It's hard to say anything after Mark has written a detailed review and several experienced espresso enthusiasts have offered thoughtful comments on the same product.
But the Via Veneto is a decent starter machine and it might be a good idea to go over a few things for the interest of espresso newbies. As always, YMMV.
Saeco's Via Veneto is one of the least expensive pump machines out there. So it's a bargain for those who want to experiment with espresso making and are on a rather strict budget. Yet, it's quite limited. Limited in capacity, of course. But limited overall. It's the kind of machine with which you quickly reach a plateau and can hardly improve the quality of the shots you pull. Of course, a WBC champion might be able to pull something surprising with it, but for us mere mortals, pouring amazing shots on this machine is almost impossible.
Which is not to say that shots pulled with this machine are bad in any way. They're decent to very good, and rather consistent. So it's an ideal machine on which to learn espresso skills.
Of course, there are important things to keep in mind. Mark explained most of them, but rehashing can be helpful.
Because this is a good newbie machine, here's a description of the priming method for the Via Veneto.
-With the machine off, place a cup under the steam wand. (Unless you want to clean your countertop, that is!)
-Turn the steam knob open.
-Turn the machine on. After maybe 15s, water will start coming out of the wand.
-Once steam is coming out of the steam wand consistently, shut the steam wand.
-Place the cup under the group and let some water flow, maybe 2-3oz (60-90ml).
The machine is now primed.
When you want to make an espresso, heat the brewhead and espresso cup by "pouring an empty shot" (without coffee grounds in the portafilter's basket). It does seem to improve the quality of the espresso. If the machine has been on for a while, it's probably hot enough. But it doesn't hurt to heat it again and it warms up the espresso cup at the same time.
It may seem obvious to an experienced barista but, again, it's important to note with a newbie machine: get a decent grinder. Had been using blade grinders for a while and moved to an entry-level burr grinder (at long last!). Makes all the difference in the world.
Although, because the machine is rather limited, chances are that an excellent burr or conical grinder wouldn't make as much of an improvement over an entry-level burr grinder as the switch from blade to burr. May stand corrected on this one, obviously.
Now. Friends don't let friends use pressurised portafilters. At least, not if said friends are trying to learn espresso-making. The PPF does an ok job, but the machine can in fact make much better espresso than this. So use the non-pressurised PF. It's the same size (i.e., smaller than commercial portafilters), but it works.
Now, with a regular portafilter, you need to tamp. Didn't have a tamper (does one come with the machine, usually?). Went to the Saeco store and bought a plastic one for $4Cdn. It does the trick. A better tamper might help, but probably not much.
Thing is, over-tamping and over-dosing seem to put a strain on the machine. The pump is supposed to be good but, probably because of the small boiler, the machine has a hard time if you try to have it push through a large amount of very compact grounds. Didn't try with a single basket but the machine has been complaining loudly when the double basket was over-filled and/or over-tamped. Maybe this complaining is a normal part of the process but, somehow, it doesn't seem to be the case.
A good method seems to be to fill the PF basket in two steps. Get the basket two-third full, tamp lightly, fill the basket completely, tamp more heavily.
With these "tricks," been pouring rather consistent shots. Double shots take about 20s to 25s with regular tamping. (With heavy tamping, the machine complains for about 15s and then the coffee drips really slowly for a while.) Good, thick crema of approximately the right colour (being careful not to overextract, of course). No way to really control temperature but the Via Veneto seems to pour shots that are somewhat in the range for espresso. The espresso itself is usually very fragrant, rather hot, and quite good. About the quality you'd expect at a decent coffee shop as opposed to those places where espresso is a work of art.
Now, milk. This is in fact where the machine has the most to offer. With proper technique, you can easily froth milk with this. In fact, this machine might be a good tool to help you learn frothing technique.
As it has been said elsewhere, the Via Veneto's small boiler make it hard to froth a lot of milk at any one time. The best way to overcome this limitation is to have the boiler on while you froth. Detailed explanation (for newbies' sake).
-Put the milk pot in the fridge to have it cold.
-Turn the steam button on.
-Wait for the steam button to light up.
-Put an empty cup under the steam wand.
-Turn the steam knob open.
-Get the milk out of the fridge.
-When the steam light goes off, turn the knob closed.
-Put the steam wand in the milk pot and froth by surfing the milk surface. It's a good idea to control the wand by having it touch the pot's wall while you froth.
-Move the pot up so that the wand almost touches the bottom. Now you're heating the milk and getting a more uniform froth.
-Once the milk is hot enough, turn the steam knob closed.
-Clean the wand. Please?
The wand has a froth helper part (the outside plastic part with holes on the sides). You probably don't want to use this helper. On the other hand, the metal part of the steam wand is too short to be useful. So it seems to work well if you use the plastic wand (the inside plastic part which extends the metal part and has a hole at the bottom). As a bonus, this plastic part unscrews so you can clean it thoroughly.
Listing all of the Via Veneto's flaws would be rather long. No temperature control, no three-way solenoid valve... In other words, the VV is no professional machine. But it's a very decent entry-level machine for espresso newbies.