Note: This is a review of the Vivaldi 2 Mini. Before I begin, I will let you know what I was looking for so you can put this in perspective. I drink mostly capps and I make 2 doubles every morning. I like coffee (duh) and since I donít swill a ton of it every day, would like to have two Great (not adequate) cups every AM. The appearance of the machine, the fact that itís not a 58 mm PF size, etc. was all secondary to its performance and the cup of coffee it made. I specifically wanted a pourover machine. I owned an Anita for a few years (and an Expobar Office briefly) and despite Ericís temp probe, was still annoyed at the inconsistency from cup to cup. Many CGerís like the HX machines, but I found them in my hands to be much too inconsistent. Iím sure part of this had to do with my making a single shot, waiting 30-40 min, and making another. Regardless, I began to lust after a double boiler. Iím happy to say that the Mini has met all my expectations.
Appearance: You like it or you donít. I donít mind the looks and itís quite easy to keep clean. It is quite a bit larger than the Anita which isnít always apparent from the pictures.
Layout: Pretty decent. The cup warmer (which I donít use) is very functional and warm. You donít have to move all your cups to get at the water reservoir. Gauges are both present, but hidden to the eye unless youíre 4 feet tall. Happily, one doesnít need to look at them except when making adjustments, so I usually never bother with them. The group head has cutouts so itís easier to lock in the PF (mentioned by Dan, I believe, in a review with pictures). This is useful, because the grouphead is tucked away and not out in the open like the E61 heads. Also, this means that one doesnít get burned by an exposed grouphead. Drip tray is huge and sturdy (plastic) and thereís no problem with overflow and spills. Drip tray grate is simple, sturdy, and very easy to clean and rinse. It isnít as elegant or heavy as many, but very functional and fits with the rest of the machine. The reservoir is a delight compared to the Anita and Expobar and most others. Itís located in the front of the machine. You remove the drip tray (easy) and the large reservoir slides out and can be easily taken to the sink to fill. The control panel is easy to use, feels sturdy, and is not particularly intuitive. Adjusting the temp is simple after you remember which buttons to push. This is really the only thing I do on a regular basis. I havenít ever reprogrammed my shot buttons (Chrisí set them before shipment).
Build Quality: Really nice. Iíve been inside the machine several times and all components/fittings and workmanship seem high level. Layout inside seems pretty well planned and most of it is easy to access. The portafilters are well made and very heavy. They have a grippy type handle which is easy to hang onto (unlike Quickmill handles which are smooth and slippery). Iíve adjusted the brew pressure which is simple once the case is off. Oh yes, the case. This is the biggest problem. Itís held on by multiple screws and knobs and is fairly difficult to get on and off because of the sidepanels. Tim in Chrisí tech dept. told me the new batch of Minis has a redesigned case for ease of removal, so new buyers shouldnít have as much of a problem.
Using The Machine: This is the great part. The Mini is a wonderful machine and makes wonderful coffee, unbelievable foam, and does it every morning, every cup. I can do 2 shots back to back or wait an hour between shots and they all turn out really nice. I can taste and smell more nuances in the coffee than I could with the HX. The temp control is easy and quick and I can adjust it to take advantage of each coffee I use. The one thing that I really appreciate is the ease of making the coffee compared to the Anita. The Anita is a manual machine so that I flicked the lever to turn it on, flicked the lever to turn it off. Sounds easy, but with the temp probe, I was measuring flush volumes, watching the temp, counting the number of seconds after flushing, then pulling the shot. Even though itís possible to steam while pulling a shot, in practice it was difficult because I would need to flip the lever to stop the shot while steaming. I usually ended up steaming after the shot was pulled.
The Vivaldi is a semi-automatic which means it has a volume monitor on the shot which will stop it automatically where you program it. So, I hit the button and then can steam my milk without worrying that my shot wonít stop in time. The steaming is so fast, that I usually finish steaming before my shot has pulled. Iím not counting, watching temp gauges, etc. I just hit a button and get a nice shot. As a disclosure, I own a lever machine as well, so I can get into the artsy/control aspects of building a shot when Iím in the mood. As is probably evident, when I wake up in the AM, Iím not into Zen, I want some coffee as quickly as possible. The downside to the electronic controls is the fact that theyíre electronic controls which I inherently have a distaste for because theyíre frequently unpredictable (ie can quit without warning) and always expensive to replace. I quizzed Chrisí tech dept. before buying and was told that Vivaldi electronic failures are extremely rare. In daily use, theyíre nice to use. I am running my Mini on a 20 amp kitchen line. I had to replace the outlet with the 20 amp one. I ran it on 15 amps for a few months and did not notice much difference at all. Perhaps, the boiler would have pooped out sooner if I was making a bunch of drinks Ė I donít know. The machine gives priority to the grouphead temp, and when thatís up to snuff, the boiler will heat. On 20 amps, they can both heat at once if they have to. There is a toggle switch inside the machine that you can switch back and forth from 15 to 20 amp. If you bought the 15 amp ďversionĒ, the machine is the same, just a different plug.
The Mini has a vibe pump in it which I find to be somewhat quieter than the ones on the Anita and on the Expobar Office. This comparison is from my memory and not from a side by side. The vibe pump is certainly quieter than my Mazzer Mini when itís grinding, so if youíre worried about waking someone up, consider the grinder.
The Vivaldiís are all 53 mm groupheads which many have fussed about due to itís non-standard (or at least less popular) size. This was not a big issue for me since there are enough nice tampers to choose from in 53 mm. I did have to spring for a new naked PF and a new tamper (or two). Also, there has been discussion about how well this size PF prevents channeling (or not). My own personal observation (with an N=1) is that the E61 found on my Anita was more forgiving in regards to channeling. Using the same techniques I had used successfully on my Anita, I would routinely get channeling on my Vivaldi. I have since buffed up my technique and donít have any problems now, using my naked PF for guidance. I used the WDT technique with both, but have to be much more careful with the Vivaldi. I also ended up with an Espro tamper (concave) which has improved my reproducibility in tamping. The one single factor which I think is most responsible for preventing channeling is that I now use a nutating motion when Iím packing the puck (thank you, Ben).
The steam wand is a little on the short side and tucked a little too far under the dash, but has a well-designed 4-hole tip which gives me effortless microfoam on demand without much thought on my part. Much faster than the Anita and I never got as nice microfoam on the Anita. An optional longer arm, as well as a no-burn arm, are available. The most annoying part of the steam arm is the rubber insulator (a 50 cent item) which doesnít insulate very well and is uncomfortable to the touch. I am looking into getting some silicone tubing to replace it with.
The steam is controlled with a (rather touchy) lever and not a knob like the rotary Vivaldi. I would have been happy to have knobs (although the Anita knob had a very long lag time to shut it off). At this yearís SCAA conference, I fooled around with a few machines that had lever steam control that were fantastic to use. Alas, the Vivaldi is not one of these and, in this regard, is adequate only. The steam is basically on or off. The amount of travel between off and on for the lever is maybe ľ inch, and itís spring loaded so thereís not much fine tuning possible. However, the good news is, the steaming is so incredibly good, that no matter how I do it, I get nice microfoam. Also, I have a small pitcher and usually steam enough for one capp (maybe 3 oz) which is very easy to do, even with this small amount. I worried about the steam lever when I first got the machine. Now, Iím used to it, all goes well, and itís very quick to stop the steaming.
Hot water tap: It has one, Iíve never used it.
The timer works fine, but I liked my $12 timer from Home Depot for the Anita much more. The timer is one of the annoying niggles on the Mini. Itís hard-wired into the machine with a 2 foot cord. If youíre shlepping the machine to a party (which I never do), the timer cannot by unhooked. The timer is electronic, has a backup battery in it, and is fairly flexible. One can program each day separately with three on-off periods each day. However, the actual programming of the thing is quite clunky. I actually had to read the manual (thereís a separate manual just for the timer Ė that should tell you something). Itís not actually that difficult, just quite time consuming. I basically set it up and left it alone. If Iím getting up early and need the machine to come on earlier, itís much easier to temporarily set the timer clock ahead an hour than it is to reprogram the start time. Why couldnít I just use my Home Depot timer again? A rhetorical question, surely. Because the Spaziale electronics are set up in such a way that just flipping the current on will not start the machine. You have to physically hold down the start button for 5 seconds or use the Spaziale timer. For me, the timer was not an optional item, so I shelled out the additional $185 for it. In the end, it works fine. I suspect that most of you who could budget $2000 for the machine could dredge up another $200 for the timer
The temperature adjustment is easy to do on the fly and the machine equilibrates quickly (probably a minute or so) when changing temps. Actually, the whole thing heats up quickly. I usually turn it on 45 min before I need it, but Iíve brewed coffee on it 15 minutes after turning it on which was OK.
Cleaning the brewhead is easy. Spaziale doesnít recommend backflushing for some reason, but all the Spaz owners do it once a month or so. However, the machine comes with a spare set of diffuser discs and a nice little wrench to unscrew them with. The brass block and the two discs come out (which they did not on the Anita) and can be easily soaked in Caffiza and cleaned well. Also easy to wipe around the gasket with everything out. I usually clean these once a week. Iím amazed at how much coffee gunk is on them after one week.
There are several nice double boilers available now. I would also look at the Izzo if I were buying now. However, I would say that the Vivaldi has been around for 4-5 years and there have been numerous teething issues (detailed in Chas Rimpoís Vivaldi website (http://www.rimpo.org/s1/) which have been taken care of. Chrisí Coffee is still making improvements to the machines. Even the nicest machines have issues not discovered until theyíre in production (the GS-3 comes to mind as does the new double-boiler Vibiemme). I have not had any nasty surprises with my Mini (which was in the first boatload to Chris). Chas Rimpoís site, by the way, is very helpful to new owners and has a lot of information for those interested in any aspect of the Vivaldi and is a little plus you get with the Vivaldi that wouldnít come with most other machines.
In Summary: Great machine, lived up to the hype. Effortlessly makes excellent coffee/capps every day, in large or small numbers. I would buy it again. My first priority was to be able to make 2 cups of consistent, excellent coffee/capps every morning with a minimum of doodling around to get there. The Vivaldi does this in first class fashion. Lesser priorities to me were the looks, the 53 mm PF size, the clunky timer, the largish footprint, etc. If someone gave me a GS-3, I would take it. But for two grand, youíd be hard-pressed to get better espresso/steam out of any other machine available today.