Generally purchased used so in variable condition. Will probably require work. This means time and money. Just how much cannot be predicted.
Not a lot of room under the portafilter for you mucho, mega, super-size latte lovers and your monster cups. The rest of us with our regular size barware will do fine.
On July 18th of 2001 I bought a used Unic Diva from a vendor on eBay. I spent $350 plus shipping. I’ve seen them go for more and seldom for less.
The Diva is made by the Unic Company. Their website says, “Founded in 1919 by Mario Levi, an engineer in Turin, Italy, UNIC is a well-respected name on the international market for professional coffee machines. Three generations have since succeeded Mario Levi and today the company is based on the French Riviera.”
The Diva is sold in multiple group incarnations as well as the machine reviewed here, a 110 volt single group. As far as I can tell, the multi-group machines are very similar in operation to the single group machines, but I have no direct information about them.
The (single group) Diva was, I believe, espoused by the Illy Company as their espresso maker of choice for their whole-bean coffee while the vibe-pump Phoenix which looks very similar to the Diva but has painted side panels, was promoted for use with the Illy pods.
The Diva, as frequently located in used condition, may be found with one of several sorts of group heads. One is the classic Italian group with the usual shower screen. The other is a unique (Unic?!) ‘French’ group which uses a small rosette to disperse the water over the coffee. Both produce fine espresso, I am told. My machine has the French group and I feel it works quite well.
The Diva is a heat-exchanger machine. Temperature stability is assisted by the mass of the group and the large copper boiler. I have no problem ‘surfing’ the temperature for coffee which benefits from cool or warm brew water temperatures, whichever I desire. The older Diva (unlike the picture Mark has as the example for this machine) has two control boxes rather than the one you see on Mark’s modern machine. I have heard that the new control boxes are more trouble-free. I suppose this matters in a commercial environment; in practice we purchasers of used equipment will worry more about parts availablity if needed. The Illy network (as well as others) stock all of the parts needed even for the older Divas.
The left box in the older machines controls the autofill mechanism which keeps the boiler topped up. The right control box controls the shot volume dosing. Without getting into technical details, suffice it to say that the shot volumes are easily set using a small screwdriver to adjust some potentiometers in the right control box. The downside to these electronic ‘brain boxes’ is that if they malfunction they generally can’t be repaired by the DIY level tinkerer and can be expensive to replace (several hundred dollars).
The Diva portafilter is rather deep and a triple basket is available. It is all I use and a ristretto triple runs about two to two and a half ounces. This allows for the desired ristretto taste profile and also provides for more robust drinks (for instance a classic cappa can really be 2 ozs of espresso, 2 ozs of steamed milk and 2 ozs of foam, rather than needing to produce a drink with different characteristics because a double ristretto shot has less volume in the cup.)
The steam is controlled by a push button solenoid rather than a knob. This seems daunting at first given the enormous volume of steam produced by a commercial machine, but it really is easy to use and even beginners find it pretty straight forward. The steam arm is on a universal swivel which is very convenient. There are Teflon steam arms available but I have not enjoyed using these and prefer the ‘plain jane’ chromed arm. Hot water is also a push button affair and is available on the right side of the machine from a heavy chromed nozzle.
My machine is on 24/7. It is built to withstand this, and has autofill to avoid problems with evaporation emptying the boiler and exposing the elements which can then burn out. The convenience of being able to pull good espresso on a moment’s notice cannot be over-stated. We love it. Ours is plumbed into the water supply as I suspect most of them would be, and this enhances the convenience. The rotary pump is inherently quiet.
If you are going to buy a commercial machine and maintain it yourself, this would be a good choice in my opinion. The side panels, back and top all remove without difficulty, exposing all of the internal components which can then be easily adjusted or otherwise maintained. All of the usual warnings should apply so far as mixing water and electricity. This is an easy to maintain machine but it isn’t the safely sealed box you buy from the home-appliance dealer; you can get hurt maintaining any commercial gear, so use caution. Speaking of ‘box’ the Diva is no sleek, curvy home appliance designed for ‘shelf appeal’. It is a simple silver box with a shrouded group so it won’t sex up your kitchen like one of the prosumer E61 models will.
Bottom line is that this is a forgiving machine which is easy to maintain, makes great espresso and doesn’t take up as much room as many commercial machines might. Used commercial gear isn’t for the faint of heart but is a great way to have the quality of a full-fledged café in your kitchen, and the Diva is one of the easiest of the breed to maintain and operate. Makes excellent espresso if you do your part. Not sexy but more like that wrench you inherited from your grandfather... fits your hand perfectly and always gets the job done with grace, style and ease, every time. A machine you come to rely on which won't let you down. The Hawker Hurricane of used commercial kit for your home.
Ebay vendor in my case. Ebay is normously variable. DEMAND competent packaging and shipping. Palletized freight would be best. Expect to pay accordingly. Assume that the machine will need some service, at least a new group gasket and a good cleaning. Chances are it will require a more detailed strip-down and descaling, EVEN if the seller says it is in perfect working order. Hah.
Try used restaurant supply houses as an alternative source. You might pay more but be able to negotiate a warranty.