I bought this machine in 1998, after trying to fix my Saeco Classico (I think). That was a mistake, and when I brought it to the shop, it turns out I burnt out the pump and the boiler. At that point, I had been using the machine for about 1.5 years. So, I needed a new machine. This Via Venetto was new to the market, met my price point($400 Cdn), and included a left hand side mounted burr coffee grinder. Great, I had it all in one! My machine looks identical to the one displayed, except that it is wider to accomodate the Burr grinder with built in portafilter dispenser.
I have since been using it to make at least two 16 oz wet cappuccinos every day for the last 9 years, except when I have been away. I haven't been at all scientific about it. I just experimented until I had what I consider a really good cappuccino. I quickly discovered that the bean is all important, and depending on the bean, the grind varies. I tried so many different beans, until I settled on LavAzza Qualita Oro. At that time, it cost $32 Cdn a kilo. Now, I can find it here for about $17. In the last year, I have discovered the wonderful aromas and fullness of Brazian Gourmet Espresso coffees, and get these whenever I can.
The manual was totally useless, except mine did say that you can use the steamer wand for hot water dispensing, so all of you who aren't sure, it is ok to do that. I did have problems with priming the machine, and counted on my friendly Italian salesman at the Italian gift shop whenever I did need it. The technique Mark used in his review would not work with my machine. It has the hose coming in from the top. I was never going to burn out a machine again if I could help it so after sales service was critical.
It has been pretty reliable over the years. I had to replace the steamer wand assembly (again, different from the one in the picture) once. I suspect they had problems with the design on mine, so switched over to a metal arm. Mine is plastic, and it has the option of having a special milk frother attached to it instead of the wand. I would never use that though. It just isnít hygenic enough for my tastes. I have also had problems with leaking on the steamer dial (fixed with plumbers silicon tape). I suspect that the whole assembly will be the next thing that goes. The thread is getting stripped.
The only drawback I found with this machine, was that I couldn't seem to get a consistently great cappuccino. I would like to thank Lance Goffinet for the advice on double tamping the coffee into the portafilter. I just tried it this morning and afternoon, and I think it will help me to get a more consistently great cappuccino. I wish I had known about the Portafilter before. I would have replaced it. Those two items might have resolved my consistency problem. I have seen comments about the small boiler size. That hasnít really been a problem for me. I make one cappuccino at a time, espresso first, then milk froth, and then back to espresso for the next cup. I wouldnít want to be making more than 4 to 6 espressos at a time with this machine though.
This has been a great machine that has given me much value for my money. I only wish I could have gotten it for $150, or even better $50. Would I buy it again? No, but not because it wasnít good. I have just outgrown it. I want something more now. I would definitely recommend it to any newbies, especially for $150.