional machines. Price-wise Casa IV is a good investment considering the long life expectancy of the machine.
About this review
This was our first of many reviews to come about some of the products that we are offering. We hope this and next articles, written more from a technical point of view than from a marketing view, can help you to get more acquainted about our products and what is behind its visual impressions.
Any questions and feedbacks will be greatly appreciated. You can send us your questions in English and Finnish to our address tekniikka (a) cafetoria.fi. Emails in English will be replied almost inmediately.
Ivan Rolando Oré (aka “Juanca”)
tekniikka (at) cafetoria.fi