ROK or “The ROK” as some refer to it as, may look like a giant bottle opener, and may sound like a movie starring Nicolas Cage & Sean Connery – but it’s actually a manual Espresso maker, from UK firm Presso Ltd.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts such as best coffee makers, there are a number of coffee makers on the market that are advertised as Espresso makers or machines, that are really makers of “Espresso style” coffee, rather than true Espresso. I don’t mean this in a snobby way along the lines of “It’s not high pressure enough to be called Espresso”. I just mean that when it comes to taste and mouthfeel, these coffee makers (including Aeropress & Nespresso machines) don’t produce what I would class as Espresso, it may look and taste similar, but it’s not quite Espresso in my opinion.
But when it comes to The ROK Espresso maker, I had seen several reviews including YouTube video reviews which appeared to show that ROK is a manual Espresso maker which actually makes true Espresso, comparable to that produced via Espresso machines.
So, I got hold of one myself – I’ve been using it for the past week or so – and here’s my review:
It came well packaged, in a branded cardboard box, and inside of the box was great looking, large oval-shaped metal box/tin, inside of which the ROK espresso maker was very well secured.
Taking the ROK out of the tin, I was really impressed by the look and feel of this device, it’s a very nice looking contraption, nearly all made from machine grade heavy-weight steel. The only parts of it that are of a different material are the glass chamber, the plastic handle on the portafilter, the rubber seals & the plunger.
It comes with a 10 year guarantee on all the metal parts, which is reassuring, and all of the parts which aren’t metal appear to be easily available and inexpensive.
In the box is also a cylindrical milk frother which looks a bit like a small bike pump, a plastic two cup attachment for the portafilter, and a plastic scoop which doubles as a tamper.
Using The ROK Espresso Maker for the first time.
First attempt: I filled the portafilter with coffee, using my Sage Smart Grinder Pro, I tamped using the plastic tamper included, I filled the water chamber fairly close to the top, I lifted up the handles and let it pre-infuse for a few seconds, then I pressed. I didn’t time or weigh anything, I just pressed out roughly a double shot, and although I pre-heated the chamber, I didn’t do it for long enough, and I didn’t pre-heat the portafilter or the cup.
Even with such a rough attempt, the result wasn’t actually that bad, I’ve made worse Espresso!
I’d messed up the grind and the dose, it was over extracted, just as it would be if I’d done the same with an Espresso Machine, but even though it wasn’t a great shot of Espresso (which was my fault, not the fault of the ROK) it was clearly Espresso. It had crema, although fairly thin, and it tasted like the Espresso I’m accustomed to tasting when I mess it up using my Espresso machine ;-). I noted that it was slightly on the cool side too, but I realised that this was probably also my fault as I’d not warmed the cup and I’d not properly pre-heated the portafilter.
Then, I read the instructions properly, and I adjusted the grind accordingly to grind slightly more coarse, I preheated everything properly including the cup and portafilter. This time – the results were far more impressive. It was still slightly over extracted so I needed to dial in slightly more with the bean, but it was very close, the crema was thicker, and again there was no doubt in my mind that what I was drinking was proper Espresso, not ‘ Espresso style coffee”.
Once I properly dialled in the bean I was using, the Espresso I was getting was great – I would have to do a lot more in-depth testing to properly conclude this, but my opinion so far is that the Espresso I’m making with ROK is on a parr with the Espresso I’m used to making with my Gaggia Classic.
Yes I’ve made some “sink” shots with ROK, but I make shots like this with the Espresso machine too, and it’s usually more to do with the grind than anything else.
It’s actually a really nice machine to use, it’s small and lightweight which means you can pick it up and pull the shot anywhere, you can dump the entire thing into the sink to clean it (and to warm it all up), it’s very simple to operate, and there’s not much delay after the kettle is boiled to pulling your shot.
Is The Rok Espresso Machine Capable of Making Real Espresso?
Yup. Right from my first attempt I was happy that what I was producing was true Espresso, this isn’t ‘Espresso style coffee’ – it’s Espresso, as far as I’m concerned.
In terms of whether it’s capable of producing GOOD Espresso, it certainly is, but as with all Espresso machines, the biggest variables are the user and the coffee.
This is a really good example of the difference that the user makes to the equation. I’ve just taken a 2 day Barista course (at hasbean), and the first few attempts with ROK were before taking the course. The Espresso I have been making with ROK after taking the course are far better, due to the fact that I know what I’m doing a lot more than I did before.
The first photo, above, is a photo of an Espresso I made with ROK before taking the course. The second photo was taken only a few days later, after no more experience with the ROK, but after I had taken the Barista course, and my knowledge and ability is at a much higher level than it was.
Prior to my training, I never bothered weighing or timing anything, I thought that was a bit geeky, and didn’t have any set recipe, I was just going by how fast the Espresso was flowing, and taste, so no wonder my results were varied.
The shot in the second photo was pulled in 30 seconds, from 18g of coffee, and the yield was 37g – not perfect as I was aiming for 36, but close. The crema was nice and thick, and it tasted great! I tasted it first, before using it to make a cappuccino, which you can also see below.
When comparing to traditional Lever espresso machines such as La Pavoni, there’s actually not a great deal of difference between the two when it comes to the amount of impact the operator has over the quality of the shot, as they’re both very much manual machines. The main difference is that with lever machines they have a boiler to heat the water, and with ROK you boil the water via a kettle and then pour it into the chamber – also, some of the Lever machines have a pressure gauge which gives you more control over how much pressure is being generated.
Cons of ROK vs Electric Espresso Machines
If we’re comparing ROK to similar priced Espresso machines, this means we’re comparing to cheaper domestic Espresso machines, and not to prosumer or commercial machines.
So in comparison to consumer machines, the only real con I can see is the lack of a boiler – which is also responsible for many of the pros such as no electric required, compact size and portability. No boiler means you can’t steam milk.
To be fair, though, you can’t steam milk particularly well with most domestic Espresso machines anyway, as they come with Panarello steam wands which make it near impossible to produce anything better than you could do by warming milk up and frothing it with a cafetiere (or by using the frother that comes with The ROK). The steam wand on a prosumer or commercial machine is capable of producing great microfoam for making coffee shop level milk drinks with latte art, and this is something missing from The ROK, but again, this is something also missing from domestic Espresso machines, as their steam wands aren’t the same at all.
The lack of boiler also, in theory, means that the water may be slightly cooler by the time you’ve poured it into the chamber than it would be if it was delivered directly into a group via the boiler. I haven’t noticed any negative impact of this in the resulting Espresso though, as long as I’ve warmed everything up before pulling the shot – and this isn’t difficult to do, and doesn’t take anywhere near as long as most Espresso machines take to heat up.
Also, the fact that pressure is manually applied means the potential for inconsistency, and the same is true with manual machines such as La Pavoni, although some of these do have a pressure gauge. This is only a con, though, if the machine we’re comparing with delivers consistent pressure, and since the consumer machines in this kind of price range will deliver pressure via small inexpensive vibration pumps, the pressure isn’t going to be much more consistent with these machines either I would assume.
Pros of ROK vs Electric Espresso Machines
Ready to use quicker.
Yes you should pre-warm everything, and you need to boil water, but most Espresso machines have a warm-up time 15-20 minutes or more – even if they advertise a much quicker warm-up time, they’ll usually not be properly heated up and ready to make decent espresso at that time. If I try to make Espresso with the Gaggia classic after a few minutes when the ready light is on, it will be luke warm and only fit for dumping in the sink – I usually wait 20 minutes or more for it to heat up.
Size, Weight & Portability.
The ROK is very compact in comparison to most machines. Just 13cm deep, 29cm tall, and 22cm wide. It will easily fit onto the smallest of kitchen worktops. It weighs only a couple of KG, it’s lighter than the majority of Espresso machines. You can just pick it up with one hand, stick it in a bag and take it to the office, or stick it in your suitcase if you’re travelling, which wouldn’t be as easy with an Electric machine. In the past I’ve taken my Espresso machine with us on holiday within the UK, and it takes up a quarter of the boot space, ROK wouldn’t take up nearly as much room.
No Electric Required.
OK you’ll need to boil the water, which most people will do with an electric kettle – but other than heating the water, you don’t need electric, which means you can use the machine in a hotel room for example (as long as they have a kettle), or when camping etc.
ROK is priced at £149 which puts it towards the higher end of domestic semi-automatic Espresso machines.
Comparing again to domestic Espresso machines, ROK is a very simple machine with no electric parts to worry about. The only parts that are likely to need replacing are the rubber gasket/O ring (it comes with three of these), the plunger, filter and the water chamber – and they sell a maintenance kit which includes all of these parts for £25. I would imagine that the ROK itself will just keep on going for years, it seems very well built.
A note about the frother.
Rok comes with a frother, which looks like a small bike pump. It does work in terms of creating a large bubble froth, which is OK if that’s what you want – but to be honest I find it’s not as effective as using a cheap glass cafetiere. If I want to froth milk manually I usually heat up the milk and then froth in a small glass cafetiere, I can get some OK results this way. It’s not quite microfoam, and I can’t pour Latte art with it – but Latte Art king Dritan Alsela can 😉
Some Tips if You Decide to Get The ROK:
I’m not a fan of the plastic tamper, I find it a bit fiddly to try to tamp with, as I’m used to using a proper tamper. I would recommend you get hold of a proper 49mm tamper, if you want a proper tamper – something which will last for years and which are nice to use, you can’t go wrong with a Motta tamper, in my opinion. I’ve had my 58mm motta for a couple of years and it’s great.
It has no drip tray, so have a bowl handy. After pulling your shot, you’ll need to give it another press to use up any existing water in the chamber, so you’ll want to do this into a bowl or cup. You can just pick the whole thing up and press it into the sink if you prefer, and then give it a rinse.
Make sure the portafilter is fully locked in. At one point there was water dripping from the side of the portafilter when I was pressing, and I realised that I’d not fully locked it in, I needed to push the portafilter handle just another cm or so to the left.
Weigh the coffee before pulling the shot, and coffee scales with a timer (I use this one) so you can keep tabs on how much you’re pulling in what time. This is one of the main differences in terms of how I was pulling shots before and after taking my Barista course, I can see now that I’d never have created consistent results without weighing and timing. The recipe I’m using is a target yield of 36g from 18g of ground coffee over 28-32 seconds.
Always use freshly roasted high-quality coffee beans, if you want proper Espresso you’re wasting your time with stale supermarket coffee beans.
Don’t bother with pre-ground coffee, grind your own, this isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. If you don’t want to grind your own coffee then forget making Espresso, consider Nespresso or Lavazza instead, or Tassimo, or Dolce Gusto. These won’t produce proper Espresso, but neither will a manual or electric espresso machine using pre-ground coffee beans. I have a Sage Smart Grinder Pro, they’re one of the least expensive electric grinders you can get your hands on which are capable of good results.
Pre-heat the chamber, with the portafilter in, and preheat the cup. The sides of the ROK should be warm to the touch before you use it, if you use it straight out of the cupboard, cold, it will affect the extraction, and the shot will be a bit on the cool side.
Don’t press without the portafilter in. Even if you do this with a bowl underneath, as I tried, you’ll end up with a mess as the water follows the edges of the ROK and misses the bowl below ;-). You can do this if you place it in the sink though, and then just wipe the base dry.
Experiment, but measure everything and make notes when you find something that works. For instance, how much water you put in the chamber can make a difference, if you fill it close to the top you’ll create a bit more pressure.
Watch the length of the pre-infusion. I just lift the arms up, then press the timer and start pressing, as it’s already probably had about a second of preinfusion by this point. I’ve seen some guides advising much longer preinfusion times,
I’ve found so far that just a second or so is fine – and in theory, anything you gain by increasing this time is going to be lost by the fact that the water is cooling down in the chamber while it’s pre-infusing, and I think keeping the water hot is more important than having a longer pre-infusion.
Use water that has literally just boiled. Water very quickly cools down after boiling, and we don’t want the temp of the water to be any lower than 90C, ideally around 92 or higher, so the sooner you pour after boiling, the better. If you’ve been messing filling the portafilter etc after the kettle boiled, just bring it to the boil again before pouring to give you that extra few degrees.
If you’re making milk drinks, heat the milk first rather than leaving the Espresso sat there while you’re heating/frothing milk. Make sure the milk isn’t too cold before pouring though, a lukewarm Cappuccino/latte/flat white etc, is a bit of a disappointment when you’ve gone to all that effort.
You can get them directly from rokkitchentools.com, for £149, free delivery. You can also get them from BellaBarista for £129 plus £5.99 for delivery, although they are out of stock at the time of writing, they may have them back in stock by the time you’re reading this.
You can get them on Amazon too, but they’re quite a bit more expensive on there at the moment so I wouldn’t bother, although it’s always worth checking in case they’re on offer there at the time you happen to be looking.
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