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VICTORIA ARDUINO EAGLE ONE – INNOVATION AT A BARGAIN PRICE

VICTORIA ARDUINO EAGLE ONE - REAL INNOVATION AT A BARGAIN PRICE

Last Updated on October 5, 2020 by Nick Baskett

Here’s Our Review of the Victoria Arduino Eagle One Espresso Machine

The latest machine from the highly regarded manufacturer Victoria Arduino is the Eagle One, announced in September 2019. My initial reaction was mixed and relatively lukewarm. But this is a machine that grows on you the more you look at what it offers.

There should be an appreciation for something which works so well that you forget it. This is the feedback I get from people who’ve used the machine. Unlike a machine that wants your attention, The Eagle One is happy for the barista to be the star. Yet you might be surprised that this frankly unassuming machine does quite so much for the money.

VA has done some things that are genuinely original and worthy of recognition. So what innovations are in the Eagle One, and why might it be the perfect machine for your business?

Alas, Victoria Arduino did not send us a machine to review, and we can only truly know how to feel after we have lived with a machine for a month or more. Reviews like this one, even when you get hands on it for a time, are limited because it’s not representative of the experience you would have as an owner over months or years. The best we can do is relate to the experiences we have with the machines we use each day.

The Culture Behind Victoria Arduino

It’s worth a short introduction to Victoria Arduino, to get some understanding for what the company is about, their history and modern purpose, what problems they’re trying to solve and their corporate and brand identity. A little understanding here helps put into context the design choices made with the Eagle One.

Victoria Arduino was founded in 1905 by Pier Teresa Arduino (1876 – 1923) and is now part of the Simonelli Group. The manufacturing all happens at a 32,000 square foot facility near Marche in the North of Italy. The company turns out over 35,000 machines a year under the brands Simonelli, and Victoria Arduino.

The company’s headquarters are next to the production facility, which makes sense, and I understand it is considered a state of the art facility. RFID tracking is used through the production lifecycle so that inefficient practices are identified and squeezed out, and the company even dishes out awards to the most productive teams. So, VA produces genuine Italian-made machines; they invest in high tech factories and R&D, and they are clearly knowledgeable about the environment.

When doing my research, I came across this page (this must be written by scientists who don’t know when to hit the return key). The article dated October 2019 discusses how manufacturing materials for Espresso machines have an impact on design. Read this article and then look again at the design features of the Eagle One and the story of how this machine was conceived will become clearer.

The Eagle One Dimensions

The first thing you’ll notice is its diminutive size for this class of machine. The 2-group variant is the size of a large microwave! I thought of the counter space I could save if I replaced my Elektra, and this was a conscious design choice, VA knows it will appeal to cafe’s where counter space is premium real-estate.

Currently, we have a display fridge that is pushed up next to our espresso machine and the heat next to the fridge is causing problems, but there’s only so much reorganising you can do before you realise something needs to change.

Kudos to VA in recognising and making this issue a design consideration. Look at the table below to compare dimensions with weight, power and capacity against their competitor machine the La Marzocco KB90, and a lower featured standard La Marzocco Linea Classic.

Eagle One Specifications

Model / VariantWidth (mm)Depth (mm)Height (mm)Group Height (mm)Weight (KG)Power without options fitted (watts)Steam Boiler Capacity (Litres)
VA Eagle One - 2 GROUP7585764371059050007
VA Eagle One - 3 GROUP9885764371056500TBC
La Marzocco KB90 - 2 GROUP810620450-775400/5700*7
La Marzocco KB90 - 3 GROUP1050620450-1017300/7800*11
La Marzocco Linea Classic - 2 GROUP690560455- 5136007
La Marzocco Linea Classic 3 GROUP930560455- 66480011

The Price of the Eagle One

Norfolk Coffee has a 2 Group Eagle One listed in the UK for £7,750 about $9,000 for the base features and without customisation. At this price point, it’s significantly cheaper than its big brother, the VA Black Eagle. VA has stated that they want to make this machine affordable for the ‘youthful generation of barista’, those who are starting up their own speciality coffee shops.

Cost to Customise Your Espresso Machine

But the sticker price is not the final price. You have to take into account the cost of customisation, which for some might add 20% to the cost. The smaller shops, I can see leaning on creative friends to help them out with a bit of woodworking. Wood looks good on an espresso machine in my opinion – it feels warm in the hand and has a pleasure to work with compared to man-made materials. I have also seen some stunning metal designs and a few marble ones that stand out. Quality customisation can cost £1,000 on top of the retail price – this was the price we were quoted for a walnut finish.

Leasing Options

Since most shops will not buy the machine outright, the cost to lease or rent the machine is going to be a prime consideration. Norfolk Coffee once again helpfully show the lease cost to be £40.55 + VAT per week ($49), which is about the equivalent of a La Marzocco Linea 2 Group, and what I expected, considering a Black Eagle costs £50.10 + VAT per week ($61).

Considering the efficiency savings, lower cost of parts vs a La Marzoccco, the low lease costs, this machine makes the numbers.

The Eagle One Features and Selling Points

This is a machine to rival and in some ways surpass the La Marzocco KB90, which presents many of the same features in a similar package, but for about a 30% premium on price. Cafe owners want their machines to be simple to operate, fast, reliable and consistent, so the feature set has to match those demands. How does the Eagle One stack up?

An introduction by James Hoffman, who consulted on the project.

Gravimetric Technology

Gravimetric technology is similar to the La Marzocco Drip Prediction Algorithm feature. The Eagle One weighs the coffee output and stops brewing when it reaches the set amount. Automatic weighing of the extraction is not something new, as mentioned others, including La Marzocco, have similar technology, but at this price point, it’s quite impressive.

The point of controlling the exact amount of liquid that goes into the cup is consistency and speed. Your head barista can experiment with different beans and brew ratios, and program the perfect formula into the Eagle One. The barista can now brew and forget, while they focus on steaming the milk or talking with the customer. The result is faster, better-tasting shots and improved customer experience. Honestly, this one sells it for me, but there’s more.

Every barista knows there’s a small amount of extra volume you get after you stop extraction – The drip factor. That extra 1-2 seconds needs to be taken into account, so the Eagle One allows you to put the machine into calibrate mode and fine-tune the actual final output so that it’s perfect. That’s great attention to detail, but not quite to the sophistication of the La Marzocco system where they work that out for you.

Personally, unless I had seen the La Marzocco Drip Prediction Algorithm working under different scenarios, with different beans in different environments, I’d be cautious about giving up all control over the extraction. I’m happy with the balance of control and automation that VA has gone with.

Touch Screen Controls with Mobile App

I’m not a huge fan of the touch panels on espresso machines. They’re too small to be useful, and I can’t help but wonder about their reliability. I expect that’s just my paranoia, but VA has worked this out by building an App that their website says is ‘coming soon’, and I hear it’s going to be released in May.

I hope and expect it will run on both android and iPhone devices, but it claims that you can control many aspects of the machine’s performance, including aspects such as flow control. I believe there may be a centralised function here too so that if you manage a group of cafe’s, you will be able to push out new recipes to all the machines.

VA says the app communicates via Bluetooth, so that means the Eagle One itself is not internet-connected. Thank goodness they didn’t fall for the hype around internet-connected devices; like we need an internet-enabled fridge? I can do without hackers remotely controlling my espresso machines!

If our understanding is correct, one person will set the recipes on the app, and then each shop, having received those recipes on their mobile device, will do the update when they’re within range of a few feet from their machine.

VA mentioned an ability to make your recipes public and share them with others in a kind of social network. If the implementation is good, it could be interesting for independent cafes to try out new ideas.

The Eagle One’s Steam Paddles

It’s a rocker switch. No knob, no handle, but a short-throw rocker switch. Honestly, I’m conflicted here – I suppose there is an argument that turning knobs is the wrong form of mechanics for a function that is basically on or off, but I like my wood handled steam control. There’s a pleasant analogue feel to pushing a handle to make the steam.

So what is the problem Victoria Arduino is trying to solve here? At the launch, there was a short mention about making their machines more accessible – so is this an accessibility feature? The feedback is that it takes a bit of getting used to, but after a couple of days, it becomes natural, although I can’t say I’m thrilled about it.

We’ve read reports that claim the Eagle One uses either 2 bar or 2.5 bar of pressure. I’m not sure which it is, but either is higher than other similar machines and bodes well for a powerful large milk jug steaming experience.

Automatic Flushing

Not a new invention, but a welcome feature, the automatic flushing of the group head means one less thing to think about or to train your baristas to do. The amount of water flushed is even configurable on the touchscreen menu. The timing of the flush is not, however, and because it auto-cancels if the portafilter is left in for over 20 seconds, it can cause some confusion when two baristas are working.

There’s not else much to say about this, other than it’s another step that VA is taking towards automating the important but non-skilled tasks, allowing the barista to focus on the fewer, more important elements of the job, including customer communication.

Cool Touch Steam Wand

We mentioned the rocker switches that control the steam wand, but the wand itself is a cool touch, which means no more forearm burns. The wands are controlled by solenoid valves which should be lower maintenance than traditional, manual steam wands.

The Eagle One Energy Efficiency

According to the spec sheets, a 2 group draws 5,000w, and a 3 group 6,500w. Add another 400w for the cup warmer and the total looks comparable to other commercial products like the La Marzocco Linea Classic draws between 4,600 and 6,100 for similarly configured 2 and 3 groups respectively.

The boiler is on the smaller side at only 7 litres and is insulated against heat loss. The head, as we mentioned, automatically backflushes after every extraction, but the hot water flushed runs over the cold water pipes with a technology VA refers to as Thermal Energy Recovery System (TERS) which results in small heat exchange and claiming a bonus 5% additional efficiency gain.

Each coffee group holds only 150ml of water, which means during quiet periods, the Eagle One doesn’t need to waste much energy or time in heating up.

As a product class becomes more mature, innovation breakthroughs naturally happen less often. Instead, we see a creeping 1% improvement across multiple elements and taken together all those 1% improvements make for a significant change. This is how I feel about the Eagle One from Victoria Arduino.

What We Don’t Like About the Eagle One

How it Looks

Out of the box, the Eagle One is not the best-looking machine. It’s not ugly, it’s just, neutral looking. Our own machine faces the customers as they walk into the shop and makes a statement about how coffee is an important part of our business. At night, you see it glowing through the shop window, and every time I walk past, its the first thing I notice.

For many, the looks won’t matter since they will customise it, but if you’re planning on using it without customisation, make sure you’re comfortable with the potential lack of ‘presence’ it has. It is worth noting, however, that because of the low height, your baristas are more likely able to converse with customers over the top of the machine.

Messy Drip Tray

I have read that the drip tray seems to retain a lot of surface water after each head flush, meaning the next cup you place will have a wet base. It’s a minor thing, but given how much effort VA went to, to ensure the barista can focus on their job, leaving a messy drip tray which requires cleaning after each coffee seems to be a bit of an own goal.

The App

I’m slightly concerned that they have not released the app along with the machine. Clearly, that was not planned, and while software projects are known for delays, coffee companies do not have a long history in software development.

Summary

I admit that I started this review without a huge amount of enthusiasm. But, as I researched, and dug more into the features of the machine, I started to look at it less from an emotional perspective- I’m afraid my defacto purchasing mindset – and more of a sensible business choice.

Since some important functionality depends on the mobile app, I think it’s hard to make a recommendation until it is released. We’d also like to see how shops find the usefulness of the app and the reliability of the machine.

I’d also like to compare it in detail to the equally innovative, but more expensive La Marzocco KB90. However, the Victoria Arduino Eagle One is a machine I’m keeping my eye on. I think it might just be the best choice in the market today for its class.

Written by Nick Baskett

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