In this price range, for a double boiler unit, I can't imagine you could get a machine that was better
Positive Product Points
Incredible Steaming Power Separate heaters for espresso and steaming - can steam and pull espresso simultaneously Recovers quickly Small footprint for unit like this Large capacity tank (is available with direct water line if so desired) Heats up reasonably fast Good aesthetics and high quality components Lights on the front give you status at all times
Negative Product Points
Needs a special adapter if you want a timer Need a 20A plug (although it can be ordered with a 15A setup) Steam lever must be held in position while in use
I've had two other cheaper espresso makers prior including a Starbucks Barista Athena (some might not consider $500 cheap) and I was always frustrated by how long it took to steam the milk for just two 15oz lattes - 5 minutes or more each, and then the time it took to pull the espresso separately. Since my wife and I enjoy a latte every morning (and others thru the day), and we sometimes have friends over that would like one too, my frustration level finally reached the point where I was willing to invest some money in getting something that would really do the job. In my own mind, I had concluded on my own that separate heaters for steaming and espresso was the answer before I even began looking.
I spent several hours reviewing all the makers, found that the double boiler units were available and admittedly stayed away from all others regardless of their ratings as I didn't want to spend a bunch of money and then fail to satisfy my main requirement. I knew that I wouldn't be able to physically see the units locally so I had to trust reviews and ratings and on that front I wasn't sure that the raters and reviewers would rate the same as I - as such, I presumed that everything was likely exaggerated a bit. There are only a few single group double boiler units out there, and just a few of those with a tank (even though the footprint was reasonable I wasn't sure where I was going to put it in my kitchen until it arrived). However, there isn't another unit that I found that has all the features of the Mini Vivaldi II in such a small footprint. The next issue to overcome was the price and that took a couple of months. When I started looking I was hoping I could get something for $1200 or so and even considered some used units I found on the web. To spend a $1200 or as it turns out $2000, it better be really good at what it does. It was.
Setup was straightforward. Turns out my kitchen was wired 20A anyway so all I had to do was change a couple of plugs which was real cheap. The only change in the machine from what I'd read and seen was that steam was utilized using a lever rather than twisting a knob. This is the only issue I have with the machine - I think it would be better with a knob that will stay set. However, as it is, you quickly learn to use your thumb to hold the lever where you want it. This thing has incredible steam power - in a single 20 oz cup half full, it can foam and heat milk to 160 in about 8 seconds (fact, not exaggeration). But, you'll never really do that. After becoming experienced with it, I find that when doing the latter, I hold the lever just "off idle" and it makes exceptional foam and heats the milk to that temp in a very comfortable 30 seconds or so. When I'm more commonly doing enough for two 15oz lattes in a much larger container, I still usually foam off idle and then move the lever up for more power when I go deep. For the first few weeks I had this, I really thought it had too much steam power, but I've now come to believe it is just perfect - you just have realize that you don't need to use much of it at first. I will admit that altho I think I'm pretty darn good at foam, I find it's easier to make it in the smaller container than the larger one.
If it's mounted in the open, it's gorgeous, but you probably wouldn't want the timer adapter installed because it's not very pretty. In my case, I have it against a wall under a cabinet and it would be hidden behind. I may yet order it, however, our routine is that the first one up turns it on and it takes about 10 minutes on average to come up to temperature. Who knows, I may order one yet but I think it has to be installed by a pro.
The lights on the front tell you the temp status of the group and the steam boiler at all times which is great.
Overall, I can't imagine being happier with the machine!
I bought from Chris' because they're the importers for the unit and even Seattle Coffee admitted that they first purchased it from Chris' Coffee. They weren't too negotiable but were easy to deal with, answered all my questions and were willing to take my several calls prior to purchase. I'll likely find a local guy to service the unit periodically. As a side note, Chris' Coffee did offer me a deal on a machine that they had to perform a minor repair on for a customer - rather than make the customer get it repaired, they were willing to take it back and send him another. I think that's a pretty good sign that they're reasonable to deal with when things get tough.
The unit arrived in an incredibly strong double box - the packaging had to cost some real bucks.