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If you’re looking for a home espresso machine with old-world style, impressive espresso extraction, and the ability to adjust and control temperature for both brewing and steaming, you’ll love the Bezzera Unica.
The Unica is an excellent machine to start your home espresso journey with, particularly if you’re an espresso connoisseur. There is a small learning curve with single boiler machines like this one, and a few extra steps—particularly when crafting milk based beverages—but the Unica delivers on both form and functionality at a very approachable price point.
What is a single boiler espresso machine?
There are three types of semi-automatic home espresso machines: dual boiler, heat exchanger (HX), and single boiler.
Dual boilers, as the name suggests, have separate boilers for steaming and brewing, making them simple and impressive to use, but they often have lengthy heat up times, large counter footprints, and are a hefty investment.
Single boiler and HX machines utilize one boiler for both steaming and brewing, but HX machines include a heat exchanger system: Cool water is drawn through copper tubing that is flash heated by the boiler to the appropriate temperature for brewing. This allows you to steam and brew at the same time, but not at the same capacity as you can with a dual boiler.
Single boiler machines without HX have separate modes for brewing and steaming. The temperature needs to be adjusted as you move between them, typically by manually refilling the boiler with cold water. This is why PID temperature control is so important on single boiler machines, ensuring you don’t burn your espresso. It does require an extra step as you switch between steaming and brewing modes, and we’ll discuss the particulars of using the Unica shortly.
You’ll love the Bezzera Unica if…
- you like to experiment, and want to dial in your perfect espresso
- you’re an aspiring home barista with a bit of patience
- you’re not ready to invest in a dual boiler machine, or don’t have use for one
You’ll want to keep looking if…
- you make a lot of milk-based beverages back-to-back
- you aren’t interested in making adjustments for optimal performance
- you don’t want to fuss with manual temperature control and switching modes
How it looks
The Bezzera Unica is a classic machine, manufactured with the finest Italian components. It has sleek stainless steel housing, an ornate drip tray, and stylish, easy-to-grip joystick levers for steaming and shot pulling. The standard levers are black plastic, but you can upgrade to gorgeous wood accents, which really refine the aesthetic.
At 17 inches deep, 11 inches wide and 15 inches high, the Unica is fairly compact but it does weigh just over 40 pounds. It should fit easily into any kitchen, with plenty of clearance for most cabinets, but given its weight, you’ll want to choose a spot and stick with it. You’ll also need enough clearance above to fill and periodically remove the water reservoir, so keep that in mind.
The Unica features a slick and easy-to-access PID temperature control pad on the top right corner, and an attractive pump pressure gauge on the bottom left corner:
How it’s built
Bezzera has been crafting high-quality espresso products since their namesake Luigi Bezzera designed and patented the first espresso machine in 1901. Luigi’s invention brought espresso to the people, and Bezzera has continued that mission for over a century from their production facility in Milan. They now feature a wide range of machines for both commercial and home use. The Unica is one of their more basic offerings, but it’s made with Bezzera-quality components, designed to be user-friendly and easy to maintain.
The Bezzera Unica has a half-litre copper boiler, and although it’s smaller than you’ll find on some machines in its class, the copper encourages quicker heating—an impressive 15 minutes—and provides temperature stability. It also sports a 1300-watt heating element which facilitates this speedy warmup, provides quicker recovery between brews, and powers the steaming.
The Unica’s vibration pump helps make the machine compact and affordable, but it does make this machine a bit noisier than higher-end rotary pump machines.
The generous three-litre water tank with removable reservoir lacks a water filter, so you may need to do more frequent descaling depending on your water source, or use filter watered for brewing.
The absence of any sort of external visual cue or sensor to tell you when the water’s getting low is a pet peeve of mine. Having to open the tank and look inside just to monitor the water level is a nuisance that espresso machine makers ought to be easily able to solve.
The Unica has no dedicated hot water line, but the steam wand will produce hot water for americanos or tea.
E61 brew group head
The Bezzera Unica comes with a commercial grade E61 brew group in chromed brass, which uses thermosiphon technology: Hot water constantly circulates through the brew head to ensure temperature stability and help you achieve the best possible extraction.
An E61 is easy to replace if needed, as they are readily available in the marketplace. I much prefer this to custom-designed group heads that can be pricey and difficult to source.
Easy to maintain
The Unica was designed to be easy to maintain. Replacement parts are widely available. This is a huge plus, as it will greatly lengthen the life of your machine. With a bit of guidance, many people are able to troubleshoot and service their machine themselves, but you can always take it to an authorized service centre.
Bezzera machines are built to last, but as with all equipment, issues do arise and things will degrade over time. It’s comforting to know that if something does come up, there will likely be a straightforward and accessible solution.
How it works
The Bezzera Unica espresso machine is simple to use, once you get the hang of it. It has a few quirks, but with a little practice and a touch of patience you’ll be crafting delicious beverages in no time. Let’s take a look at the particulars of using the Unica.
Brewing and steaming
The Unica has two separate modes for steaming and brewing. Since the machine uses a single boiler for both, you need to change between these modes and their required temperatures. Ideal brewing temperature is between 90-96 C, and steam temperatures range from 105-120 C. If you only want to brew espresso, simply leave your machine in coffee mode, set to your chosen temperature and adjust as needed.
To make a milk-based drink, set your machine to steam mode first, and choose your desired temperature. It’s always best to steam milk before brewing. Not only does microfoam benefit from settling for a moment to reach its ideal texture, but conversely, espresso should be used immediately to retain its crema, richness, and aroma.
To encourage boiler temperature stability, the Unica doesn’t auto-fill after steaming. If cold water automatically refilled the boiler, the temperature would constantly fluctuate, resulting in inconsistent steam delivery and uneven coffee extraction. To manually refill the boiler after steaming and reach your desired brewing temperature, simply flip the pump switch “P” on the front of the machine. Switch to coffee mode, and wait for the PID control pad to display your chosen brewing temperature.
This may seem like a pesky extra step, but the whole process takes under a minute, so it’s really not much hassle. That being said, if you think you’ll want to make several consecutive milk-based drinks on a regular basis, you’ll want to consider an HX or dual boiler machine.
PID temperature control
An important feature of the Unica is PID temperature control, allowing you to adjust the temperature, ensuring you’re brewing and steaming at ideal temperatures. It also allows you to customize temperatures to suit your personal preference, and aid you in achieving that perfect espresso extraction.
The PID controller itself can be finicky to adjust—a bit of a design flaw—but it’s easy to get the hang of. You hold the “+” button to change modes, but you’ve only got about two seconds to hit the “+” or “-“ buttons again to change temperature. You have to be quick to the draw, and this is definitely a bit of a downside, but it just takes some getting used to.
Growing with your machine
If you’re just getting started with your home espresso setup, a single boiler machine requires a bit more attention, and there is a small learning curve, but the Unica is quite simple to navigate. You can preset your chosen temperatures and simply switch between modes as necessary.
Most people who opt for this machine, however, choose it because of the PID and their ability to adjust on the fly and experiment. The Unica is a great machine to grow with if you’re just getting started, and if you’ve got some patience it can deliver outstanding espresso and silky microfoam at a much more approachable price than a dual boiler machine.
Be sure to thoroughly read your machine’s instruction manual before getting started, and for detailed information on getting the best out of your machine, there are several videos online that dive into the particulars of using and maintaining the Bezzera Unica.
What it comes with
- single spout portafilter
- double spout portafilter
- blind filter basket for backflushing
- plastic tamper (this is a disappointment for such a quality machine, and you’ll definitely want to get yourself a proper metal tamper)
A quality coffee grinder is key
The most important addition to your home espresso machine is a quality burr grinder. There are many to choose from, and if you need an all-purpose grinder that can grind for several brew methods, you’ll need to make a bit of an investment. If you’re just looking for an espresso coffee grinder that is well built, stylish, and easy to adjust, the Bezzera BB005 is a great accompaniment to the Unica at an attractive price point.
Bezzera Unica alternatives
Three machines you might also be considering are the ECM Classika, the Lelit Mara, and the Rocket Appartamento. (We compare the Appartamento with the Quick Mill Anita in another post.) They’re all single boiler machines and the Classika is extremely similar to the Unica, with a few distinct differences. The Mara and Appartamento are both HX machines, allowing you to steam and brew without switching modes. This makes them more convenient to use, but they also take longer to heat up, cost several hundred dollars more, and have a few quirks of their own.
|Bezzera Unica||ECM Classika||Lelit Mara||Rocket Appartamento|
|Weight||41 pounds||45 pounds||30 pounds||44 pounds|
|Boiler||Basic||Basic||Heat exchanger||Heat exchanger|
|Boiler size||0.5 L||0.75 L||1.8 L||1.8 L|
|Boiler material||Copper||Stainless steel||Stainless steel||Copper|
|Boiler wattage||1300 watts||1200 watts||1400 watts||1200 watts|
|Warmup time||15 minutes||15 minutes||25 minutes||30 minutes|
|Water tank||3 L||2.8 L||2.5 L||2.25 L|
|Benefits||• Quick heat up and recovery|
• Impressive milk frothing
• Easy to maintain
• Lower price point
|• Quick heat up|
• PID display is also shot timer
• Lower price point
|• Steam and brew at same time|
• Dampening material on vibration pump for quieter use
• Simple to use
|• Steam and brew at same time|
• Dedicated hot water line
• Low water sensor
|Drawbacks||• Manual flushing between steaming and brewing|
• PID is finicky to adjust
|• Manual flushing between steaming and brewing|
• PID control panel in awkward position
|• Lacklustre milk frothing|
• Longer heat up
• Parts are scarce in North America
• Higher price point
|• Complicated interface|
• Longer heat up
• No PID
• Pressure gauge for brewing only
• Higher price point
If you’re looking for a quality machine, that’s easy to maintain, fun to use, and allows you to experiment and adjust to dial in your perfect cup of coffee, the Bezzera Unica is hard to beat at such an attractive price point. It does have a bit of a learning curve, and there are a few more steps than with an HX or double boiler machine, but if that doesn’t scare you off, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a savvy home barista.