If a semiautomatic machine is for you then you can't go wrong with the ECM Giotto Premium.
Positive Product Points
Beautiful well made machine. One of the few high end machines that would fit under my kitchen cabinets. Proven E61 group head design. Quiet for a semiautomatic.
Negative Product Points
Expensive but you only live once.
I really didnít like or drink coffee until I went to Holland on a business trip in 1976 when I was about 25. I couldnít wait to get home and tell my wife I now was a coffee drinker. Alas I found that on returning I really still didnít like the coffee in the States. Occasionally I would have a cappuccino at a restaurant that reminded me of the coffee I had in Holland but I didnít know how to make it at home. About five years ago my wife bought a Krups Little Primo. This so called espresso machine made various noises when steaming milk but the coffee it made was horrible. So after a month or so it ended up in the back of the cupboard.
A year and a half ago I went with a friend to Starbucks and I ordered a Double Espresso. It was pretty good so I got the Krups out of the cupboard but had no better luck than when I tried it before. Then I found Coffeegeek.com. I broke the Krups carafe and told my wife I needed a new machine because the Krups was dead! I bought a Visaversa Koala from a local coffee distributor. I paid about $230 for the Koala. I didnít have a grinder so I used Bristot pods.
I consistently got much better espresso than Starbucks and was hooked. I made myself a double every morning and after work. After a year of this I decided to get a grinder so I bought a Rocky. I messed around with a few shots with the Koala and got pretty good shots with coffee from a local roaster.
I already knew when I bought the Rocky that it was just my first step to a machine upgrade. I told my wife that for my Birthday I wanted a new machine. After a lot of reading reviews on Coffeegeek I decided on the ECM Giotto premium over the Livia 90. It boiled down to these two because the machine had to fit under my kitchen cabinets. I got some fresh espresso beans from my local roaster Tom Becklund at www.tombecklundcoffee.com/ and dialed in the Rocky to get 25sec shots. Giotto and I have been coffee buddies ever since. I usually make straight espresso for myself but my wife likes cappuccinos. The steaming ability is just awesome. Iím still working on my latte art however.
I have done some temperature measurements and found the Giotto to be very consistent. After a full warm-up which for me is always about 20 minutes I purge about 6 oz of water through the portafilter. According to my thermocouple measurements this brings the brew water down to around 203F. If you make multiple shots a quick purge of an oz or so keeps the temp right in there. I placed the thermocouple in the portafilter with a small hole I drilled in the screen. The measurements were made without any coffee so how it would react with coffee is unknown. To really find out what is happening temperature wise you would need to place an array of thermocouples throughout the coffee and plot everything with a data logger. Much to complicated for me I just want to make coffee. Considering all the other variables that come into making espresso I believe that temperature stability and repeatability is more than adequate in the Giotto. This stability is achieved by the famous E61 design incorporating a large mass, temperature siphon, and a progressive infusion system using a heat exchanger to bring the water to temperature. I still consider my self a beginner barista. However I have found that using high quality fresh beans is really important as is grinding and tamping. I think the Giotto is just beautiful. It is like a Porsche or Ferrari you just canít take your eyes off of it. The Giotto has been flawless in its performance. I got some of the small plastic things to put under the feet at home depot that make it slide easier on the counter. This makes it easy to rotate from under the upper cabinets to add water.