The Quick Mill Vetrano was introduced by Chris Nachtreib (owner of Chris' Coffee Service) last year, and became an immediate success. The Vetrano is yet another entry into a long list of E61-based HX espresso machines. Overall it is a lovely machine, a pleasure to use, and capable of consistently producing top-notch espresso. What sets it apart in this price class is the quiet powerful rotary pump, direct connect water hookup, no-burn wands, and other niceties.
Personal Espresso History
Like many others, my espresso journey meandered through a variety of coffee brewing devices, to steam-powered "espresso" makers, before I purchased my first pump machine. After three single boiler espresso makers, I bought a heat exchanger (HX) machine and was hooked. HX machines maintain a single boiler at steam temperature, always ready for frothing milk. Water for brewing is drawn through a heat exchanger and flash-heated to brew temperature, which guarantees that fresh water is used for brewing. HX machines are able to brew or steam on demand, without waiting for boiler temperature to change. This is essential if, like me, you enjoy cappuccinos, and make espresso drinks for family and friends. A double boiler machine is a viable alternative, but current offerings are limited and quite expensive for the home market.
My first HX machine was a NS Oscar. This was followed by a used Rancilio L7, a single-group commercial HX machine, with rotary pump and direct water hookup, capable of producing truly excellent espresso. The only desirable features lacking were a brew pressure gauge (easily rectified with a portafilter gauge) and the famed E61 brew group.
Last December my lovely wife surprised me with an unexpected gift: the Quick Mill Vetrano. She knew I'd been drooling over this new machine, spoke to Chris, and ordered one for the holidays. Thus I became an early adopter of the Vetrano (version 1.0). My very positive first impressions of this machine are posted here on CG.
Chris used feedback from early adopters to improve several minor design features, and came out with Vetrano version 1.1 a few months later. The newer version has different gauges, an improved water hookup, and a better drip tray design. In April Chris was kind enough to allow me to upgrade, so I've actually had several monthsí experience with each model. Both are wonderful home espresso machines.
The Vetrano has a long list of desirable features in a home espresso machine, lacking virtually nothing in its class. These include the following:
** Lever-operated E61 brew group
The exposed E61 brew group on the Vetrano is a gleaming chrome appendage that immediately draws your attention. This group was designed in 1961. The E61 retains its popularity to this day, for good reasons. Lever operation is simple, intuitive, and satisfying. In the down position, the pump is off. When youíre ready to pull a shot, flip the lever up. This turns on the pump, and opens a valve that allows water to enter the group. Initially water enters under line pressure, gently preinfusing the puck with water, wetting the grounds, and allowing them to swell. The pump ramps up the pressure (typically set to around 9 bars) after a few seconds and espresso begins to flow. Flipping the lever down shuts off the pump and terminates the pour.
The E61 group may not produce better espresso than other designs. For example, the Rancilio group on my L7 is also capable of producing truly excellent shots. But preinfusion does appear to make the E61 group more forgiving than most other designs. A very high percentage of my Vetrano shots are in the good-to-excellent category. Itís much harder to produce a sink shot on the Vetrano than the Oscar or Rancilio. IMHO, the E61 group remains one of the most desirable features in a home espresso machine.
** Rotary pump
Rotary pumps are larger, heavier, more powerful, longer lasting, and more expensive than vibe pumps. For this reasons, virtually all commercial machines are outfitted with rotary pumps.
Do rotaries produce better espresso? Probably not. So why put them in a home espresso machine? Reliability issues aside, thereís one excellent reason: quietness. Turn on a vibe pump machine and you get an annoying clatter. Turn on the Vetrano and you get a quiet hum from the Fluid-O-Tech rotary pump. You can almost hear the machine purring...
The quietness of a rotary pump has another benefit. Heat exchangers require a flush before pulling a shot. Actually, all espresso machines benefit from a flush, since running hot water through the brew group helps bring it up to temperature. In the case of heat exchangers, the flush serves another purpose. The boiler is maintained at steam temperature, not brew temperature, so HX water in an idling HX machine gradually overheats. This water must be flushed or it will scorch the grounds, producing a bitter brew.
The easiest way to monitor the flush volume is by sound. Initially the superheated water sputters as it comes out of the group. After flushing a few ounces, you can hear the flow settle down. On a quiet rotary pump espresso machine, this transition is obvious, making the HX flush effortless and intuitive. And unlike some HX models, a relatively short flush (3-4 ounces) is sufficient on the Vetrano. (For more info, see Dan Kehnís classic article How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love HXs.)
** Direct water connect (direct plumb vs. pourover)
Direct hookup to a water line is a highly convenient feature in an espresso machine. No more empty reservoirs Ė thereís endless hot water and steam on demand for brewing, flushing, Americanos, etc. Donít minimize the impact of this feature! It comes into play every time you use the machine. Once you get used to a plumbed machine, itís hard to go back to a pourover.
Plumbing can be quite simple. If you can hook up a refrigerator ice maker, you can hook up a direct connect espresso machine. The Vetrano comes with John Guest fittings that make connection to a water line literally a snap.
** Option of plumbing the drip tray
Another great Vetrano feature. I just run a line from the drip tray into my sink. No more remembering to empty the drip tray; it drains automatically. Like direct water hookup, this impacts your daily use of the machine.
** No-burn steam and hot water wands
The Vetrano wands are outfitted with Teflon-lined tubes that effectively insulate the entire arm. Only the tips get hot. You donít have to worry about grabbing a rubber tab to manipulate the wand. Cleaning is very easy, since there's no more burned-on milk residue. Again, another Vetrano convenience that youíll grow to love.
** Insulated boiler
There is simply no excuse for uninsulated boilers. Cup warmers, cup shwarmers Ė an uninsulated boiler wastes energy. Boiler insulation saves energy by reducing the amount of time that the heating element is on, helps protect internal components from heat damage, and prevents your kitchen from turning into a sauna in summertime. The Vetranoís 1.6L boiler is insulated with a neoprene sleeve. The uninsulated boiler top provides plenty of heat for the cup warmer on the top of the machine. The 1400W heating element is well-tuned to the boiler size, and recovers rapidly after pulling a shot and steaming.
** Excellent steaming performance
One of the advantages of an HX machine is steam on demand. The Vetrano provides the right amount of steaming power for home use. The 2-hole tip froths milk into latte-art quality microfoam for a cappuccino in 15-20 seconds.
** Easily adjustable brew and boiler pressure
The dual manometer (pressure gauge) mounted on the front panel allows you to easily monitor brew and boiler pressure adjustments. Brew pressure is adjusted by turning a screw on the rotary pump; boiler pressure is adjusted by turning a screw on the pressurestat. Both adjustment screws are readily accessible when the machine shell is removed. I typically run my Vetrano at 9 bars brew pressure and 1.2 bars boiler pressure.
** High quality components
The Vetranoís Fluid-O-Tech rotary pump is noticeably quieter than the Procon pump in my Rancilio L7. My first Vetrano (see above) came with the standard CEME pressurestat. The CEME worked fine, but I upgraded to a commercial Sirai pressurestat on my second Vetrano. A Jaeger pressurestat upgrade is also available from Chris. Thereís a Gicar controller, no-burn steam and hot water arms, non-compression valves, vacuum breaker, stainless steel shell and frame Ė everything is top-notch in quality.
** Standard electrical hookup
The major competition for the Vetrano comes from the Fiorenzato Briccoletta, an E61-based HX machine with many similar features. The Bric has a more powerful heating element (offset somewhat by a slightly smaller uninsulated boiler), and thus requires a nonstandard 20A circuit. The Vetrano is designed to operate on a standard 15A circuit. The 1400W heater paired with the insulated 1.6L boiler provides plenty of power for home use.
** Other features:
The Vetrano is very similar to its Quick Mill sibling, the Andreja Premium. The major differences are the rotary pump and direct connect features of the Vetrano. Otherwise, most Andreja features are shared by the Vetrano.
The Vetrano comes standard with two portafilters, one with single spout and one with double spout. Included are single and double filter baskets and a blind filter for backflushing. (Highly recommended: get a bottomless portafilter! Itís one of the best tools for improving your espresso skills. My Rancilio model fits just fine.)
The outer casing is easily removed: 3 screws remove the top panel, another 5 screws remove the shell. Machine components are nicely laid out and readily accessible.
Drip tray is a bit short for the exposed E61 brew group. If youíre not careful, hot water can splash on the countertop when cleaning the group with a portafilter wiggle.
Access screws on shell are standard slotted head rather than Phillips head.
Single filter basket is easily overdosed.
Not much else I can think of. Really. This is a beautifully-designed machine!
The Vetrano is a semi-automatic pump-driven espresso machine with very simple controls. A toggle switch turns the machine on and off. There are three indicator lamps: the green lamp on the left lights up when power is on; the two on the right indicate boiler heating element status (red on, green off). A lever on the group head flips up to turn the pump on, and down to turn it off.
The 1400W heating element is well-tuned to the 1.6L insulated boiler size. Boiler pressure reaches 1.2 bars in just over 4 minutes from a cold start in the morning. Is the machine ready to pull a shot? WellÖ no. Here the Vetrano shows its commercial heritage, weighing in at over 60 pounds. The E61 brew group alone is over 9 pounds. It takes considerably longer for such a large chunk of metal to reach thermal stability Ė at least half an hour. You can pull a decent shot after 20 minutes or so.
With its insulated boiler and large heating element, the Vetrano recovers quickly enough from successive shots to allow serving espresso to a group. Iíve made cappuccinos for up to eight at dinner parties. Itís more than adequate for typical home use, even if (as we all know) itís not a commercial machine. :-)
A machine review is not the place for an espresso skills tutorial. There are plenty of great resources available on the Web (recommended: Jim Schulmanís Home Barista's Guide to Espresso and Dan Kehnís How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love HXs). Suffice to say that if you start with freshly roasted coffee beans, pair the Vetrano with a high-end grinder (such as a Mazzer or Macap), and pay careful attention to your grind/dose/distribution/tamp, you will bang out one fantastic pour after another. The E61 group has a well-deserved reputation for forgiveness. As your barista skills develop, you will find it hard to produce a bad shot on this machine.
Frothing is quick, safe and easy on the Vetrano. At standard pressurestat settings (1.2 bars), the boiler produces plenty of steam on demand, frothing 3-4 ounces of cold milk for a cappuccino in 15-20 seconds. Ignoring the fact that my latte art skills suck, the Vetrano is capable of producing sweet, velvety microfoam with its two-hole tip. The no-burn steam wand is a joy to use and makes cleanup a trivial task.
Speaking of cleanup: get in the habit of performing a portafilter wiggle after each shot to release stray grounds from the shower screen and group gasket. A plain water backflush with the blind filter is recommended after each brewing session. Every few weeks I clean the 3-way valve with a detergent backflush. The stainless steel shell is quickly wiped off, and occasionally Iíll remove the drip tray for scrubbing (despite being plumbed, it slips out just as easily a non-plumbed drip tray). A fully plumbed, rotary pump machine like the Vetrano makes cleanup a quiet breeze rather than a noisy ordeal.
Iím somewhat uncomfortable assigning scalar values to the listed categories. I really like the Vetrano; this should be obvious from my review. But I interpret a 10 (the highest possible rating) as perfection. Since Iím reluctant to call anything perfect, leaving no room for improvement: all 9ís.
For visual evidence of Vetrano pours, see my posts in the Look Out JonR thread on CG and a video at the end of my WDT article on H-B. And for a more definitive Vetrano review, see Dan Kehnís Buyer's Guide to the Quick Mill Vetrano.