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Semi-automatic or Double Spring Lever....which one ?


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At the outset, I am sorry for the long winding post.

Some bragging rights 

We have used a few cheap espresso machines in the past. We do not have one at the moment. The budget (£1.5k-£2.5k) still needs to be approved by the High Command.  

We are originally from a brewed-coffee drinking family and the current set up is follows:

  • Osmio Zero
  • JX pro
  • Aero Press, Indian Filter, Clever Dripper with Swiss Gold Filter
  • 0.1 g (3 KG) and 10mg (200g) scales
  • 2-3 (max 4) back to back brews each in the morning and evening and another 2 during the day. So, totally, we make about 6 (min) - 10 coffees (max) a day. 
  • Each grind is typically 15 - 20 grams and at times we grind 24-30 g for long steeps for two.
  • More than 60% of the coffee will be milk based. 

What I am looking for:

  • A dual boiler 
  • Ability to steam milk simultaneously 
  • Pull back to back shots daily and occasionally when friends and family visit (can’t put a number, but I think it may just be a few more)
  • Happy to get my hands dirty on the maintenance side of things, although would like to avoid messing with electricals 
  • My family (Wife and Daughter) may use it without worrying too much about the how side of things 

Two opposing choices

  • ACS Minima and mod it with Paddle Flow Control 
  • Lelit Bianca
  • V-Vostok 1 Group 

I like all the three and read Dave’s reviews and videos. Thanks Dave @DavecUK for all amazing reviews and videos. 

Semi-auto 

  • The Minima is very attractive including the price point; it has relatively fewer wear and tear parts, and maintenance requirements (which I love) compared to Bianca. David @BlackCatCoffee was very helpful and measured the Minima (Vibe pump) noise in dB using the app standing next to the machine on a steel test bench. It was measured at 69 dB, which I can liken it to Osmio Zero’s noise (~ average 65dB on an app standing next to it) when it is not quiet. This does concern me a bit. 
  • Is there anything to be gained for by choosing Bianca over Minima, if I were to go the non-lever route? I do not think the programmed pre-infusion on Bianca is not valuable, given the paddles.
  • I like these machines as I am very curious to try some of the brews (short vs long steep, wider brew ratios, etc).

Vostok 1 group

  • I never had a chance to try the lever. But, I always liked the lever machines. This is more so after reading the Vostok 1 group, which is  impressive and has commercial-grade parts .  I am aware that Vostok is more difficult to cock the lever compared to other spring levers. Dave did message me with a video that folks with weaker hands could easily cock the lever with 2 hands, unless one has a medical condition. This double-handed approach will help some one like my wife, while I am confident that I will be fine as my hands are stronger. 

My questions on this machine are :

  • How many pounds pressure one typically needs to apply while cocking the double-spring lever ?
  • Can it pull more than 3-4 back to back shots (if required), if my friends / family were to visit me? If yes, does it affect the stability and life of the machine?
  • Is there anything, which I should be aware of as far as this machine and/or the double-spring lever machines are concerned ?
  • I would appreciate some words of wisdom on regular maintenance and difficulties associated with DIY repairs 

Final choice :

I know these deliver the same result using two  different approaches. 

My mind says, semi-auto, the heart says the lever. I want to buy once and hopefully keep it for a long long time. Although I do not want to regret after purchasing, I do not want to experiment, see if it work, sell and upgrade. We will keep what ever we buy and perhaps, won’t replace as long as it works.  

  • Please share your thoughts, expert opinion and recommendations - Vostok or semi-auto please? 
  • What are the advantages of the double-spring lever over semi-auto? Does it offer a better espresso than the semi-auto? 
  • Is it worth paying the extra price (perhaps £1k over Minima) for Vostok 1 group? 
  • If we are going down the semi-auto route, is it worth paying a few hundred pounds more for Bianca ?

Finally, please add if I have missed out anything. 

Many thanks!!!

Edited by Like Medium Strong Coffee
Typos

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise”  - Sigmund Freud

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It is always super tough to give advice when people are comparing such different machines. 

Lever machines obviously have their advantages and the declining pressure profile they offer can very often produce stellar results. They do though have a bit of a learning curve and you are of course limited to where you can place them. 

What I would say re price though is I would expect the Vesuvius Lever to be over double the price of the Minima after vat and any import handling charges are incurred. It would still be a very competitive price when compared to some other lever machines on the market but just something to keep in mind. There are lever machines closer in price to the Minima of course if you do decide to go down the lever route but don’t want to spend quite as much.

When comparing the Minima to the Bianca it is really comes down to if you are happy to pay the extra for the rotary pump etc. I do not think you would get objectively better in cup performance from one over the other. You could of course add flow control to the Minima for around £120 if that appeals. 

Hopefully others can chip in. 
 

David 

 

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www.blackcatcoffee.co.uk

Coffee | Espresso Machines | Grinders | Accessories

Bezzera machines back in stock!

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@BlackCatCoffee I think what David says would echo my thoughts...all 3 of those machines will hit the functional requirements of back to back shots, steaming whilst brewing, the Minima does have a full service boiler autofill lock out when steaming, I don't know if lelit have added that yet, but as it's on their latest machines, they probably added it to Bianca. The Minima can do almost everything the Bianca does (bar some of the more exotic LCC settings) when you install a paddle kit. The V-Vostok again will functionally do all the things you wanted.

The choice boils down to 4 areas

  • What you are happy to spend
  • Do you have a good space for your chosen option
  • What pulls at the heart

The V-Vostok (my name for it), is not actually in the field yet, and I only have an Alpha test bed...the production machines are way, way better inside, outside and Frankenstien is made up of old bits cobbled together. So everything you read is purely my opinion, what if I'm wrong.

If you really want to have a valid comparison, especially against other machines and levers...there are at least 3 people who have owned a few other machines including levers who have taken the plunge.. fairly soon, they will be able to give you their verdict on a "proper production" machine. You have time, no need to rush into anything. Also, as David says, those are not the only 3 machines on the market.

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I like toffee.....but try and talk sense when you're chewing it!

 

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Both @DavecUK@BlackCatCoffee have provided great info.   Budget is first thing I would iron out as you have a huge range.  High risk of an anti-climax would be my worry. My wife combined with reality would normally reduce down the choices and make it easier, as none are bad options I think.

I think that if going the lever route, you should also consider the profitec 800 as a cheaper lever option, main downside being longer warmup time(add WiFi timer plug) and upside being less to go wrong. 

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Thanks @DavecUK and @BlackCatCoffee for very useful inputs and recommendations. I am sorry for asking difficult questions. Thanks @danielpugh for your comments. I have been chatting with David @dfk41 (thank you), who has been providing useful insights about his lever experiences and thoughts on wizardry machines.

I agree with all of you re-the levers and semi-auto. They are different classes and lever does appeal me a lot. The timing of V was perfect as I was debating between a few semi-autos. I think the V, I believe, is perfect as it gives the best of both worlds. I am happy to be corrected, otherwise. It has the hallmark Dave’s mind! 🙂

9 hours ago, DavecUK said:

What you are happy to spend

I need to leave it flexible here. The £1.5K (this is no problem) easily for Minima with a paddle kit and £2.5 max for the V. David @dfk41  knows what’s holding me from pulling the plug. 😊

4 hours ago, danielpugh said:

reduce down the choices

It’s either Minima with a paddle or the V. I am not looking at any other lever unless I am convinced otherwise. 

9 hours ago, DavecUK said:

Do you have a good space for your chosen option

Yeah. All good here.

9 hours ago, DavecUK said:

What pulls at the heart

The lever - specifically, the V.  

9 hours ago, DavecUK said:

what if I'm wrong.

When you said it’s good and would not want to use anything else, the outcome can’t be different, can it? 

9 hours ago, DavecUK said:

valid comparison

You have both and perhaps, you could give us a view by pulling a couple of quick shots 😜.  

9 hours ago, DavecUK said:

You have time, no need to rush into anything

Agree. Do we have a time line for the first lot please ? 

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise”  - Sigmund Freud

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Fair few shot videos from @DavecUK albeit on the pre-production machine which is different.  Paolo is providing updated pics of progress on the Coffeetime forum, which has all the latest as-it-happens.  First batch was originally aimed for April, but running late based on parts arriving/covid.  First production machine pics (on the test bench), were a couple of days ago.  I think Paolo mentioned late April for second batch to @Holonomic, so fairly imminent, but obviously subject to change.

 

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4 hours ago, danielpugh said:

Fair few shot videos from @DavecUK albeit on the pre-production machine which is different.  Paolo is providing updated pics of progress on the Coffeetime forum, which has all the latest as-it-happens.  First batch was originally aimed for April, but running late based on parts arriving/covid.  First production machine pics (on the test bench), were a couple of days ago.  I think Paolo mentioned late April for second batch to @Holonomic, so fairly imminent, but obviously subject to change.

 

Thank you for the update, my mistake if I said April, it was late May.

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Late May could be June, if they are in Lockdown and things change and Paolo would want all machines 100% before shipping.

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6 minutes ago, Jony said:

Late May could be June, if they are in Lockdown and things change and Paolo would want all machines 100% before shipping.

Could well be sooner than that.

Norėčiau juodos kavos

 

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16 minutes ago, Jony said:

We shall see👀

Don't make any bets on it, you will loose

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I like toffee.....but try and talk sense when you're chewing it!

 

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1 hour ago, Holonomic said:

Thank you for the update, my mistake if I said April, it was late May.

Sorry & that will have been me and my fading memory - you are spot on.  I've still got a good feeling about the first batch being ready fairly soon (end of April +- weeks).  If the parts are there or close, the software good, and the internals are very similar to the Vesuvius which should help. I can survive till end of May.  Realistically I can survive longer, but given longer more likely to pick up a side project fixer-upper from somewhere..

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4 hours ago, danielpugh said:

Sorry & that will have been me and my fading memory - you are spot on.  I've still got a good feeling about the first batch being ready fairly soon (end of April +- weeks).  If the parts are there or close, the software good, and the internals are very similar to the Vesuvius which should help. I can survive till end of May.  Realistically I can survive longer, but given longer more likely to pick up a side project fixer-upper from somewhere..

I think more like before the end of this month....but lets see

I like toffee.....but try and talk sense when you're chewing it!

 

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As someone who just pressed the button to purchase a Vesuvius Leva (or is it 1 Group Vostok?), it might be interesting to share here how I reached this decision :

I come from a long stint with full automatic machines (a 15+ years old Gaggia Titanium which I've maintained myself and which still works as new, and a more recent 'plastic fantastic' Delonghi ESAM 4200s- don't laugh!), which I've pushed to their limits (measuring and tweaking temperature, coffee intake, and liquid "output" for way too many shots, without getting the consistency and taste I was looking for in expresso, and with weak steam in general). I did enjoy the convenience and quick warm up time, but the in-the-cup results didn't meet my standards. I've switched to quality water and got rid of the 'foam assist' gadgets over time to make one daily milk-based drink, but still could only rarely get to the level of the basic SBDU machine I used before.

When looking for a proper espresso/steam machine, I wanted the following (in no particular order):

- Great taste with all sort of coffee beans, for espresso and milk drinks, which I equate with preinfusion (for an adjustable duration and pressure), good temperature stability, good steam pressure and -ideally- the ability to tweak the profile (playing with brew pressure would be acceptable, although not ideal). On-the-fly adjustments would be a plus to experiment and try to compensate for potential user inconsistencies.

- A quick warm up time (as I don't have regular hours) and no signifiant wait between brewing and steaming - My (single and double) thermocoil machines are very quick, but I could live with 15 minutes or thereabouts, for the initial warm up.

- Easy daily / weekly maintenance routines (I'm used to rinsing brew-units, but having to grease o-rings every week doesn't appeal to me)

- A quality product which will last over a decade (acknowledging that I'm willing to do some maintenance and repairs as I've done on my Gaggia BTC, such as dismantling its ULKA vibration pump, replacing o-rings and installing a new controller board more recently)

- Value for money (I didn't intend to spend that much initially, but didn't want to compromise on the above 4 criteria, and quickly understood that I needed to spend over £1000, coffee grinder excluded, to get what I wanted)

 

Before discovering the "Vesuvius Leva", here are the machines which were on my short list, in no particular order, with my reservations and overall assessment :

  • The Lelit Elizabeth seems a practical choice but is not super exciting and could possibly be limiting in the long run. It lacks the profiling ability/on-the-fly preinfusion adjustment capability I wished for but is fairly compact and without shiny bits for easier cleaning...
  • The ACS Minima with profiling paddle kit (Lelit or other) lacks the quick warm up time and requires attention for the manual preinfusion phase. I also had some concerns about the box build quality as it seems fairly thin
  • The Sage/Breville double boiler could do all I want including profiling (with a simple reversible modification) and has an easily adjustable preinfusion. It was the cheapest of the lot (including accessories, etc), but its reliability record and concerns about build quality/parts availability were a turn off. Its steaming capabilities also seemed on the weak-ish side.

I ruled out the MaraX (plus paddle kit) as it costs only slightly less than the Elisabeth or the Minima while lacking some of their capabilities (more granular temperature control, strong steam), and wasn't interested in the "show-off lever machines" (Londinum, etc.) as they seemed very expensive for what they offer and/or as their technology seems very crude.

The Vesuvius Leva is clearly an indulgence, but it is the only solution I've found which ticks all my boxes (and some). Some of its features are yet to be announced (can it work with a smart plug?) and its reliability is not established yet (the cost and availability of some of the spares, especially on the electronics side, is a question in the long run, despite some encouraging insights and statements that it shares most of its components with other machines). I do like what seems to be a very clear and intuitive interface and may -one day- make use of the plumb-in capacity (at least on the waste side).

It being a (heavy) lever machine means that some precautions are required (user training and vigilance). Some care will also be required regarding where to put it, and it might be intimidating to some. I don't see these things as insurmontable issues, and they are compensated by having something which is fairly unique and state of the art, let alone a shiny big stainless steel conversation piece 😉 

Clearly expectations are high, and strongly influenced by what Dave and Paolo have share, but I'm looking forward to getting my new tool (or is it toy?).

 

 

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35 minutes ago, Eiffel said:

The Vesuvius Leva is clearly an indulgence, but it is the only solution I've found which ticks all my boxes (and some). Some of its features are yet to be announced (can it work with a smart plug?) and its reliability is not established yet (the cost and availability of some of the spares, especially on the electronics side, is a question in the long run, despite some encouraging insights and statements that it shares most of its components with other machines). I do like what seems to be a very clear and intuitive interface and may -one day- make use of the plumb-in capacity (at least on the waste side).

It being a (heavy) lever machine means that some precautions are required (user training and vigilance). Some care will also be required regarding where to put it, and it might be intimidating to some. I don't see these things as insurmontable issues, and they are compensated by having something which is fairly unique and state of the art, let alone a shiny big stainless steel conversation piece 😉 

Clearly expectations are high, and strongly influenced by what Dave and Paolo have share, but I'm looking forward to getting my new tool (or is it toy?).

 

 

I use Frankenstein with a smart plug, although it does have a 7 day timer/with on offs like a Vsuvius...the smart plug for me is better.

Spares costs should be much cheaper than some other Lever machines. I'm hoping (If Paolo remembers and can get the parts) to have some free group servicing parts in there.

Internal components are easily available and you have the price promise on Minima boilers (which as the Vostok uses the same boiler should extend to those)....so if a heating element ever goes just put in a whole new boiler.

Pump is a gear pump, but economical in price as it only goes to 4 bar.

mainboard is Same as vesuvius, SSRs the same and 24V power supply the same.

It is heavy, too heavy for 1 person to lift.

 

....it's a toy, but one I love using.

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I like toffee.....but try and talk sense when you're chewing it!

 

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@DavecUKmild Segway - but prompted by your last post .  Is the eco mode similar to the Vesuvius as well.  I'm planning on turning off the service boiler by default.  From the Vesuvius manual - in eco mode the service boiler should start up by activity on the touch screen or pulling a shot.  Is this the case on Frankenstein as well?

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@danielpugh it has no Eco mode like that. You just turn service boiler on/off as you want. The service boiler is quick to heat.

Frankenstein does not have the complex functions of the V. The programming code space was used to control 3 lever groups and 5 PIDs. To have developed completely new code for the 1 group would have been very expensive and time consuming.

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I like toffee.....but try and talk sense when you're chewing it!

 

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