Coffee Cup
"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2021 - All rights reserved

Coffee Cup
167
My Life (so far) With the Decent DE1XL (v1.3)
Thursday, October 11, 2021
all text and photos unless otherwise noted ©2021 - All rights reserved

    Now that I am settled in our new home with its new coffee bar and have had about 4½ months with my Decent I thought I would share some of my observations and experiences. As a quick outline of my espresso machine history:
– 2000-2007 - Rancilio Silvia (PID'd part way through its life with me) sold and replaced by..
– 2007-2011 - Vibiemme Domobar, sold and replaced by..
– 2011-2018 - Vibiemme Domobar Double (lost in November in wildland fire) replaced by..
– April 2021 (order date) - Decent DE1XL
    The installation of the Decent was predetermined as we planned the new home and resulted in:
 
EspressoMyEspresso coffee bar

    The folks who installed the counter tops said I was the first one they did which had a sink installed. Understandable becasue right behind me, just a few feet away, is the kitchen sink. But because I was plumbing the island for the espresso machine (whatever it was going to be) and had electricity as well as water as part of the build, I figured why not have a sink instead of carrying dripping portafilters and such across the kitchen? The black item just at the top of the sink's top edge is a cup washer! I highly recommend thinking about adding one if you are is the same situation I was. But get a good one. The 'affordable' ones are made of plastic.
    The machine is fully plumbed (see my blog Chapter 166 - Plumbing the Decent DE1XL and being fed by a Homeland HCWS filter designed for coffee water. My grinder is the Kafetek MC3. I am home roasting on a "Santoker Revolution R500E" LPG roaster (see Chapter165 - Santoker Revolution 500.
    For the last few years my green-coffee supplier has been Burman Coffee Traders. Tamper is “TheForce” leveling, flat-base tamper by Zubing Sun. As far as the “why” I chose the Decent, if you have not done so you can read my thought process in “ On Choosing a New Espresso Machine Chapter 159 - Part 1 and Chapter 160 - Part 2.
    I do not intend this to be a review of the Decent. It would be somewhat pointless as there is so much information out there on all these products, some of which I have already discussed or reviewed, I will just be giving some personal observations, opinions, and impressions.
    The Decent espresso machine is unlike anything that has been seen before. The engineering, design, electronics, and attention to detail are amazing.
 
Decent design quality

    The above is the connection to the steam wand. The quality of the framework, of the hardware, and even the choice of how the tube carrying the steam is attached to the wand is all quite impressive. Just pull the haipin clip to release the tube from the wand's mount. This attachment method for the internal plumbing is employed throughout the machine.
 
Control!
    The Decent can not only control virtually every variable in making an espresso, but can do so in real time and with an accuracy previously unheard of. Those of us who PID'd our Rancilio Silvia espresso machines were just scratching the surface when compared to the Decent. They advertise that it can emulate every other espresso machine made in terms of brewing parameters. I cannot verify that, but the extent of user control is nearly mind boggling. It can do temperature profiles, pressure profiles, flow rate changes, and do a completely customized preinfusion. All that can be saved and repeated with a precision that is uncanny. It comes with a mass of installed programs which can be used as is or be modified by the user and saved. All of this selected and modified from the top-mounted tablet then monitored in real-time on the graphs displayed during the extraction on the tablet. So what? Read on.
    Sure, it sounds overwhelming, but let me explain why it really isn't. Once a profile is selected you can modify any small parameter leaving all others untouched. You can try a degree higher or .5 bars of extraction lower, or whatever. If the coffee tastes OK, and you are fortunate enough to have a quality grinder, you can make tiny little changes to the grind setting or the dose and actually taste the changes in the cup. And if you like that you are getting you can repeat that taste over and over. Why? Because every extraction will be at that same temperature, same water flow rate, same flow profile, and with a connected scale, the same total weight in the cup. Every time. The only notable uncontrolled variable would be your preparation and tamp, and even the tamp can be controlled with something like TheForce tamper (link to my review). It is not a Decent product, but the maker, Zubing Sun, does work closely with Decent. And after making the changes in the program that meet you needs you can name it and save it in the tablet.
    That all sounds amazing, and to a great extent it is. I have pulled a shot, tasted it, made a tiny change in the grind setting, and could taste the change. That works because, as you know, repeatable espresso is all about controlling variables. With virtually every other espresso machine I have seen there seem to be areas where you have to assume that he extraction parameters were correct. I prefer control over luck. I like to experience repeatability rather then coincidence.
    It will take me some time to make use of the talent of this machine but the point is this: Think about all the articles and posts we have read about temperature surfing, time surfing, adding a PID to a machine, cooling or heating by water flow of the group head of an E-61, and all sorts of other tricks to create some level of just temperature consistency out of an espresso machine. All of that is absolutely unnecessary with the Decent. Why? Because it doesn't have a water level sensor or thermostat in the boiler to control the temperature and it doesn't have a control system for a separate separate steam boiler so the brew boiler just has brew water at brewing temperature. It doesn't have dual boilers. It doesn't have even one boiler! It has zero boilers! When there are virtually no variables, the rest becomes easy (or at least becomes easier). What it has can possibly be described as low-volume thermoblock heater, but that simplifies the way the Decent works.
    The main 1350 watt water heater is backed up by a 100 watt heater in the grouphead. The brew water's temperature profile is created on the fly and computer-controlled through the mixing of hot and cold water. This is done using the two pumps seen here:
 
Decent dual pumps

    One pump sends water through a heating block and the other pumps cold water. Both going into a 'blending block' manfold. This mixing manifold mixes the cold water and hot water, the ratio of these is.. you guessed it: controlled by the computer. The temperature of that water is measured in various places along the way to the coffee including two in the group with one of those right as the coffee in real time. And when I use the term "computer" it is being used generally to describe the solid state control system created by Decent.
    The water path is quite complicated as this schematic demonstrates:
 
decent water schematic
Note that each, circled, red-letter “T” in the diagram is a temperature sensor.
(image from https://decentespresso.com)

 
Plumbed or Not
    The machine can be plumbed or not as you wish. If not plumbed, when the reservoir gets low the drip tray must be removed and then the reservoir tray pulled out. Both slide out the front of the machine in that order. The reservoir has two stainless steel tubes that must be raised using a handle at the back of the machine before the reservoir can be slid forward. Both reservoirs are glazed ceramic so reasonable care must be taken. The plan, even before I placed my order, was to fully plumb my Decent. I prefer to have one less thing to worry. The drip tray and particularly the reservoir are relatively small. It becomes more of a problem for the reservoir since it is not visible without removing it from the Decent. So my advice to buyers would be to plumb the machine right from the start. There is a kit to do that. It includes tubing, a control box, and an ethernet cable. The cable connects the Decent to the plumbing control box and the machine triggers a solenoid valve to open to allow water to flow to the reservoir. Again, refer to my blog's Chapter 166 - Plumbing the Decent DE1XL.
    The reservoir's water level is sensed by comparing atmospheric pressure to the pressure caused by the rising level of the water in the reservoir. When the selected water level is achieved the solenoid is closed. The control box can be located under the sink or elsewhere as desired. Like so many other setting, the water level can be modified in the app.Let's take a look at how that works:
 
Decent water level sensor

    1 – This tube carries fresh water from your plumbed supply source..
    2 – ..into the reservoir
    3 – This tube senses the internal air pressure in the stainless steel tube to which it is connected. The other end of the metal tube seen going down through the baseplate is immersed in the water reservoir. Tube "#3" is sealed at the top where it ented the sensor and at the bottom by the reservoir's water. The deeper the water level in the reservoir the greater the pressure.
    4 – That small nipple without a tube connected to it senses atmospheric pressure. The electronics in the machine calculate the pressure differential and select when to send current to the solenoid to allow water to flow into the reservoir (through tube #1) and when to close the solenoid to stop water flow.
    5- This is the pickup tube that supplies the needs of the hot water and cold water vibratory pumps. In the previous photo of the pumps you can see the other end of tube #5 as it is formed into a manifold through which both pumps get their water supply.
    The large, white plastic block firmly holds both tubes described above. The black slot to the right of the block guides the aforementioned handle. The entire white block assembly slides upwards carrying all that equipement with it to enable the reservoir to be easily removed.
 
OK, Take a Breath!
    The top of the group has five touch locations: Espresso, group flush, hot water dispensing, steam, and stop which ends any of the four current function. The outer circumference of the top has a circle of LED colored lights that indicate the function through color and motion. For example, as the machine heats up the LEDs progress around the entire circumference in red until the circle is completed and the lights turn off signifying that the machine is pre-heated and ready. Becasue there are no boilers that preheating takes just a couple of minutes! The same control panel can also be used to manually change some brewing parameters during the extraction.
    I could keep going, but I think by now you should now understand that this machine is different in just about every way from today's 'traditional' espresso machines. It is certainly different from every espresso machine I have ever seen or read about, or could even have imagined.
    I have the “XL” which is a little deeper than the standard model. The extra depth covers the various connections on the back of the machine (data cable, power connection, power switch, and some electrical accress points). Even so, standing on a counter, the machine contains all the technology to perform so remarkably in a relatively tiny space of about 9” wide, 13” tall, and 20” deep, and that is with the portafilter in place. Remove the portafilter and it is about 17.5” deep. It can even be purchased ready to drop into a countertop or cart cutout which would make the above-counter height about 9” tall. I chose to not cut a hole approximately 16.25” x 9.5” in my new granite countertop!
    In terms to the dimensions stated above, they do not include the tablet. It mounts on top of the case and adds about 4” to the height. Too tall now? The tablet can be removed. Just use it to “load” a profile into the Decent, remove the tablet and the machine will continue to run that profile until you decide to select a different profile. The tablet plugs into a socket on the face of the Decent by an included, short USB cable which only charges the tablet. The tablet otherwise connects to the Decent through bluetooth so if you keep it charged it can even be left in a drawer. You can update the machine's firmware wirelessly through your home network and you can select stable, nightly, or beta updates and they load and install automatically if you so choose.
    The Decent also communicates with their optional bluetooth scale and the various programs in the app can be set to stop the extraction at a given weight. The hot water dispensing function can be used to preheat cups with a preselected mass of water. I do that because the Decent has no boilers and so the top of the Decent stays relatively cool. Placing the Decent scale on the drip tray is fine because in normal use the scale is waterproof. Touch the hot water function, the scale tares to zero, and the water dispensing stops when a given mass of water is dispensed. The same with brewing espresso. Using 22 grams of coffee? Set the scale for a given total weight of brewed espresso to suit your desired taste, start the extraction, the app zeros the scale through bluetooth, and the extraction will be stopped at the programmed weight while you complete other tasks.
    Their customer service ranks among the best in the industry. Their web forum is set up to deal with problems almost instantly, although the time difference between the States and the Orient adds to the time it takes to solves major problems. For example, I bought the V.1 Decent scale and recently it started acting oddly. It took a few days of e-mails back a forth, but they are replacing it with the V.1.2 scale which will be available for shipping this November.
 
Stuff to Not Like (sort of..)
    The owners manual is quite a bit different from any I have seen. It is in HTML and kept on the Decent website in what you might call, “Forum Form.” That is, the various pages contain comments and replies from users as well as Decent employees. There is no printed manual. I do not mind not having it in print as a link to it can even be placed on the tablet making it an easy referral as needed when at the machine. But I would certainly prefer an information only manual with the messages and comments separated into another area of the Decent website. As an example, the page on descaling has seemingly contradictory information even from Decent. An employee who apparently created that the section wrote, “Prepare 5% of citric acid solution. (20% of citric acid solution is official recommendation. But it's fine to use 5%)..”
 
Decent water lines

    Because the various water channels in the Decent are very small, it is important to use treated water to avoid scaling and to descale regularly. Personally, I would appreciate a more specific set of instructions in this instance. I have the Homeland HCWS filter cartridge which is an all-in-one treatment specifically for coffee making appliances. Still, I purchased about 2 pounds of natural, non-GMO, Kosher, citric acid powder to maintain my machine. I choose to not take any chances here!
    My sense of and skill in organization from my years of teaching (which I like to think is reflected in my work such as found in the Vibiemme Domobar owners manuals, the Hottop roaster manuals, and a few other such documents I have authored) makes me think that the owners manual created by Decent could use some improvement. But their website is equally different as is their use of multiple user forums seem to be. Once you get the hang of it it is OK, but it seems to me that the Internet has created a somewhat standardized form of organizing information and Decent strays from that in many unique ways. It is not really bad, but so different from what I (we?) have grown to expect that it can be more of a challenge than I feel it needs to be. I do like the fact that they can edit the manual on the fly to keep it up to date.
    One of the more complicated tasks can be resetting the tablet and reinstalling the software related to the Decent. John of Decent uses Mac computers, the tablet uses Android, and I use a Windows box. I did a stupid and had to reset the Decent and reinstall the software and it took me about four hours to figure out how to do it. It was like going to China to meet the Russian Ambassador to discuss an Afghanistan treaty written in Spanish. So don't do a stupid and you should be OK. There is a restoration setup in the Decent tablet created by the app for little mistakes, just don't make big ones!
    If you decide to plumb the drip tray but not the reservoir be aware that the drip tray slides out first and then you can slide out the reservoir tray. The drain hose attached to the bottom of the drip tray takes a bit of maneuvering to get out of the way so the reservoir can be removed. The reservoir is somewhat open to the air and should be cleaned regularly. There is an after-market stainless steel cover available which I would recommend in you are in a dusty situation.
    The power cord is really long and has a computer style connector at the machine end. it is of a gauge and has a 90 degree connector that makes if difficult to find in a shorter length here in the Staes, anyway.
 
Conclusion
    If you are waiting for a “V.2” Decent to appear any time soon, don't. John has stated that while there will be minor improvements to the Decent V.1x, they have reached a point that its performance is such that they are selling them about as fast as they can be produced and that there is very little they could possibly do to make enough (or any) major improvements to make a V.2. Even then he indicated that a possible V.2 would be years in the future.
    I think I would have to agree with that. Firmware and software improvements can be made at any time, and the performance of this machine is already so astounding as to leave little room for improvement in terms of the quality of the beverage created.
    There are very few machines that can perform about as consistently as the Decent, but I have see none that are as programmable. And yes, I did look. Once again, refer to my Choosing a New Espresso Machine Chapter 160 – Part 2.
    The “also rans” on my list had some level of programmability for temperature curves or pressure profiles. Generally, I found these had quite convoluted programming or limited in detailed control, were much larger, and cost more than the Decent. There was one at $7000 and another at $10,000 and even those pale in comparison to the Decent's level of control and repeatability. Consistency is available in other machines, but control and feedback are lacking or nonexistent.
    I have seen a number of online comments from home baristas concerning the Decent stating that they did not like the looks of the machine. One reason stated that their spouse did not approve of its looks. (My first thought upon reading those was, 'You picked the right espresso machine, but...'). Realistically, I assume that the spouse is not a serious coffee drinker. My advice would be, “Avert thine eyes and drink the coffee.”
    My spouse has been drinking my coffee for just a couple of months short of 22 years now. A week ago she said she wanted two coffees when we sat down for our breakfast (That's funny.. she never asks for two coffees when we are AWAY from home..). I made her the usual morning's cappuccino and then handed her a straight double espresso on the side. She started with the espresso first. When she was apparently done I asked for her empty cup so that it could be washed. She picked up the cup, but before handing it to me she licked out the remaining drops from the pretty little espresso cup. She does not at all mind the looks of the Decent. We may discuss her opinion of MY looks in another chapter, on another day.
    Is the Decent different from 'real espresso machines'? Yes, the Decent is different, but so is the espresso it creates. You can still make bad espresso with it, but it will be extremely unlikely that it will be the fault of the machine.
    If you want to learn a lot more about Decent, I suggest going to the Decent Website and click on Videos at the top of the page. An interesting place to begin would be the series Spilling the Beans which has a number of videos documenting the trials and tribulations of creating the Decent. They reflect the dedication John exhibited in bringing this machine to market.

    Cheers!

Coffee Cup
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