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By Dave Stephens
In the world of home espresso machines, few features are more prominently recognizable than the saucer-shaped E61 grouphead. Its expansive chrome surface certainly offers plenty of eye candy, but the popularity of espresso machines based on this design owes as much to its well-deserved reputation for "forgiving" minor errors in barista technique as to good looks. Because the market has been flooded with such a variety of machines designed around the E61 group, buyers are frequently torn between what seems to be indistinguishable choices.
Beginning with the specifications, the standout features of the Vibiemme Domobar Super include:
This review will look closely at the characteristics that separate the E61-based competitors to help you decide.
The Super is larger than your average E61 clone home espresso machine. Front to back, it measures 20 inches deep (not counting one inch for the drip tray handle), 10-1/2 inches wide and 15-3/8 inches tall. Height should not be an issue for standard overhead cabinets, but do measure to confirm the extra depth will leave enough working room in front of the Vibiemme. The Super is outfitted with both a boiler pressure gauge and a brew pressure gauge mounted across the top front of the machine, reminiscent of the style of the popular Isomac Tea. There are three indicator lights:
On the semi automatic and automatic versions of the Super, the brew control buttons are located across the face of the machine between the two gauges. Our evaluation espresso machine is the manual, or lever actuated version. The lever is mounted on the right side of the massive E61 grouphead.
The Domobar Super is a reservoir type espresso machine (often called a "pourover" or "water tank"). Located under the cup warmer and at the rear of the machine is a whopping 3.8 liter reservoir. Many pourover espresso machines have a water reservoir with open top; the Super's is a closed tank with removable refill cap. The cup warming tray extends over the top of the machine and has two handles; you must remove the cups and try to refill the tank.
The Super includes two portafilters, one double and one single spout, a Faema style double basket, single basket and a blank basket for backflushing. Among the other accessories are the traditional black plastic tamper toy suitable for tossing and an angled "burn my hand, please" grouphead brush for cleaning the shower screen and gasket. When ordering, be sure to select a proper 58mm tamper. Finally, Vibiemme includes a typical, less than informative owner's manual. You still need to read it prior to using the machine but as with most espresso machines, it is relatively bland and poorly written.
The Super is commercial UL rated and requires a 120v outlet capable of delivering 17.5 amps of power for the 1600W heating element and a 41W vibratory pump. Verify your kitchen circuits have adequate power for the Vibiemme (most modern kitchens have several 20 amp circuits, but older kitchens may only have 15 amp circuits). The Super also has a longer than average 7 foot electrical cord that extends from under the machine, emerging from the center of the undercarriage.
The Domobar Super, which is "home bar super" in Italian, needs no special hookups, just a suitable electric outlet. Note: Vibiemme (pronounced "Vee-bee-m-may") sells two models, the Domobar and Domobar Super. These are different models with very different specifications; this review discusses only the Super.
Tipping the scales at 70 pounds, the Domobar Super is a heavy espresso machine. I recommend having a helper when lifting it out of the box. The stainless steel feet must be screwed onto the base of the machine; they have non-skid material on the bottom so once the machine is in place, it will stay there. If you don't have an assistant, I recommend gently laying the machine on its side on a soft pad to gain easy access to the bottom. Once on the countertop, the remaining setup is easy:
The last step, filling the boiler, is where you'll first appreciate one of the Vibiemme's unique features: A three-position power switch. This is a feature most often found on commercial equipment. In the first (I) position, the system is powered on but the heating element is not energized. The pump will prime and start filling the boiler. You can also run water through the heat exchanger and group without engaging the heating element. Once the boiler has filled and you have filled the heat exchanger, rotate the switch to its final position (II). Once there, the heater will kick on and the amber 'element energized' light beside the boiler pressure gauge will illuminate.
The three position power switch is a very smart feature. Most semi-commercial espresso machines have simple on/off power switches, so powering the pump to fill the boiler means the heating element has power too. During the first-time fill of the boiler, owners must pay careful attention to avoid burning out the exposed heating element if the boiler doesn't fill fast enough (instructions for such espresso machines typically advise to fill the boiler for 30 seconds, turn off for five minutes, fill for 30 seconds, turn off for five minutes, etc.). In contrast, the Vibiemme's first boiler fill is anxiety free because the (I) power switch position only powers the pump.