First off, I am writing from a beginner's perspective who has graduated from a press pot to a "steam toy," a definite "wow" experience. Reading other coffeegeek reviews on the Bravo (not Bravo plus), I was hesitant as to what results I would get out of my new "steam toy" and definitely was not expecting much. The reason I did not get a pump machine was purely cost. I wanted a cheap "steam toy" to explore whether or not I would be committed to espresso. If I was to forsake espresso and reaffirm my faith in my press pot with a wide variety of beans, then a $69 loss was something I'd be willing to accept.
I was astonished by how quiet the Bravo Plus brewed and frothed. I was expecting something much louder and hissing, but this is a very quiet machine indeed, something I could brew and froth in the wee hours. The compact size is great because countertop space is at a premium in my kitchen. I was dismayed to find no tamp, not even a cheap plastic tamp, and then after reading the instructions inside out, the manufacturer pretty much says NOT to tamp. More on this later.
Wow, the "Perfect Froth" mechanism really works. I was able to make great froth time after time with no errors. It's simple, straightforward, and just plain works. There's not much to screw up. (You can actually create microfoam by getting rid of the perfect froth attachment...see tips on frothing in 2 MONTH UPDATE).
Utilizing the carafe and the cheap plastic spoon as a makeshift tamp (I figured since Krups doesn't want tamping, I'd start off with some minor tamping with a plastic spoon), (NOTE: The manufacturer advises NOT to tamp and that tamping could cause clogging or overflow. I neither advocate nor recommend tamping as such would constitute misuse/abuse. You do so at your own risk of harm and at your own discretion), I was dismayed at what was created. It couldn't properly be termed espresso, but more like fine coffee. I repeated, utilizing double shots, single shots of different grinds and to no difference in quality. I was merely creating "finer coffee" with the portafilter and carafe. However, I did gain a lot of practice and experience with the machine which was extremely good. The Bravo Plus is a good machine for a beginner to learn and hone skills before upgrading to higher end machine (The reason I say upgrade is because of the inherent limitations by a steam machine).
I almost gave up on the Bravo Plus and was thinking about returning it or tossing it out the window. Then I decided to attach the double cup adapter onto the filter holder and attempt a wannabe double ristretto. I got rid of the carafe and set up two stainless brew pitchers underneath the spouts, ground some fresh beans at setting 18 on my Melitta MEBG8B, used an aluminum tamper to tamp about 17grams to about 30lbs, filled the carafe to the steam line and dumped it into the reservoir, and brewed some excellent, strong, powerful, out of this world wannabe double ristretto shots with what appeared to be a smidgeon of crema??!! (a darkish, orangish, burgandy-ish, foamy layer dribbling out of the nozzles??!!...NOTE: I discovered this to be false crema created by the pressurized portafilter as noted in the 2 MONTH UPDATE below). The aroma and taste was not bad. I'm definitely keeping my Bravo Plus now.
I decided to take one of the double wannabe ristretto shots and add some frothed milk and, wow, a mean cappucino.
The Bravo Plus is what it is...a $69 steam machine that works just fine. I think this is a great toy for a beginner such as myself to learn and gain invaluable experience into the art of espresso making. Practice makes perfect. It's no pump machine, but hey, it's a great stepping stone.
2 MONTH UPDATE:
This machine is still amazingly quiet when brewing. Get rid of the perfect froth attachment and learn how to froth without it (You will know if you're frothing correctly if there is no screaming or hissing sound). Frothing is a good skill that you can bring with you when you upgrade to a pump machine. They don't call these steam toys for nothing.
Try bleeding off some of the wet steam so you get dry steam. Then start off with the tip of the steaming wand barely touching the surface of the milk in the middle of the frothing pitcher (20 oz frothing pitcher seems ideal) to expand the milk (Experiment with the distance until there is little noise). Then when you are finished expanding the milk, put the frothing needle deep into the pitcher and move it to the front/spout of the pitcher and heat until 155-160 degrees (Play with the height slightly to get a deep rumbling sound). If you're getting loud screaming/hissing sounds, you're doing something wrong and adjust. When you're done steaming be sure to swirl the milk to get the big bubbles to coalesce into tiny ones. Hit the side of frothing pitcher gently and keep with the swirling (the motion is hard to describe).
I think the crema produced by the Bravo Plus is actually false crema stemming from the pressurized portafilter. Notwithstanding, if you use good fresh beans and right grind, you will get a decent cup of espresso. I still stand by the statement that this is good machine for beginners to start with. I have gained invaluable experience with the Bravo Plus and can now truly appreciate my new Silvia.