The Espressione / Ariete Caffe Novecento is beautiful to look at, and a nightmare to use.
Positive Product Points
This is a beautiful espresso maker. The chrome finish is very good and the design is quite attractive. The water temp analog gauge gives it a functional retro look that I like (and miss in my Rancilio Silvia). The Caffe Novecento draws a lot of attention and easily becomes a conversation piece. It is fairly forgiving when it comes to coffee grinds and it usually delivers good crema.
Negative Product Points
Sadly, the body of the espresso maker is very light and the portafilter is very heavy. The fit is so tight that you have to hold the machine tight and fight your way to lock the portafilter in place. The water tank is too small (1lt.) and it is very annoying that you have to turn the machine off to remove and refill the tank. You can't add water while in operation! A worrisome issue is that the steam wand is too short and angled towards the operator. When you steam milk you have to avoid scratching the delicate chrome surface and burning yourself. While designed in Italy by Ariete and distributed in the US as part of the Espressione brand, the machine is made in China.
I really wanted to like and keep this espresso maker! When I saw the Caffe Novecento online it was love at first sight. The Italian design and the chrome finish are striking. I love the vertical levers that activate the switches. They remind you of a manual espresso machine when you pull your shots with electronic ease. To brew coffee, you pull the left lever forward one-click. To steam milk, you push it back from center one-click to activate the higher temp on the thermostat and then pull-down the right-side lever to release the steam. The machine has separate indicator lamps to indicate that it's powered-on and water temp readiness for coffee and steam. The analog water temp gauge confirms actual boiler readings (nice touch).
The problem came when... form had to follow function. I was appalled by how quickly the water tank level lowered and annoyed by having to turn the machine off and remove the tank to refill. You'll have to do this after every four shots! The portafilter has a professional feeling to it, the brass piece weights a full pound and it is 58mm in diameter. I didn't like; however, that the spouts where removable and when you fitted it with the single spout the thing will become quite unstable when tamping. Also, the portafilter includes several rubber pieces below the brewing basket to "assist" in delivering crema. I am concerned about the gunk that can accumulate there and finding replacements.
The Caffe Novecento is tall and skinny... and way too lightweight; especially when paired with the heavy portafilter it came with. Any time you try to lock the portafilter in place you end up swinging the whole machine all over the counter! You have to make quite an effort to find a grip around the body (it's so sleek and rounded that it's hard to grab) and hold it while struggling to fit the portafilter in place. Mind you, this happens even if the portafilter is empty. If you put a lot of coffee grinds in it, it becomes nearly impossible to lock it.
The steam/frothing wand is a burn hazard. It is 5.5 inches long from top to bottom but only 2.5 inches protrude down from the bottom of the boiler. You have very little space to get even a small 12oz. frothing pitcher in there! You can pull the wand towards the front, it pivots forward about 45 degrees. Unfortunately, it doesn't pivot outwards, to the right. When you pull the wand forward, it points the steam directly at the operator (dangerous!) and it also means that when you bring a metal frothing pitcher higher it comes very close to the delicate chrome-finished boiler (you only get 1/2" clearance). When you move the pitcher sideways during the frothing process you have to be careful not to scratch the boiler surface. You pull forward on the vertical right-hand-side lever to activate steam release. I like that much better than turning a knob on my Rancilio Silvia! The pull lever delivers instant control of steam release. The only problem is that to get full steam you have to pull the lever down almost on top of the pitcher... so you end up obstructing the view and increasing the chance of burning yourself if the hot steam splashes out. In summary: The whole design of the frothing setup is deficient and hazardous to use.
After struggling with these issues for a two week period, I decided that I was not getting my money's worth and that suffering this much aggravation was unnecessary. I discovered this site, researched a bit, and decided to return the machine. I replaced it with a Rancilio Silvia and couldn't be happier! I just can't recommend the Caffe Novecento to anyone, unless you are only looking for a nice prop to look at and never brew coffee with ;-)
I ordered the Caffee Novecento from Costco Online. It was delivered in just two days and it was very well packed. When I decided two-weeks later that I couldn't live with this machine anymore, I just cleaned it up and returned it to my local Costco store. They refunded me the whole amount paid for it, including shipping. Very nice!