I bought the Vibiemme Domobar (here also called īVBMī) in september -03, about a year ago as I write this. As so many of the good things in life, I found it just around the corner after looking all over the world for it. The owner of the little italian restaurant near my job had had this little gem sitting on top of his display shelf unsold for over a year, unable to shout loud enough to be heard above the din of loud talking from specialist shops selling cheaper Gaggias, so he gave me a good price for it (good by swedish standards, that is. Vibiemme Domobar is/was priced just like Isomac Zaffiro over here).
The first use was a little nervous, as I didnīt have any manual for the machine. But thanks to the very gracious help from Sunnyfield and Neku, frequent dwellers on alt.coffee but also members both here on CG and on toomuchcoffee.com, I managed to start the thing up without doing anything stupid. For potential buyers, the whole story can be found here.
The Domobar has been running for about a year now and I must say I still love it. I have the black side+back - s/s front model and it looks great in the kitchen - a hundred times better in real life than on any pictures you might find of it. Personally I think it beats the socks out of Isomacīs Zaffiro design-wize, but then I like the italian industrial look a lot better than the italian "make-it-look-expensive"-design.
Inside build quality - the important stuff - is great with copper tubing, metal screened flexible slangs and industrial quality relays and microswitches. Copper boiler, of course. The entire back/side plate comes off by unscrewing four short hex bolts on the outside, and the inside covering comes off by unscrewing four screws, located in the bottom under the water tank platter and on the top. Once de-mounted, all parts are easily accessible and tweakable from the sides and from the back.
The water tray is nice and big, and the distance between pf sprouts and cup support is large enough to handle any espresso cup, but not large enough to take a traditional latte glass. The cup warmer on top actually works - for the first layer of cups. The only negative thing about build quality is the front plate. It flexes a little when locking-and-loading the portafilter. Thicker front plate material or, perhaps more inside braces, would solve this problem.
Edit: Cleaning and backflushing should be done at regular intervals, and also decalcifying. I had a nasty experience with this at the time of my pressure adjusting (see below) where the machine started to act very strangely. This was a combination of poor maintenance of the machine (I hadnīt decalcified for maybe sixth months) and also worn grinder burrs - none of it to blame the machine for, only me.
How about coffee quality then? Well... it is an E-61 machine and maybe I donīt really need to say anything more? The cam (small lever) system is one of the reasons I like it so much, it really is - to me - the best control for a manual or semi-auto machine. Pulling on a lever gets me "closer to the machine" than pushing a small button. Maybe it is only a feeling, but in that case it is definitely a feeling that has made it a lot easier for me to make good shots.
Speaking of shots: this is a very, very good coffee machine. It demands the best grinder you can get (I have a Minimoka, which so far has served well), and the best coffee you can get. Make no mistake: a fresh, good home roasted blend with a fine, even grind is what you need for this machine. If you have all that you will, with a bit of practising, get espresso that is as good, or sometimes better, as in any coffee bar in your entire home country. The only places that can better you are coffee shops who roast their own and of course master baristas who know their coffee.
OK, thatīs coffee. How about coffee with milk then? Well - this is another thing altogether. The steam quality of my VBM is dubious. Sure, it can put out a heck of a lot of steam, just like other machines with big boilers can. But my machine needs two cycles of warming up with a lot of steam bleeding in between, (plus the first "false-steam bleeding" of course) before it is ready to steam. And it is also hard to get a good micro froth - not only for me but also for other people who are, I must say, much more experienced in steaming than I am. I have two main suspects for this behavior, not counting myself:
- Low steam temperature
- Bad steam tip.
I still havenīt gotten around to measuring or adjusting steam temperatures or finding other steam tips. It is perfectly possible to do both on the VBM though, and that will be the main event for the follow-up. Until then: if you are considering this machine, beware that it is a single boiler machine with a big boiler which means you have to wait a bit before steaming. Mark said as much for the Isomac Zaffiro in his review of it, and his conclusions are correct also for the VBM Domobar: if you are going to steam a lot, buy a HX. For me, that was too much money, and the great coffee quality plus the slim build of the VBM Domobar makes up for this.
About pressure: the VBM sports a pressure meter on the front. With the help of forum members on toomuchcoffee.com I have changed the backflow adjustment screw inside the machine to get the pressure down to around 9-10 bars - it was a little high, around 11-12, in the beginning.
About temperature stability: some people have put PIDīs (temperature controllers) on the VBM but you may rest assured that it is more - much more - stable than the average mid-price machine, like the Silvia or the Gaggia Classic. This will make it easier for you to make consistently good shots. The VBM, like many E-61:s, needs a warm-up of about 45 minutes before it is stable, and I use a simple "wall wart timer" for convenience. Some people have it on 24/7 though, and I guess it could stand that too.
It may be of interest to underline that I have actually used this machine for a year at the time of this first review. I have had no problems at all with the machine except for the minor adjustment of pressure, which I is a very common error on domestic espresso machines. (they are often a bit high).