To start off, let's get one thing straight. I consider myself a beginner. A little while ago i started thinking there may be a better machine out there than my steam powered "espresso machine". So I started poking around on the inet to see what was out there. Low and behold, I stumbled across coffeegeek.com. My eyes were opened to an entirely new world and I would never be the same. I learned about espresso, real espresso. I saw crema for my first time, ever... really. I learned about ristrettos, and tampers, and oh my GOSH there was alot to this.
All this knowledge was good, except for one fact. Every thing i read said I needed a $300 machine, MINIMUM!!! Being a family man, that was totally out of the question. So began my quest for a good machine that would meet the standards of a new coffee geek, without breaking my bank. That is when, and i don't know why, I visited a little site called Costco.com. There I found this machine, which everyone else was trying to sell for $150+, for $80!! Sure, it's a thermoblock, and yeah... it only has a 35 oz. water resevior, but maybe... just maybe.
So i ordered it. Within the first week of ownership I'm making mochas (not too tough), cappucinos (pretty good), and some really good shots. Crema and everything. "WOW" I think to my self, "crema, i didn't think I would be able to do that". But sure enough there it was, consistantly. Then it happened. I pulled a double ristretto, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and a taste that sent me back to see if I could do it again. I DID! Double ristrettos at will. From an $85 machine... oh life is good.
So what is the moral of the story you ask? If you are looking for a significant step up from your steam toy that will still leave some room in your budget for the beans, then this machine is for you. With fresh beans and a good grinder you can do things you would never imagine. Sure, it's mostly plastic, and you do need to keep an eye on your water level, but when it's all said and done it's all about the coffee. This thing puts out shots that are easily 100% better than most coffee shops.