The Vibiemme Domobar is an excellent first machine. I have found it easy to learn, relatively forgiving with the right tools, and a joy to own. I'm glad I took the plunge and would recommend this machine to a friend who I want to keep as a friend!
Positive Product Points
My girlfriend thinks it looks like a Harley. Nuff said!
Negative Product Points
Bit of temperature manipulation is necessary to get the temps down after steaming and the ramp up to full steam takes a bit longer than I would like, but these concerns are really a minor inconvenience.
I have loved espresso for many years but never could work up the courage to attempt home brewing for a lot of reasons. Expense. Ensuing mania. Unstable rock and roll lifestyle. Becoming totally obsessed...
However being here in Holland has taught me a few new things about Europe and espresso. I had thought that there would be lots of great coffee, world class baristi on every street corner, micro roasters. Nope. There's lots of poorly set up super autos in most restaurants in my town (Utrecht) and usually the server pulls your shot and they tend to be weak, watery, bitter and tasteless, with very few exceptions (that is the espressos not your waiter). I can understand this from the economics of the average cafe owner, and apparently the average patron either doesn't know the difference or doesn't care.
I studied all the reviews I could find here and elsewhere. (Thanks to all contributors!) I weighed my options, set a budget, and began to shop around. I was happily producing good coffee at home with an Aerobie AeroPress, foaming my milk with a whisk on stove top, and loving life. My big fear, the "obsession" was looming as I had not even gotten a machine yet and i found myself spending a lot of time reading and "thinking" coffee. Uh-oh! On ebay.nl I found a Domobar, I bid, and lost (by one euro in the last twenty seconds) oh well. Same vendor had another and this time I won. 350 euros and I was in business. The vendor was a nice guy just trying his wings at a homebased ebay biz, he allowed me to come pick the machine up, thus saving me a bunch in shipping and allowing me to see the machine work. I got it home but I didn't yet have my Macap M4 so I had one day of using preground Izzo. Amazingly it gave me 'decent' shots! When I say decent, I mean relatively drinkable with ok crema and in the ballpark of the "Golden Rule" guide for getting started. I was stoked! My fears began to ease somewhat.
Then I brought home the M4 and got down to serious biz. With some good fresh roast from BrandMeesters, Aficianado blend, and a ballpark setting from Van Pommeren where I bought it, I loaded up the hopper and ground out my first go. Way Way too fine! It took twenty seconds just to see some very dark syrup and no crema. Sinking feeling sets in. Then I backed the grinder off a couple of clicks, and Viola! Twenty-five seconds, a double shot with Guiness effect, flecks, tigerstripping, and a rich syrup that tasted sooooo good! I was completely over the moon! In the ensuing days it's gotten even better (read more consistent) the shots continue to be great, as good as the restretos at Brandmeesters shop here and far better than anything I've had in a restaurant outside of Italy, and that's saying something. The consistancy is, I believe, a result of all th usual stuff that has been said ad infinitum here and everywhere. ie: great grinder, good fresh roast beans, and proper tamping with the right tool. I haven't brought down the bathroom scale yet, but I find I tamp with my left hand (I am naturally right handed) while holding the PF in my right and it feels like about the same pressure every time. Proof is in the shots, which rock!
So the next hurdle was the steam wand. The decent size boiler makes for very stable temps and all but, does require some finess and dancing to make more than two milk based drinks at a time. Also since the only steam wand I had ever used was on a little plastic "toy" machine the Domobar's steam felt like a firehose and takes the milk from fridge cold to way hot in less than thirty seconds! Not much time to find that sweet spot, however I'm starting to get it now after a week and a few liters practice. The best tip I got on this was making sure the milk and the pitcher are very cold. I keep my pitcher in the fridge over night so that it's real cold in the morning. I only drink one cap in the morning and then it's espresso the rest of the day, but my girl loves her "koffie verkeerd" (literally translated this means 'coffee wrong', my sentiments exactly!) I love her so I make every effort to accomodate, and I'm cheating her more and more towards cappacino the better I get at frothing. The only downside to all this is we both never want to have coffee out anymore and sitting in a cafe is something I love to do. Maybe a move to Italy is in the cards?
So the machine is a success. I love it more and more as the days go by. The design and build quality are really excellent and its footprint on my girl's kitchen counter is small enough that we still have some room for cooking (I understand you can scramble eggs with the steam wand). Never!
Buying something as complex as an espresso machine on ebay is, I admit, a fairly big gamble; especially for a relative newbie. However I've had good results with ebay for everything from my SRV strat to the Macbook Pro I'm typing on now, but that was in the USA. The same ebay rules do apply; choose the vendor carefully based on their feedback rating, quality and timing of responses to your questions, and payment method (like PayPal) which gives you some protection. At 350 euro I feel like this machine was a steal and I am very happy with the whole experience. The seller here in the Netherlands can be found here...
I cannot believe a year has passed! I still love my Domobar, if possible even more than 9 months ago! I don't have a single bad thing to say about this machine. It is rock solid and easy to use, as well as being very forgiving to the novice useer. Highly recommended for a first machine. If and when i upgrade it will be to the next level up of Domobar which has a heat exchanger for steaming.
One Year Followup
It's hard to believe it's been a year! I still love my Domobar and perhaps even more than I did 9 months ago. This machine is rock solid. Simple to maintain, easy to operate, and very forgiving for a novice user. Highly recommended for a first machine, but will see you through to higher skill levels quite nicely. If I ever do upgrade it will only be to a Domobar with heat exchanger or a La Marzocco if I hit the lottery!