My espresso adventure started off with a Krups novo compact, which was replaced by a Pavoni Europiccola. I loved the Pavoni, but as hard as i tried, i just could not get consistent water temperatures. I thermocoupled the group and ran test after test after test, all in an attempt to figure out exactly how much water i had to pull through the group to achieve a certain brew temperature, but alas, there were just too many variables; warm up time, air temp, humidity, and volume of water pulled. This temperature variation from shot to shot made subtle differences in coffees pretty much non-existent.
It was then that i decided that i needed a new machine, and it had to be more temperature stable. Since i had gotten used to the fact that i could steam right after pulling a shot with my Pavoni, a single boiler machine was out of the question, i just didn't have the patience to wait until the boiler came up to steam temperature. I started reading reviews about the Tea and other Isomac machines, and being from Italy, I decided to pay a visit to the factory which was only a short distance from my home in Milan. The factory is a typical "artisinal" factory in italy, a "bottega" we would call it in Italian not many people and a lot of stuff done by hand. I really didn't spend much time there but i did see that the prices were a good deal cheaper than in the US. I considered taking one back with me, but given the weight, size, and ostly becuase of the lack of support/warranty if I did do that, i decided to purchase in the US instead.
I had heard many great things about Chris Nachtrieb (sp.?), and his shop, Chriscoffee, but it did really little to prepare me for the "onslaught" of customer service i recieved. I called Chris and after a 20 minute converstation talking about all kind of stuff, i had my Tea ordered and i was set. I recieved the Tea a short while later, i read the manual in both English and Italian, and i must say i was ROLLING on the floor laughing at the translation they did, while it did not benefit me, i liked the "manual" Chris has written for the machine. Finally I plugged it in, the pump ran for about 15 seconds, and then my GFI tripped. Hrmm, i thought, that can't be good, i know it can't draw THAT much power, its a 20A GFI! TO make a long story short, the pump in my machine sucked up some of the water softener resin beads because the softener's filter broke, this jammed the pump and who knows what else. I called Chris, and he PROMPTLY sent me out a new Tea with no softener attached, just a mesh screen, he mentioned that he had some troubles with those filters. He did not wait to get this one back, nor did he charge my card for "security". He sent a new one, and put out a call tag for this one. WOW, that's GREAT customer service if i've ever seen it.
Finally i got my new Tea (it seemed like forever!), and i got it running. While i'm still in the learning stages, I can't believe what a difference having proper water temperature is, EVERY TIME :) Its awesome, i can really taste the nuances of each blend now. The machine is built like a tank to say the least. The outer "skin" alone
weighs a hefty 9 lbs! The group is massive and beautiful, and the portafilters alone weight more than my first espresso machine basically. The shots of espresso are super consistent, while it does take some time to learn how to "surf" the machine to the perfect water temperature, any time you pull a shot, even if the water isn't perfect, the shot will at least be good, if not excellent.
Steaming with the Tea takes a little practice, i went through about a gallon and a half of milk learning how to froth properly with this machine, even though i could do it very very well with my Pavoni, but once you understand how to do it, it really isn't very hard. There is plenty of steam pressure, I usually froth about 5 ounces at a time, and it takes me 25-30 seconds in an ice cold pitcher.
I have noticed, as Jim Schulman and Jose Iovino have also pointed out, that to get the best, consistent shots, the E61 group likes to have the coffee puck in contact with the screen, which requires using about 13g of coffee for the single basket and 18g for the double!
I'm completely satisfied with my purchase and would gladly do it again if i had to, again dealing only with Chris.