One step beyond the Rancilio SilviaThere are two distinct buying groups in intermediate specialty coffee and home espresso - the UNDER $1000 group and the over $1000 group...
And the < $1000 group are actually really interested in buying a great espresso machine and a suitable grinder for well under one thousand dollars.
And based on all the e-mail I get, the under thou crowd buy a Rancilio Silvia and a Rancilio Rocky grinder. I kid you not. After all these years, this is the still the best selling combo of all time.
So. If you were a manufacturer and wanted to catch the people flirting with parting with more than a thousand bones, what would you do?
Well - the upstart manufacturer thought about it (long and hard apparently) and came up with the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine.
It is a pretty simple formula overall - Use the Rancilio Silvia as an example (the machine that everyone buys...) and figure out how to really improve upon it while keeping it reasonably affordable.
So let's re-look at the Rancilio Silvia for a moment. It's affordable. It is rugged. It has a steel shell and nary a plastic piece to be seen. It has a single marine brass boiler (impossible to beat in our estimation). It has all commercial brass components, like the portafilter and brew group. It is hand-made in Italy by true artisans - a machine that you leave in your will for a future generation of coffee lovers.
So, what's to fix you ask?
Well. As pretty as the Rancilio is, it can be reasonably demanding - especially of coffee freshness and grind (and tamp!)
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine is not really any different that way. It is a solidly built semi-profressional unit that would pretty up any kitchen counter.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine has a brass boiler (for brewing espresso) and a thermal-block boiler for exclusive steam production. That is one of the key differences. It means that there is no relationship between brewing and steaming - they are totally independant. This can be a good thing when you need to crank out multiple shots at a party. With the Rancilio Silvia you are always held up shuttling between the two modes because the one boiler is doing both tasks.
Strike one for the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine. 2 boilers are better than 1.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine has a 3-way solenoid like the Rancilio Silvia for drip proof shots, better flow control and fast change-over and dumping of spent coffee grounds.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine uses a 55W Ulka pump.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine is made in Italy, largely of stainless steel and has an energy saving feature - something the Silvia does not have.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine has one-touch hot water dispensing for lattes, tea and instant hot chocolate.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine integrates brass into the steam wand, portafilter, steam valve and portafilter holder. Heat stability!
So how did the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine stack up?
The Uno has a 57MM brass portafilter - 1MM smaller than the Rancilio Silvia. The Uno comes with a double and single basket. I am not that good at pulling singles (it is a true art form - like Latte art, and I am not there yet!)
Legendary specialty coffee guru, Reg Barber of CoffeeTamper.Com was kind enough ti whip up a 57MM on a moments notice. Thanks Reg!
Reg James, owner-partner at EspressoTec.Com provided the Vtech Uno as well as the VTech Pod system.
Like other espresso machines like the Uno - sheets and metal and chunks of brass... they need time to warm up. I gave the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine a good 15-20 minutes to find its comfort zone. The reservoir feels like 2L and that is handy because I tend to compulsively flush between shots, before shots and after shots.
The VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine reservoir has a lower coupling (washer) so there are no tubes to thread (like the Silvia) and (correct me if I am wrong...), the Uno has a water-out light - handy but not entirely necessary: Vibration pump driven machines like the Silvia and the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine can pump air all day long without harming the Ulka pump.
Like all other pump driven espresso machines, the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine lives for freshly ground espresso coffee - ground precisely by anything from the Baratza Virtuoso to the Rancilio Silvia and beyond. The better the grinder, the better the espresso.
I get lots of e-mail from people with very good espresso machines - but they have their espresso ground in the cafe-roastery or (gasp) they scoop it out of a tin. Consider this: Whole bean coffee is fresh for 7 to 10 days out of the roaster. Yes, you can double ziplock your beans and toss them in the freezer for a few weeks - much beyond that is a no-no. Or you can put your beans in an airtight tin in the back of the kitchen cupboard. Either way, coffee has a shelf life much like a head of lettuce in your fridge - It does not last forever.
Anyhow - shots pulled with the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine were killer from the get go - surprisingly so at the time because I was unaware of the internals when I started making my observations. I was mistakenly under the impression that the VTech Uno dual boiler espresso machine was a dual thermal block machine (must ask next time!) None the less, it was immediately obvious that the double shots of espresso were as good as any that my Silvia produced. Doing a quick three-way comparison, the Silvia shots and V-Tech Uno ones were equal in intensity and overall quality. Shots pulled with an HX Giotto had a definitive edge. Shots from the Nuova Simonelli Oscar were "just noticeably better" - The Giotto II HX were significantly better - best of the group that is.
What I loved about the VTech Uno: The VTech Uno warmed up and became stable quickly. There did not seem to be any "toss the first shots" scenarios - all the shots were spot on right out of the gate from the get go. Brew temperature seemed to be very tight from session to session. There does not appear to be much surfing involved with this non-HX machine. The VTech Uno is very well made, rock solid, stable on the counter with very low noise during brew times.
What I did not like that much about the VTech Uno: The Vtech Uno has a very large removeable drip tray and the edges were razor sharp and could have used a treatment of fine sandpaper or crocus cloth.
I would not hestitate to suggest that the VTech Uno is superior to the Silvia in several areas - for a price. The controls are obvious and intuitive, the unit is well built and takes advantage of some of the best features of the Silvia (and others) and takes them a step further. The Vtech Uno and Vtech Pod are available at EspressoTec.Com in Canada