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Every once in a while awesome things just happen. The most recent awesome thing to happen to me was a ROK Espresso Maker being sent to my home by Whole Latte Love in exchange for a review. Although this product was given to me free of charge, I assure you that this review is honest and dependable.
I am not an espresso guru and don’t have much experience with it at all, so I enlisted the help of some friendly baristas, Yellow House Coffee, and my beautiful girlfriend in order to figure out how to use this device to its maximum potential. This review is an accumulation of multiple opinions and experiences.
A Brief Overview of the ROK Manual Espresso Maker
The very first thing I noticed was the packaging. It’s remarkable and well-done. Everything comes in a stainless steel tin with foam fittings to keep everything safe. It’s definitely more portable than even inexpensive espresso machines.
The ROK is a non-electric, manual espresso maker. That’s one of its best attributes. No machine maintenance, no wires, and apocalypse-durable. It even comes with a 10 year warranty.
However, it’s also one of its worst attributes. A fancy commercial machine has intricate heating elements that maintain a constant temperature throughout the entire brewing process. Not only that, but the pressure that forces the water through the coffee is also consistent. Control over each variable is not easily attained with the ROK, but it’s not always necessary. The stainless steel is easily cooled and the arms don’t create constant pressure.
The coffee scoop that the ROK espresso maker comes with also acts as a tamp. It’s not weighted, nor is it the ideal size, but it gets the job done well enough for most people. More than likely only trained baristas will be able to tell the difference between a well-tamped and a poorly-tamped espresso shot.
The milk frother is pretty neat. It doesn’t compete with a steam wand, of course. Using it is simple, but the metal-on-metal sound when pumping the frother isn’t always kind to the ears. To froth your milk, warm it up in a microwave for about a minute. Then set the frother into the cup and pump till you’re satisfied.
Pressing the arms down isn’t super easy, but it’s not too hard for adults. Children will probably have a difficult time, but they shouldn’t really be dealing with boiling water to begin with.
Let me walk you through the brewing process and I will highlight some of the struggles and joys.
The Manual Espresso Machine Technique
Start by freshly grinding some coffee beans to a very fine powder. For espresso, you really want a high-end burr grinder like a Baratza Encore, due to the way the coffee sits in the portafilter and interacts with the water. A cheap grinder is going to give you some problems that will result in uneven extraction.
Espresso snobs, the ROK isn’t actually designed to use standard measurements, and an adapted technique is required. Fill the portafilter up completely, which should take about 12 grams of ground coffee. From there, use the provided scoop/tamp to press down on the grounds evenly with significant pressure. You’ll probably end up with some coffee on the walls of the portafilter and it may be a little uneven – just work with it.
Machines built in the United States typically attach the portafilter from left to right. This European designed espresso maker requires going right to left to attach the portafilter to the body of the ROK.
With the arms completely down, pour just-boiled water into the upper chamber. The instructions say to fill just above the metal rim, but in order to create a more consistent level of pressure throughout brewing, add more water till the chamber is almost completely filled.
Here comes the actual brewing. Lift the arms all the way up and back down till you feel a small amount of resistance. Doing this allows the water to briefly pre-infuse with the coffee before the pressure is applied. Wait just about three seconds.
Now press down with significant force. You don’t want to press down slowly, but really press the arms down as far as they will go. Nothing will come out for a few seconds as the coffee is making its way down to the spout, but the steady stream will appear in a second or two.
After about ten seconds, or when the stream starts to lose pressure, pull the arms back up and press down again for another ten seconds.
You don’t want to use all the water you put in – it’s too much. You only want that twenty seconds worth of coffee. The rest will be over-extracted and bitter. Just empty the rest of it with a few seconds of pressure into another cup.
The produced espresso probably isn’t going to be incredible by itself, unless you were able to somehow control all the variables (temperature, pressure, timing), so add some water to make an americano or add some hot and frothed milk to make a cappuccino or latte. Enjoy!
I’ve gone back and forth with my thoughts on this device over and over again, but have finally found peace in its value. If you’re an enthusiast who is always trying to brew the best coffee, this espresso maker is not for you. With the unpredictability of several variables, producing espresso that will satisfy a trained palette will be very difficult.
I believe that most specialty-coffee lovers will only be somewhat satisfied in this device. But is it worth $200 to be only somewhat satisfied? Not to a enthusiast. If you fit into this category, consider the Rancilio Silvia. It’s much more expensive, but is praised as the best home-espresso machine for the cost by much of the specialty coffee community.
There is however, immense value in the ROK Espresso Maker for lovers of coffee who are less picky than some of us. I’ll admit that I can sometimes be difficult to please, but I’m the exception. Most coffee drinkers can’t quite pick out flavors or discern between over and under extracted coffee. To them, this would be the great option.
It won’t brew A+ espresso, but it’s not downright awful. If you follow the process I outlined earlier and combine it with either water or milk, the result can be rather pleasing. It won’t be the same as going to a star shop for sure, but it’s definitely tasty enough for most home drinkers.
It may sound like I mostly look down upon the ROK Espresso Maker, but there are quite a few things about it that are redeeming. The portability, durability, and simplicity of use are ideal for most brewers who don’t want to spend weeks learning to use a complicated machine that requires maintenance.
I do actually highly recommend it to those who want espresso drinks without the hassles of going to a shop or working a fancy machine. Although I usually go with black, manually brewed coffee, I am very glad to have and use this espresso maker. I even find the process of brewing with the ROK enjoyable in itself.
The final call is up to you. Do you think you can be pleased with a simple espresso maker for a mere $200, or are you more interested in brewing the best you can with a $1,000 machine?
Good luck choosing, and happy brewing!
Commonly Asked Questions About the ROK Espresso GC
Are lever espresso machines better than automatic espresso machines?
This answer largely depends on your desired level of control when brewing authentic espresso. For full control over the extraction process and pressure needed to brew great espresso, a lever espresso machine is the way to go.
What size is the ROK Portafilter?
A fully assembled ROK 50mm open portafilter is suitable for a double espresso dose ranging from 16 to 20 grams of coffee grounds.
What is the best grind size for the ROK Espresso Maker?
Similar to other espresso machines, a course ground coffee will let the water flow too quickly leaving you with an under-extracted coffee. To achieve the best flavor profile, I recommend grinding the beans yourself as fine as possible (your finely ground coffee should be similar to flour powder). A quality coffee grinder is the most important thing here.