I've had La Valentina Levetta for several months now, and I have to say I count it among the best purchases I have ever made, in any category. I love its bulletproof quality, its Italian good looks, its commercial pedigree. And dare I mention -- the coffee! This machine is the best choice for the quality conscious buyer who knows top quality when he/she shes is, and is willing to pay for it.
Many thanks to Dan Kehn for inspiring my choice, and for teaching me so much about HX machines!
For those of you who have not yet made the jump to HX -- be warned: these are very large machines! So it is especially important that you choose one that pleases both you and the company you keep.
La Valentina Levetta is one of those truly beautiful pieces of equipment that is unfailingly pleasing to look at, from every angle. So while like most buyers of HX machines I started off wanting to hide it under the cabinet, once I got her home I moved her to the place of honor in the kitchen. (You can change your mind with a pourover -- I like that! And I can always plumb her in later, if I choose). She is now the first thing you see when you enter my house, and she is a showstopper.
The Levetta version of La Valentina is IMHO even more attractive than its siblings -- similar angles, but more retro in styling, with traditional steam and hot water wands and polished throughout. It sports a wonderful "Arte Di Vittoria" embossed logoplate on the drip tray and is stunningly good looking. It is most definitely not your typical HX squared off box, and it is narrower (although a bit taller) than most machines. Its overall fit and finish is flawless -- no off notes anywhere; no ill-fitting drip trays or leaky wands.
COMMERCIAL PEDIGREE, WITH HIGHEST QUALITY COMPONENTS
La Valentina is all about quality, from its Sirai pressurestat to its Gicar controller. Why does this matter? Because if you read enough online, and talk to owners of these machines, you'll discover that they break with distressing regularity!
Call me crazy, but I am not a fan of having to have expensive equipment repaired -- especially when new. I believe in, and am willing to pay for, high quality. In return, I expect that the equipment will be delivered on time, and will work as expected, without having to pay for "extras." I am amused to read, for example, that some vendors offer the option of upgrading to the Sirai pressurestat for some machines -- that's certainly a good idea, but it is NOT the same as having the Sirai built into the original specs for your machine. That's like buying a car and replacing the transmission before it leaves the dealer. I'd rather buy the car with the proper parts included. There are also reports of "satisfied" customers who've received dead on arrival machines, or machines whose pressurestats failed within days of use, who are then totally pleased and grateful that their vendor fixed the problem. I would prefer not to have the problem to begin with! Vendors may score points for resolving problems, but they score higher (in my view) when the equipment they deliver works as promised, without problems. I think 1st-Line is in this category, with La Valentina one of their flagship products.
All that said, I also know that fine equipment can be finicky (I do drive a BMW after all!). Should anything arise, I feel certain that 1st-Line would stand behind La Valentina.
CONSISTENTLY GREAT COFFEE
I need to confess I am obsessed about coffee. I've been drinking espresso and cappas ever since I discovered them in 1969, while a student at NYU in Greenwich Village. I spent many days (all day, I'm afraid) at Cafe Reggio, which I've recently discovered was possibly the very first espresso cafe in the US, circa 1920 or so. Their coffee was made on this HUGE gleaming machine -- there's a picture of it on homebarista.com -- with valves and levers and a very scary milk steaming noise that you could hear from blocks away! They've since moved on to tamer equipment, and I have no idea what their coffee is like these days. But early memories stick hard, and I can still taste it!
I went on to a fixation about specialty coffee, buying Jamaican Blue Mountain and similar from a place called "The Flavor Cup" in the early seventies (Dave Schapira's place). I've gone through dozens of drip machines, varietals, mocha pots, steam toys, etc. Later on I got seriously into cooking as well as wine, FINALLY decided I could allocate kitchen space to a real espresso machine -- but not a very big one -- and bought the Gaggia. After a few rounds of trying to serve multiple drinks to dinner guests I knew I had to get a machine that could handle greater volume with improved speed, and so I started my search about HX machines vs double boiler machines, and so on. Because I was not impressed with the quality of pourover double boiler machines available, I zeroed in on HX and was then stymied for a while by my fear of HX temp management. It turns out that HX machines are SO much easier to use than the Gaggias of the world -- more forgiving, more controllable, more versatile. I should not have hesitated at all!
If you're on the fence about HX machines because of "Fear of Flushing" -- don't be! In my case I worried way too much, analyzed everything to death, and basically drove myself insane before I made my decision. Now that I've done it, I realize how truly patient Dan Kehn, Jim Schulman and others were when they answered my questions, knowing that it wasn't nearly as hard as I was convinced it would be.
My routine (Thanks Dan!) is now straightforward. I have my brew pressure adjusted to 9 bar (for better shot consistency), my boiler at .95 bar (to minimize the amount of flushing without compromising steaming too much). With these settings, I flush 6 ounces if the machine has been idle for 10 or more minutes; about 4 ounces if five minutes; 2 ounces if three minutes. This routine will save you from flash dancing and counting! I then wait 20 seconds, then pull the shot. The result? Gorgeous!
Much better, more consistently, than what I could achieve with the Gaggia, and totally tweakable based on taste, bean type, and guest preferences.
As for steaming, it's a snap with the Gold-Tone 2 hole steam tip that I had 1st-Line install. This has the effect of slowing things down a bit, which is good in my case as I only steam 4 ounces of milk at a time. I am no Latte artist, but I do produce great microfoam, using exclusively skim milk.
Per 1st-Line's suggestion, I have the machine on a surge protector, which is then plugged into a timer. I can now have the machine wake itself up, warm up for 30 minutes, and be ready to go by the time I get up. I can make two capps in the time it used to take me to make a pot of drip coffee -- and they are sensational.
La Valentina is pure joy to use -- such precision workmanship, such good looks, such great results. I couldn't be happier with my choice!