Espresso Machine Review - Saeco Vienna

I have not tried a large number of espresso makers, so this will not be a comparative review. What you will find in the following paragraphs is what owning a Saeco Vienna will do for you, how it will improve your life, your love life, and your professional life. How you can master seven languages because of it. How you will finally understand the final episode of The Prisoner. Also, how it will help you make a damn fine cup of espresso.

Yeah, all those claims from the previous paragraph? Mostly only the last one is true. With the rest of them, any improvements you see in your own life matching those are correlative at best, coincidental at worst.

The Saeco Vienna is* a Super Automatic (or superautomatica) espresso machine**. What this means in general terms is that, in order to get a fantastic cup of espresso, you must, after ensuring that the hoppers are filled with beans and water respectively and that a cup is waiting below the spigot, hit a button. Maybe hit that button twice if you want twice as much espresso.

I know! "Why must it be so much work?" "Won't somebody think of the index-finger impared!" But it's true; buttons are pressed, espresso appears. The machine grinds the beans, tamps them down, runs the steam through, and empties the grounds into a bin.

"But Brian," you may think, "that's not hardcore!" And you are correct. I am not going to be a master barista any time soon. I am lazy with my espresso making.

On the other hand, I can stumble downstairs, barely awake, set a cup down, double-tap a button, and be given better espresso than most of the coffee houses in the US. If that's not the very definition of "The Future", then I don't want to live in The Future. What I'm not likely to get is the God Shot, which makes me a little sad, but not so sad that I want to actually work for my espresso.

Frothing milk is pretty easy, too, for those who prefer their coffee milky. You hit another button, which heats the water up more for froth purposes, then then you put the milk under what's called the Panarello Wand, which is like a normal frothing wand but with some plastic bits designed to make it easier for the non-hardcore to froth milk.

Depending on the type of milk you're using, you can just listen to the tone of the milk to know when it's hit 140°F, which is warm enough for my wife, or 160°F, where the foam becomes stable. If you had enough milk in your frothing cup to begin with, then you will have the "right" amount of foam. Too little milk, and you'll probably end up with too much foam. Still, pretty easy. Then you wipe things down and rinse bits off, and you are set for another day of coffee making.

The other great thing about this line of espresso maker is that it's relatively inexpensive. Although it's about $500, that is a pittance compared to other super automatics. It's made by a quality company, though, and it has the same innards as higher-end espresso makers, but because of the not-exciting styling, it costs much less.

About the only downside to the machine is that there's this one part that I'm going to have to clean one day, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get it out of the machine. The instructions were vague, and the video that came with it is on VHS. As if I have anything that plays a tape of any kind around the home. Sigh. One day I will figure it out. But not today.

In any case, if you want to make espresso, and don't need to be hardcore, I would go with this. More specifically, if I need to buy a second one for any reason, I will stay with this brand and its descendants.

*- Well… was. It's no longer being made. However, you can get a Saeco Villa
, which is basically the new, slightly improved model. It has two boilers, for example, so you don't have to wait the many long seconds between brewing espresso and frothing milk.

**- Incidentally, this was the machine that Alton Brown used in his episode on espresso. Just so you know.