My previous post summarised my impressions of the Saeco Aroma semi-automatic espresso machine. As I mentioned, I was also going to try its super automatic cousin, the V'spresso. Super automatic machines do everything: grind the beans, tamp them, pass hot water through them and eject them. Some even steam milk automatically, though this one doesn't.
Saeco have a large number of super automatics, their newest being the $1500 Incanto Sirius. Most of the super automatics have similar features, but the V'spresso is notable for its compact size. Compact is a relative term, since it is still a behemoth compared to a normal filter coffee machine or for that matter the Saeco Aroma.
Arriving in a large overwrapped box, the V'spresso is suitably impressive. A nice touch is that a plastic sheet with cutouts for handles on either side is wrapped around the underside of the machine enabling you to lift it out of its box very easily. Like the Saeco Aroma, it is very well packed and comes with the drip tray, instructions and instructional DVD (as yet unwatched). Unlike the Aroma there are very few "bits" - the machine is all self-contained.
Setup is straightforward: insert the water filter into the water tank, fill the tank up with water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Insert the drip tray and prime the system. While priming should be automatic, inserted instructions show you how to manually prime with a supplied tool. I found that I needed to do this and given that instructions and a tool were supplied, this is presumably quite a common situation. However, I assume that this only needs to be done on the first use since priming thereafter is an automatic process.
The machine takes a minute or so to warm up once it is turned on and it will rinse itself automatically. This procedure results in some waste water flowing out of the coffee dispensers and into the drip tray. Given that this rinse cycle happens each time the machine is turned on or comes out of a long standby, it is a good thing that the drip tray has a decent capacity.
With the exception of the steam control valve, everything is on the front panel. From left to right there are buttons for: menu, ground coffee, mug (largest delivery volume), large cup (medium delivery volume), small cup (smallest delivery volume) and steam/hot water. Pressing one of the drink buttons more than once will tell the machine to make more than one drink. This is how you would make a double shot - press the small cup button twice.
By default, the coffee source is from the bean hopper. Pressing the ground coffee button tells the machine that the next cup should use the bypass doser (ground coffee chute) as the source. The downside is that you are only supposed to put one scoop of ground coffee in the bypass doser. So let's say you are using ground decaf coffee and you want to make a decaf double espresso, you have to fill the chute twice and press the ground coffee button twice. If you forget to push that button, the machine will grind beans and there's no aborting that operation.
The menu button brings up the settings menu and there are numerous options to adjust like coffee temperature, whether the cup warmer is on, sleep mode timeout, etc.
Making coffee is as simple as pushing one of the cup buttons. The nice thing about having three buttons is that you can program them for your individual cup sizes. The same amount of coffee is used with different volumes of water. So, for espresso I use the small cup button with 7g of espresso and 30ml of water. For "regular" strength coffee I programmed the middle button to fill a normal coffee cup a little over halfway, which gives us the desired strength.
The milk frothing wand works well and is controlled by a knob on the right hand side of the machine. You need to open the steam valve and let hot water flow out until a head of steam is built up. In practice, this takes only a few seconds and then you're ready to froth. As with most of these types of machines, the wand is equipped with a removable "panarello", which helps you to easily create lots of foam. Since I usually make one cup at a time, I froth the milk directly in the cup and this works well. Be warned that if you leave the machine idle for any length of time, you'll need to flush the steam wand until steam comes out or you'll be adding hot water to the milk that you want to foam. The steam wand can also dispense hot water by pressing the hot water button on the far right of the front panel.
Cleaning and Maintenance
With lots of moving parts, water and coffee grounds, you would expect lots of clean up. Fortunately, everything is well organised inside the machine and the cleaning is about as simple as it could be. There are really only three things to take care of: the drip tray at the front of the machine, which pulls out so you can empty it and wash it out; the dreg drawer, which is located inside the machine and is easily pulled out; and the brew unit itself, which is the gubbins of the machine. A design improvement means that you can just pull out the brew unit and rinse it. The only other cleaning I've needed to do is to get rid of some excess ground coffee which accumulated inside the machine at the bottom.
Maintenance right now amounts to keeping the machine fed with coffee beans and filled with water. After three months of use, Saeco recommends a new water filter (located in the water tank) and the machine itself will indicate when it requires descaling.
This is a really nice unit. So far I've been very pleased with its ease of use as well as the quality of the drinks that it produces. Even at the $699 price that Costco were offering it at, the machine isn't cheap but a quick back of the envelope calculation tells me that it should pay for itself in less than a year assuming I make my morning capuccino at home rather going past the coffee shop.