Stove Top Espresso, Black and Decker "Cuppacino"- not a bad little machine!
Great machine for domestic application that looks great, makes good coffee, is easy to use and makes good froth if you are a beginner. Great first machine.
Positive Product Points
Looks great, works well, takes any grind of coffee, large easy to fill water tank, easy to make foam with froth assistor (they call it a panarello)
Negative Product Points
Terrible instructions, needs alot of fine tuning before your coffee is really good, but once you've mastered it the coffee is excellent!
My coffee machine was purchased in Melbourne, and the price quoted above is in Australian dollars. Most reviews on this site for this particular model of machine are from Aussies, but have no fear, the coffee here is as good as anywhere else!!!
Lets get down to business. This machine looks great, and for the money that was paid for it, it is extremely good value for money. Good features include- easy to fill water tank, which holds nearly 3 litres, a manoeuvrable frothing wand with a froth assistor, hot water dispenser, easy to understand buttons, a brass and stainless steel boiler, a stainless steel housing and an easily accessible steam release nozzle. The method of heating the water for the coffee is a boiler not a thermoblock. The mechanism inside the machine is good quality.
Bad features include the poor instructions, which are brief and neglect some of the finer aspects of the machine, the steam starts off strong, gets weaker, the gets stronger again, which isnít really an issue for a domestic machine, however, this can make frothing milk a bit tedious. also, the level of the water is difficult to check, but you can still see the level from the front of the machine. Otherwise this machine is an excellent product.
In terms of the coffee the machine makes, itís fantastic for its class. The portafilter is pressurised, so water under pressure builds up inside, then when it reaches a certain level it forces a valve and your coffee comes through. This is a good method, however the extraction is no longer than about 15 seconds. They say that you donít need to tamp the coffee, and I donít- the coffee is fine the way it is.
For milk frothing, the panarello fitting really makes it easy, however the foam is of not the best quality, and is far from mircofoam, and is not ideal, but is it okay to show off for your guests. If you want to remove the panarello you can, and better foam will result if you put in the effort to learn how to foam milk properly.
In the end, this machine is fantastic for domestic applications. In summary it is easy to use once you are familiar with the controls, looks great, makes good coffee and generally makes good foam, although the instructions are not so clear.
This machine was purchased from Myer Megamart, and there was a Via Venezia machine set up in the store, and I got a full demonstration. I learnt how to use it before I bought it. The customer service there was excellent.
Three Month Followup
I have had my machine for over one and a half years now, and there have been no major problems to date. The pressurised portafilter is the only thing that has given me any grief. It ended up becoming constantly clogged and made the machine very difficult to use. I have since opened it up and removed the spring, rendering the pressurising mechanism useless. The result was incredible. With the right grind and tamp (requires a fair bit of playing around), you can have consistent shots of great espresso. With this machine , good coffee, and plenty of practice, I can routinely make coffees that are much better than many cafes. This is a great machine for the money, and I can safely say that so far, it had been really impressive for the price range. Another slight problem is that it takes a while to make consecutive coffees, especially milk based ones. Having made, say, two caffe lattes, one has to clear used grounds, prime the pump, clean the portafilter, put more coffee in it, brew, wait for the steam mode to be ready then steam the milk. This takes a while, and can be frustrating, however its merely an inconviniance rather than a design flaw, as all machines at this price level are similar.
One Year Followup
Its actually been over 3 years now since I bought this machine.
It is still operating like new, and nothing has broken down or needed replacement. Having said this, I have looked after it, and ensured that it gets a good clean at least once a month and descaled occasionally.
I have since bought a Italian burr coffee bean grinder, and this has vastly improved the coffee, as it enables me to adjust the grind of the bean to ensure that the espresso shots are the best they can be. This is effectively getting the best out of this machine. I've also done away with the "pressurised" portafilter and bought a non pressurised one from Saeco's head office. Although difficult to get used to, once the grind of the coffee is good and the tamp correct, this machine can produce very good shots. The steamer, while generally weak, is fine for producing foam for two coffees, however struggles with anything greater. Having said this, it does the job, and when combined with the effort of ensuring the foaming is done properly, the result is excellent.
As said in the three month follow up, the biggest problem is the time it takes to make more than 2 coffees, as the machine only has one boiler. While this machine is excellent in its class, I would strongly recommend those with the interest, passion and budget to get a machine capable of pulling shots and foaming milk at the same time. However this machine is a good starting point and doesn't disappoint in quality of coffee. The bean quality is very important too, and this really shows with the non pressurised portafilter. Poor quality, old or stale beans do not produce the quality of crema and come out of the machine far too quickly. I find the best coffee is from local shops that roast their own beans and do their own blends. Keep a look out for these places, they are worth it.
Another problem is the time the machine takes to heat up. The ready light comes on in abut 5 minutes however it is clearly not ready to use to pull shots as the rest of the machine isnt heated up. I usually leave it on for 30 mins before I make a coffee to not only allow the boiler to heat but also the surrounding casing and other parts. This means that the boiler stays warmer for longer and sour coffee as a result of water not being heated sufficiently will not result.
Overall, this machine has been a beauty. It does the job, and produces great coffee for its class, provided that the user is prepared to take the time to learn to foam milk properly, source good quality fresh beans and keep the machine in good working order. An investment in an Italian coffee grinder (think at least AU$300) and a proper portafilter is a good investment too. For the coffee perfectionist however, a machine with capability of steaming and pulling shots at the same time, combined with the skill learnt on this machine, would be the ultimate outcome. When I have enough money.