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Slayer: Some compare to other brands!

slayer-pic

Recently some commentators have lumped Slayer into a category with La Marzocco and Synesso.  I don’t really mind this, because the comparison reflects the fact that Slayer defines a new category of equipment: ultra-traditionals.  These other machines play in the premium range, but Slayer is perhaps the first purpose-built machine for the Third Wave.  It is by design the ultimate traditional barista machine.

That being said, Slayer is not a participant in the battle for technology that seems to be raging between LM and Synesso. The reason for this is simple.  Both of these more established companies have been chasing one thing–a “pressure profiling” feature for their products.  But, this pursuit is not really about coffee or baristas or the art.  It is about technology.

In certain circles there was intense speculation about who would deliver the “true” version or the best version of what essentially amounts to the exact same technology.

As it turns out, Synesso beat LM to the punch with the Hydra, a multi-pumped monster machine, that literally invites the mythic response of cutting off all its many heads.  The Hyda has a lot of water lines and a lot of water pumps.  And for each pump their is a corresponding motor.  This machine is COMPLEXITY incarnate.

LM, though second in this race, responded at SCAA with it’s own version of the Hydra, to be released at some future date.  Again, lots of water lines, motors and pumps. Plus it has a whole whack of electronics and computerization that give it a degree of automatic convenience.  For example. it will replicate a pressure profile over and over and over again, so you can dial in the pressure deltas you want and your dumb old barista doesn’t have to think too much; they can just make those lattes the same every time, without worrying about a thing.  See a problem with this?

Well, here is where Slayer departs from the script.  Slayer is first of all a NOTORIOUSLY, HORRIBLY, BEAUTIFULLY manual machine and all that that represents.  We don’t particularly like automation.  We like human beings. And we respect their judgement when it comes to preparing coffee.  We also think a machine should be fun to use so we spent a lot of attention on Slayer’s control points.   We even included a way to see your shots developing without stooping beneath the group. Essentially, we like drinking, watching, savoring and sharing coffee.   We love preparing coffee.

A machine is great in our books if it enables all this, but otherwise it’s a nuisance.  We like mechanical things too, especially in the sense that they can be simplified and minimized.  So Slayer is minimalist or perhaps essentialist.  It has only ONE pump.  It uses PID to control water temp because what human wants to pulse their own elements?  It gives you control over pressure in an entirely new and intuitive way.  You can intercede in your shot at any point by changing pressure.

Slayer’s pressure geometries are easy to configure manually using a blind insert with a hole in it, and the gauge on the machine (which, by the way, was sourced because it really does show pressure with a high degree of accuracy).   Slayer has no computer interface for laptops or flash drives.  It’s a machine to prepare artisanal coffee BY HAND. You set those pressure deltas quickly and easily, and you use the machine by watching your shots. Simple and elegant.

Technically Slayer is 100% different from La Marzocco and Synesso, while these other machines are virtually identical–philosophically, technologically.

So why is Slayer so off message from these other products?  It’s because we had a design brief that stated what we wanted our machine to do based on what we tasted, personally, in the cup.   We wanted to get the full sensory experience that direct-sourced and hand-roasted SO coffees and blends made from Microlots have to offer.  That’s it.  Our joy is in the coffee, not the machine.  Though we delight in Slayer, our delight is more akin to that of the old timey carpenter who delights in his 50 year old plane.  Not because it’s techy, but because it is so brilliantly useful.

The moral of this screed is this.  Slayer is not comparable to other machines.  LM and Synesso just aren’t doing what Slayer is doing.  Slayer is first and foremost about the coffee and the person preparing the coffee.  While others may be warring with each other over gadgetry, Slayer is simply not about this sort of thing.  When the others look up once more from their campaign of pumps, computer interfaces, and widgets, they will discover that the Third Wave still wants the same thing, a better way to make coffee with the people they’ve expertly trained and taught.  And Slayer will be right there.

Eric Perkunder in Seattle

  • dsc.

    Hi Eric,

    you can’t say that automated pressure profiling is bad because a ‘dumb old barista doesn’t have to think too much’. It is convenience and ease of use above all, as it can allow to manually set the profile you want and repeat it each time you brew or even choose the right profile for every coffee (if the system allows to save various profiles). I’m surprised you would say that’s bad, it is something that would work well in a cafe, in my opinion better than having to manually repeat the paddle-sequence everytime you brew. Sure manual might be fun at home or when you aren’t so busy and there’s no cue, but if you have to work really fast auto is the answer imho.

    By the way Slayer doesn’t allow for full pressure control (if I understand how it works properly), I agree that it’s more about machine-barista bond, but it has it’s limitations and lets not forget about that. If you really want full manual control you might as well ditch the pump and use a lever. It doesn’t get any more ‘BY HAND’ than that.

    Regards,
    dsc.

  • Eric Perkunder

    Thanks for your comments.

    The preparation of coffee requires the skilled hand of the chef or barista if it is to ascend to the level of fine cuisine. Presets of all kinds are undermined by the organic quality of coffee. Even grinder settings can not be “established” and held constant for a single coffee, served at a particular cafe, even for one day. Likewise with pressure, we have found that the best way to account for variation is to train human beings to know what they are looking for, and let look and taste be the ultimate arbiter of quality.

    Slayer is designed to be easy to use. At SCAA we brewed through 70 pounds of espresso a day, and most of these shots were pulled by people who were experiencing Slayer for the very first time. And this coffee was sublime, because it was so easy to account for the environmental conditions of the show by watching the coffee and manipulating the actuator. Slayer is easy to use and makes pressure control a valuable tool even in high volumes settings.

    One other thing regarding appropriateness for high volumes. Slayer supplies preheated water to the temperature stable brew groups from a dedicated pre-heat tank. It does not use a “radiator system” that pulls heat from the steam tank using a coil of tube. This means Slayer maintains steam power even in the highest volume situations. And, brew temperature remains rock solid and does not ramp up during periods of greatest use. Machines that take another approach may not be as temperature stable as you might think, though PID read-outs can be programmed to mitigate this fact to some degree.

    Slayer was engineered in reverse from a cup of coffee to the machine. The multi-pump technology is totally familiar to us. We experimented with this and other systems. However, we chose a design that delivered the best result in the cup, optimizing the skill of the barista.

    I hope you have a chance to try Slayer first hand. If you are ever in Seattle, please get in touch!

    Best regards,

    Eric Perkunder

  • dsc.

    Hi Eric,

    I’m not bashing the Slayer (although I do think it’s a bit limited), I like some of the ideas and I think it’s great that you guys managed to build a machine from scratch.

    I agree that you need a knowledgeable person behind the PF and that nothing is really constant when it comes to espresso. Still I don’t think that a fully automated pressure profiling system with a manual function is bad, simply because it replaces your hand and the paddle.

    I’d love to come around and play with the machine, talk to you guys and taste the espresso. Unfortunately I’m stuck on the other end of the big pond, so I don’t think that will happen anytime soon:)

    Regards,
    Tom

  • Luca

    Eric,

    I understand that you may be concerned to keep the inner workings of your machine secret in order to protect your invention through trade secret or patent law, but after asking you quite specific questions both on this blog and in person at Atlanta and still feeling that I don’t have the full picture, I have to say that it grates on my nerves a little to read your condescension about people not understanding the difference between your machine and the machines on which it seems to be based. (That said, I must apologise for not finding time to return to your stall – it was a bit disappointing that my experience of your machine was only harsh and metallic shots from your competition blend.) If you want to keep the guts of the thing secret, just say so. I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying that I understand that you may want to protect the fruits of your labour and I wish you the best of luck.

    Finally, I can’t help but observe that your comments about your competition do little to cast you or your machine in a positive light.

    Cheers,

    Luca

  • Hi,
    in “Slayer – Some compare to other brands” Eric did say every thing, what I personal want for the perfect machine. This means for me, as simple as possible, less electronic, no gadgets and a machine as near as possible to a lever machine. (but with the positive characteristic of a pump driven machine )
    The main target is the result in the cup done by a barista with skill and talent, this is what count.
    Further I fully understand, that the people which invent this machine with skill and real craftmanship don’t want, that every one could direct see (and perhaps copy) why this machine is so good.
    Cheers
    Ralf

  • Eric Perkunder

    Hi Luca,

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your concern. This blog is intended to be an open and honest opportunity to share thoughts about coffee, coffee culture, and coffee equipment. This exchange of course is always meant to be courteous and thoughtful. . . as well as truthful. My opinions are just that, my opinions. However, they are based on years of developing equipment (including the very brands of equipment, I discuss here) and hopefully they can offer insight and instill a healthy curiosity about this sometimes confusing segment. Since the post was meant to address the large numbers of “how is it different” comments concerning Slayer and other products, it would be extremely difficult or even impossible to address this without mentioning names. I hope you can take heart in the fact that these opinions are put in writing and attributed openly to a identifiable human being.

    As far as sharing the “inner workings” of Slayer at SCAA–our objective at the show was to allow anyone who wanted to brew their own coffee on an ACTUAL machine to get the chance to do so. Atlanta was about offering a hands on experience and seeing, hearing and tasting the responses. Sorry if you didn’t like the coffee being served. However, I am not surprised because coffee is a highly personalized experience. But there were literally dozens of coffees from roasters across America and the world being served continuously over three days. I wish you had had a chance to sample the shots Gwilym and others were pulling–they were amazing, in my opinion.

    Warm regards,

    Eric

  • hung nguyen

    Hi Eric,

    I love “the best result in the cup”. We will have no more steps to step to heaven. it is right there in the cup.
    I like your ideas and thoughts, and look forward to seeing it in many coffee houses.

    Hung (vietnam)

  • David

    I can certainly appreciate the minimalist approach in electronics when building the Slayer, but what is wrong with automation and computerisation? I can probably only pick 100 or so people in Australia that will probably be able to work on this machine and be able to pull great shots out of it. For the rest of the coffee making population, just another variable to bugger the whole thing up.

  • schnicker

    hi eric,

    there are so many steps left to make the world a better coffee-place! or at least to “lift the avarage quality of knowledge” about coffee…
    your little machine (and i mean this in a respectfull way) can probably be a wider step towards above mentioned goal than so many of the commercial activities arround the hip coffee-scene in the past years.
    it is obvious what you guys intented by creating slayer. go ahead!

    arsen (germany)

  • Shane

    To David from Aus:
    I completely agree with you on the 100 people down under who could actualise this machines potential, I consider myself determined enough to earn one of those centi-grades.
    But I have to say that (in aus, can’t speak for the rest of the world) that is due to lack of passion and staff training in the cafe industry! There’s only a handful of places I would pay for coffee, otherwise I will make my own.
    The good cafes are those whose staff are trained to within an inch of their lives. This means a BIG opportunity for any of those 100 people to lift the quality bar. In the end a business is all about the skills of the staff. Train them well and succeed and profit. It’s not the machine that’s the variable, it’s the management of the baristi’s skills!
    PS.. if the slayer is less choked with gadgetry does that mean it’s cheaper than Synesso or LM ..? 😉

  • lee budz

    how can i see/buy 1 in scandanavia/eu

  • Diaco

    Eric

    I have been trying to decipher the difference in coffee quality between cafes here in Melbourne Australia that use Synesso, LM or the Slayer. When I speak to the baristas, all of them swear by whichever machine they are using. Fortunately in Melbourne there are many many cafes that use these three brands of machines, and most invest time in either roasting their own blends/single origin coffees or have it sourced from reputable suppliers.

    In all honesty, I think it really comes down to the experience of the barista, the barista’s experience with the actual machine, how busy the barista is when serving you, and the particular beans used that determines the quality of the cup. Unless the three brands are put through a scientific test (ie, fix all other variables like bean, barista, time, and test each machine, then repeat over and over, and with different baristas), I doubt that you can claim that the Slayer makes better coffee than the others. That said, I am willing to be proven wrong.

  • Eric,

    Do these comments about the LM Strada also apply to the MP addition. It seems to me that with strada with the machanical paddle does allow for complet barista control. As the barista art side of this matters greatly to us, we just want to make sure we are understand everything correctly.

    In addition, we are opening a shop in Spain, so we guess that parts and service for the Slayer or Hydra would be much more limited than the Strada.

    We want the best machine for SO espresso, barista art, and for our location.

    Any thoughts?

  • Hello Brett – this is Jason. Please send me an email and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. There is simply too much to say in such a small place.

    Thanks

  • Xexua

    I think that you forget Kees Van der Westen machines 😉