Salvatore Home Automatic: $1450US
When I first got the Salvatore machine, I wasn‘t quite sure what to expect. I have experience with both the Starbucks Barista, and a commercial La Marzocco, but didn‘t know which end of the spectrum the Salvatore would be closer to. After some time of use, I‘ve come to the conclusion that it is more similar to the commercial machine. Let me explain why.
The biggest difference between the Salvatore and the Barista machine, or most other espresso machines in the $200-500US price range for that matter, is the amount of downtime, or lack thereof. There is no wait for the machine to reach steaming temperature or to cool back down to brewing temperature. This is a big plus for those who wanna spend less time waiting for their espresso and would rather be drinking it. As long as you keep water in the resevior, you can steam, pull shots, or do both at the same time. On that same note, I recommend leaving it on, as the initial warm-up time is about 10-15 minutes.
Some may find the Salvatore machine‘s steam mechanism a bit hard to get used to. Instead of a employing a traditional steaming knob, this machine uses a switch which turns the steam on and off. You either get full steam or none. While I personally had no difficulty getting used to it, others may not like the lack of control.
The steam wand is also a bit different than most other machines. Instead of having several small steam holes on the bottom tip of the wand, the Salvatore machine only has one at the tip. There are two more on either side of the wand. To me, this is a benefit. It allows easier micro-foaming, as it tends to swirl the milk, aka the "whirlpool effect" better than a traditional steam wand.
While I‘m on the subject of differences between this machine and others, I must mention the appearence of the machine. It is definitely not the most fashionable looking, as it has some bolts jutting out on the sides. It has more of the appearence of a "machine" more so than a kitchen appliance. It also uses this same type of bolt to hold the dispersion screen in place. This bolt hangs down a bit too much, and unless you use less that about 10 grams (less than the 14-16 grams that is recommended) of coffee, it will smash into the top of a packed espresso puck. Switching it with the same sized screw with a flatter head has allowed me to use up to 17 grams of coffee, and has lead to more evenly extracted (read better tasting) espresso.
With the Barista machine, I felt as though I was fighting with it to pull good shots. While the Starbucks machine is not nearly as finicky as some other machines out there, it is not always consistent either. When a bad shot was pulled, it would be extrememly hard to determine if it was the espresso machine, the grind, or several other variables. Particularly, the Barista machine uses a "crema-enhancer" disc which makes it all but impossible to tell the quality of a shot by its appreance. On the other hand, the Salvatore has yet to let me down. I have yet to pull a "bad" shot with this machine. Of course, some have been less than perfect, but every time it was either an error on my part, or a variable such as grind setting, roast length etc. Now, when I see crema in my shots, I know that its there because everything properly fell into place.
The thermal stability of the Salvatore machine is something I feel I should mention. While all machines generally have some sort of heat instability, some are worse than others. I found the Barista to be absolutely erratic in that regard. As a matter of fact, I never was able to get it brewing at the proper temperature. Every shot I made with the Barista had several white streaks in the crema and had a light brown/yellowish overall color. The Salvatore, on the other hand, produces shots that have the dark reddish brown color that represents a quality shot. The Salvatore provides shots that are more full-bodied, well-rounded and better textured. While this may not be an issue for those who only drink milk-based beverages, for those who like straight espresso it is one to consider.
The fact that this is an automatic machine means you can program the amount of water that gets dosed out. The Salvatore features a three button computer-controlled push panel on the front of the machine. The first two allow you to program whatever amount of water you want, while the third provides a continuous stream. Programming them couldn‘t be easier. All you have to do to program the amount of water is to hold the continous water button for three seconds, then press which button you wish to program. When the amount of water that you want to use has been dosed out, you push whichever button you are programming to end the stream and from then on the same amount will consistently come out whenever you push the button. This feature is convienent for those who prefer ristretto‘s for straight drinking, and regular shots for milk-based beverages, as you can program one button for one amount, and have a different setting on the other button.
The Barista machine runs at about $350 US while the Salvatore Automatic is $1450 US. While the quality of espresso isn‘t 4 times better as per the cost, it is at least that much more consistent and convienent. With the ability to steam on demand, and even pull shots while steaming the Salvatore has reduced the amount I spend preparing an espresso. While with the Barista it would easily take fifteen minutes, including cleanup time, with the Salvatore it is more closer to five minutes.
It may seem like I‘m gushing about the machine, and I am. It is because I have yet to find anything that really warrents any objections or complaints. Whether you are the only coffee drinker in your house, or plan on throwing parties and need to make numerous drinks in a row, the Salvatore Automatic will breeze through either situtation with ease. During the Christmas holidays we had a party and even though I was a little leary of taxing my machine in that manner, it did so flawlessly. I would dare say you could run a small business with this machine, particularly since the differences between this machine and their commercial ones are pretty negligable. In any case, I am a completely satisified customer and have gotten my money‘s worth.