Extremely wife-friendly in terms of aesthetics, usability and cleanup. Above average espresso quality from a super-automatic (after dialing it in), which was a delightful surprise. For a double shot drinker, much better shot quality than the average cafe.
Positive Product Points
(This is for the Magnifica 3400, which doesn't have the auto-milk-frothing reservoir like some of the newer models)
This is the first consumer super-automatic I've used that could be dialed to ~24 second doubles and produce something that tastes like a slightly above-average hand-pulled shot.
Very easy to set up, very easy to clean.
Large water capacity, fantastic water tank design.
Larger puck size than I'm used to with a super-auto.
True crema, not the fake bubble stuff like the Saeco Italia. Was able to achieve tiger striping after dialing it in.
Awesome bypass doser design, although it only allows a single shot at a time.
Overachieving frother, if you're going for cappuccinos.
Delonghi support is not only available, but I can order any part for the machine directly from their website for a reasonable price. Contrasted with Francis Francis, this made the sale.
Nice, non-sour Americanos with the factory setting. Two of these will fill an average coffee cup nicely with room for cream.
Negative Product Points
Too much plastic, although it matches very well in a stainless kitchen.
Rather flimsy steam knob. I'm terrified that I'll break this quickly.
So far I've noticed one error message that's not detailed in the manual: "Less Coffee" and I went through an entire 8oz can of Illy trying to clear it. $12 down the drain.
Edit 9/24/07: The "Less Coffee" message comes up when some damp grounds stick to the infuser assembly and a full dose tries to go over top of it reading as over-full, usually after you choke the machine by dialing the grind too fine. The best way to alleviate this is to remove the infuser and rinse it after a choke. You have to power the unit off, or the infuser assembly won't release.
Smallish bean hopper size.
Overachieving frother. Edit 9/24/07: makes it difficult to create pourable latte art quality foam.
I don't think there's a possible scenario that I'd use the single shot button (except for the bypass doser when I do once-in-a-blue-moon decaf shots).
I've had the gamut of semi-auto machines in the past, from a Gaggia Coffee, to an Evolution, a Sylvia and a Francis X3, and I've also been the guy who gets to dial in the super-autos I've used in office environments, so I've got a fair amount of experience with Saecos and Capressos -- which I've never actually had what could be considered a "good" shot come out of. The Italia didn't even deliver "passable" shots, unless you were going for milk-based drinks.
I've got a ton of coffee-making gear... multiple drip machines, grinders, ibriks, moka pots, presspots, etc... so space, cleanliness and aesthetics are concerns for me. This machine qualifies as massively wife-friendly.
At any rate, I recently had a FF X3 die on me, and I had an absolutely terrible, unresponsive experience with their customer support when trying to get the boiler repaired, and I finally gave up after a six month ordeal. The local Starbies had a demo Magnifica 3400 a few months ago, and I got a chance to play with it. I was able to dial in a significantly better shot in a minute or two than the PBTC was able to pull (not saying much, but still -- it was with SB beans, but drinkable), so I was pretty impressed -- but the $1200 price tag was a bit steep.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and you can get a machine for between $375-425 from eBay refurbs and Starbies, and I figured that I'd take the plunge.
Compared to the Italia, and all the Capressos I've had the misfortune of using, the bottom line is that this machine makes decent espresso. After fiddling with the grind and dosage (on each type of beans I tried), I could consistently get shot quality comparable to an average shot from any of my Gaggias or Miss Silvia, with far less time and cleanup. You won't get a God Shot out of this machine, but if you're in the market for a super auto, you shouldn't expect otherwise. Unlike most super-auto consumers, I'm a double shot drinker usually, with the occasional milk-based drink thrown in.
A couple of notes when dialing in the grind:
- Leave the machine on "Strong Taste" for the largest possible puck - Turn the grind knob one click at a time during the beginning of the grind cycle, and time the shot - I time my shots from the beginning of the pre-infusion, as going for 24 seconds from the actual brewing results in overextraction (to my palate). I always go for doubles. - Once you get your time dialed in, run another double to make sure as there may have been some coarser or finer grounds from your previous test still in the hopper.
The machine is a breeze to clean, and like almost all super-autos will notify you to dump the grounds container, fill the water tank, add beans (although it'll waste beans or pull a watery shot if you let it run out).
I'm getting used to the frother on this machine. It produces a TON of foam... almost too much, although most of it is nice microfroth, there's always a little bit of the giganto-bubble stuff at the top. If you're in a hurry and froth directly in a cup, you'll get something much more akin to a cappuccino than a latte as it will quadruple the volume before getting the milk hot enough.... so one point off for lack of control. That said, it's possible to not only froth nice, sweet milk from this machine, but you can get latte art quality froth with a little practice. I do wish there was one more point of articulation on the steam wand, as it's extremely difficult to work a larger pitcher underneath -- and even harder to get it out with the amount of froth this thing generates.
Always froth first, run a touch of hot water through the wand while cleaning, then pull your shot.
Edit 9/24/07: I'd suggest running a few ounces of hot water through the wand while you clean it as the froth aider has a tendency to retain milk within it.
I haven't used the bypass doser yet, but it's a FAR better design than the Italia, and in addition it stores the measuring scoop in the doser compartment. Great usability here.
Typical eBay. Buy, wait entirely too long for shipping, save $25 or so.
Three Month Followup
The machine is still performing perfectly 3 months down the road, and I wouldn't hesitate to buy one again. A few things that I've noticed:
Removing the froth aider results in a stubby little inch-long metal wand that's too short to steam anything with. It's a shame as frothing latte art quality pourable foam is challenging with this machine (you have to do a lot of swirling and tapping of the pitcher). To achieve good foam, I open the steam knob and wait for the wand to blow at full blast, then top-froth for 5-6 seconds. After that I plunge the wand all the way to the bottom (swirling the whole time) until 160 degrees, swirl until the surface is velvety, bang the pitcher on the counter a few times, swirl a bit more and pour. I don't really care for the lack of control on the steam valve (it's either on or off), but it's serviceable if you're only pulling a couple of drinks and don't mind working the milk extra hard to compensate for lack of control. Steaming/mixing drinking chocolate (water/cocoa mix) is very difficult and messy due to the lack of control on the steam valve. You're likely to end up with hot lava all over yourself, the machine and the ceiling if you only do one serving at a time because the wand just blasts way too hard for small amounts of liquid.
It asks to be descaled a LOT. I'm not sure if this is due to the clock or usage rate, but I've treated the machine with Durgol 3 times in 3 months. It's a fairly short and easy automated process, but as this machine didn't come with a water hardness tester, I believe it's assuming worst-case water hardness when we're using double-filtered water in the machine.
Cleaning the unit is amazingly easy. Pull out & rinse the infuser, use the dirt devil on the inside, wipe it down. No hex keys, no brittle, breakable rubber gaskets.
The grind settings are remarkably consistent from bag to bag, type to type, humid or not (we're in Florida, and the humidity varies greatly even day to day). I know now that I can put in a bag of decent espresso (Black Cat, Espresso Aficionado) and dial it to a 2 for a ~24 second extraction, oilier old beans get a 3, dryer old beans get a 1 in general. As an aside, the hopper size is precisely large enough to hold a 10oz can of Illy, in case you were wondering why the size was so odd.