The premium choice among semi-commercial heat exchanger machines.
Positive Product Points
ISO 9002-certified manufacturer, E-61 group, orderly internal layout, heaviest structure and internal build in class, rotary pump, automatic, second heat exchanger for hot water, fully plumbed including drain.
Negative Product Points
Stock 5-hole steam tip requires experimentation and practice to produce microfoam; steaming power OK but inadequate for “Vente” sized drinks.
Why Wega? Wega is an Italian company founded in 1985 and ISO 9002 certified in 1996. The company head office is in Bologna, with manufacturing facilities in Treviso.
The original Wega Mininova is highly-rated on CoffeeGeek among semi-commercial machines, but I didn’t like the plastic pagoda-top styling and side panels. The Wega world changed in 2003 with the introduction of the all stainless Mininova Inox, or Lyra, as it is called in the US.
E-61 semi-commercial HX machines all seem to produce consistently excellent espresso and meet the milk frothing requirements of all but the most demanding home espresso fanatics. What separates the competitors is build quality, features and form. The Wega Mininova Inox has best-in-class build quality and features, and an attractive form that differentiates it from the “E-61 on a shiny box” crowd.
Overview There are plenty of informative reviews on CoffeeGeek for semi-commercial heat-exchanger E-61 espresso machines. By now, every CoffeeGeek knows that HX machines need a cooling flush to exhaust overheated water from the HX after idling for more than ~ 5 minutes. We also know that you can pull shot after shot with the venerable E-61 group while retaining consistent brew water temperatures.
What we don’t seem to know is whether one is any better than the others. This review presents the best choice for my usage patterns, which includes: - 2 or 3 cappas per day, 7 days per week; - occasional straight shots or iced cappuccinos; - 4 to 8 cappas when hosting friends for lunch or dinner, approx 3 – 6 times per month.
The Wega is my 4th pump-driven espresso machine (and my second HX machine) since I began making true espresso at home in 1992.
Form and Appearance The Wega is a stocky, purposeful, gleaming cube-shaped machine with very clean lines. It is wider than similar semi-commercial machines, and has a similar “chromed cube” form as the much smaller Rancilio Silvia and the Pasquini Liva 90. It is much more attractive than photos I’ve seen at retailers’ websites. I prefer the form of the Wega, with its “modesty” panel covering the E-61 grouphead, to the “full Monty” exposed versions. It has a cleaner looking front and reduces the risk of minor burns. Others love the classic exposed E-61 look, but I hate the competition. ;-)
Construction The exterior shell is thick, highly polished, precise-fitting stainless steel panels. There are no exposed unfolded edges to cheapen the look. Fingerprints and water spots wipe off easily. This is an unexpected benefit – fingerprints usually stand out like . . . . a sore thumb on stainless steel appliances. The body has a minimum of seams and details to gather grime and dirt. There is just enough detail to stiffen the panels and avoid a plain appearance.
The only visible plastic parts are the four corner gussets on the rim around the Wega’s huge cup warming tray. The tray keeps cups suitably warm. The drip grid is the same high quality stainless steel as the rest of the body, as is the drip tray, which is clearly visible through the grid. No plastic drip tray to cheapen the impression.
The frame is rigid, heavy electroplated steel -- not as rustproof as stainless, but more durable than powder-coated steel. This beefy frame has more in common with true commercial machines like the Cimbali Junior than its semi-commercial competitors.
Internal components include many of the same off-the-shelf standard espresso machine components used in other semi-commercial HX machines. Exceptions are the rotary pump and autodosing mechanism, Gicar autofill, and the solenoid-controlled hot water tap. Wega-specific components such as the 2 litre copper boiler and the tubing are well finished, precisely made, and heavier than their equivalents in competing machines. The boiler and all other heavy interior components are securely mounted on the frame.
The interior is very well laid-out and spacious, with plenty of room to make repairs should they be needed. The arrangement of components and the routing of tubes, pipes and wires is precise and geometrical. Electrical components are well protected in an enclosure mounted high in the case and away from the boiler. In a side-by-side comparison with its “E-61 on a shiny box” competitors, the interior of the Wega looks like well-engineered factory-built machinery. This contrasts with the interior layout of its competitors, some of which look more like they were assembled from an espresso machine kit for hobbyists. The neat, geometrical interior layout is what I expect from an ISO 9002-certified company. I find this certification confidence-inspiring at a time when so many owners of “E-61 on a shiny box” machines are fixing their near-new machines by instructions given over the phone. ISO 9002 is no guarantee that every Wega will be perfect, but I think it will decrease average repair frequency.
Installing the Wega It took the retailer approximately 1 hour to install the machine in my kitchen, warm it up, and pull a few shots. Electrical connection on this 110V model is a simple as a toaster – just plug it in. Mine is a fully plumbed machine. To prepare for installation I drilled a hole in the wall through the backsplash behind the machine (I left a tile out to accommodate this) and another hole through the wall in the back of the sink cabinet. I fished the water line and drain line down around the back edge of the countertop through these holes with an electricians' “fish tape”. This concession to domestic peace eliminated the need for a hole in the granite countertop.
This machine will fit under standard kitchen cabinets, but that won’t leave enough clearance to use the capacious warming tray. By removing the (surprisingly few) screws from your upper kitchen cabinets, you may be able to raise the bank of cabinets above the counter where the machine will sit. We designed our kitchen to accommodate an espresso machine and grinder, so no modifications were necessary.
Operating the Wega The Wega requires 15 minutes for the boiler to reach 1.15 bars, but I recommend a good 30 minute warm up. I use an appliance timer to ensure it is well-heated for early mornings, and to automatically power the machine down at 3 p.m. on days I work from my home office. In a month of use, there has never been a false pressure episode. If I know I want to use the machine later, I simply defeat the auto shut-off.
Making espresso with the Wega is nearly identical to other semi-commercial HX machines. Grind, flush the HX, dry the PF, fill, tamp, lock, pull. Ahhhhhhhh! Nectar of the Gods!
The espresso I routinely produce with the Wega is only a little better than the best I could produce with Silvia. But it takes far less time and care, and unlike with Silvia, I routinely get high-quality shots. Yes, what you’ve read elsewhere is true – the E-61 Group is remarkably forgiving. It’s no wonder that it is still being built into new espresso machines 43 years after it was developed! Subjectively, I think it’s roughly equivalent to the excellent grouphead on my old Cimbali M27.
The Wega is less sensitive to grind and tamp variations than other machines I’ve owned. I don’t know how much of the credit goes to the E-61 Group, and how much to the pressure consistency of the rotary pump. This machine is so consistent and predictable that I’ve changed my espresso making routine. I’m back to weighing the beans by the shot, then loading them into Rocky’s hopper and grinding until empty. Levelling the grounds in the PF with a straight edge and screeding off the excess seems just about right for both the large and regular size double baskets and the single basket, and makes for very consistent shots from all 3 basket sizes.
One unexpected bonus with this machine is the ease with which I can make consistent single shots. At the price I’m paying for roasted coffee, switching to singles instead of doubles would save me enough to pay for the Wega in less than 7 years! Fat chance to that, but singles are very welcome when serving guests who don’t usually drink espresso-based beverages. Since my Wega is an automatic, having programmable shot volumes adds a convenience factor that is helpful when making cappas for several guests.
The rotary pump is smoother and quieter than a vibratory pump, but it isn’t the near-silent operation typical of commercial machines with the pump installed under the counter. It makes a pleasant mechanical “hum-whir” sound, more like a BMW R75 than the crude, raspy Yamaha 2-stroke note of a vibe pump.
The pump self-actuates every 5 to 10 shots for a 5 second burst to replenish the boiler. This was a surprise the first time it happened because the pump note is harsher and more mechanical when refilling the boiler.
Steaming milk brings out the machine’s only shortcomings. The 2 liter boiler is heated by only 1100 watts, which may be a little low for this machine. (One Wega owner reports replacing the standard element with a 1500W element, which he says cured any and all steaming deficiencies.)
Once the machine reaches operating temperature, steam is ample for 2 cappas in a row, but is not unlimited. The boiler pressure drops enough when steaming more than 12 oz. of milk that a recovery period is required. It will recover in the time it takes to clean, dose, tamp and lock the PF for the next shot, but if you favour Vente-sized lattes, you will outpace the Wega’s steaming ability unless you’re using a 2-hole steam tip. The 2-hole tip slows the steaming enough for the heating element to keep up indefinitely.
Steaming milk with the standard Wega 5-hole tip is fast - 6 oz. of milk in a 12 oz. pitcher takes less than 15 seconds to reach 160F. The standard wand and tip are very good for classic dry-foam cappas. With a little practice, I’m getting better and better at making microfoam, but I’m not yet consistently producing the excellent pourable foam I routinely produced with my Silvia.
On the advice of other Wega owners, I tried switching to the Espresso Parts Northwest stainless steel 2-hole steam tip (EPNWSS2HST) that is famous for microfoam, and it lives up to its billing. But it is slow – about as fast as my old Silvia. To complicate matters, the EPNWSS2HST does not fit the standard Wega steam arm, and I had to fit the Wega with a Cimbali arm to use the miracle tip. I prefer the Wega arm, and have switched back. I’m searching for a machinist to make an adapter to fit the EPNWSS2HST onto the Wega arm. I expect to make enough money to retire by selling this adapter to other Wega owners. ;-)
Having an automatic makes it easy to steam and draw shots at the same time. While it undoubtedly disturbs the temperature stability of the shot, I can’t taste the difference in milk drinks, and it cuts preparation time substantially when serving several people who like cappas or lattes. As with other semi-commercial HX machines, there is no need to wait for the boiler to work up a head of steam.
One of the unique features of the Wega is a separate heat exchanger for hot water, which means you’re drawing fresh water through the heat exchanger rather than water containing impurities concentrated through successive steaming operations. The first few ounces of water out of the tap is boiling, perfect for Americanos. But after drawing 8 oz, the temperature is down to 180 degrees F, which is too cool for making tea. This can be remedied by steaming the water for a few seconds.
Ergonomics Compared to machines with exposed E-61 groups, there’s relatively little risk of burns from the hot grouphead during shot-making and steaming operations. The same can’t be said of drawing hot water since the initial stream of water flash-boils in a spray as it exits the tap. The extension on the hot water tap is there for a reason – make sure to lift your cup so that the end of the tap extends down into the cup, well below the brim.
The Wega is as easy to clean as it is to use. Cleaning the grouphead after each shot is quick, easy and tidy. I leave the blind filter in the single group PF, and use it for a “PF wiggle” at the end of each brewing session, and a backflush with water at the end of each day. The “wiggle” with the blind filter cleans the gasket very well – so well that I use the grouphead brush only occasionally, and seldom find any stray grounds to remove. I catch the grind-saturated overflow in my just-used cappuccino cup.
The machine cleans up very easily after use. The stainless steel shell can be cleaned of all water spots and fingerprints by a quick rub with a nearly-dry cloth.
The drip tray cover fits snugly under the E-61 solenoid cover, requiring a little finesse to remove, but this gets easier with experience. The stainless steel drip tray is a snap to clean – a blast of water from the hot water tap flushes any stray grounds or espresso drips into the drain. Good thing, because the drip tray is clearly visible through the cover grating, and a view of dried up coffee grounds would be unappetizing.
Maintenance and Service The pressurestat is accessible by removing the warming tray, which requires removing the cups and two screws. It would be easy to drill a small hole in the warming tray to reach the pressurestat with a screwdriver without removing the tray.
There is a drain plug on the bottom of the boiler, and enough room in the machine to get a tray inside to collect water drained from boiler. This is important since you cannot drain the boiler of this machine through the hot water valve as with most other HX machines.
Care must be taken when removing and replacing panels since failing to tighten them properly can result in noisy buzzes while the pump is running.
The spacious outer shell makes it easy to reach parts for service; there is ample room to replace the semi-commercial pressurestat with a more robust (but noisier) commercial model, or to substitute PID control. Neither is on my list of upgrades at this time.
Wrap-up I seriously considered the Wega Mininova nearly 2 years ago, before the stainless steel version appeared in our market. I decided against it because I felt is was “butt ugly”, and bought a used La Cimbali M27 instead. Now, after the La Cimbali has been sold (ironically, we found it too ugly for our new kitchen!), Wega has a machine that meets all my requirements. This is it.
Pre-Sale Having a local vendor is a great advantage - it allows the buyer to examine the machine carefully, inside and out, and to assess the vendor’s operation.
Seeing the superior construction of the Wega with my own eyes substantially changed my ranking of machines on my short list. It should be noted that not all of the candidates on my short list are available for viewing in my region.
Purchase I found it very confidence-building to buy a machine made by an ISO 9002 certified manufacturer and sold by a local retailer who services espresso machines on customer premises.
There was no room to bargain on this machine. First, the retailer had only 3 machines left in his remaining stock, and he expects to follow Internet retailers in the US who have raised prices on their new stock by several hundred dollars. Second, the Wega rotary auto is a lot of machine for the money in our market, and the retailer knows it. The only discount I was able to get was free installation and a 2% break for paying by cheque rather than by credit card.
Installation The installer left the security cap on the “Y” connector on the dishwasher drain fitting of the sink drain to which the espresso machine drain was connected. Fortunately, a slight leak from the drain connection warned of a problem. Had it not leaked, it would have backed up into the machine drip tray eventually. It was easy to fix, and no harm was done.
My Ranking of the Competition The Wega was the final choice among several competing machines. I’ve summarized my impressions of each machine in ranked order below, along with the reasons I rejected them.
La Valentina - very attractive machine with high quality internal components, but no local vendor or service combined with the lighter construction of the La Valentina increases the potential for catastrophic damage in transit if return to vendor required for warranty service.
Giotto Classic and Premium - well executed classic E-61 machine, good build quality; but put off by the potential for burns due to the proximity of the exposed E-61 group to the controls. Not impressed with local dealer.
Isomac Rituale - great value, but Isomac build quality appears to be below the standard of other semi-commercial machines--not well-laid out, roughly executed. Despite this, it has many of the same components as other machines in its class, and represents a bargain among the machines on my list. Ergonomics concerns due to the exposed E-61 group.
Salvatore - a unique looking and apparently capable machine protecting the buyer with an unequalled 3-year warranty; but more expensive, no local service, reputedly expensive parts.
Two-boiler machines (Reneka Techno, La Spaziale S1) – slightly larger footprint, more expensive, no local vendor or service, and I think it’s too early in the life-cycle of these machines for comfort. I’m not an early adopter, believing that the leading edge is often the bleeding edge.
Used La Cimbali Junior - a used, reconditioned Junior can be purchased for the same price as the Wega. But the Cimbali is slightly larger and not as attractive, and therefore rates low on the “WAF” scale (wife acceptance factor).
Expobar - No local retailer, less attractive, but apparently equally capable Spanish version of the “E-61 on a shiny box”.
Euro2000 Jr. - In our market, this machine sells for only 2% less than the Wega, but the build quality of the sample I saw was the worst of the machines I saw in this group. Rated lower because of the risk of burns from the exposed E-61 group.
Non E-61 semi-commercial machines - There may be some very capable machines among these, but I rejected them simply because I haven’t seen enough knowledgeable 3rd party verification of the thermal stability of their non E-61 groupheads.
The differences in performance among these machines are small, and ranking them required some hair-splitting. Since your criteria will undoubtedly differ from mine, your rankings may differ substantially while still being right for you.
Three Month Followup
One Year Followup
Overall, after more than a year of use, I remain very pleased with the Wega. I experienced no buyer’s remorse, and I haven’t second-guessed my decision for a moment. My espresso has never been more consistent or better, and the machine is very easy to keep clean. It has been fairly reliable, though not perfect.
I’ll focus on what I have learned and how I’m using this machine 13 months after my initial review.
Form and Appearance If anything, I appreciate the looks of the Wega even more than when I bought it. The shape is pleasing and the machine is very easy to keep clean and shiny. My only complaint is that the very attractive Wega decal on the back of the machine is invisible in my installation. It should have been on the front or side for this machine, which I suspect is installed "back against the wall" in homes much more often than "back to the customer" as is typical in cafes.
Construction The beefy electroplated steel frame shows no signs of wear or corrosion, and the stainless steel skin is unmarred except for a few cosmetic scratches on and around the front of the drip tray from normal wear and tear.
Reliability I used an appliance timer to start the machine in the morning for the first 7 or 8 months I owned it. During that time, the anti-siphon valve gunked up occasionally and had to be disassembled and cleaned 3 times. I believe this is caused by water droplets being forced out of the boiler when it begins to generate steam. These droplets condense on the o-ring and the seat that seal the valve. There must be some residual “gunk” in the water or in the air inside the machine, because after ~ 5 months the machine began to have occasional “false pressure” episodes, and I noticed a faint accumulation of hard, sooty-looking material on the metal valve body. After ~ 8 months, it couldn’t be cleaned off well enough to seal, even using Purocaf, so I got a new valve from my retailer and replaced it myself.
I don’t recommend removing and replacing the anti-siphon valve as a regular practice. The valve screws directly into a threaded boss on the boiler, which is made from a relatively soft alloy. Repeated removal and replacement of the valve increases the risk that the threads in the boiler will be damaged, which would require replacement of the boiler at significant expense. This is one of the reasons why I have switched to leaving my machine on 7/24.
The cheap original equipment pressurestat failed at ~ 7 months. It would have caused an “overpressure event” if my wife hadn’t called me saying, “Honey, your espresso machine is really noisy. Am I going to have to listen to this all the time?” I told her to turn it off, thus averting both a mess and a “domestic overpressure event”, which is much worse than the machine-only version. Shortly after the pressurestat was replaced, the boiler overpressure valve began leaking and also needed replacement. I suspect this was a consequence of the near overpressure event. Both replacements were performed under warranty by Casa Del Caffe (my retailer) in my home at no charge. This is a great reason to buy a machine from a local vendor who also services machines. Now that the warranty has expired, next time I’ll replace the pressurestat with a commercial model. Aside from these issues, the machine has been trouble free.
Operating the Wega At first, I used an appliance timer to turn the machine on in the morning before I got out of bed. I learned on the CoffeeGeek forums (from Terry Z of Espresso Parts NW) that using an appliance timer on the Wega bypasses the relay that protects the circuit board from receiving full current upon startup. Combining this with the frequent gunking-up of the anti-siphon valve, I decided to leave the machine on 7/24. This change has been uneventful.
I now make singles more than doubles, and find the largish (12 gram) single basket that came with the machine both easy to use and just right for a nice 6 oz. cappa. I have switched permanently to the EPNW 2-hole stainless steaming tip and with it, the required Cimbali steam arm since the Wega arm has non-standard steam-tip threads. The EPNW 2HST makes velvety microfoam, albeit slowly because the tip holes are small and choke the flow of steam. But using this tip, the Wega never runs short of steam, even when steaming for a Venti-sized latte. As long as I use this tip, I don't think I'll ever need to upgrade the relatively modest 1100W boiler element to the 1500 W Wega element that apparently fits the boiler without modification.
I continue to use the auto shot volume feature for many of my shots. A recent visit from Ken (morceaudemerde) Fox convinced me I had grown complacent, allowing some of my shots to blonde before shutting them off. Ken, I’ve pulled up my socks on this.
Maintenance and Cleaning Ken will also be pleased to hear that I have also advanced my cleaning regimen a little to one purocaf backflush per month. This seems to be fine – very little crud shows up in the blind filter.
Summary This machine has fully measured up to what I expected when I bought it. It meets my expectations and I would rate it as highly today as I did when I posted my initial review in July 2004.