This is a very nice machine, very heavy and solid. Beautifully designed. I can't think of a better machine for a novice.
Positive Product Points
•Superb industrial design. The materials and the design make the machine pleasing to look at. It looks great in my little kitchen. •Solid and heavy. The machine is solid as a rock. •It has a nice deep drip tray. •Tolerant of novice errors. I am new to art of espresso "pulling". This machine is great for a novice like me.
Negative Product Points
•Pressurized portafilter results in a wet puck. Takes some getting used to. •Had to return one machine after 6 weeks. Would not turn on.
I did a lot of research before I bought an espresso machine. I went into this knowing nothing. I looked at all semi- and fully automatic machines but I quickly realized my budget would only allow a semi-. I even looked at Nespresso and Tassimo (I really meant I went into this knowing nothing!).
So I looked at the machines in the $300 - $500 range and I noticed the the Breville Die Cast 800 Series really was a nicely designed machine. Some of you may say what does that have to do with making a good espresso. I challenged myself with the same question. As with with anything, form and function are both important.
I had to then learn how to make a decent espresso. Even with this machine you have to practice. I found the manual to be minimally helpful. The wet puck is a bit annoying but you get used to it. You don't want to over tamp the basket on the Breville or it will clog, especially with the double basket. I have yet to use the ESE basket.
I tried a few different brands and grinds and what I am using which in my opinion produces a very good espresso is Illy Fine Grind, Medium Roast. I use moderate pressure to tamp. I don't like the plastic tamper, Buy a good metal one. It seems to pull a good espresso in about 25 seconds. I like to let the machine warm up for about 15 minutes with the portafilter attached. I prime the machine for a second or two to purge out air in the group head prior to attaching the coffee filled portafilter. This gives me a pretty nice espresso with a nice crema. The crema does not dissipate, is not airy. It looks to me like the real thing!
The machine produces a decent amount of steam. The attachment does help but I don't think you get a very good quality froth with the attachment. I say take the time to learn and practice how to steam the milk without any contraptions. It really is an art form learning to steam milk. I think this is the hardest part.
After six weeks the machine would not turn on. Boy was I disappointed! I packed the machine up and took it back to Macy's to exchange it. They did not have another one. I almost had them order one then decided to get a refund, they kindly refunded my money and I went to Williams-Sonoma and bought another one. So I have to say that Macy's gave great service. I just wish they had the machine in stock when I wanted to exchange it.
Three Month Followup
I am a little late posting this Follow-up. This is more like a 6 month follow-up. This is my second Breville as I had noted I had to replace the first one. This one is still going. I have noticed that other people have had this same breakdown. Push the power button and nothing happens. Any comments, Breville?
Anyway, I am going to knock down the Usability and Overall Ratings down a point. I still feel this is a really nice machine. I have realized how much of an art "pulling a shot" really is. It can be tricky sometimes. I am still using Illy, fine grind, medium roast. I am going to buy a grinder in the next couple of months. We will see how that works. Using the single shot basket I tamp the coffee down quite firm. Probably 30 pounds. Otherwise, you will end up with a fast shot. Because of the pressurized portafilter you will still get some crema but if you tamp the coffee firmly you will get a great tasting shot with great crema. I still believe this is an excellent first machine.
One thing I really dislike is the hot water dispensing. It squirts the hot water out with a lot of pressure and it splatters everywhere. It is too much pressure in a narrow stream to fill water in my espresso cup to warm up the cup.