Aside from the obvious aesthetics of the machine, it has been very reliable so far and quite straightforward to use. I have a small counter top and the cafe itself is fairly small so a machine this size was just what I needed. It's big enough for people to know we mean business but small enough to not take over everything or look like the back of a microwave. Frothing is no trouble.
Negative Product Points
This being a 'semi-commercial' or 'low volume' machine there are a couple of things I don't like. First of all the time it takes to get milk up to temperature seems to be, I don't know, a little long ( never timed it ). Additionally, the time it takes for it to heat water when just turned on for the day or after filling a small pitcher of hot water for various things seems to be a while. It's also noisy when pumping water in. The biggest problem I have however is that I cannot get a single spout portafilter for this machine, apparently. I have a single shot basket - but the spouts underneath are wider than my demitasse so I have to pull a shot into the small pitcher then pour that into the demitasse. For me, heat transfer from that process is a problem. My contractor had a real problem plumbing this in as the connection had to be hand made.
Overall, this machine was purchased new (and under my budget) from WholeLatte Love (who are great to work with) when opening my cafe in Nov. Hopefuly one day I will need a higher volume machine but I think I will keep this one just for it's beauty! Almost everyone comments on it when they come in, so we love that. I guess I would say that it's a great, reliable and professional machine if you aren't ever going to be doing them back to back all the time.
As I mentioned the time it takes to get up to 160 degrees seems to take a while, it seems especially so when the customer is just standing at the counter and not the conversational type! I also make sure I measure the shot sizes weekly. It wastes some espresso but I have found for some reason the presets get off a little bit.
I am not what I would consider a pro-barista. Mainly, I guess, because the whole latte art thing seems so above and beyond my capabilities. I mention this because when I have followed the pictures I have seen on how to create that perfect foam (here at coffeegeek) I get a thick layer of that foam but just hot milk underneath. If you are familiar then you will know what I mean (I hope). It's probably me, but could be the machine so I thought I should mention it.
WholeLatteLove are great to work with. I have purchased a couple of things from them and they have been nice to work with and items have arrived on time. If you are familiar with them then you know you often recieve emails about sales they are having. The only thing I will say about them is that you have to make sure they apply that discount when you order. The couple of times I have ordered I had to remind them. I have usually ordered by phone so it maybe automatic when ordering online.
Three Month Followup
see below or above.
One Year Followup
Wow! 1 year! the ol' athenea is still holding up. Our volume has increased at least by double and she keeps up most of the time (unless I need hot water, then we have to wait a few minutes). Otherwise, it's been a great machine that has gotten a lot of comments. Some time last year I had to call wholelattelove for some tech support. Something needed to be adjusted (can't remember what it was now) but it was easy enough and fixed the problem. Just a few days ago I ordered a brew head gasket, at times I have a little leakage around the portafilter. This is common enough. So (knock on wood...) everything has been great, it's a reliable machine that does everything I need it to. The only thing I would change is that even if you have the machine plumbed, you still have to have water in the reservoir bottle to keep weight on the microswitch underneath. It's no biggie, but it's unnecessary if you aren't using it. Hope this helps!