Today, we take a look at the Rocket Appartamento, a natural progression for those of you looking to dip your toes into the world of prosumer espresso machines, or simply take a step up from an appliance level unit such as a Breville. We’ll go in-depth with the Rocket Appartamento to see how it differs from appliance level machines, and discover whether it’s the right time for you to make the upgrade!
Fit, Finish, & User Experience
The Appartamento sits right in the entry-level position of Rocket’s renowned and notoriously stylish espresso machine lineup. It benefits from using many of the same high quality components found in Rocket’s more expensive models, but manages to fit them into a more compact form factor suited for “apartment” sized kitchens. Let’s not mince words, this is still a large machine, but in the world of E61 heat exchangers this is about as small as they come.
Rocket is somewhat known for its styling, and this machine is certainly no exception. The steam and hot water knobs carry the signature Rocket branding, as well as front and back faceplates. But it’s not until you turn this machine to the side that it really steps away from the status quo. Twelve circular cut-outs from the stainless steel side reveal an interchangeable plate beneath, that is offered in several different color ways. This is a nice bit of added design, to an otherwise classic looking machine.
A 2.25L water reservoir is located at the back of the machine, and feeds into a 1.8L copper boiler. The machine also has a sensor that will indicate if the water level is low, and pause the functionality of the machine to avoid causing damage to the heating elements. The boiler design is a typical heat exchanger, with the famous E61 group head. There is no PID control, no pre-programmable modes, no automatic steaming, it is just a straight forward and well executed heat exchanger.
Something that I think some reviewers fail to properly represent is the user experience of owning a machine like this. Everything feels, and sounds industrial. Flipping on the power… the pinging and tinging sound of the large metal boiler as it heats up… the heft of the thick solid metal 58mm portafilters… the satisfying tactile feel of using a lever to initiate brewing instead of a button, and a large variable knob for steaming… Even the sound that an E61 group makes while cycling hot water, or the fact that these group heads stay hot to the touch for HOURS after turning off the machine. All of these things combine to create an ownership experience that is COMPLETELY different than a consumer level machine from companies like Breville.
(Appartamento Boiler / E61 Sounds)
If you’re considering upgrading from a consumer machine such as a Breville, the improved steaming pressure is one of the first things you’ll notice. It’s not a small step up, it’s a leap. In a race to heat a pitcher of milk to 60˚C, the Breville Barista Express took 75 seconds and the the Dual Boiler took 42 seconds, while the Appartamento took a mere 24 seconds to accomplish the same task. Another added benefit of Rocket Machines is that they use no burn steam wands, which stay cooler during steaming thanks to their dual-walled construction. This is an advantage safety-wise, but the biggest advantage is that milk does not aggressively stick to the wand if not immediately wiped away. I can not explain how nice this feature is to have.
And of course, being a heat exchanger machine you have the ability to steam and brew at the same time. These 3 advantages result in you being able to pump out lattes like it’s nobody’s business for large groups, or even if you just make two drinks back to back each morning for you and your partner.
Okay, so the steaming performance is a big step up from more consumer focused machines, but what about the espresso experience itself? Having used a Breville Barista Express for the better part of 3 years, here’s what I noticed when I switched over.
The number one thing for me has been consistency. I know that if I dose, grind, and tamp the exact same way, the resulting shot of espresso will be exactly the same, every time. With the Barista Express, I got pretty darn good at making coffee, but I never got the feeling of being PERFECTLY dialed in. With the Appartamento, I can make a tiny adjustment to grind size, taste the difference, and know that if I like it, the next 100 shots will taste exactly the same. I’m not sure if it has to do with having a stronger pump, the temperature stability of the E61 group head, or just a combination of all these higher quality parts, but consistency is the main takeaway I want to give you over a lower-end appliance-level unit.
Observation number two is the depth and evenness of flavour. Once dialed in, I can produce a shot on this machine that contains less unpleasantly sour notes, while simultaneously giving me less harsh bitter notes. The flavors seem to be more dominantly straight up the middle, and less so a mixed bag of underextracted, properly extracted and overextracted like I sometimes saw from the Breville. Again, pinpointing exactly which components allow for this is difficult, but a better water dispersion routing, better shower screen, better pump, and the heavy E61 group and portafilter all contribute to an overall more consistent and polished shot of espresso.
Now, no machine is without fault, and there are certainly a couple small things that bother me about this machine. The clearance between the spouts and drip tray is one of them. Measuring in at only 3.5 inches, this machine is really only designed to extract into a shot glass. If you’re an Americano or Long Black drinker like myself, you’ll need to find a shorter mug, or simply pull into a shot glass and then transfer into your hot water.
I also found myself emptying the drip tray more than I’d like to, due to the additional cooling flushes, and the solenoid outlet constantly pouring water into it. Of course, you can avoid this by running you cooling flushes into another glass instead of straight into the drip tray, but in general I found that using a machine like this just generally ended up going through more water per drink, and therefore meant I was filling the reservoir, and emptying the drip tray more often.
If you were like me, and you feel like you’ve maxed out the capabilities of your existing espresso machine, this is a GREAT machine to transition into the world of prosumer machines. It will offer you the ability to further push your espresso quality, while also offering drastically better steaming performance and the ability to steam and pull shots simultaneously. Does this mean that you should avoid having this as your first espresso machine? No, as long as you are understanding that just because this machine is shiny and more expensive, it does not automatically mean that it will make better espresso or make it easier to pull espresso. One thing that all espresso machines have in common, is that you need to learn the basics of pulling shots and dialing in, before you can expect anything even remotely drinkable out of them.
The Rocket Appartamento is a hansom looking heat exchanger, with a great compact footprint, great performance, and a reasonable price point. Beginners should be aware that a more expensive machine does not automatically mean better espresso. You must pair it with an equally capable grinder, and learn how to properly dial it in. Once you do these things, you will be rewarded by café quality espresso, from a machine with bombproof build quality. Use the links below to check your local pricing.
Need more? Watch the video!