I am not going to comment about variations in brew temp over course of an extraction, or that pump pressure is 8.69876 bar as opposed to the stated 8.69875 - I will leave this to others (read Dan Kehn's review of the La Valentina). I will try to provide a consumer's view of the machine, and how this machine may help cure or at least delay the effects of acute upgraditis.
I bought this machine after much deliberating – can we afford a ‘high-end’ machine, given wedding plans? My fiancé actually encouraged me to buy it when a friend offered a very good price. (She actually encouraged me to upgrade the grinder at the same time!).
My old Saeco Via Venezia (Starbucks Barista) was very forgiving when it came to espresso and milk. But you always knew that the results were compromised.
With the Splendor (remodelled Diadema Junior/La Valentina I think), the variables need to come together just a bit better to get good results – you wouldn’t expect to be able to drive an F1 car adequately for the first time would you? Having bought the new grinder (Macap M5) at the same time, I had two brand spanking new machines to become familiar with.
The manual is useless – more along the lines of what not to do (ie, place the machine in water, using heavy machinery under the effects of alcohol whilst holding the machine, etc) rather than actually how to use it to get the best out of it. Thankfully, John, the vendor, spent considerable time showing me, literally, the ins and outs of the machine.
Anyway, the first week or so saw me go through a lot of coffee, wasting shots that were under or over-extracted, and milk that had been murdered by me. Since then, I am generally able to get extractions that are sublime – sweet, dark chocolate, dried fruit and ginger notes out of the latest blend I am using.
I have also, for the last 4 days, been the proud owner of a chopped portafilter – this has been a lot of fun and a great learning guide.
To the machine itself:
The machine seems very solid. The boiler stands upright, compared to many other HX/E-61 machines which have the boiler horizontally positioned. I would suggest that, whilst this saves on bench space, it does affect the cup warmability (you can use that term). I have remedied that by placing a tea-towel over the cups. And now, after the machine has warmed up, the cups are nice and toasty. I normally leave it at least half an hour, so I am not sure exactly how long the machine takes to warm up.
I understand the pressurestat (Sirai?) is of the good kind referred to elsewhere, as opposed to the evil kind. I don’t know a lot about this so won’t go on. However, one ‘mechanical’ irk I have is the ability (or hindrance) in adjusting the boiler temp. The gauge on the front was maxing out at about 1.275 bar. I wanted to reduce this. I am a pen-pusher so mechanically and electronically useless. But, I knew what I had to do (unfortunately not necessarily how to do it too well).
After removing the cup tray and the outer casing, I now I had to remove the metal sheeting that covers the internals and probably protects the plastic reservoir from excessive heat. The profile of this sheeting is like a stretched out ‘Z’. Directly under the upper horizontal portion was the screw to adjust the temp. However, to move or remove the sheeting, you need to lift off the water reservoir. Perhaps I was told by the vendor otherwise, but I left the low water switch plugged in (this is a spring loaded switch which rises as the weight of the water decreases and cuts off the pump and element). Long story short, I was manually depressing the switch (simulating full reservoir), whilst opening the steam wand and ZWACK! a very noticeable jolt up my right arm. The recriminations from the fiancé were hardest to deal with.
Anyway, after all that, I got the pressure down to about 1.1 bar, and all is fine (I may drill a hole through the cup warming tray and the inner-sheeting directly over the screw so I can adjust it more easily.
The steaming power is quite strong – good dry steam. However, for whatever reason, I am not able to produce the same kind of microfoam I was with the Saeco. This has been my only frustration and I would suggest it is due to the operator (me). The standard steam tip is a two hole, flattish based tip.
I am trying to convince my fiancé that only drinking double ristrettos is a lot better than milk based drinks (to save the embarrassment of poorly steamed milk).
Overall, I am extremely happy with the machine – I know I will get to a stage where the milk is perfect, and I will forget the frustrations I had. The espresso is fantastic. I normally cut the extraction short at about 15 seconds after the pour starts.