This machine can’t be beat for features in its price class, and is capable of consistently producing truly excellent espresso in a sturdy and stunningly beautiful design.
Positive Product Points
A solidly built machine that delivers great espresso in a truly beautiful design. Many aspects of this machine (boiler size, heater size, build quality, etc.) make it best-in-class for its price point.
Negative Product Points
The steam tip that comes with the machine proved very difficult to control frothing small amounts of milk (4 oz.)
I am a novice at this level of machine. I have been brewing espresso on a super-automatic Saeco Italia for the past three years. My wife and I are cappuccino lovers and with a panarello frothing attachment on the Saeco I was able to produce foam that was quite good. The espresso on the other hand, even at the finest I could grind beans with a Cuisinart grinder did just not deliver espresso with good crema (we were using the bypass hopper because the internal grinder would foulup if set too fine.) Recently our machine sprung a leak (it always leaked a bit) and I decided to replace it with a prosumer manual or semi-automatic machine.
In doing research on the web I had pretty much decided on the ECM Giotto. I loved the looks of it and it seemed to have garnered pretty good reviews. I arranged to take a look at the machine at 1st-Line Equipment. When I got there Jim Piccinich had the machine set up and put it through the paces. I was impressed with it. I also saw a Vibiemme (VBM) Domobar Super Electronic Stainless machine sitting there but had taken it off my list because it had gotten reviews as being very noisy (not something I want to deal with early in the morning!) When I asked about it Jim explained that VBM had made major changes to the placement of the pump and other things. It sported a larger boiler than the Giotto, (1.8 liter) had a heavier duty pressurestat and was available in an automatic configuration. The reviews of it that I had read sounded quite positive discounting the noise factor, which had now been rectified. The look of the machine, while not as rounded and soft as the Giotto, was indeed beautiful. The heft of the portafilter, the massive E-61 grouphead, the larger boiler (which promised a more stable brewing temperature), the many professional components that VBM uses on their larger machines, the powerful heat exchanger (1800 watts), the very large drip tray and the automatic feature all swayed me to finally settle on the VBM machine. The interior build when you study up on it really seems to be best-in-class for this price point.
Upon getting the machine home I went to work on the several pounds of coffee. Of course I had no idea what I was doing other than having read a lot on the web. But slowly I was able to get the Macap M4 grinder in the ballpark and was starting to get some beautiful crema. The milk frothing, however, was not going well. I had read pretty much everything that was on the web about frothing but to no avail. I gave it several weeks of trying and then put a call into Jim. He sent me a Gold Pro 2 Hole Steam tip. This very quickly allowed me to start producing pretty good quality micofoam. Since I can’t really drink espresso late in the day and I need to practice my milk frothing abilities I have added steamed milk (plus chocolate) as an evening drink. Really great microfoam is a beauty to behold, with or without caffeine!
Of course there is still so much yet to learn about producing high quality espresso but I am definitely able to produce a cappuccino in my own home that I could only dream about a month ago. I bought an Espro automatic tamper to take out one variable that I feel most beginners struggle with (what is 30 pounds of pressure?) It was a good investment and has “leveled” the playing field a bit.
I am amazed at how consistent this machine is! When it is warmed up and the coffee is “zeroed” in with the grinder it will produce shot after shot of really great espresso. I am glad I opted for the electronic machine. The volumetric dosing is quite accurate and I love espresso going right into the cup rather that having to be re-poured from a shot glass- the crema behaves so much better with the milk if it has not been disturbed. I love the extremely large drip tray. If the cups need warming (because I forgot to put them on the cup warmer when I turned on the machine) I can fill them with hot water and just dump them in the tray before pulling a shot. A few people have commented negatively on the cup warmer being above the access to the water reservoir. I do not find it a problem. The reservoir is large and does not need to be changed so often and the cup warmer really works. Its present location is better for my needs than something hanging off of the back of the machine or the esthetics of some side-access alternative. Cleanup with this machine is quite straightforward. The drip tray and cover screen can be removed as a group (or separately).
My current favorite coffees for this machine are: Victrola Streamline Espresso, Barrington Coffee Roasters Espresso Blend (through Joe’s Art of Coffee in New York) and Island Blend from Trader Joe’s. The Streamline Espresso (as written up) offers incredible crema and is ever-so-smooth. So is the Espresso Blend from Barrington- a bit darker roast but not a hint of bitterness. The Trader Joe’s Island Blend is nutty, affordable and all-in-all a very good fall-back (and very affordable.)
I would recommend 1st-Line Equipment to anyone who in interested in this (or any other machines that they carry.) They are very professional in all aspects of what they do and seem to be focused only on one thing: getting you the best machine for your budget and level of involvement in the brewing of high quality espresso.
Three Month Followup
The machine has been absolutely trouble free. I have tried several steam tips and after much experimentation have settled on a 2-hole aftermarket tip. Effortless microfoam is easily attainable with the right tip (and don't ever worry about running out of steam!) I have found that the VBM is also very stable heat-wise and offers an easily repeatable brewing experience, day in day out. I would certainly buy the machine all over again. I have not tired of the looks either!
One Year Followup
The Domobar Super has lived up to its "super" name. The machine has been flawless over the past year. Recently I reduced the boiler pressure a bit and changed to a one hole steam tip from Whole Latte Love. Absolutely perfect microfoam- I only froth 6 oz of milk at a time and this tip delivers just what I need. After trying coffees from all over the place I have settled on the espresso roast from Joe The Art of Coffee (in NY). Their coffee is roasted by Barrington Coffee and is available online. The above combination in this machine produces a divine cappuccino day after day.