Important! Go directly to followup review at bottom!
I got this machine for a bad reason: appearance. Ever have an ugly car that never gives you trouble or any practical reason to replace it? That was my trusty old Saeco (see my review there). If it wasn’t for this website putting ideas in my head… What I had in mind was the venerable Silvia. What my checkbook had in mind was a MallWart steamer. We compromised half way and I won: big time. I adore this thing.
Look: an espresso machine does two things: it supplies heated water under pressure, and it supplies steam. The ol’ Saeco did this fine. Almost anything with a pump in it will do this. But I really like metal machines. Face it, you do too, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. I also have a fetish for useful controls and indicators, and this is where the Super Giada won my heart: honest-to-goodness metal toggle switches (NOT PLASTIC) and a useful pressure gauge. Some call toggle switches “retro”. I call them “standard”. Early morning fingers call them “easy”. Metal everywhere, compact footprint, durable construction. And unlike the Silvia, it has a stainless steel internal frame.
That, and I got mine $235 cheaper. Wham. Hat trick! Sorry silvians, I won.
Much has been said about the instruction manual. It was not an issue to me because this machine has the same controls as all the other pumpers I’ve ever used: power, pump, steam, steam valve. If this is your first time making espresso, and if the brief but clear (to me, anyway) instructions confuse you, by all means talk to your supplier or a member of this list for guidance. We love to help; you are not alone.
Getting a decent cup took some (fun) practice, though. I got two free pounds of beans with my Isomac. It took about a half-pound of these to dial in the grind. I recommend using cheapo beans, stale ones are fine for this purpose. But you must use the same roast, if not the same type, or you’ll end up doing it again. This will be true of any machine or grinder you get. Tom at Sweet Maria’s posted an “espresso manifesto” (he blandly calls the espresso pages) on their website: a must-read for anybody getting serious enough for equipment such as this. It explains many mysteries of espresso, separating fetish from fact.
I love the pressure gauge, even though it serves me only as additional feedback that all is well. The extraction time and taste and crema really tell you all you need (if you read Tom’s article). As it turns out, the pressure on the beans I’ve used is about 14 bars, 3 too high. Oh, well… Information is good. I’ll take all I can get. It was immediate feedback, useful when calibrating the grinder.
Things I’d prefer:
* A freakin’ temperature gauge! Pressure is better than (most machines') nothing, but temperature is a pain to measure and has a BIG effect on outcome. Does ANY home machine have a temp gauge? Didn’t think so. You listening, designers?
* The tamper is about as useful as an eyebrow on a fish. Get a good one, 53mm. You just can’t tamp evenly pushing upwards, and you can’t tamp hard. Duh…
* I got used to the indicator lights, but switch position “up” should be “on”, at least in the northern hemisphere. Oh well, my car has three windshield wipers. I got used to those, too.
* The acorn nut in the center of the steam knob really does get hot. While I never touch there, somebody very young might. Double Duh… Being a handy guy, I easily resolved this during a trip to the hardware store. I now have an oak covered acorn nut. A complex visual pun I always have to explain. Never mind. This really should be addressed.
* I’d prefer more clearance under the filter. Nobody has enough. On what tablet is the three inch limit inscribed? It’s not like gently flowing espresso/crema is going to violently splash out of cups if you give us another inch …
* Externally visible water level indication so I don’t have to look under the bonnet.
By far, the plusses win out. As much as I like this machine, it really is the bean and grind quality that determine the outcome, though. The espresso machine is merely the means to the end. It might as well be pretty, though, right? It is a spirit lifter.
Things I’ve learned:
* Grind quality is everything. Put money there first. Borrow my ugly old Saeco if you have to. This cannot be over-emphasized. Crap in, crap out. (I will be reviewing my grinder soon; no, not a rocky.)
* One can leave this machine on all day, and the temp stability makes sweeter espresso. I see no prohibition against 24/7 operation in the manual, but I don’t like to leave any device operating when I’m not around. Eventually I may put it on a timer.
* Using a small dry polishing cloth to remove fingerprints and spots is like petting a dog. Not a chore.
* Although not technically a hot water dispenser, the steam wand would work great for a quick cup for tea or cocoa. As if.
* The Super Giada distracts and impresses casual visitors so much they don’t notice your kitchen could use some touch up cleaning. Guys, you know what I mean. You can’t ever please women.
* You will drink LOTS more coffee. Be careful. Explore decaf options.
* You WILL earn the title of “yuppie coffee geek with too much time and money”. You will likely be chided by insecure Silvia owners who will think it’s a wannabe. Ignore them all. You won.