Don't get me wrong: I've been, and am, very happy with my Flair Signature Espresso Maker. I was well aware of the PRO 2 when I first got the signature, and I still don't regret following the upgrade path, and might even have increased my appreciation of the PRO 2's qualities.
The upgrade path that works wonders
The biggest reason for me to start with the Signature was the price of entry into espresso making. I had no idea if I even liked espresso as a drink so buying into a regular piston machine would be quite a leap. Furthermore, if I did I'd probably get a low end machine and maybe not get to such a high quality drink that I would really enjoy.
The Signature became my first espresso machine for the low low price of around 215 euro's, which combined with a relatively cheap Baratza Encore grinder got me hooked on espresso and the ritual of espresso making. Getting the Flair PRO 2 immediately would have made the price point too high, and in retrospect I would definitely not had a good time using the Encore grinder with the PRO 2. The upgrade path (encore grinder, signature machine, perfetto grinder, pro 2 brew head ) worked its wonders!
Reasons for GAS
Jumping forward to today: there's a couple of main reasons why I was thinking about getting the PRO 2 brew head:
- I had the feeling I squeezed every bit of extraction and quality out of the Signature and thought I could do better
- I wanted to be able to make 20g in, 40ml out double shots
- I wanted to be able to make two milk drink shots (for guests of course 😉) in one go
After a rough start, loads of practice and falling deeply in love with the PRO 2, I can safely say this wonderful machine exceeded all my expectations.
Did you say "rough start"?
So yeah, I have to be honest: we had a bit of a rougher start than I first expected. Let's get into some of the things I think you should know before upgrading, or when you are getting into the PRO 2 straight away.
- New tamper needed: Since the basket is wider, you need a bigger tamper which is not included in the upgrade kit. Technically you can use the bottom of the included dosing funnel but that is not definitely not the experience I'd would recommend. The PRO 2 tamper is great, but sets you back another 30 euro.
- More of an exercise: As the basket is wider, the required pressure on bar is also (a lot) higher. Bringing the machine to 6 bars is a bit more of a workout than it was with the signature, and ramping up to 9 bars does require some strength in your arms.
- New preheat routine: The portafilter is (exquisitely) made of metal instead of plastic, and needs preheating just like the chamber. This changes up the basket prep flow: I started out preheating the portafilter first and switch out for the chamber, but in the end I got a better funnel to fit my kettle and consistently heat both at the same time. (note to self: update my preheat tricks blog)
- WDT required: Properly loading the full 20g is challenging, especially when not tapping and using Weiss Distribution Tool (WDT) only. I'll definitely write up on WDT in a future blog as that has also improved the espresso game a lot.
- Higher doses advised: Yes, I got the bigger brew head to be able to brew larger drinks, but this feature also comes with an officially recommended minimal dose of 16 grams of coffee. As Todd pointed out, the PRO 2 is actually perfectly capable of making 15g shots. In my experience I did found it a little harder to dial in the 15 gram pucks, but I'll definitely keep brewing my favorite old 15g dose shots as well.
Deep cleaning: Just nitpicking here, but the plunger doesn't come out of chamber completely without removing an o ring. To me it feels like I can clean the signature brew chamber a little bit more thorough with just a rinse.Update: Todd also pointed out to me that you can just push the plunger past the o-rings and I can confirm that works. Hurray for easy deep cleaning and thanks for the feedback!
Again: don't let these caveats discourage you from getting the PRO 2. They are all very much solvable and pale in comparison to the improved quality of your espresso game.
Quality with crema on top
Taste wise, the shots I pull with the PRO 2 are just so much better across the board: the extraction is higher, the output is hotter and there is a load much more range in ratio. The workflow and ritual experience are also great: the materials feel just that little bit heftier and durable, the bottom of the portafilter has better visibility, shots look great and the increase in pressure makes me connect with the brewing process even more.
All in all the PRO 2 definitely takes a little getting used to but makes up for it in much better shot quality. It is therefore definitely worth the investment in my opinion, even after a (more costly) upgrade process. I sometimes switch back to the signature brew chamber for creating a small single shot, but the difference in output quality is quite noticeable. While practicing my new routine, I have to say the shots are perfectly acceptable in comparison to some of the sour shots I got when I messed up with the signature, so even the slightly rough start was quite enjoyable!