Olympia Cremina SL reviewby Simone Forgia, Claudio Santoro
In June Olympia, the historic Swiss espresso machine brand, announced to all fans the production of a new model, the Cremina SL. As the acronym SL (Spring Lever) suggests, this version differs from the previously known Cremina for a brewing unit with a spring lever instead of a direct lever. Although this model has only officially been on sale since mid-September, Olympia has kindly granted us a pre-production model to be exhaustively tested throughout the month of July. Due to the similarity of this model with its older sister, the review focuses mainly on the differences of the SL model compared to the “standard” one and will therefore be more superficial on the things they have in common and that are probably already known.
After this premise, we can say that at a first glance the machine looks really good. The materials are solid and of high-end quality; plastic parts are kept to a minimum and all major components are made of stainless steel or chromed brass. To lift it’s heavy, it weighs 13 kg. despite the dimensions only being 20x27x38 cm. lever excluded, and the finishes of high-level. The chrome parts are like a mirror allowing you to see yourself almost without distortion, suggesting a higher level of polish and attention than usual. The package also includes the filter holder with both double and single spouts, a well-made although slightly small tamper, a steel funnel to fill the boiler and two filters: single and double. Among these accessories, the only discordant note is produced precisely by the filters that are not well finished and the double one is slightly small, as it contains on average only 13.5 grams. As for the two-spout portafilter, although it is very elegant, the lack of a small reservoir space between the two outlet holes of the delicious beverage means that very often the latter will opt for only one of the two ways at its disposal, resulting in a different volume of coffee in the two cups. The bottomless portafilter is available but only by purchasing it as an optional, while if in the meantime you are asking yourself whether there is a 120 volt version, the answer is yes.
For those who already own the direct lever model, the good news is that filters and filter holders are the same size and that for any need the levers are interchangeable since the fulcrum and resistance are at the same distance and have simply been reversed.
Section of the grouphead
The spring is calibrated to exert a force equivalent to 6 bars, while the boiler is calibrated to vary between 1.1 and 1.2 bars of pressure regulated by a 1000 watt resistance, and its volume is 1.8 litres. The grouphead (excluding the piston) weighs 1.5 kg. and for this reason, it is fairly stable in temperature but requires a long time to warm up properly.
According to Olympia, after 17 minutes you should be able to extract with a water temperature of 92°C; we did not have the means to confirm this measurement, but we carried out similar tests by placing a thermocouple sensor in direct contact with the group surface. What emerges from our analyses is that starting from an ambient temperature of 25°C the machine takes 12 minutes to get under pressure, but after this time the group will be at only 34°C. After countless espressos, we established that the temperature of the group with which we were able to obtain the best results was approximately 70°C, a value that is reached spontaneously only after an hour. To speed up this phase, we tried various methods such as the use of one or more "flushes", the technique of false pumping or through the use of an old "puck"; all these expedients, however, have yielded little results. The only way that gave satisfactory results was to lower the lever until the first drops of water appeared from the shower and wait in that position until the desired temperature was reached. In this way every 6-7 seconds the temperature of the group increased by 1°C.
Extraction with the two spouts portafilter
From this data it can therefore be deduced that it is not an espresso machine to use if you have little time and moreover it cannot even be turned on long before because it has an integrated timer that automatically switches off the power after an hour. The only way to remedy this problem without giving up the warranty is to move the switch to "off" and then back to "on", an action that causes the counter to be reset again. This function is extremely limiting given the nature of this model but it should be noted that it was implemented for European directives on household appliances and that since 2017 it is also present on the direct lever version. To remedy this problem Olympia has decided to increase the pressure of the boiler to 1.1-1.2 bars so as to be able to extract with a colder group; in my view, however, for what has been said previously, the pressure should be regulated even higher but it would not be a definitive solution as after several espresso the group will tend to stabilize at a higher temperature. In this regard, in the table below you can see the temperatures of the group measured before and after each extraction for a total of 8 consecutive cycles.
As can be seen from the data above, although the initial temperature was 65°C, without cooling methods at the eighth espresso the temperature had risen by over 10°C. Furthermore, it can be noted that only after the fourth “shot” you begin to approach the stabilization temperature of about 75°C. The grouphead is therefore too stable to be able to quickly change the temperature, but too little to remain completely constant between one extraction and the next. This results in the extraction often being at a lower temperature than desired and by combining this factor with the slightly small double filter, the resulting espresso is usually a little too "thin" and lacking in sweetness. Furthermore, the relatively cold group means that at the end of the extraction the coffee puck remains always a little soaked.
To test the machine to its full potential, however, we also tested the Elektra Microcasa double filter on it, which is compatible with both the bottomless filter holder and the one with spouts without any kind of modification. This filter is a bit more spacious than the original Olympia one as we managed to fit in up to 16.5 grams but even the latter did not surprise us for the level of finish.
For those who want to extract specialty coffee this filter certainly allows you to take a big step forward but with light roasts you still feel the need to further increase the dose of ground coffee. On the other hand, we have never had problems with regard to the quantity of beverage dispensed as it is possible to obtain even 40 grams of espresso without great difficulty and from this point of view we can therefore be satisfied.
Extraction with the bottomless portafilter
Even though it is true that the spring reaches only 6 bars of pressure, it is also true that this obstacle can easily be overcome by helping, with a little force, the lever to rise during the ascent. With a slight help, the machine remains well placed on the base while if you apply a stronger force it raises a little but you can keep it down by placing the other hand on the large drip tray.
Finally, the last aspect that happily surprised us was the power of the steam wand. Thanks to the large 1.8-liter boiler and the increased pressure of the latter, milk can be frothed very easily. If you're not used to prosumer machines, at first it can almost seem like too much power but the four holes steam tip does a great job and it took us only 18 seconds to froth the amount of whole milk needed for a cappuccino. Furthermore, the steam knob has a quick release system and a very slight rotation is enough to release its full power.
The Cremina SL is therefore a controversial machine; basic in functions but of excellent workmanship. Built to last for decades or even generations, but for the high cost we would have expected higher quality filters with accessories such as the bottomless portafilter included. Designed for those who want to make milk-based drinks and extract medium-dark roasted coffees several times a day but with the presence of an auto-off timer that triggers after an hour. Limiting in its 6 bars but that with a little help is not afraid of the higher pressures. In short, a machine certainly not for everyone, which is not surprising in terms of technology, but that makes you appreciate it over time.
Close up of an extraction