Solid, well-made, a delight to use, and packed well-enough to survive a cross-country trip!
Positive Product Points
Volumetic dosing; ease of use; large drip tray; good sized reservoir; ability to put on timer; auto shut-off when water level low (see below); and -- oh, yeah -- did I mention great espresso?
Negative Product Points
No sight window/guage to see when you need to add more water (potentially ruins your rhythm); depth of drip tray just short enough to have water fly onto counter when cleaning grouphead.
The trials and tribulations of upgrading from my trusty-but-ancient Coffee Gaggia took close to a year, between researching the machine I wanted (a dual-boiler, plumbed-in model just sounded so nice, but remodelling the kitchen was out of the question), ordering/returning/ordering (see buying experience below) and so on. It was a relief to finally get set up and making coffee! I wanted a volumetric machine simply for the ease of use by my wife, and thus opted for an automatic rather than a levetta or semi-automatic. (I should note that she has yet to make a single espresso, or a double for that matter, but then again I haven't been out-of-town without her yet, so I cannot comment on HER feelings about using the machine.)
Being on a timer, of course, means the machine is fully up-and-running when I go down to the kitchen in the morning. Two grinders stand ready, and making singles, doubles, cappucinos and lattes are all a breeze. It DID take some time to "re-learn" how to steam milk and get decent microfoam on this machine, but I suspect that would be true of any HX machine vs. the Gaggia I've used for 15 years. (And still use -- I moved it to my office.) But making rock-solid espresso was much easier than I thought (feared?) it would be, given the "water dance" rituals, etc. I never had to go through before.
It is very easy to clean and maintain, and adding water is the proverbial piece o' cake (cups need not be removed when adding water to the reservoir). The passive heat used to warm the cups is plenty warm, and the cups are nice and toasty. (Having Fabrosk inox cups and saucers may help.) The drip tray is plenty large and solid as a rock. An extra 1/2-3/4" would, however, help keep the counter clean when brushing the grouphead after use. In addition to the two portafilters (single and double) the machine comes with, I've also purchased a bottomless portafilter AND a La Marzocco OEM portafilter so making lots of drinks in a row -- the full-sized boiler, reservoir and power of the machine -- is almost too easy.
My only regret is not having the money to remodel the kitchen. It's been three months, and I'm VERY happy with my "La Val," but I can certainly appreciate how a plumbed-in model would be a definite advantage. But I can't complain: emptying the drip tray and carrying it to the sink has yet to result in a single spilled drop!
I fear I gave Jim at 1st-Line major headaches. Originally I had decided on a Vibiemme Super Domobar (which I actually like the looks of a bit better). Not one, but TWO machines arrived damaged. Whether this was the fault of Vibiemme, the freight company or 1st-Line -- one could probably make the argument in any direction; someone needs to package things better -- but Jim dealt with everything perfectly, and -- fearing a third strike -- I switched to the La Val. It arrived in perfect condidtion (although delivery was delayed due to a train wreck!). Throughout the whole, painful process, Jim was right there with late night cell phone calls to help me check out the machine(s), assist with the set-up and more. Top marks throughout a difficult series of events.
Three Month Followup
The machine continues to perform beautifully, and I have -- I don't want to say "mastered" -- but "considerably improved" my steaming technique. (It went to hell after replacing my trusty Gaggia with the La Valentina.) Indeed, the quality of all my coffee drinks -- from single espresso (which has now become my preferred drink of choice), to cappuccinos to lattes -- has improved considerably. I wouldn't look back, except some drawbacks have become apparent. Mostly mine: I should have opted to remodel the kitchen and gotten a plumbed-in machine; it is easy to refill the resevoir and empty the drain, but . . . still. The noise level is on par with the Gaggia, and not troublesome providing one is used to it. Clearly a rotary would be quieter, but . . . still. Yes, I would still buy this machine again after using it daily (and generally several times a day) for over three months, and while I have dreams of a built-in (La Marzocco perhaps?), I am quite happy.
One Year Followup
As it had at the three month review, this machine continues to perform without a hitch. The quality of my espresso, and of my milk steaming, continues to improve. The only "drawbacks" are not the fault of the machine, but mine -- upgraditis has indeed struck, and struck hard . . . not due to any fault/flaw with this excellent machine, but with me: I want a rotary pump, plumbed-in model.
That said, I would definitely buy another La Val under the same circumstances, and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone considering an e61 pourover model.