Built like an "army tank"- Heavy Duty 110v 15amp Great customer service E61 Brew group
Negative Product Points
No water reserve level indicator
I love espresso but, I am new to the world of manual or semi-automatic espresso machines. My first machine was a Jura S9. It introduced me to making my own espresso. Moreover, it gave me the confidence to get a real espresso machine. I had several requirements for my home espresso machine:
It had to be durable. I wanted 1957 Chevy kind of durability.
It had to be 110v 15 amp so I would not need to run a new electrical line.
It had to be a tank type (pour over). I did not want to drill a hole in my granite counter top.
I did not want to stop and flush after every steaming, before pulling an espresso shot. That left only quality HX or double boiler type machines.
All parts needed to be easily accessible, especially maintenance parts. (Most semi auto machines fit this one).
Little to no plastic parts. This cut out all automatic machines.
Priced at $2,200 or less.
Wanted a rotary pump. (not required)
All requirements were met with the Astra Gourmet GAP (automatic pour-over). It was hard to accept the $2,200 cost because there are several quality machines at or around $1,800. However, I thought the only way to get continual steam at a high volume and brew espresso at the same time, was with a double boiler. Videos I viewed described HX (heat exchange) machines needing to purge the systems highly heated steamed water before brewing an espresso. Consequently, a $2,500 Rocky R58 dual boiler or equivalent seemed the only way to go. Due to the cost, I began looking at used machines. I came across a unused Brasilia lever $1,200. There was also a 2 yr old, plumbed-in, Astra being sold by an individual on Craigslist who claimed he closed his cafe and was selling the equipment. He wanted $900 for his Astra. I called Astra. they put me straight through to Richard who said that if the machine was fairly new it would not require changing the motor to convert a plumbed in model to a pour-over. Conversion cost $200 total. I went with the Astra. Partially because of the cost but also I read that Brasilia went BK in 2009 so parts may become hard to come by. And Astra is MADE IN USA! A big plus is Astra manufacturing is only a 30 min drive for me.
I brought the machine directly to Astra. That's when I found out the machine was not 2 yrs old. It was over 10 yrs old. I was duped! And, 10 yr old plumbed in models could not be converted without buying a new motor... That was the bad news. The good news; The machine was originally a pour-over so it could easily be converted back to a pour-over. Astra did the conversion while I waited and, tested the machine. All pressures and parts worked to original specifications! The only way Astra could tell that the machine was over 10 yrs old was the serial # and they changed their knob style 10 yrs ago. Nothing else has changed on their machines. That's when I was really sold on the Astra. I would like to review the espresso produced however, I don't feel I am qualified enough to rate the espresso intelligently. The machine does what it's supposed to do. It presses hot water at 9 bar through the coffee while at the same time steams milk nonstop at high steam pressure. When I become more experienced, I will try to update this review.
CraigsList has it's place however, know your stuff before buying an espresso machine from it. I was extremely lucky this time. Ebay is the other option for buying used items however, you can't see them in person and shipping something this heavy (about 75 lbs) is likely going to be damaged upon arrival.
Three Month Followup
After 3 months of use, I've had no problems with the machine. I've enjoyed learning some of the little neuances of pulling a shot. Since my machine is an older model, it didn't have a low water indicator or alarm. So, I stopped in at Astra and had them add one ($60 cost including installation). They did it while I watched. Now when the water reserve is about 75% empty a buzzer sounds allowing me to add water before the next shot. Also while I waited, I did a little interview and tour of the manufacturing plant. They let me video tape it (I used my phone) and upload it to youtube where you can see how and why the "no tamping necessary" aspect works. Astra tour- http://youtu.be/VzcKoz8lp3U Astra Bottomless filter pull without tamping- http://youtu.be/aXP8wWRY9qQ