Saeco Review + Easy Tiramisu!

by Matt on December 11, 2012

The email landed in my box asking if I wanted to try the Phillips Saeco Syntia, a fully automatic espresso machine from Philips. I don’t even want to tell you the number of automatic espresso machines that have lived on my counter over the past twenty years, some good, some not so good. What begins as a promising machine usually ends up in gadget fatigue, re-packed and stored somewhere else while I go back to my French press, Chemex or Nespresso because functionality and convenience win out.

To say I was dubious would be correct, but I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try this machine out. It’s not cheap, but reading the specs interested me: the ability to use my own beans, grind it fresh, steam milk, and pour a variable length shot of espresso were all things I wanted. So the machine arrived, a bit larger than I thought it might be, and I got busy.

I made cappuccino after cappuccino, espressos in the morning, flat whites (or my sad attempt, I should say!) in the afternoon, and Americanos when I ran out of milk (it happens).  I waited for the moment when I’d glance over at it, the sheen of SHINY!NEW!DEVICE!TO!REVIEW! would fade away, and it’d get packed back up and shipped back out, like they all do.

But I dig this machine. As in, it’s staying.

It’s easy to review a machine for flavor, to judge the quality of the grind, extraction and steam abilities. It’s another to review it for its longevity, in a practical situation, and decide if it’s a kitchen device you’d want.  So I put off this review as long as possible, using the machine at home for a month and then another two at the studio, where it went through the ringer of shoots, clients, crew, and friends. It was well worth the terse emails from the account executive checking in on this posting ( “ASAP” was used quite a bit). What did I learn? It makes great espresso and it’s easy to use.

The Good Stuff
The fact that it’s a solid bean-to-cup process makes me rate this machine well, as freshness counts in coffee. It grinds with a ceramic grinder and conveniently dumps the grounds into a chamber that’s easy to empty. The one touch functionality is impressive, and there’s not much else to figure out. Simplified interface and limited buttons and a dial make it easy to use, and it cleans itself regularly (keep an extra cup handy for the water output).

The pannarello arm for steaming milk works well, much better than several automatic devices I’ve tried. This seems to be a losing point for most automatic machines as they never heat quickly or powerful enough, that’s not a problem with the Syntia. And the fact that it’s completely removable for cleaning is awesome. You’ll want to do yourself a favor and pick up a steam pitcher and thermometer for accuracy.

The Bad Stuff (and it’s not that bad, actually…)
It’s slightly temperamental when it comes to water levels in the chamber and error messages lighting up, at least on my machine. But making sure everything is emptied and supplied in the water chamber and bean storage is easy enough, and if that’s the most nitpickiest thing I can say about the Syntia then that’s pretty good. Oh, and you’ll need to give yourself some time to set it up, just a warning. And please remember this: it will never taste like a shot of espresso made from a manual machine but for home use and convenience it’s absolutely perfect.

 And now, something tasty for the holidays

I wanted to create something simple and easy using the Syntia, and the fact that this year alone I think I’ve photographed 15 to 20 different trifles, Eaton Messes, and other layered desserts made me think that a super quick and easy Tiramisu would be best. These gorgeous little kinda-tiramisus were created by Adam, and I love the fact that they are individual servings, for festive reasons, ya know. There is no official recipe here and yields might be tricky, but you’ll have to do your best to figure it out. And if you have any leftovers that don’t fit in individual glasses them that’s when you put them in a big giant bowl and grab a spoon. Very delicious, very trifle.

Easy Sorta Tiramisu I mean, it’s easy, it’s sorta Tiramisu

For the Coffee
1 cup espresso
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
¼ cup powdered sugar
For The Mascarpone
8 oz mascarpone
1 cup lightly whipped whipped cream
½ cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons of the Coffee Mixture

Ladyfingers
Milk chocolate for shaving

Mix the coffee mixture until well blended, reserving a few tablespoons for the mascarpone. Soak the ladyfinger cookies in the coffee until absorbed. In the meantime, lightly blend the mascarpone, 1 cup of whipped cream, sugar and 2-4 tablespoons of the coffee mixture in a bowl.

In your individual glasses, layer the ladyfinger cookies, blended mascarpone, and top with shaved chocolate. You might need to break the cookies to fit your glass, but you can eat any leftover pieces as you assemble.

The Legal Stuff We Must Disclose: The Phillips Saeco Syntia was sent to me for review. This post was not paid for nor sponsored, all opinions, photographs and recipe are my own.