I’ve been pulling espresso and “café crema” shots with an old Krups thermoblock machine for almost ten years. Actually, the machine I was using was my second – the first had electronic controls and blew up in about two years time; the second was what the Vetrano replaced.
I was getting very tired of the coffee quality though – while it was drinkable as café crema, the machine just couldn’t pull a “real” espresso shot. The pressurized PF was a killer, and it trapped all sorts of oils and was impossible to clean as you couldn’t take it completely apart. Plus, temperature stability was basically non-existent.
So I began the search for a “real” machine. I’m not a milk-drink guy, but occasionally I have friends over who are, so the ability to pull milk drinks was something I wanted - but only for others’ use, not for my own. I drink straight shots, typically two to three a day.
I first upgraded my grinder to the Macap M4 stepless (from a La Pavoni Burr, which wasn’t a bad machine – but not a Macap or Mazzer), which made a big difference, even with the Krups, while I fought with myself over the options.
Do I do the Alex? The Alexia? The Andreja Premium got eliminated quickly as I saw no reason to buy it instead of the Vetrano, unless you really WANT pour-over (I knew I didn’t if I could justify that sort of money.) Or do I pop for the LaSpaz VII?
In the end I decided that the Vetrano would likely give me the same sort of quality of output as the LaSpaz, it was significantly less expensive, it had the rotary pump and could be plumbed for the drain, and was “adjustable enough.”
Finally pulled the trigger and a few days later it arrived. It was double-boxed and packed VERY well; the shipping goons were unsuccessful in damaging it in any way (which is a good thing!) Along with the unit I ordered up the water softener/filtration unit, as we have hard water here. Chris’ included everything I needed except for the drill to make the holes for mounting the filter brackets – about an hour under the sink tapping the cold water line and running the plumbing and I was ready to go. I also added a naked PF to the order and a tamper.
On the counter she went, bled the dust out of the water filters, connected the line, turned on the water and flipped the switch. On she came, filled up the boiler and started heating.
I went away for an hour and came back to find the unit with two greens – READY.
My first discovery is that the Hawaiian Coffee I had been using just didn’t work well for REAL espresso shots. Ok, off to Intelligentsia for some coffee I go on the web, and a few days later, I have some Black Cat. Better.
In the meantime I discover that the brew pressure is close to 10 bar; off comes the cover, a quick diddle on the bypass valve, and that’s solved – I set it to 8.5 with a blank in, which gives me right around 8.25bar while pulling a shot. While I was in there I dialed down the pressurestat to 1.1 bar from the stock setting (1.4ish) as well. The “guts” are quite impressive – very nicely laid out, everything is well-routed and accessible, and there’s a nice SSR on the bottom instead of a mechanical relay – that should help reliability significantly and it makes the unit quieter as well (no “clackity-clack”.)
One problem that took me a while to figure out was that the stock double basket apparently was just slightly out of tolerance on the diameter – too small! This hung up the tamper piston and made getting an accurate and clean tamp impossible. To add to the trouble Vetrano is quite sensitive to puck headroom – if you hit the screen on lock-in you’re guaranteed to get a channeling mess, and if the basket is filled short the shots tend to be thin and, while drinkable, not up to the potential of the coffee.
I decided to remove the spring from the PF handle and order up a passel of La Marzocco Ridgeless double baskets – this way I could build four shots if I had friends over, then lock and pull ‘em one after another, dropping them into the sink and knocking them when I was done. I strongly recommend that basket – it solved the “hang up” problem completely, if dosed using the WDT and leveled with no tapping and then tamped you’ll get a nearly-perfect load every time.
IMHO Chris should consider including one of those baskets with the machine – the stock Quickmill double basket is now sitting in my cupboard gathering dust.
It took me about two weeks to get the “idiot on the handle end” issues ironed out – Vetrano can be very consistent, but it really IS up to you. If your skills aren’t there you’ve got a learning curve and will be banging your head for a while and throwing shots down the drain.
Within a couple of weeks, about 4-5lbs of coffee and LOTS of shots down the sink, I got to where I am now –reliably drinkable shots that out-pull any of the local cafes.
Steaming performance on Vetrano is quite acceptable. I’ve used machines with more, but I’ve also used machines with a LOT less. I don’t steam often and I’ve intentionally turned down the pressurestat, but even so I’ve never found the unit wanting. I typically steam up a pitcher with just one Cappa’s or Latte’s worth of milk at a time for a guest, and the unit’s more than up to the job. The stock tip works well and I’m able to get good microfoam without too much drama – it was quite a bit easier learning how to do that than getting consistent shots.
Worth it, on balance? Absolutely. I like being able to diddle the brew temperature just by varying the flush, and its quite consistent once you get it figured out. The unit wipes down easily, the drip tray (if you don’t plumb it) is positively HUGE and there is nothing that feels “cheap” on the unit. I particularly like the non-compression valves, swivel arms and the ability to pull hot water for whatever (for lunchtime a Cup-O-Noodles soup is a 30 second exercise) instantly. Having it on a heavy-duty digital timer is fantastic – I have it power up at 5:00, and by the time I’m up at 6:30 or so it’s hot and ready. My only complaint there is that a couple of times it has airlocked and despite showing “ready”, it’s not! My defense against that now is to crack the steam knob when I first get to the kitchen in the morning – if it doesn’t blow steam then I know what happened and there’s still time for it to heat the rest of the way. I could leave it on all the time to avoid this, but so far I’m ok with the timer solution……
I’m happy – given the same choices, I’d almost certainly buy it again. I do wonder what I gave up – if anything – not going the LaSpaz route, but for another $500, I just couldn’t get there in my head.
A week after buying the machine, I was wondering if I was going to ever get consistent pulls. Two weeks in I started really liking the coffee about half the time, and the rest went in the sink – but I knew at that point that I’d get where I’d be consistently happy – it was just a matter of time and work. A month into it I got to where I didn’t need the scale to handle dosing and I was able to dose, distribute, tamp, flush, lock and pull almost by rote – and get consistently good results.
Vetrano has become a trusted friend and a great addition to the kitchen. She’s staying.