I am not an espresso guru and don’t have much experience with it at all, so I enlisted the help of some friendly baristas, Yellow House Coffee, and my beautiful girlfriend in order to figure out how to use this device to its maximum potential. This review is an accumulation of multiple opinions and experiences. Everything comes in a stainless steel tin with foam fittings to keep everything safe. It’s definitely more portable than even inexpensive espresso machines. No machine maintenance, no wires, and apocalypse-durable.
A fancy commercial machine has intricate heating elements that maintain a constant temperature throughout the entire brewing process. Not only that, but the pressure that forces the water through the coffee is also consistent. Control over each variable is not easily attained with the ROK, but it’s not always necessary. The stainless steel is easily cooled and the arms don’t create constant pressure. The coffee scoop that the ROK espresso maker comes with also acts as a tamp. It’s not weighted, nor is it the ideal size, but it gets the job done well enough for most people. More than likely only trained baristas will be able to tell the difference between a well-tamped and a poorly-tamped shot. Using it is simple, but the metal-on-metal sound when pumping the frother isn’t always kind to the ears. To froth your milk, warm it up in a microwave for about a minute.
Then set the frother into the cup and pump till you’re satisfied. Pressing the arms down isn’t super easy, but it’s not too hard for adults. Children will probably have a difficult time, but they shouldn’t really be dealing with boiling water to begin with. Let me walk you through the brewing process and I will highlight some of the struggles and joys. Start by freshly grinding some coffee beans to a very fine powder. For espresso, you really want a high-end burr grinder like a Baratza Encore, due to the way the coffee sits in the portafilter and interacts with the water. A cheap grinder is going to give you some problems that will result in uneven extraction. Espresso snobs, the ROK isn’t actually designed to use standard measurements, and an adapted technique is required. Fill the portafilter up completely, which should take about 12 grams of ground coffee. From there, use the provided scoop/tamp to press down on the grounds evenly with significant pressure. You’ll probably end up with some coffee on the walls of the portafilter and it may be a little uneven – just work with it. Machines built in the United States typically attach the portafilter from left to right. This European designed espresso maker requires going right to left to attach the portafilter to the body of the ROK. With the arms completely down, pour just-boiled water into the upper chamber. The instructions say to fill just above the metal rim, but in order to create a more consistent level of pressure throughout brewing, add more water till the chamber is almost completely filled. Lift the arms all the way up and back down till you feel a small amount of resistance. Doing this allows the water to briefly pre-infuse with the coffee before the pressure is applied. You don’t want to press down slowly, but really press the arms down as far as they will go. Nothing will come out for a few seconds as the coffee is making its way down to the spout, but the steady stream will appear in a second or two. After about ten seconds, or when the stream starts to lose pressure, pull the arms back up and press down again for another ten seconds. You don’t want to use all the water you put in – it’s too much. Just empty the rest of it with a few seconds of pressure into another cup. The produced espresso probably isn’t going to be incredible by itself, unless you were able to somehow control all the variables (temperature, pressure, timing), so add some water to make an americano or add some hot and frothed milk to make a cappuchino or latte. I’ve gone back and forth with my thoughts on this device over and over again, but have finally found peace in its value. If you’re an enthusiast who is always trying to brew the best coffee, this espresso maker is not for you.
With the unpredictability of several variables, producing espresso that will satisfy a trained palette will be very difficult. I believe that most specialty-coffee lovers will only be somewhat satisfied in this device. But is it worth $200 to be only somewhat satisfied?
If you fit into this category, consider the Rancilio Silvia. It’s much more expensive, but is praised as the best home-espresso machine for the cost by much of the specialty coffee community.