Can a cheap Warehouse Coffee Machine make good coffee? The short answer is YES, but it’s an intentionally misleading question because this review does not have a happy ending and unfortunately I’ll need to return the machine.
So this coffee machine popped up on Clearance at The Warehouse, and made its way to the Cheapies website due to its surprisingly low price of just under $250.
With a few comments of back and forth, and one of the commenters finding out it’s just a rebranded Beem machine ($700+ NZD overseas) I decided to take a risk as I currently have a separated grinder and espresso machine which takes up a lot of space on the bench and the Beem machines reviewed exceptionally well.
My best estimation is that Thomson (which from my understanding is a house brand from The Warehouse) licensed the machine with their branding, likely the buy price was low but they had to take care of warranties etc. Kogan does this with various products under the Kogan brand (such as monitors made by Samsung). They originally had it priced at $449 but people tend to be very wary of unknown brands when it comes to espresso machines, especially at comparable prices.
However, spec wise, it sounded good, dual thermoblocks (allowing for coffee and milk steaming at the same time), a built in conical burr grinder (which turned out to be full stainless, unlike the semi plastic grinders you often get with cheap standalone conical burr grinders), a large 54mm group handle and pressure sensors. Surely it could at least make coffee comparable with a $250 machine.
Within a couple days, it arrived and I was looking forward to trying it out.
The first thing you may notice, is that whilst it’s very good looking it’s actually not the advertised machine, the advertised one had the black control panel on the front with touch buttons (an exact replica of the Beem machine with Thomson as the brand), but from close inspection it was otherwise identical, so I gave that a pass. The physical buttons were a bit mushy, but passable.
In the box were all the accessories as expected, and surprisingly a full stainless steel machined tamp, quite possibly the best tamp I had ever held. It weighed an absolute tonne, and did an excellent job (so I’ll skip talking about that later).
As mentioned it had a full size group handle and portafilters and manual. And the large 2.8L tank will be extremely useful as I’m constantly refilling the tank on my existing Delonghi machine.
So lets crank it up…[10 minutes later]…cool, ready to go. Everything is unpacked, bean hopper is hooked up to the machine, buttons are all standard and where they should. Lets runs a grind.
I did a bit of experimenting and the coarsest setting produces what can only be described as “rock rubble” and the finest setting is what you see above, I’ll describe it as “cork” in any case I’ll give it a chance and make a coffee.
As expected, free flowing brown water came out. So something is wrong with the grinder, I’ll take a look at it in a moment, I want to see if the coffee is any good before I investigate it, which I can do with my grinder. […5 minutes later…].
Standard grind to fill the filter from my Breville Smart Grinder, tamp with the excellent tamp and run a brew. And, actually, the coffee was excellent. The pressure meter hit green and the coffee tasted great. The puck was only mildly damp and well formed.
And I followed up with a repeat performance because I wasn’t in the mood for looking at the grinder yet.
For milk frothing, I never actually tried running both milk and coffee at the same time, I can only assume it works. The steam took a little while to come out (maybe 20 seconds?) but it holds back until it’s full pressure then releases for a good froth and getting fine bubbles was effortless.
The machine waits a moment after the steam is switched off, then releases the pressure on its own through the drip tray.
So, my conclusion on the coffee making capabilities of the machine is that it’s great, can make good coffee and if I can resolve the grinder fault, it will be an awesome device to replace my separate grinder and espresso machine.
Can I fix the grinder?
So, lets look at the grinder.
Obviously, if the grind is too coarse, that gap between the blades and the burrs must be too large.
Looking at the hopper, it has a sliding ring that pushes the safety button, and is keyed to only go in one way, but the key splits in two. So it looks like the lower half of the keying causes the plastic ring at the bottom to rotate, while the blades or burrs move up and down on a connected thread. While the upper ring limits how far the rotation is allowed to go. It looks to stop around 30-40% of the way to a full rotation.
There doesn’t appear to be any method of adjustment except the settings on the hopper.
You can either watch the video above, but to put it simply, I think I need to rotate the lower ring a full rotation to start the blades and the burrs closer together before adjustment. And it has to be a full rotation because the split keying means it can’t partially rotate at all.
The design is very slippery, so it will be very hard to spin with tools. Luckily I have the perfect thing…the hopper.
I can achieve this by removing the upper ring that limits the amount of rotation, do the full rotation, then put it back. Like so:
Drop it in, give it a spin in another video, and the blades aren’t anywhere near touching, which is good to see.
Then put the ring back on, and give it another go on the coarsest setting:
Sadly the gap is now too small, and even on the coarsest setting, the beans can’t get into it to grind. So at best I get a very light powder as it lightly sands the beans and it will take hours for a single coffee. I returned it back to its initial setting and put it back together.
Fundamentally it looks like the grinder cannot be resolved, it needs to have like, a half rotation, but how it is put together gives no way of doing that, at least without dismantling the coffee machine. At the finest setting you can’t get any better than a plunger grind.
I expect probably that’s why it’s on clearance, maybe a different factory built the machines and screwed up the adjustment of the grinders. That would explain the different bezel, but in any case the grinder can only be described as faulty and unusable.
As a result I’ll have to return it, if it didn’t have the grinder part, then it would have been a great replacement for my Delonghi but with the grinder it adds unusable bulk and without the grinder I would never have purchased it.
Here’s a quick comparison between what my Breville Smart Grinder kicks out, vs this one on its finest setting:
For me its a sad outcome, I wish I could have fixed the grinder. Excellent coffee in a self-contained machine from beans for less than $250 is too good to be true, and unfortunately it was too good to be true.
The coffee was legitimately very good, the features, and accessories, and general build were great. But I speculate a manufacturing fault has ruined the whole thing, as the grinder can’t grind, even though the machine that it is based on got glowing reviews for its grinder.
I’m going to return it to The Warehouse as a faulty unit, and take those grinds with me in case they don’t understand why.
Not that they sell it anymore anyway, but I can’t recommend this machine.