My previous experience was limited to my friend's Brugnetti Simona and having had too many bad lattes and cappacinos, I decided to go the same route (on smaller scale and MUCH smaller budget). Having seen various machines demoed at stores, I went and bought my Carezza on the basis of the PF - all others in the price range felt like they'd break with decent usage and the size was a lot bigger too (size does matter, right?).
First up experiences were pretty good using preground coffee supplied with the machine. Still, it wasn't quite as good as with the Brugnetti but close. I later bought a Gaggia MM grinder to up the ante and sure enough, it came damned close to the Brugnetti when using the same beans. With better beans, the Carezza was able to make better espresso and the turbofrother was working a treat. The tiny drip tray was annoying but something I could live with since I only made one or 2 shots at a time. For a year, I was content...
I then made the fatal error of logging on to CoffeeGeek and found everything I knew was bogus - my shot times were way off and drinking milk based drinks was masking a litany of errors. At this point, I'd started using freshly roasted beans, rather than stuff from sealed bags and found that by aiming for the 25 second shot, I could get fantastic coffee one day and then only passable (but still better than 90% of cafes) on others. The fault was the grinder (see my MM review) so the MM went into the cupboard and I bought an Imat Lux.
Finally, I am getting great results. With the help of the frothing guide, I've thrown away the turbofrother and have acheived microfoam (though not of late). I can now understand why people drink black coffee and periodically waste beans as I chase drinkable ristrettos when trying dial in the grind in order to evaluate different beans and blends and with my favorite blend, my ristretto is second only to that from my favorite cafe. Coffee is now an adventure..
Here is some discussion from a thread after I took my Carezza into my favorite cafe (Maltitude, Melbourne, Australia)
========= Luca (pro barista) ===========
Greg was kind enough to bring his gaggia carezza in for us to have a quick play with at maltitude yesterday. I know that some of y'all have the same (or a very similar) machine, and that others own/work in cafes and are sometimes asked, like Andrew and I often are, to recommend machines, so I thought that I should just drop a quick post on this lower-end machine.
Look and Feel:
Turning from a three-group Azkoyen to a carezza on opposite benches certainly offered some unrealistic comparisons! The first thing to note about the carezza is that there's a lot of plastic and it feels light. On closer inspection, though, the group and portafilter are chunks of metal and Greg assures us that the internals look good. In other words, it's got it where it counts.
Design-wise, the machine is a little different from some others. The steam nob is on the top, which is really wierd for anyone who's ever used any other espresso machine, but not a big deal. One thing that I really appreciated was the water reservoir. It holds plenny enough water but, more importantly, is easily removable to fill/clean at the sink. A small hatch at the top of the machine allows for easy filling in situ and the reservoir itself is transparent - another big plus. Peel the coffee mio sticker off (;P) and it'd look fine.
The drip tray or, as Greg calls it, the drop tray is pathetic. It looks like it'd hold 100ml at most. Worthy of note is the "froth aider" attachment. Greg had removed it, and the steam arm was quite short without it. For the non-cognoscenti, I suppose that the attachment might be a boon, but for practically everyone on this webpage it's a hinderance.
The portafilter is interesting. First up - 'cause I know that it's what's most important to y'all - it's quite heavy. Makes an interesting contrast to the rest of the machine! The lugs are set off on a wierd angle, so the portafilter is impractical to use on a commercial machine. The filter is 58mm if there's such a thing as a small 58mm. The machine would not take pfs from the azkoyen or silvia. Greg's double basket was ample - quite impressive, and the portafilter took the large la cimbali single basket. Greg has been told that the pf will take only the smaller commercial baskets. The portafilter spouts are a bit different; they're sort of cut off flat, parallel with the basket, which means that the pf rests well on the counter, for easy tamping. Overall, the pf by itself probably justifies buying this machine over another similarly priced one!
Use and performance:
Greg showed up at around 11am, vaulted behind the counter and set up the machine. At around 11:05 am we were presented with a double shot. Yikes - that's fast! No doubt a benefit of the small boiler/large wattage combo. This is a fantastic feature if you're trying to market a machine at people who basically don't care or give a bugger (there was a recent post on this very webpage of someone with an expensive HX machine who was getting bad shots off it ... turned out he was pulling shots about 3min after turning on the machine!). Greg shrewdly made the heatup time more effective by switching the machine on to steam and flushing water through the portafilter and group - ala' silvia cheat!
The double shot itself was also quite impressive; it was 2/3 crema and approaching the sort of brick-red colour that the azkoyen gets. The taste was on the sour side, but I hasten to add that Greg simply dosed straight from the super jolly that we were using for the azkoyen (the carezza might end up being a machine that could do with a pressure mod...). Unfortunately, we were unable to change the grind 'cause we had "customers" to deal with, but varying the tamp and dose got some pretty impressive espresso out of the carezza, given the next-to absent warmup time and the low expectations we had of the cheapass machine. I'd imagine that the machine would do better still with a dialled in grind!
Also worth noting that the pours from the carezza came out almost entirely as crema.
30 seconds after a shot the portafilter was removed with audible depressurisation - walls were not painted, but you'd do well to remember that the machine DOES NOT have a 3-way valve!
Steaming milk on the machine was not as encouraging an experience. Heatup time to get to steaming was virtually nil. With a small (400mL, 450mL? what was it, Greg?) jug, Greg was able to produce milk with medium sized bubbles (go look at his first rosetta on the Latte (He)artistry thread) and send a latte my way. Tasted good, though! Andrew had a go at frothing with the jug 2/3 full and wasn't able to get much of anything happening. With a little reflection, I think that a few things might help to get the best milk out of it possible:
a) Use the smallest jug that you can find. I think that I've got a 350mL one at home that I use. I don't think that this machine is going to steam for more than one latte at a time - which is not as big a deal as it might have been if the heating to steam weren't so damned fast.
b) Remove the turbo-frother. These things are soooooo bad.
c) Put the turbo-frother back on. What's that? Put it back on? It just occurred to me (and I posted this elsewhere) that plugging up the air intake on the frother might enable you to use the frothing attachment like a normal steam wand. Someone should test this. Either that, or just buy a steam wand from a silvia and fit that to the carezza.
d) Circumvent the steam thermostat*. Ok, I know that this sounds stupid, but I think that the machine would steam much better if the heating element didn't cut off. Some bright spark did something similar with a gaggia in another thread ... my question is does the water ever overheat this way? Would you need a thermometer on the boiler as well to make this safe?
*AT YOUR OWN RISK of electrocution, machine failure etc. disclaim disclaim disclaim
Rust: Greg's had the machine for 18 months without rust on the boiler, which is aluminium btw. Others have different experience (particularly living near the sea!).
Case damage: Greg noted that one of the pump mounts (i think) came loose because of the plastic casing. He was able to fix this easily.
Geez ... look at the length of this thing - I was gunning for a few sentences! Anyhoo, the carezza seems to be a great entry-level machine for anyone who's not expecting microfoam or to make more than one latte at a time (without first fiddling around with its innards, that is!). It's small size and weight also make it practical to move around, for example if you were going to a friend's place and wanted espresso. Of course, it needs a good-quality grinder with it.
At A$300 I find it difficult to imagine anything beating this. I just had a look at the coffee company webpage and they're selling the Solis SL-70 for A$500. I've never used one, but have heard good things about it on CG. Would definitely be worth taking a look at. That said, seeing as you're going to need to buy a grinder as well, the Nemox/IMAT/Quaha/whateverthehellit'scurrently called Napoletana/Mokita Combi at A$700 seems to be a sensational buy. Coffee company also has the Expobar Office for A$1300. If anyone wants to bring any of these machines into maltitude for us to play with, just LMK. Also, I'd love it if anyone could point us to the australian Expobar distributor.
========== me (mug punter) ===========
Just a few points to add:
The body of the machine weighs sweet FA so if you pick one up in a store, just about all the weight is the internals (the grouphead easily weighs the most of any of the compenents, followed by the pump and then the boiler). The outer body is very thin plastic and the curved shape is what stops it flexing. The components are mounted on a flat plastic frame and it was a pump mount on this which broke.
The drop try is a total joke - if you like doing PF flushes, then you'll need to empty the tray between shorts. I'm going to look into modifying the body so I can add a deeper cavity to the tray.
You can get microfoam from it without the turbo attachment - it's tricky but I've done it in the past (but can't seem to do it now that I'll learnt how to pour rosettas :-< ). Don't expect to make more than 2 at a time, though.
Using the turbofrother with the top sealed off probably won't work as the hole at the base looks too large to steam properly - I'll check to see if it does work.
I think the PF is a bit too shallow for a triple basket, otherwise it's fine for everthing I've tried. Mark Prince's firstlook states he couldn't use some commercial baskets so maybe it's just the square edged LM double ones that won't fit.
The PF spouts are done that way to give enough clearance for tallish glasses as the Carezza (and most other Gaggias) are vertically challenged for group head clearance - some Carezzas come with a screw on dual spout that looks real pro but then you're limited to shot glasses or cappacino cups.
The offset PF lugs are a Gaggia thing - their commercial PFs have the same offset.
The lack of metal means heat up time is FAST as the body won't conduct heat away from the boiler/grouphead.
The PF sneeze was caused by Andrew megapacking and stomp tamping the PF to slow down the shot (grind for the Azkoyen was too coarse for the Carezza). I never get PF sneezes at home unless I choke it (the lack of 3 way solenoid valve does mean that the top of the puck is covered in liquid).
With the grind dialled in and proper tamp, it's quite easy for me to get a ristretto that is almost as good as I've had from the Maltitude Azkoyen (using similar age Atomica beans). The Carezza ristretto can have the same aroma and freedom from bitterness or sourness but just lacks a bit of the richness of the Azkoyen shot. Given that the ristrettos from Maltitude are the best that I've ever had, I don't think this is a huge failing for a A$300 home toy (although maybe if I bothered to temp surf...).
I pulled the Carezza completely apart when looking for a leak in steam mode (it started whistling through the PF). I couldn't find anything to adjust around the grouphead but when I reassembled it, the leak disappeared and hasn't come back. I still have no idea how I 'fixed' the leak but it did make me examine the gizzards and they look good - the much maligned Aluminium boiler showed no trace of corrosion and is quite solid.
Finally, I'm not sure the Carezza will last more than 5 years in my hands. Being so light, it's actually quite easy to lug around and I've taken it away with me on holidays a few time and intend to keep doing so. The downside is that the light body is quite likely to break in time with heat cycles + transport to stress it. In a static situation, it should be sturdy enough. The broken pump mount is a direct result of me laying the Carezza on it's back when moving it (cantilevering snapped the mount so I gave the pump a soft side support).
Personally, for small volume usage, I don't think it's worth buying any other machine until you get to a Rancilio Silvia. Sure the Solis and Quaha/Nemox/LeLit/Imat etc are more sturdy but I really don't see it making a real difference in a home setup. Far better to use the savings on a decent (Lux and beyond) grinder and you will be rewarded. I'm going to check on the price of the boiler as that is the only real concern, if the water supply is rather acidic.
Edit: for Nth Americans, the Lux is the same as https://www.time-co.com/2vanilla.htm but only cost us about US$175 - dunno how all4coffee can justify US$295