The owner’s manual included with the machine was a photocopy of
the original. It was well translated from Italian, but contained little
beyond obvious instructions. The box came with one page of quick-start
instructions that describes the machine’s initial boiler auto-fill
cycle and warns about shipping problems that may crop up (loose
connections, boiler water splashing about inside the machine during
The owner’s manual claims fifteen minutes to warm up. The
boiler will click off long before that time expires, however the
portafilter will be barely warm. Consider twenty-five minutes as the
minimum recommended time for passively warming the grouphead and
portafilter; thirty minutes is more than adequate. If you are too rushed
in the morning to allow a proper warm up and don’t want to leave
the machine on continuously, you can use a heavy-duty timer to turn it
on before you get up for breakfast.
Once the machine is fully warmed, the exposed portion of the E61
grouphead is hot to the touch. Not so much that a casual brush against
it will burn skin, but enough to get your attention quickly. The hottest
grouphead surface temperature that I measured was 185°F. Despite the
hot exposed grouphead, none of our curious little ones have ever burned
themselves on it. To be certain, I did remind the kids “hot! hot!
don't touch! ouch!” if they even looked in the general
direction of the grouphead. They’ve adapted quickly to Valentina
and the routine of preparing espresso—in fact, my youngest often
insists on “helping” by pulling the doser handle and pushing
with both his hands overtop my hand on the tamper (it's a
“flat-er” to him). But I digress...
The warming tray is very effective and will warm the cups in about 45
minutes, thanks to the 1.2 liter copper boiler and slotted top that
allows the heat to rise. The tray narrows towards the back. It can fit
two small cappuccino cups side-by-side in the back row and two rows of
three espresso cups in the front.
You’ll hear a little gurgling sound coming from the machine a
few minutes after it first starts up. That’s the noise of water
boiling before the vacuum breaker has closed off the boiler. A last few
fizzles as it snaps shut, then there’s no worries about false
pressure (otherwise you would have to initially bleed pressure through
the steam wand so the boiler pressure gauge works correctly).
Adjusting Brew Temperature
As discussed in Fine Tuning
HX Brew Temperature, adjusting the flush amount by observation
and taste is more important than the precise boiler pressure setting for
this class of espresso machines. The lower the pressurestat setting, the
more time before the water in the heat exchanger goes over the target
brew temperature; I recommend a setting of 1.1 bar (measured from the
top of the heating cycle) as a good tradeoff between ample steam
production and reasonable recovery times.
La Valentina’s boiler pressure adjustment is easy. Beneath the
cup warming tray is the pressurestat—it’s the black box in
the back right corner. Underneath its cover is a large adjustment screw
with +/- arrows denoting the correct direction. Notice the Sirai
pressurestat is commercial quality. The extra set of electrical contacts
can be pressed into service for quick repairs if the pressurestat fails
because of carbon build-up or pitting due to arcing. Of course this sort
of failure is infrequent in a home environment, but it’s nice to
know that the pressurestat can be repaired easily (non-commercial
pressurestats are generally sealed and cannot be repaired).
The pressurestat allows for very fine adjustments. For example,
approximately six half-turns of the pressurestat screw corresponds to a
mere 0.1 bar change in pressure.
Adjusting Brew Pressure
The expansion valve, which determines the maximum brew pressure, was
initially set at 12 bar (this valve is also called an over-pressure
valve or “OPV”). If the pump is unregulated, it can produce
an overextracted, bitter shot. Adjusting it down to nine bar helped the
consistency of my shots immensely, especially when pulling ristrettos.
You’ll need a portafilter pressure gauge to adjust it because
there is no brew pressure gauge. I recommend asking 1st-line to do the
adjustment before shipping.
Valentina’s expansion valve is an industrial-grade fluid
control valve, rated for two years of continuous use. That translates
into forever in a home environment. The expansion valve allows
for very fine adjustments. The one-bar adjustment of some non-commercial
expansion valves corresponds to a slight turn of a small screw;
Valentina’s is finely adjustable and is done simply by turning the end of
the expansion valve itself. This means that you have a lot of control
without fear of overshooting the desired maximum pressure by a slip of
Materials and Workmanship
Inside La Valentina sports several commercial components. This
includes the Gicar auto-fill controller and Sirai pressurestat. I also
appreciate the thoughtful layout of the machine. The cup warming tray
comes off with four screws and the U-shaped back cover with six screws.
This exposes the entire working innards in less than two minutes. The
construction of the boiler, wiring, and components is formidable. The
only false note is the framing itself. The designers chose a
“uni-body” construction, where the structural integrity
depends on the strength of the wrap-around casing to offer support. That
is, unlike Silvia whose components attach to an iron-welded frame,
Valentina’s are mounted on folded zinc-plated sheet metal.
Admittedly this is a relatively minor point that speaks to my
engineering side rather than practical necessity.
There are other considerations that reveal Valentina’s
semi-commercial pedigree. A cutout under the boiler to enable easy
replacement of the boiler element, should the need arise. There is a
similar cutout under the driptray area to allow for installing a drain.
Combined with the high clearance, I was able to install a drain without
cutting into the countertop.