I am a homeroaster exclusively. I had owned my Magic Combi for about 4 years, but it had seen very little regular duty. This was due to the relative fuss required to roast coffee for both espresso AND drip/press. Not to mention the mess and preparation ritual for espresso, and my difficulty in creating a consistent shot to my liking. I go through phases with my hobbies, and recently I decided to spend a good deal of time honing my craft on the Magic. I burned through a pound of coffee, ditching dozens of shots, until settling on a set of variables that indeed produced a lovely brown crema and a smooth, velvety espresso. I was quite proud!
Then, ironically, I decided to replace the machine with a superauto. :-)
Truth is, I really do appreciate the ritual of espresso preparation. However, my weekday mornings are hectic. As a part-time single parent, I have about 60 minutes to get myself and my 3 year old daughter ready for our respective days at work and school. Between breakfast, shower, and clothing, I am hard-pressed to insert a segment of time for lovingly prepared espresso. However, as even my little girl would tell you, that first cup (and subsequent Americano for the road) is crucial.
And so I took the plunge on a Vienna Deluxe. Wow - what a cool machine this is! Is it adorned with sexy chrome and little brass eagles? No. Does it conjure images of Italian cafes, barista wiping the counter, old men with chest hair poking through white T-shirts? Nope. Does it make a kick-ass shot of espresso with an absolute minimum of fuss? Yes, it does!
The machine has several elements that must be set to prepare your beverage. The liquid volume knob adjusts from about 1 to 8 oz of liquid to be pressed through your dose of ground coffee. Said dose of coffee is adjustable from about 5 to 9 grams. Naturally, the grinder has 18 settings (with a useable sweet spot between 4-8). And that's about it. Tamp is controlled automagically by the machine. Now, the liquid volume controls the amount of water to be used for each single dose of coffee. The machine is capable of producing 1 or 2 drinks according to your settings. In other words, if you have 1.5 oz of water and 7 g of coffee set up, pushing the brew button once gets you a single shot with those metrics. Pressing it twice gets you two single shots. Contrast this with one double-shot pulled at one time; the machine actually grinds and brews two identical, single shots - one after the other - into your waiting vessel. This isn't explained in the manual, and it confused me at first.
It is thus possible to draw 8 oz of water through only 7 g of coffee; this creates a so-called "caffe crema." Unfortunately, this is of limited value, as what you end up with is an over-extracted cup of coffee (albeit with an attractive head on top). This could be improved by adjusting the grind to be coarser, but that's not practical between shots, as the grinder requires 3-4 doses before it begins to reliably pulverize coffee at the new setting. A far better alternative to the caffe crema deal is a simple Americano. Pull 2 single shots at standard settings, and water down with hot water from the machine. Or better yet, pull the shots into the water - it preserves crema better. This is a very delicious drink, perfect for the commute.
As is frequently noted in alt.coffee, superautos do not produce espresso with the standard timing element of 25 seconds per shot. I have experimented with the machine, and this is simply not an attainable result. As the grind is adjusted finer, the shot goes to stifled dribbles long before the extraction time increases to the 25 second mark. For this reason, it is best to suspend one's disbelief with the conventional wisdom when using the Vienna Deluxe. There is a sweet spot where the coffee pours out in two meringue-like tails; I haven't timed the pour, but it is relatively quick. However, the crema is magnificent and copious. It lasts for many minutes, and must be rinsed from the sides of the cup. It is multi-layered - lighter crema on top fades to reveal reddish-brown beneath. The experience, while perhaps not utterly orgasmic, is nonetheless very satisfying.
And it's quick 'n' easy to boot! Just press a button. Gotta love that.
I like to describe this machine as "80% results with 20% effort." It is dirt simple to get very good to excellent espresso shots, over and over, nearly instantly and with no mess. The extra bit of artistry that can possibly be reached on a standard machine is perhaps worth it for those moments where one is able to furrow one's brow and lapse unapologetically into self-indulgence. I have those moments from time to time, and it indeed WOULD be nice to have a machine for that, too. However, the vast majority of the time I am doing other things. To be able to say "Hmm, I'd really like another shot" and have it be a non-issue to deliver same, is wonderful. Contrast with "Oy, but I have to wipe, preheat, grind, tamp, pull, time, and dump... eh, forget it."
My fiancee is a big fan of "milk with coffee." As such, I have gotten some use out of the steaming wand. This machine is instantly ready to brew coffee without cooling the water supply, which is terrific. No more spattering steam all over the counter. The supplied Pannarello delivers "decent" results, but is overwhelmingly geared to producing foam with a medium volume, cleanly separated from the hot milk below. The results are acceptable, but not amazing - the milk/foam must be poured and spooned into place in a controlled fashion. The wand is really geared for the Pannarello, making traditional steaming very difficult (although theoretically possible). I decided to opt for an optional Cappuccinatore, as I enjoyed the one I had on my Magic Combi. Now, purists can have their say, but this gizmo rocks. It produces a beautifully integrated, glazed micro-foam that just looks lovely in the cup. Highly recommended. And, it fits with the theme of the Vienna Deluxe: 80% results with 20% effort.