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Making the jump to your “forever” espresso machine is a jump you only want to make once. That’s why we call it a “forever” machine.
It usually involves a significant investment, so you want to get it right. You want a machine with no limits on shot quality or milk-frothing ability, that takes advantage of modern technology—but not in a way that will date it when new technology comes along.
You make this decision at a time when you think you’re ready for it, but also with the hope that you will continue to learn and improve. You want a machine that works for where you’re at now, but will keep teaching you new things indefinitely.
I’d like to propose that the Lelit Bianca is the perfect machine for this.
The Bianca is a stainless steel beauty with walnut accents that’s been meticulously crafted from tried-and-true components. Out of the box, its learning curve is no steeper than that of any other semi-automatic espresso machine. But the real magic happens when you begin to take advantage of a feature that isn’t available in any other machine at this price point: manual pressure profiling, which allows you to control by hand the rate at which water flows into the group head for the duration of your shot.
As you’ll see, this opens up endless possibilities and makes the Bianca a prosumer machine that not only will last for decades, but also will never stop being fun.
Things you’ll like about this machine
- Elegant appearance and solid build
- Flow profiling capability that allows for infinite experimentation
- One of the quietest rotary pumps we’ve ever come across
Things you’ll have to learn to live with
- Twenty-five minutes to warm up (a programmable on/off switch would solve this problem)
- Heavy, heavy machine—pick your spot and stick with it!
- Regular cleaning and maintenance
Shot profiling with the Lelit Bianca
So what is pressure profiling, anyway?
Think of a lever espresso machine. With your hand at the the helm, you can pull the shot as slowly or as quickly as you want. You can also change the pace. You might start slowly to pre-infuse your puck, then ramp up to full pressure for most of the shot, and trail off slightly toward the end.
The Bianca lets you imitate these manual machines, but the control of flow isn’t done with a lever—it’s done with a wooden paddle above the E61 group head that you can swivel to the left or right. This paddle controls a valve that allows water to pass from the boiler into the group. Right is wide open. Left is almost closed—just a trickle of about two bars of pressure.
You can adjust the paddle at any point while pulling your shot. A brew pressure gauge mounted on the group head lets you know where you’re at. So in effect, this feature gives you the same level of control that you have with a lever machine (assuming you want it).
Why buy the Bianca instead of a regular espresso machine or a classic lever machine? Because this feature gives you nearly limitless flexibility, as I’ll explain in the next section.
Experimenting with the Lelit Bianca
A classic lever machine limits the volume of water you can push through the puck per stroke. If you want more volume, you lift the lever to allow more water in, and pull again.
The Bianca does away with this limitation. You start the flow of water by lifting a lever, and then you leave it. The water is either flowing or it isn’t, and you can keep it flowing as long as you like while you keep an eye on the shot timer. Just depress the lever again to shut it down.
The paddle controls this flow. Think of the implications of that. You could slow the flow to a trickle and keep it going for five minutes with a French press grind in your portafilter, and it would probably work! In fact, people do this.
That’s an extreme example, but the point is that between a basic ristretto shot and a “French press” espresso, there is an infinite number of possibilities. You can use any grind from Turkish to French press, and any coffee-to-water ratio.
For example, many conventional espresso machines have trouble with lightly roasted, acidic coffees. Not the Bianca. You grind that coffee really fine and give it a long, slow pre-infusion using your all-powerful paddle, and the acidity will mellow right out.
Of course it’s going to take you years to perfect all these nuances and pull out exactly the flavors you want, but that’s OK! You wanted a machine you could grow with, right?
And besides, learning how to pull a basic shot with the Bianca is quite straightforward. In fact, I recommend you do that before you start experimenting. You can program your preinfusion time electronically, and just leave the flow open until you get to the point where you know exactly what grind and dose you need to pull a good shot consistently—all other variables being equal. Once you’ve got that dialled in, you can start playing with the pressure profiles and see what you come up with.
As you gain experience, you can move on to different grind sizes and brew ratios.
Steaming with the Lelit Bianca
The Bianca’s steam wand is as good as any you’ll find on a home espresso machine. Whatever quality of foam you’re trying to achieve, I’d be shocked if the Bianca couldn’t pull it off. With practice, you can make milk drinks exactly like the cafes.
The machine ships with a two-hole tip on the steam wand, and a separate four-hole tip that can be swapped in.
The Bianca has two stainless steel boilers, each of them controlled with PID programming.
The big advantage of a dual boiler machine like this is that you can program your steaming temperature separately from your brewing temperature, so there’s no waiting for things to heat up or cool down between brewing and steaming.
You can also turn the second boiler off if you don’t plan on doing any steaming, which saves energy.
How it looks
The pictures here do most of the talking. The Bianca is a beautiful machine, designed and built in Italy. Stainless steel all around, and then those distinctive walnut knobs and handles give it a real look of quality.
One warning about the walnut accents, though: They don’t always match as nicely as these images might suggest. Some users have unboxed their machines to find that the paddle is a completely different shade of wood than the knobs or the portafilter handle, or the grain is obviously different.
I guess Lelit can’t ensure that all wood on a given machine comes from the same tree, which is understandable.
That said, if you’re forking out this kind of money for a machine and your accents don’t match, I think you’d be perfectly justified in contacting your dealer and requesting parts that do. I imagine they would find a way to accommodate you, if you can be patient enough to wait for replacement pieces. They can find a use for the parts that didn’t work for you.
Size and shape
While it’s extremely heavy, the Bianca doesn’t take up too much space. It should fit neatly in a corner of your kitchen and easily clear the cupboards. Keep in mind that you’ll need enough space to also accommodate your grinder, knock box and tamper.
The Lelit Bianca gives you flexibility in this area that not many other machines do, because its water tank actually detaches from the back of the machine and can be mounted on either side instead. Whatever the configuration of your kitchen, you should be able to re-arrange your espresso machine in a way that fits.
What else do you get?
The Bianca comes with a bottomless portafilter and a spouted one, all with walnut handles, and single, double and triple filter baskets. You also get a high-quality tamper.
If you think you might like to hook your plumbing up directly to your machine, a hose comes with it as well.
The build quality of the Bianca is apparent, but even the most solidly built machines have issues from time to time.
Where this becomes a problem is when manufacturers use special electronics or proprietary parts that aren’t readily available.
Lelit has done us all a great service by building their machine with straightforward copper tubing and components that are all quite standard in the espresso industry. If something breaks in your machine, you can take it to your local technician and they will almost certainly be familiar with the part and be able to replace it without going on a wild goose chase. There’s nothing inside the Bianca that hasn’t appeared in hundreds of espresso machine models before it.
Cleaning and maintenance
You should clean the steam wand and portafilter after each use, but not in the dishwasher.
The machine should get a more thorough cleaning on a weekly basis if you’re using it daily or almost daily.
Lelit recommends backflushing your machine once a month. This involves a special detergent (sold separately) and a “blind” filter. The blind filter is essentially a filter with no exit holes that forces the water back into the machine and flushes the system.
As for descaling, Lelit tries to minimize the need for this by providing a proprietary cartridge that filters and softens your water. It must be replaced regularly. And regardless, keep an eye on your machine for buildup of limescale and descale as needed. Every water system is different.
The Lelit Bianca is by far the most affordable flow-control home espresso machine on the market. For a quality machine that can do so much, it’s remarkably intuitive. You can keep it simple to start, but if you intend to geek out on coffee for many years to come, we doubt the Bianca will ever bore you. If it does, you’re not using you’re imagination enough!
I’m going to leave you with this video from Kyle Rowsell, who has spent more time with this machine than I have. His assessment of the machine after one full year of use provides not only a good overview of the Bianca and its features, but also a few things he wish he had known going in…
Lelit Bianca specifications
|Dimensions||15.75" H x 11.4" W x 19.1" D (3.2" is water tank)|
|Brew boiler||800 mL|
|Steam boiler||1.5 L|
|Brew power||1000 watts|
|Steam power||1400 watts|
|Water tank capacity||2.5 L|
|Pressure gauges||3 (group head, pump, steam boiler)|