The Mininova is the only machine I know of offering a rotary pump and this many commercial-quality features at this moderate a price.
Positive Product Points
-Faema E61 grouphead, thermocirculation
-Rotary vane pump, pre-infusion
-Strong and plentiful steam, nice big steam knob (well, I like a nice big steam knob!)
-Plumbed-in water supply.
-Drain tray can be emptied by hand or plumbed in.
Negative Product Points
The manual isn‘t great, but if you are going to own a machine of this quality, you really should buy "Professional Espresso Techniques" (by David Schomer) anyway.
I chose this unit primarily because it was the lowest-cost new machine I could find ($1,499) that had a rotary pump, as well as a full complement of professional-style features. I also considered the Isomac Millenium, which I think is beautiful to look at (though it has only a vibration pump), but I was somewhat concerned about all that exposed hot metal. Some people don‘t care for the appearance of the plastic upper shroud on the Wega, but I appreciate that it keeps the heat localized. The machine does look much nicer than I expected from the photo on the espressoparts.com website--the stainless steel is all polished, and the black plastic parts are at least made from nicely-textured heavy gauge material.
Some people hesitate to buy a plumbed-in machine because installation seems like an intimidating task, but it really isn‘t very hard to do. I bought a tee adapter from Home Depot that is especially made for tying into an existing water supply. I used the cold water from my kitchen sink. Just turn off the supply valve under the sink, disconnect the hose leading from the valve to the faucet, and insert the tee in between, and reconnect. Then use a flexible dishwasher hose to get from there to the espresso machine. Turn the supply valve back on and you‘re ready to go!
I did have to cut a hole through the countertop behind the machine. The hose goes through the hole and runs behind the dishwasher. I used a 1" paddle bit.
A rotary pump actually takes the existing water supply pressure and boosts it by a constant (adjustable) amount. This results in consistent and steady brewing pressure, unless your water supply pressure varies excessively. I bought a pressure-reducing valve and a water pressure gauge at Home Depot, and installed them between the cold water valve and the Wega. I was then able to dial in the same water supply pressure that the unit was first set up for by the technician at Espresso Parts NW. BTW, Wega also makes a vibration-pump machine ($999) that can either be plumbed in or used as a pour-over (internal tank).
My previous machine was a La Pavoni lever-type unit. I was used to the La Pavoni but eventually discovered how much better espresso could taste when made properly on a really good machine. I wanted to duplicate that taste in my home! I haven‘t quite reached the pinnacle of Espresso Vivace‘s wares, but everything that has come out of this machine has been far better than anything I was ever able to make with the La Pavoni.
I did have to buy a better tamper, and I still need to get a larger steaming pitcher. The extra steam pressure is not easy to manage in a small pitcher. Also, the milk heats up so quickly, frothing small amounts of milk is tricky. David Schomer suggests starting with milk and pitcher as cold as possible. I sometimes set the pitcher of milk into the freezer for a few minutes before steaming. A larger pitcher would also slow the heating of the milk because of its greater thermal inertia.
The people at EPNW really understand these machines, and keep a good stock of parts. I don‘t feel that I will have to worry about service problems.
How could the Mininova be improved? Well, it has one boiler with two heat exchangers. The boiler provides steam, and heats the two exchangers (brewing and hot water tap). The next step up in espresso machines would have a dedicated boiler for the brewing water, for yet better temperature stability. Another nicety would be a gauge for brewing pressure (the existing gauge is for steam pressure). These features obviously would increase the price of the machine, which was already enough of a stretch for me.
This is definitely the last espresso machine I will have to buy.