A very high quality espresso machine that is great for novices and and experienced alike.
Positive Product Points
Beautiful machine, very high quality construction, durable, should last a lifetime with proper care.
Negative Product Points
Learning curve, and consistency.
This is my first foray into the world of espresso. I did my research (mostly perusing coffeegeek) and decided I wanted a lever machine. After deciding this I chose the La Pavoni based upon the number of positive reviews. This machine isn't cheap in price, but I do believe that I couldn't have made a better purchase.
If you are in the market for an espresso machine, and your budget can handle the price, then this is the best way to go. Sure you can spend more money and get a very nice automatic, or even a few dollars less and get the La Pavoni Semi-Automatic machine(Napolitana PA-1200), but you wouldn't get the experience of manually pulling your own shots.
For the details. This machine comes with a very nice CD Instruction Manual which guides you through setting it up and how to begin brewing espresso. It also includes the frothing wand, tamper and a measuring scoop. Make sure you follow the directions.
My next caveat is to take your time. With this machine you need to learn about the grind and the tamp in order to produce the right consistency of "crema". I am currently using a Zassenhaus hand grinder and it produces a very consistent espresso grind. I just purchased a Gaggia MDF, and when it arrives I'll have to determine which setting is best for this machine.
As far as tamping goes, make sure you you don't overfill the portafilter. Use the proper amount of level scoops using the provided scooper. I purchased a heavier tamper, but it wasn't necessary. Make sure you tamp the grinds just below the rim of the filter. About 1/8" should do it. Also when the machine is heating up, place the filter in position with the coffee and let the machine warm them up. This seem to produce a better crema. A good shot will take about 23 seconds to pull. I haven't tried to make cappucino, but I will try soon.
I purchased it through Amazon. They had the best price at the time and free shipping.