- (Lack of automatic filling of boiler) - Removed 05.04.05 Acorn nut on steam valve gets really hot Rattles a ton when pulling a shot + Lots of water needs to be bled from the steam wand before getting dry steam - Added 05.04.05
I fell in love with espresso while living in Rome. When I returned to the states I lamented that I couldn't find anyplace that served decent espresso and set out to try and find a way to do it at home. I found the Krappy Krups for $20 at a yard sale, and a local specialty grocer that sold the preground Illy cans, and I was off. No clue about tamping, grind, roasts, etc. I was never satisfied and had resigned myself to getting a strong cup of coffee rather than espresso. Steaming was a complete joke... spitting water that was barely warm enough for a shower was the result of turning the knob in that direction. The Krups worked out fine as a maker of a single cup of strong drip coffee. I then discovered coffeegeek... I spent the next few months trying to hone my technique and extract as much as I could from the krups. From tamping to temperature surfing, I tried everything to improve my espresso but realized that to find espresso nirvana I had to invest in the right equipment.
After a few months of researching the main contenders in the budget that I thought I could sneak past my wife. I considered the Silvia, Francis X3, and the Gaggia Classic in addition to the Venus. I also budgeted for a grinder. The Venus was my first choice based on purely aesthetic reasons. Each of the other machines were strong so I felt that performance wise I would be splitting hairs. I was able to purchase the Venus for a very good price from a fellow CG that left me enough money to get a decent grinder.
Before I go any further I feel the need to preface my comments a bit. To me enjoying espresso is at its core an aesthetic experience. When done properly an espresso is drinkable art. I get just as much satisfaction at going through the ritual of grinding, tamping, pulling, and steaming as I do enjoying the fruits of my labor. So I put a lot of emphasis on the 'experience' of pulling espresso perhaps a bit more than some. With that said...
The first thing that impressed me was the sheer beauty of the machine in real life. It is way sexier in the flesh. I recognize as a designer, this may be a fetish that most others won't have, but a good looking and well constructed machine is a must for me. Just about everything on this machine is stainless steel and polished to a mirror finish. The toggle buttons and lights are almost art deco but more like 50's commercial diner. To me it's classic. The Silvia by comparison is about as sexy as a Ford Taurus and if I didn't know better I wouldn't be surprised if it was a Bunn coffee maker. The Francis X3 is also a gorgeous machine but in a more superficial way. There is an honesty in the design of the Venus that is based on its materials and its utility that the Francis just can't touch.
The second thing that impressed me was the portafilter. It is a heavy 58mm piece of metal that when you hold it you know it means business. After being used to the flighty nature of the Krups portafilter it was like I was hauling around a brick of gold. It made me feel confident that I had the right tool to make incredible espresso.
I used the Venus for the first month with a blade grinder while I waited for a deal to pop up on a decent grinder. It was certainly a step up from the Krups even with the blade grinder but I was never in any danger of pulling a God Shot. It had no problem extracting a bit of crema from just about anything I threw at it, so I decided to hone my foaming skills in the interim making cappas for myself, Chai Tea for my wife and hot chocolate for my daughter.
I was immediately impressed by the steaming capability of the Venus. Admittedly it is not hard to be after the Krups, but the Venus almost seemed to have too much power at first. I was able in a short time and at the expense and guilt of sacrificing a couple of gallons of milk over a weekend, to be able to get decent microfoam consistently. Even with large quantities of milk, there was more than enough steam to do the job. However, there are three aspects of steaming on the Venus that I find bothersome. First is the acorn nut on the steam valve gets really hot so be careful. I touched it once, that was enough, be warned. Second is that you have to bleed quite a bit of water from the wand before you get dry steam. My guess is that this is an issue of how it is plumbed rather than any boiler issue. Finally, without an autofill mechanism for the boiler, I am always a tad paranoid about the boiler running dry. This anxiety is easing as time goes on and as my routine has developed to become almost second nature.
There is one other aspect that detracts from the perfect espresso experience in my opinion, and that is the noise that it makes while pulling a shot or dispensing hot water. It rattles like crazy because all of that beautiful stainless steel. Most of the sound comes from the top cover which rests directly of the chassis. When the pump is activated it causes quite a racket. I'm a night owl so this sometimes makes me think twice before using the machine to make tea or a late night pick-me-up after everyone has gone to bed. I figure that the problem can be solved with some well placed felt or cork when I get around to it.
After a month of the blade grinder a Rocky surfaced and I was able to acquire it. After an anxious week of waiting it finally arrived. I used some 2week old beans to get it dialed in and the first shot had pretty rich crema even with the age of the beans. The taste to my amazement was better than anything I had ever pulled myself and this was with old beans. I quickly loaded my 2day old beans and ground, tamped and pulled. I was amazed at the tiger striping as it poured. The taste was a revelation. It was rich and buttery and I was so damned excited that my wife thought I was nuts. Nothing more needs to be said...
Buying from a fellow CG member was a great pleasure.
Three Month Followup
I've used the venus everyday since I recieved it, and it has become an integral part of the family as well. After a bit of experimentation, my daughter and I have come up with a good hot chocolate recipe, and my wife uses the hot water for tea and enjoys mochas on the weekends. As I became more comfortable with it, I adjusted the pressure down to around 9-9.5 bar, which was easy to do. The shots improved but not dramatically so; fresh beans still being the most important part of the taste equation so far. I've had no mechanical service issues with it whatsoever.
To my wife and I's surprise the shiny stainless hasn't been much of a cleaning issue A quick wipe down has become part of the clean up ritual in the morning with a more thorough job on saturday and it stays nice and shiny. Its still one of the most beautiful machines in my opinion, and I have been designing a way of showcasing it in our new house.
Reviewing my positive and negative points, I would remove one from the negative list, autofill of the boiler, just because as you become familiar with the machine, you completely forget that this is an issue and filling the boiler after steaming is just something you do. However, I would add the bleeding of the steam wand to the negative list, because it is pretty annoying and a waste of water.
Overall, I'm just as happy with it today as I was when I bought it and after living with it, I would recommend it highly.