Great for the price - call it the first step in the stairway to E61
Positive Product Points
- Solid construction and feel - Very simple to use and clean - Easily accessible water tank - top opening 'funnel' - Largish water tank - Relatively quick warm up
Negative Product Points
- Pressurised portafilter makes you question whether you really are pulling a true shot - get rid of it. - 'Turbo-frother' does not result in great microfoam (a recent demo at an expo saw the rep producing large bubbles) - get rid of it. - Takes about a minute to steam a third of a cup (or so) of milk to 60 C
I bought this machine after much agonising over how much to spend, could I really afford it, etc. I had been looking at the La Pavoni lever machine or FrancisFrancis! X1 which both retail for about $1,000 - 1,200 Australian (multiply by about 0.7 to convert to USD). Then I realised, I had better lower my budget just in case the obsession with espresso maybe short lived. Thankfully it wasn’t.
I forget where I read it/them, but I did read a number of positive reviews of the Saeco Via Vanezia (as it is sold Australia), and figured, for just under AUD600, it was worth a shot.
Delivery was prompt from Peters of Kensington (a fantastic homewares retailer in Sydney (more later)), and well packed. Taking it out of the box, I RTFM, which was reasonably written but very brief. So, I plugged her in, filled her with water and turned her on.
It doesn’t take long to heat up, and in a few minutes the little green light was on. So, I grabbed a couple of espresso cups, and ran some water through the portafilter to heat it and the cups up. I ran some more through to try to wash out any residual dirt from manufacture/packing/shipping.
I filled up the basket, gave it a bit of a tamp (I was told none was required because the PF was pressurised), and tried my first shot. Being a bit of a newbie, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but noticed a very very quick shot (must have been less than 15sec for a double pour). The ‘crema’ was the right colour, but quite bubbly. I figured this was the result of the portafilter.
I then proceeded to steam the milk, which means waiting for a minute or so to get to steaming temperature. I ran some steam out to get rid of the water, but the steam always seemed a bit wet (I guess you have to expect this from this kind of machine). I then steamed the milk to what I thought was the appropriate temperature (I subsequently bought a thermometer and realised I was steaming to about 30C or so). It wasn’t as nice and silky as I had expected, and even now, steaming to the right temperature, I find it difficult to get anywhere near silky, tight, microfoam. I have tried without the turbo-frother attachment to no avail.
So, after about 9 months of using, I have discovered the following:
- The pressurised portafilter is a pain, and I am trying to change over to a non-pressurised one (I will update when I have); - Steaming milk will never be anywhere close to what you can get from a commercial or HX machine (although better than a lot of local ‘baristi’ can do); - It is difficult to thoroughly clean the portafilter innards given the springs and wires, etc; - Despite the portafilter, filling up the double basket with about 20g, and giving it a good tamp will produce a double shot in about 20-25 seconds without burning the coffee.; - Whether its me or the milk or the machine, consistency in texturing the milk is very difficult.
I have since bought an Isomac Professional grinder (review in a few weeks), and have managed to get to a surprisingly fine grind for the Saeco to get a shot in 25 or so seconds. (Incidentally, having purchased the grinder, I can now fully understand the comments by many that, until you grind straight away, you will not fully appreciate espresso).
Overall, the machine is great if you appreciate what it is. It is very suitable for someone learning about coffee and espresso, who is reluctant to spend AUD2000 + for a semi-commercial machine. You won’t produce latte art, but you will beat the rubbish served by many with a $5000 + commercial machine, charging you $3 a go.
I ticked that I would buy again, but the reality is that this is a great first step towards espresso nirvana, so the next step would be an HX or similar.
Peters of Kensington is a place in Sydney where you can buy a pen for 50c or a piece of Lladdro for tens of thousands of dollars. It is great. I ordered the machine online, and found delivery was efficient and packing was good. The website had promised two cups and a bag of coffee with the order, which were missing. A quick phone call confirmed that they should have been there, weren't and would be sent immediately (which they were). Ok, they are not a coffee specialist, but I was after a 'kitchen appliance'. They stock the FF!X1 also, but I would not buy a more expensive machine from them.
Three Month Followup
It has been about 4 months since my review, and I have had the machine for about 12 months now. My main points after this time are:
-I bought the non-pressurised portafilter. Whilst it is an ugly sky-blue colour, it does the job. I am able to produce tighter crema with it. I highly recommend ditching the pressurised one if you really want to better experiment with your grind, tamp, etc. -With the new pf, I bought a nicely weighted tamper which works very well. -I also bought a timer, and can say that I am producing about 30mls in about 25 secs. I think it will always be faster than an HX machine (don’t get me started in terms of trying to get a nice double ristretto). -Have improved my skill in frothing the milk without the turbo-frother. Without it, I am able to get a nice swirling action, get reasonably tight milk (not microfoam) to the point where I can produce abstract latte art.
I have tried the trick of running steam until the light goes off to get the boiler running again before I steam the milk. I can't say it makes a significant difference.
Overall, I am still satisfied with the machine. Speaking with a friend about the problems I had trying to slow the pour down, he indicated that if I pack too much coffee and tamp too hard, I could blow up the machine. I said ‘wouldn’t that be a great excuse to justify a Giotto upgrade?’
One Year Followup
I have now had the machine for almost 2 years and, whilst I have to replace the group seal and fix a light leak with the steam wand, all is still going well.
I am stopping the shots at about 20secs, although have run a few to 25-30 when the pour has been slower with great results. The pour is about 30 mls.
The main limitations of the machine are producing drinks for a number of people (ie. more than 2 people!). The best compromise I could come up with was pouring all the shots first and then steaming the milk. But no-one ever said these were machines designed for higher volume use.
Overall, I am satisfied with the machine’s results given its limitations and expectations. I am now inching closer to the HX/twin boiler machine upgrade.