There's no way to go wrong purchasing the La Valentina. It's a super machine that's backed by outstanding service from 1st line.
Positive Product Points
Great looks, superior components, well constructed, outstanding shot and steam performance, adjustable temperature/pstat, long and easy-to-move-in-any-direction steam wand, big solid drip tray.
Negative Product Points
A little buzzy sometimes, cup warmer perhaps works too well—heater cycles quite frequently.
My La Valentina was purchased to replace an Oscar. Not that the Oscar was bad, but the beauty of the La Valentina combined with my desire to move up to an E61 was tempting. Dan Kehn’s review along with good advice from 1st-line equipment put me over the edge. Dan’s review is outstanding…and comprehensive. I’m not planning to duplicate his level of detail, rather just mention the things that stand out in my mind.
The machine was extremely well-packaged, and arrived in great shape. As others have mentioned, the machine comes with combination pod/standard head. The good news (from my perspective) is that Grimac is now including a standard screen set-up along with a tool to facilitate an easy conversion away from the pod head.
The machine comes with an internal tank with integral water softener and a vacuum breaker tube. Unlike the Oscar, there’s no need to open the steam valve during warm-up. As for warm-up, the machine comes up to temperature fast (i.e. heater starts cycling off and on), but I’ve found that for best results a 25-minute warm-up is quite desireable.
During the initial 30 days of use, I had a tough time getting consistent results. First bitter, then sour, then great, then sour, bitter, etc. This was the result of playing with too many variables too fast: pstat adjustments, various recovery times, flush intervals, brewing at various times of the heat cycle. I finally feel I have things pretty dialed in…and the results are fantastic using either Black Cat blend, or espresso from our local roaster in Cedarburg, WI. I landed at a top cycle pressure of about 1.05 bar, brewing at the top of the cycle, flushing if more than 2-3 minutes passed between shots, and using a minimum recovery time of 30 seconds. Water temperature at the head is at 202-203 via this process.
Another nice feature of the La Valentina is easy access for filling and removing the large water 3 liter reservoir. This is a feature that I enjoyed with the Oscar as well. As for other comparisons between the La Valentina and Oscar; both machines are capable of producing great shots. The Oscar seems to have a better-insulated boiler, but that’s about it. In every other category the Valentina wins hands down: more consistent flavorful shots, adjustability (although an exterior p-stat adjustment would be nice rather than having to go under the hood), superior steam performance, ergonomics, looks, fit and finish, etc.
The La Valentina also comes with two porta-filters (single and double), corresponding baskets, pod/head/tool (discussed earlier), cleaning brush, and of course the cheap plastic tamper. Instructions were fine I think—perhaps I should really read them.
In summary, if I were to do it all over again I would absolutely buy the La Valentina again. It’s just the right size, is solid yet moveable, looks great and performs like a champ. The machine, along with some studying, has enabled me to produce outstanding drinks while having a lot of fun. My wife and I really enjoy starting each day with the La Valentina.
The folks at 1st-line are first-class. Jim and crew are extremely dedicated to excellence!
Three Month Followup
UPDATE: 5/31/05--Having owned the machine for many many months, I continue to be very satisfied. However, I've changed several settings. Backed off the heat to 1.0 bar at the top of the cycle. Also adjusted the pressure down about two full turns. Perfection at last!! A new Macap grinder added to the success. I've also come to more fully appreciate the steaming quality...just super, and endless. Also, the water tank and filter are extremely easy to maintain. Continues to be a super machine. Would buy it again.