"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2022 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at EspressoMyEspresso@gmail.com
'Decent DE1' Fanboy (Mostly) But..
Saturday, October 22, 2022
all text and photos and other content, unless otherwise noted, ©2022 - All rights reserved
| At first glance this page of "issues," concerning my Decent DE1 would appear to have been created to cause buyers to look elsewhere for an espresso machine. I want to say that after more than a year of use I am so pleased with its performance and consistency that so long as I can keep it operating properly it is here to stay, and I consider it my last espresso machine.
A recent topic on Home-Barista.com ("Challenge my thinking: Upgrade espresso machine or keep it?") was posted by a participant there asking for help in deciding whether to purchase a new espresso machine or fix his current machine along with some choices for a replacement espresso machine being considered. I replied, attempting to correct some inaccurate points concerning the Decent DE1 (“Decent Espresso version 1”) which had him turning it away as a choice. I was not trying to convince him one way or the other.My reply was merely an attempt to correct some specific statements he had made which apparently caused it to be discarded as a valid choice for now.
For my readers who also partake in the unimaginable mass of knowledge known as Home-Barista.com, you may have come across some of my posts touting the performance and benefits of my Decent DE1XL v1. It is an astounding machine which gives such consistent and controllable extractions that if just about anything goes wrong in the cup you can be 99% sure the fault was yours.. or the coffee's.. or the grinder's.. or the water... or your profile program. I won't belabor the positive talking points in this thread concerning the machine as I have done that in previous chapters. As difficult as it can be, I have been trying to sound less like a “fan boy” in giving a more balanced response to questions or others' comments about the Decent.
So in the interest of keeping my posts here on my website balanced, I felt it would only be fair to my readers to go over some of the quirks and annoyances that I have personally come across or have read online. With that in mind, the following have came to mind as I tried to stay focused for the last few days on that overall theme of this chapter.
That is a big one to consider. Currently (10/20/2022) the starting price for a 110v model is $3399. The DE1XL (extended chassis and back cover hiding the rear controls and wires) in white starts at $4199. Add any accessories, or the $499 plumbing kit and the price goes up in a hurry. Extra baskets, their very nice steaming pitchers, an additional portafilter, the Decent scale, and the tea portafilter and you can approach $5000.00. I bought mine about eighteen months ago I did not pay that much.
Looking back, it was worth it, to me, and that is the key. But there are machines costing twice as much that can't do half of what the Decent does and they take around twice the space.
Nope! Not even close. This is not the shiny, stainless steel, toaster-oven-sized espresso machine that many of us, me included, have lived with in the past. The Decent is recognizable as an espresso machine by the portafilter handle sticking out of the group, the steam wand, and the grill over the drip tray. Beyond that it is different in just about every other way.
The only mechanical control is the circular power button on the front of the machine. Note that there is a rocker switch on the back of the machine which is handy for a reboot or to cut power when working inside the Decent, but it is not necessary to use it otherwise. Once the front button is depressed and it illuminates, all other functions, settings, and controls are located on the touch screen tablet or on the touch panel on top of the group's cover. With that power switch in the on position, hold you finger on the center icon of the touch panel on the top of the group for about one second and the machine comes to life. Repeat and it is shut down.
For those looking for a more traditional espresso machine with hot water and steam mechanical valves, toggle or rockers switches to control stem, brewing, and hot water dispensing, rotating knobs controlling mechanical valves to control flow, and analog gages for pressure, you will have to look elsewhere. None of those are to be found on the Decent. All functions are controlled through the tablet screen and touch control on the group. Even the force of the steam and the brew pressure during the extraction can be controlled that way.
One of the first complaints (or comments) which I was aware of before my Decent arrived was how loud it is. It is not. Compared to a quality rotary pump machine it is somewhat noisier. Compared to vibratory pump machines it is about the same as the very quiet ones and quieter than most of the starter machines in terms of decibels. It is louder than a Cremina or La Pavoni Europicola (well, duh!). The compact design of the internals and the frequency emitted by the dual pumps makes it record on video in a way that makes it inaccurately sound louder. And before you think that this old man's hearing has diminished, I always wear hearing protection when on my tractor, using power tools, or when on stage performing or in the studio rehearsing with a band.
But really, it's not louder in terms of decibels, but it certainly is different. OK.. I am bordering on fan boy here.. moving on.
I have one personal complaint that covers a lot of ground. The Decent does not come with nor have an owner's manual as most of us would expect an owner's manual to be. The Decent Owner's Manual, such as it is, is in what is called the “Decent Diaspora.” Diaspora is defined as “A population that is scattered across regions which are separate from its geographic place of origin.” If we consider the 'population' as the components of a useful and accurate guide to the Decent, and the place of origin to be a printed document or a PDF, then a diaspora it is. I would post a link to the online manual but at the top of the first page it states, “This manual is for DE1 owners and requires membership to the Diaspora forum.”
It is sort of an owner's manual; sort of. There are many sections on the HTML, online manual as you would find in a printed manual, but.. At the bottom of each 'section,' owners can add comments, suggestions, corrections, opinions, thanks, and complaints just as you would expect to find in an online forum. I do not have any problem with open forum discussions. Many of the comments and suggestions in the Decent online manual have great value. But I do think that the comments should be taken into consideration by the Decent company, assessed to see if they have value, and if found to have merit, only then incorporated into a 'real' owner's manual, as a separate file from the discussion about the owner's manual. A PDF of same would be particularly valuable. It could be uploaded into the tablet for access right at the DE.
I have a history of creating owner's manuals. I have specific ideas as to what one should be. When I create one I do so based on the theory that it should include all the details for getting the best from the machine safely, how to maintain it, an understanding on how it operates, and such. Anyone who owns a Hottop Coffee Roaster knows my work. As of today, I created all but their very first owner's manual.
Bottom Line – I like forums. I have participated in coffee forums for over 22 years, all the way back to Usenet (Google it if need be)! I like good owner's manuals. I have written a few and they generally garner many positive comments. In my opinion, the public is better served if a forum and an owner's manual exist independently of each other.
WATER RESERVOIR (TO PLUMB, OR NOT TO PLUMB..)
The water reservoir, like may other things about the Decent, is different. It is a ceramic, rectangular dish, glazed white in my case. If you choose to not plumb your Decent, to fill the reservoir, slide out the drip tray (also a glazed ceramic dish) out from the front of the DE and carefully set it aside. Reach behind the decent and lift the water intake/water level sensing tube using the easy-to-find handle which sticks out of the back panel (if you have the XL you remove the rear cover panel which is held magnetically). Pull the reservoir forward along the rails built into the base. You can fill the reservoir while it sits on the base or remove it for cleansing. Reverse the process, making sure to manually lift the fill/level tube before sliding the reservoir back into place.
Honestly, that makes it sound more complicated and time consuming than it really is. I mentioned the level sensing tube. This is a sealed stainless steel pipe except for the end that sits in the water. There is a pressure sensor at the top of the tube which is used to measure water level by the pressure in the tube. If the Decent senses that the water level has dropped to a programmed low point the tablet alerts you. That is all very nice since the water level in reservoir is not visible until you remove it. If the water level is too low the tablet will warn you.
You might think that it would be easier if there was some sort of port or opening with a cover on the side, back, or top of the machine into which water could be poured into the reservoir but for anyone who has seen the inside of a DE will understand how difficult that would be to work out. And since you cannot see the reservoir without pulling it forward, it would be easy to overfill.
For those who plumb the water intake, there are two different kits. One is designed to work with an external water vessel, like a three gallon jug or such). The other system, which I use, is connected to a plumbed, pressurized water source. Both systems automatically refill the reservoir without user intervention.
If there was no plumbing kit available I likely would not have ended up purchasing the DE. I wanted my new coffee bar to be a pleasure to use, and both a plumbed water supply and drip tray have been part of my coffee ritual for so long that at seventy years of age I was not going back to a manual-fill, manual-dump routine. Call me lazy, but not before nine in the morning, please.
PLUMBED DRIP TRAY (THE HOSE, MOSTLY)
The drip tray is easy to slide right out of the front of the Decent. It is relatively shallow and so should be emptied before the liquid level it is near the top unless the DE is right next to the sink. So if we consider the user's age as a general yardstick, we may calculate the need to empty the drip tray to be the level of water in millimeters multiplied by the distance to the sink in decimeters times the age of barista. Please graph that tonight for homework.. class dismissed. The tray has fairly good volume, and the grill which covers it make it easy to visually assess the level of liquid in it. But the tray is shallow and allowing the level to get near the top will test the steadiness of hand, to be sure.
I mentioned being plumbed earlier, so lets look at the plumbed drip tray. The ceramic tray has a short nipple on the bottom of the tray, right in the center which is ceramic and an integral part of the tray. The tray comes with a short length of molded hose which has a ninety degree small radius bend at the end. This hose connects directly the the tray by slipping it over that nipple on the bottom. It needs to be secured with a small tie wrap or two to hold it in place. Mine has not come off when moving the tray around, but I am always leery about that when doing so. There just is not a lot of surface on the nipple to work with, and its end is slightly tapered with a nicely formed radius on the outer edge.
The aforementioned hose is about 6 inches long. Included with the drain kit is a double ended rigid plastic union connector to join the longer drain hose which goes to the sink drain to the short hose. This connector has a rib in the center which is just large enough to cause friction between the counter top and the reservoir. I replaced that part with a length of vinyl tubing whose outer diameter was slightly larger than the inner diameter of the DE hoses. This makes moving the drip tray a bit easier.
The hoses are silicone, I believe. The sticky, adhesive nature of silicone does not allow the hoses to slide around easily. Good in some ways, in others not so much depending on your installation. The hoses touch the bottom of the reservoir just enough that to pull the plumbed drip tray forward and out being careful not to dislodge any hose connection. Either tipping the machine up on one side a bit or reaching under the machine and lifting the reservoir slightly which is easier than the lift is recommended.
Once the reservoir is lifted to relieve friction on the hose the drip tray can be slid out from the front. If you do not have sufficient length of drain hose you need to lift the side of the DE to slip the hose out beneath a front leg to be able to put the drip tray off to the side. Why remove it at all? The reservoir has to slide out towards the front of the machine for filling if you are not plumbed. Even if the reservoir is plumbed you will still want to remove it for an occasional cleaning. The reservoir is well protected but not covered or sealed.
I personally do not have any problems with the tablet, but in the past there have been many instances of tablets that were left plugged into the USB charging port which resulted in overcharging causing batteries to expand, and the bulging of the battery separated the screen from the tablet's case. Many were replaced under warranty. The coming update to the software has a modification that only charges the tablet up to around 50% or so to alleviate that. I just unplug mine when it gets to 100% and plug it back in when the charge level is low (around 20%).
A positive note here (sorry)- any Android tablet can be used and instructions for installing the software are available at the Decent website. Some users have made use of higher resolution and even slightly larger tablets to good effect. The tablet communicates with the DE1 by Bluetooth. The USB cable is only for charging the tablet.
This is not difficult. If your water has the potential to scale you do want to make sure you are on a de-scaling schedule. There are a number of small passages in the decent, if clogged by loose scale, may require some work or even disassembly to get cleaned. As with many machines, proper maintenance and quality water are required.
My problem with de-scaling goes back to the owner's manual as I previously mentioned. There is basic guidance in the owner's manual but there but there are nine or ten comments, “corrections,” and tips from owners as well as from John and other Decent people. I suppose it is better to have guidance rather than being told that de-scaling is not recommended as some manufacturers have done (or are doing?). But instructions for plumbed and non-plumbed machines including specifics would be appreciated. Even the concentration of citric acid is debated on the instructions page. And how nice it would be during the de-scaling process to be able to bring a PDF owner's manual up on the tablet's screen and be able to follow the instructions right there, step-by-step, on the Decent in front of your eyes.
NO CUP WARMER
It is nice to be able to keep cups on the top of the espresso machine and have them warmed by the waste heat from the boilers on most espresso machines. You can't do that with the Decent because there is virtually no waste heat beyond a snuggly warm feeling on the case. Why? Because the Decent has no no boilers! It is quite energy efficient in that regard. Having no boiler is part of what makes the Decent so compact (sorry for being positive once again). What it does have is virtually-instant hot water. Fill the cups with hot water, grind, dose, and tamp and by the time you finish that the cups it hot. Maybe a problem for some, but one with an easy solution, particularly for those who plumb their drip tray. The hot water in the cup, if not being used for an Americano, can be poured into the drip tray to help keep the plumbed drip tray hose clear.
CAUTION- FanBoy comment – Being that there is no boiler and water is heated on demand and accurately mixed for temperature control is the benefit of having no boiler ..(sorry)
NO CUP RACK
Beyond the total absence of a useful cup warmer, the top of the machine has no rack or rails on which to store cups. There is at least one after market seller of these along with other items custom made for the Decent. SWORKSDESIGNS has a number of items specifically designed for the DE1 including two cup retainers for the top of the Decent DE. I have not used any of their items, and I drop enough cups without the assisting gravity with added potential energy in the form of height over the granite counter top.
But, again, the absence of boilers means very little wasted heat so the top doesn't get hot enough to heat cups anyway. But the rectangular top does get pleasantly warm so maybe your cat would enjoy the new resting place for two reasons (only cat people will understand the second reason).
“But it doesn't look like an espresso machine.” Or the ever more appealing, “That thing is not going in my kitchen!” I could start a chapter of comebacks from "Professor Inappropriate"© DRC, DDE*1 but I will leave that for another time. I think it actually looks like a lot of kitchen appliances, and it is now available in colors other then black or white. But that aside, when it comes to espresso, for me, form follows function. We all have our priorities. The 'pastel-ish' tones of the colors now offered (for an undetermined time) would not have looked 'decent' in any home I have ever owned, so there you go.
Many of the comments above are subjective, and I am sure there will be readers who are thinking, “He left out that thing about the parts that fits in that place that makes it hard to do that.” I did say my comments were mostly subjective. There is no such thing as a perfect espresso machine. If someone tells you that their machine is perfect, smile, nod your hear slightly in a manner representing approval, and slowly back away beyond arms reach. They are obviously delusional.
The bottom line is that, NO! My Decent DE1 is not for sale. And there is no plan at Decent about a V.2. Small improvements have been and are being made to the V1 mostly through software updates, but a few through hardware. John has stated that if there is a V.2 it will be an entirely new machine and from what I remember reading, it will be at least two years in the future before that happens. That's a long time to go without 'Decent' espresso!
*1 - Professor Inappropriate DRC, DDE ©2022 - Doctor of Rude Comments, Doctor of Double Entendre
|- - -|
|- - -|
To Next Chapter