This Ascaso machine really is "a dream" to use, making excellent espresso for home with loads of rich marbled crema via a 58mm pro portafilter (but it could use a pressure release valve).
Positive Product Points
Good looks, excellent crema, great pressure, excellent crema, solid and does not move, excellent crema, (did I mention the EXCELLENT CREMA?)
Negative Product Points
No pressure release (a little drippy). I wish the water reservior was a little bigger, but is adequate to supply 1 lazy espresso drinker with 8-12 double shots.
My friends turned me on to good european espresso while I was in Germany. From that day on I said goodbye to Wawa 'abwasser' (sewage) and began my search for "real espresso". I found my answer in a stainless steel Ascaso Dream. This little machine makes some wickedly awesome espresso!
This little 25lb heavy machine comes with a professional size 58mm brass/chrome portafilter, single and double shot 58mm standard filter screens, a double shot 57mm pressure filter screen, a single shot pod-only portafilter, a plastic coffee scoop, a plastic 56-57mm tamper, and a packet of descaler powder. There are 3 durable metal toggle switches on the front (for Steam, Boiler, and Pump) as well as 3 bright indicator lights (easily seen in bright sunlight). There is a metal rail around the top which will hold 9 espresso cups, and there is a removable metal drip tray and chrome grill or drip tray top. Everything is durable metal except for the water container, the portafilter handles (which screw on), and the underside of the base (cord-keeper) which is plastic. The unit is heavy and solid. The finish does not become dull, or pick up fingerprints or scratch easily, and a little 'ceramic-brite' stainless cleaner is used to shine it up when needed.
I like strong espresso with loads of good crema (who doesn't?) so I use the fool-proof pressure filter and completely fill it with extra-fine grinds. I use the plastic tamper to even out the grounds, pack them down, and then give the tamper a hard bang with my fist. The tamper is pretty durable for a plastic one and has not broken yet. As I've said, I like extra-strong espresso, and the wicked brew comes out in 20-30 seconds with a good quarter to half inch of crema on top my double-shots. The pump is extra strong because I was able to run turkish powder through it once (ground on zero by accident with a Ditting grinder). The pump struggled a bit with the powder but slowly produced my shot. This thing rocks!!!
The only downside to this machine is that it does not have a pressure release so it is a little drippy. After you pull a shot and shut off the pump, the machine will drip for a little bit. I think that this is because I mainly use the pressure filter instead of the standard filters. The loads of excellent crema produced by the pressure filter is worth dealing with the few drips. The drips really aren't a problem because the drip tray holds a good amount of liquid, and only needs to be cleaned when I fill the water reservior. One other point to note is that the spent puck of grounds is very wet which requires me to rinse out the portafilter instead of using a knock-box. For home use this works very well for me and keeps things clean, but in a semi-professional setting (small cafe or office) this would be a little messy. When I forget to rinse out the shot and leave the grounds in the pressure filter until after work, they are completely dry when I return , so a knock-box could be used.
Starbucks was changing espresso machine vendors and had everything on a half-price sale. They would usually rape you for $850 but I paid $425! Starbucks buys refurbished models and my first one did not work, it just tripped my circuit breaker over and over. I had to call several locations to find another chrome/stainless model but it was worth the effort. I also liked the store purchase with no shipping, just walk-in and walk-out.