When I first purchased my machine, my only experience with espresso was Starbucks. Other than that, I had a nice auto-drip coffee pot. I learned very quickly reading this website and others that you must get a good grinder, which was expensive. Then, once I added the price of a decent espresso machine, such as the Silvia, I wasn't too far from the superautomatics, but I had a hard time justifying $1000 for a coffee maker. I finally caved in and purchased one. Now, 2 years and 2917 espressos later, I figured that I should help others with their decision if possible.
Here's what finally sold me on the superauto. After you read what's required to make a great shot everytime, you find that you need consistent temperature, consistent tamp and consistent water. I'm not the type that will obsess on the perfect shot, but I want a good espresso. What can a machine do? It can be consistent, or at least as consistent as I would ever be. I find the shots to be quite consistent, however, they do change with cleanliness of the machine and age of the roasted coffee. More on this later.
I decided on the Royal Exclusive - a single boiler model with a bypass chute. Works good for me, since I don't steam much milk. However, if you want steamed milk any more than once per week, get a double boiler!!! It gets annoying real fast. The bypass chute is perfect for decaf users, but you need to buy coffee pre-ground or get external grinder. I always make double shots, but to a superauto, that means two runs. This machine grinds the first batch, starts the brew cycle and then grinds the second batch. Once the first cycle is done, it immediately starts the second brew cycle. This shaves a few seconds off of the cycle. Since I usually make 4 shots, it's handy. Also, the machine has an auto-rinse cycle when it is first turned on to rinse off the screen.
Weekly cleanup involves emptying the coffee pucks, the drip tray at the bottom, and removal of the brew group to be rinsed out in the sink. You've got to sweep up a few tablespoons of coffee beneath the grinder and wipe down the front. About every 200 cups or so, you throw in a special cleaning tablet and run an extended rinse cycle to clean out the brew group and piping. About every 3 months or so, you decalcify the machine by adding a powder mix to the water tank and running a descaling cycle. Monthly, I find it best to clean out the water tank. I learned the hard way about cleaning the brew group. Some coffee may stick to the screens and if left there long enough, it turns rancid and so does your espresso! Clean your brewgroup at least every week. It's easy to do.
I'm still not a coffee expert, but I've experimented enough to know that you want FRESHLY roasted beans. When I bring fresh beans home and compare them to the not very old beans, you can easily tell the difference. I can tell the difference between different varieties of coffee now. I drive about 10 miles out of my way to go to a local coffee shop that roasts weekly. Most of the shops run big batches and don't roast often enough. If you are going to spend this kind of money on a machine, don't negate it with stale coffee!!!