This is a fine machine that produces great drinks easily, and will wish you had more coffee drinkers so that you could keep playing with it.
Positive Product Points
Easy to use Fun to use Good looking Seems well made (solid) Easy steaming Price (relative to other hx61 machines) Very nice finish on all the Stainless parts Water & steam valves feel high quality Plenty of water/easy to fill
Negative Product Points
1 yr warranty Knobs on front for water/steam look less expensive, though don't feel so The machine looks less expensive because of the one sheet of metal (sides and back) Drip tray does not lay down flush to the drip pan The drip tray/drip pan are slightly tricky to pull out Takes a long time to heat No PID/Temp control or display Lots of stuff shiny to clean Doesn't come with a bottomless portafilter The water valve/spout is almost directly over the lever
As will be obvious quickly, I don't have the coffee background and knowledge that many in the forums do. I have traveled quite a bit and tasted coffee/espresso from coffee houses all over, but not with a critical eye. I enjoyed some, didn't enjoy others, and never really put a lot of thought into it. I drink my coffee black and often black with a shot of espresso in it. On a rare occasions, when in the mood for something sweet, I do enjoy a white chocolate mocha. Lately however, I have been doing a bit of accounting on my coffee habit and as a result I started looking at these machines...
This was a very stressful purchase. I had a budget of $500 at first. I bought the Breville 870 and returned it because nothing worked (except steaming). Then I spent about a month reading. Initially I wanted to get the best espresso (& other drinks) for the least price. I wanted it to be easy to use, consistent, and I also wanted it to look good. Later I became paranoid that if I didn't get a double boiler PID machine that my espresso and drinks would suck. I read all the reviews of the office Lever Plus at WLL, and they seemed pretty good, and so I bought it on a whim one night. It had less features than I thought I wanted, but I figured that I could return it for the cost of shipping. Just FYI - keep in mind that you will be charged a 10% restocking fee, plus the cost to ship it to you and then you have to pay to ship it to them. It quickly becomes a pretty expensive mistake.
Shortly after purchasing this machine I had a considerable amount of anxiety that I would be unhappy with it, and so I asked for an RMA number before the machine even arrived. It was promptly given. After it arrived, I let it sit for a day before opening it trying to decide if I would give it a chance, or just send it back and get a machine with a 454, four on the floor, headers, dual exhaust, etc., etc. You can probably guess that I decided to give it a chance and see what it could do.
It took me about 3 tries to start getting really pretty crema like you see on youtube. As stated before, I am not a barista, and I have had no training (other than about 500 youtube videos). After about 6 shots, I was making espresso better than I have ever tasted. You have to attribute this to the machine I would think because I have no former experience and my Breville experience was a disaster. I have the Baratza Vario and I believed initially (and still do) that most of my struggles are with the grinder & beans and not the machine. Steaming milk took me about 3-4 tries before I started getting nice milk. The best tip I can give is that if you are making obnoxious noises, things are probably not going well. If you are hearing a soothing, churning type of sound, then you are probably getting closer.
My shots are getting better and better as I go on, and my milk is getting better too. I have been experimenting with various drinks, and having a lot of fun with it. The hardest part is that it takes a couple shots for me to really feel in the groove of it, but by then I am done. I am not sure what to do about that if I don't want to throw coffee away. Over all, I feel like I got a good deal. I have saved enough money to start experimenting with home roasting. So if you are trying to get good coffee on a budget, this machine will get that done for you. I would guess that any of these hx61 machines will produce great coffee for you pretty quickly and easily.
I have two things that keep me from being completely happy. The first one is just the nature of the hx61 machines. It takes a long time to heat. It takes at least 30 minutes. I put it on a timer, and that works ok, but my life is pretty inconsistent so that does not work as well as I wish it did. I often leave it on thinking that I will have a shot later, but then I don't end up having one and so it just sat heating my kitchen in summer for no reason. In the winter I will care a lot less about leaving it on.
The second issue is a bit of concern about the fact that I didn't get a two year warranty. If I were buying again, I would purchase from a place that offers a 2 year warranty, and then purchase a bottom of the line prosumer machine that the warranty is given on. This machine may last forever, but from looking around it seems to me that no matter how much you spend, they all have problems sooner or later. A second year of warranty, even if I had to pay a few hundred more dollars would have been worth it to me. I don't think my espresso would taste any better, but I would be more content about my purchase.
As a last piece of information/advice, don't order over the internet unless you see a significant sale that is actually different than what is typically offered. Definitely call in and ask if that is the best that they can do. It saved me $245 right off the top. Best of luck to you!
The folks at WLL were very easy to deal with. The machine was shipped in about 3 days, and the transit required about 4 more I believe (to the midwest). I thought that was adequate since they weren't shipping an envelope, etc. The sales person talked me out of some things I didn't need. I could have easily been talked into more. He sold me solid products that were just enough to ensure that upon arrival I had what I needed to get started. I did and still do appreciate that. When I asked for the RMA it was promptly issued. I have no repair or instructional experiences to relate. So far I have no complaints at all other than the warranty on the machine.
Three Month Followup
I read over my review, and I don't have much to add about the machine. I have had 2-3 shots per day, and the machine works just as it did. It is a really nice addition to my morning routine. As I already pointed out, that half hour wait time sucks more than I thought it would. I realize now that commercial style machines have some disadvantages. I had a timer, but I don't always get up at the same time, so that doesn't work as well as I wish it did. Consequently I end up leaving it on more than I should "just in case", so that I can avoid the half hour heat time. I purchased the thermometer from from Eric S., and it is certainly informational, but doesn't really change my routine much. A pid would be great so that you could set it and pull a shot to see the difference, but just knowing what a temp is that you can't do anything about isn't all that helpful.
The final point I would make to anyone justifying an expensive purchase like this because of all the money you will "save" from going to Starbucks, etc. Well, just forget that idea. Blow the money because you want to, not because you will end up with more money in your pocket. If you want good and fresh roasted espresso, your cost for coffee beans will probably end up costing at least double what store bought beans do. In addition you will use a lot more coffee than you probably know unless you have done this before. You really do stuff a lot of coffee into a portafilter. So you will roast your own beans to save money then right? Well first take some time to figure out what a pound of green beans will net after you after roasting, plus the cost of a roaster and the fuel for it. After $50 bucks in green coffee beans I have not yet been able to roast coffee in a cheap pop corn maker that gives nice crema like the $16/lb coffee that I get from my local roaster. Anyway, it is an expensive habit so just go into it thinking that it is expensive and you will be less disappointed if you ever sit down and actually do the math.