The VBM Domobar Super has essentially ended any thoughts I have of upgrading any further. I've got the best money can buy - barring a full blown commercial machine that wouldn't make sense in the home.
Positive Product Points
This is a great machine, where do I start?
simultaneous steam and espresso.
large boiler - you cannot run out of steam, and strong strong steam pressue.
large tank, infrequent fill-ups.
heavy portafilter handle with 17g doubleshot basket.
Negative Product Points
Not many, but if you have to nit-pick:
Noisy... the pump really rattles the case!
E61 grouphead can get too hot, burning the first espresso shot after a long wait time. Best to do a cooling flush first.
steam is almost too strong for small amounts of milk - prefers to steam enough milk for 3-4cups instead of the odd solo cup.
I got this machine from NZ - primarily because it was impossible to get in Singapore. And given 240V in Singapore, importing one from the states was a no-go. Decided on a chrome one for maximum kitchen presence. Everything about the machine feels solid - from it's 28kg weight, to the hefty single/double spout portafilters included.
Since it's a Super model, there a big boiler and heat exchanger allowing simultaneous steam and espresso brewing. There's also a handy separate hot water tap (for those long blacks, or the tea drinker in the party). There's also a low-water indicator that shut's down the boiler/pump to protect the machine from running dry - a great feature given that the tank is hidden (as most of these are). It's a manual lever too - more original looking.
Straight out of the box, this has demonstrated itself to be a great machine. I used to own a Silvia - and had grown used to the meticulous process to get a decent espresso. However, with the Domobar Super, I have become a little more slack as the machine is far more forgiving. Plus it's great not to have to wait for temps to move when having to make milk drinks.
I adjusted the espresso brewing approach with the Domobar Super. The machine seems to favour a slightly finer grind (~2 steps finer than for Silvia on the Rocky) with less tamping - just a firm press and polish (10-15lbs) as opposed to the 30lbs required to get something reasonable out of the Silvia. The pre-infusion feature of the E61 really does aid and simplify the process.
Steaming is now a breeze with the very powerful steam jet that you get. The twin hole tip makes things a lot easier than the single hole Silvia tip. Only danger is that there's so much steam, if you're working with small capacities of milk, you don't get a whole lot of time to work that foam.
My only real complaint about the machine is that the pump is noisy - both when filling the boiler (doesn't happen often), and brewing espresso. Part of this could be due to the fact that the pump is mounted close to the case - I've got a project to open her up and pad that down a bit to see whether things get better.
Got this machine from Columbus Coffee, High Street, Auckland. The proprietor, Daryl, was a star and spent plenty of time educating me on the pro's and con's of the various options. Price was good for NZ/Aus rates and no more expensive than importing one from Italy. I'd recommend going to Daryl regardless of machine you intend to get - he'll make the buying experience much more enjoyable.
Three Month Followup
6 months of ownership and I am still loving this espresso machine. Summary points:
I've gotten over the need to do the occassional cooling flush if the machine has been sitting idle for too long.
It's so forgiving - grinds can be a little out, or tamp can be a little shoddy but you can still drink the result in the cup.
Spend too much time polishing the VBM with a soft cloth for that super-shiney look on the kitchen counter.