Editorial: Stein X. Leikanger's Metaphorical Journey Into KitchenAid Hell

Stein X Leikanger
by Stein X Leikanger
editorial stein x leikanger s metaphorical journey into kitchenaid hell

The KitchenAid Espresso Pro Line—delivering 15 bars of pressure with a separate steam unit pump. Just holding it in my hands at the store convinced me. Solid weight, no rattle. Cast iron and proper machining, no plastic cheats anywhere. I was tempted to take the lid off and peek inside but didn’t. Given what would follow I should have pulled out an Umbraco-set and given it a go.

The steamer didn’t steam. Didn’t matter what setting I used. Water came out of the nozzle, but nothing you’d call steam. Dreams of frothy Cappuccinos were postponed, and I returned the unit. Got a phone call the same day telling me to come by and pick up a new one. Apparently, the problem was a well known one, and dismantling my Pro Line to fix it was too much bother.

I didn’t mind. Have never had the misfortune to get a true lemon from a car dealer, but as I understand it, you have to threaten them with abducting their closest relatives before they’ll even dream of letting you have a new replacement.

The Pro Line now delivered a fine jet of steam, and I was shooting Cappuccinos with the dexterity of a Milanese barista.

Until a few weeks in when the 15-bar pressure dropped to a trickle. I checked the metallic filter but it wasn’t clogged nor were the five feeder tubes. But the pressure wouldn’t have kept Costeau alive in the kids-only end of a pool.

I returned to the store. This time, the phone call came after a week. KitchenAid were pleased to offer me a replacement unit, “would I like the same color?” By now I had developed buyer’s remorse. When first wondering about which espresso-maker to buy, I had checked out a few. The exterior design of the KitchenAid, as well as the build, had lured me—but I had been thisclose to buying an Italian one. I knew that if I requested a switch they’d go along . . .

Couldn’t possibly be so unlucky that I’d get a third red lemon?

You bet I could. This one also developed a leak. A different symptom this time around. 15 atmospheres builds pressure, and if the hoses and tubing are not doing what they’re supposed to, liquid under pressure finds ways of escaping. The two dials fogged up from the excess moisture. I kept on making espressos that weekend. By Sunday evening the leak had developed into a spill, with water seeping out onto the kitchen bench. When I lifted the Pro Line the seep became a splash. Submerged electrics. Great.

I returned the unit. And got a new one. If you check Amazon and other sellers, you’ll find there are “remanufactured” Pro Line Espresso makers. These have been returned to Kitchenaid for a bionic redo. Bad initial design has its cost, and for Kitchenaid it must have been substantial. Someone had screwed up when spec’ing this espresso maker.

At this point I knew I’d never buy anything from KitchenAid again, another side effect of bad design. Disappoint a customer once too often, and you’ll find bagging them again just about impossible.

The fourth unit lasted six months before it blew a gasket, literally. This time it was the steamer unit, bringing me full cycle. Turned out that the seal of the top entry valve would burn off when the steam heater was left on. By now I was really longing for that Italian espresso maker—I knew it could be left on from now until 2012 without any trouble. A friend had one at work and always had it ready to go.

I didn’t return the clunker. Took it apart. What the heck. Even if they offered me another replacement it was just too much pain. I wanted an espresso maker that heated quickly (check), that had the proper pressure (check) and that was reliable (uncheck). The Pro Line was not it.

Disassembling was fun, though I can understand why they’re offering customers new ones. Fixing this unit is at least a day’s job, even with replacement parts handy. I’ve located the cause of the pressure loss, why leaks develop, and why the design makes the steamer moody. They haven’t been on a GM cost-cutting binge when putting it together. The parts are good, but the pressure and the heat build up is overwhelming the tubing and seals, which can’t keep up with repeated use.

I feel like the owner of a 2001 Land Rover Freelander, who finds out that LR effed up a whole engine design and that your only hope is a new engine under warranty.

Building a consumer product requires experience-based initial design, good prototyping, and some proper testing before you release it. KitchenAid, like quite a few car makers, are doing their testing in the field. Not recommended.

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2 of 108 comments
  • Accs Accs on Aug 25, 2009

    I cant help but wonder how Planned Obsolescence has an effect on our lives, and our pocketbooks.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence

  • Bertbeukema Bertbeukema on Oct 09, 2018

    This Kitchenaid machine is technically a Gaggia Classic. The Gaggia Classic is a true classic, mine still works after 40 years. This Kitchenaid is simply a copy of the Gaggia Classic with two boilers (one for coffee and one for steam). Aside from that, all of it's innards are Gaggia, down to the gaskets. As for why it is failing: it is a high pressure device. It needs very, very regular maintenance. There is nothing wrong with the design, in fact this design is the bases for countless other brands. If you don't clean your machine often, descale it and back-flush it it will break down. If you don't replace the gaskets that get the highest workload once every two years it will leak. Heavily calcified water will kill the machine quickly. Chlorinated water will kill the gaskets quickly as well as eat into the boiler. You could buy another brand or even a Gaggia Classic (LOL) but the reality is this: without proper care and maintenance they will all break down sooner or later (probably sooner).

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