I think that the taste profile from machine to machine is just different. And a Vetrano to superautomatic, very drastically different. I will hazard a guess that there are taste profile differences from E61 box to E61 box. I have a a Silvia, a Cimbali, a Gaggia Factory lever, and a Saeco Vienna superautomatic. They all taste quite different. At the moment, my order of taste preference for these 4 machines is Cimbali, Silvia, Factory lever (close to Silvia, likely my lack of skill with it), and finally the Saeco superautomatic.
More directly to your assessment of your superautomatic....
The Saeco I have is very consistent. It is pretty much the same every single time. On occasion, it will pull a slightly better or worse shot, I think based on how recently another shot has been pulled and where it may be in temp swing. There are three variables one can control on the Saeco Vienna superautomatic... the beans used, the grind, and the shot volume (four if you count the water, we use Brita filtered). On this model, you can't change the dose, but some Saeco models feature what they call "Opti-dose" which allows an adjustment from ~6-9 grams (my suspicion is the dose on mine and others is actually based on volume and not weight though). I have my Saeco set to pull a 1 ounce single, and I only occasionally change the grind. The 25 second extraction is pretty much out the window, you *might* get it to do it, but it usually is faster. I've never pulled into a shot glass but I always feel like I get more crema on the second shot than the first. The crema is typically lighter in color than I get on Silvia, but sometimes comes close.
Ok, now to the taste. It is not Silvia, or La Cimbali, or Vetrano I'm sure. It is not very complex. However, it is not tasteless, just not as tasteful. There is much less body and mouthfeel. I find it to be milder, "smoother", less jagged and less interesting, but still pretty good. I always find the machine to pull something much more drinkable on non-espresso blends, or coffees that are too wild or bright on Silvia. The coffee is so much better than the office coffee service, that I could never give it up, not that I ever drank the office coffee except in an act of desperation.
In my situation, I would not be comfortable using anything other than a superautomatic at work. I would worry too much about someone hurting themselves with a semiautomatic machine. The traditional semiauto and grinder setup is also quite messy. Also, most people just aren't all that interested in controlling all the variables that you need to in order to make consistently good espresso The superautomatic is quite clean. You do get some grinds on the counter at the end of the day when you pull it apart to clean, but nothing drastic. Mine is not
located near a sink, and it is a simple one trip to the sink at the end of the day with drip tray, brew group, spout, and bean dump box to clean up.
We have a pool of about 6-7 people who use the machine on and off. At most, it pulls about 15 shots in a day I would guess. Often less if folks are out. It pulls two and sometimes three doubles for me every work day. Lately, I most often have an Americano, but straight shots from time to time.
It has been interesting to watch other people discover espresso-based coffee with this machine. I have three people in the office that now go in with me on bean orders. One guy stopped using his drip, and uses a steam toy with the same beans we use at work. Another, just bought a slightly better Saeco superautomatic model and dumped his steam toy (after already dumping his drip machine), so he can start his day with the same coffee experience, before he gets to work (or if he is headed out of town). His major justification was to stop ordering out coffee in the AM from the likes of Port City Java or Starbucks.
(Dan, depending on the direction this thread takes, a merge to or a link from "Making a case for superautomatics
" may be justified.)