We have all been there, the countless hours scouring threads, compiling check-lists in our heads of what we want, what we can justify to our significant others, and what we are willing to sacrifice. For me the Oscar was never a contender, it was simply out of my price range, so I thought. So naturally I began to look at the Silvias as the typical espresso immersion tends to go. I just really didn't like what I saw, and frankly resale of them is terrible for the buyer (it's too damn steady with no depreciation!) but great for sellers and up-graders. So I ventured into the commercial side of things since I have always like anything commercial and different over cookie cutter and gimmicky - Enter the Oscar.
For some reason it was under a commercial listing on eBay and for the buy it now $475 price I snatched it up. The seller: highpocketsc was wonderful in every aspect, but that is later.
First impressions were a little leery, this was a bit older of a machine, and frankly ugly. The bright white had faded to a nice espresso stained brown and yellowish tint. I also had a small leak that turned into more quickly but was rectified very fast. It had been given a good visual inspection but needed a good cleaning, which it immediately got. I will more than likely get flack for this, but I have not gotten my proper grinder in place yet so I am using standard canned Illy for espresso machine pre ground. Immediately you can tell this machine is very powerful and will need quite a finer grind before even beginning to choke. The shots so far have been ok I suppose, but that isn't much to say what it is really capable of. For an older machine though, you can tell the build quality is awesome. The insulated boiler, pre-infusion, etc. is all pretty top notch. Commercial showerscreens/portafilters/baskets are all standard and an awesome inclusion that some just don't deem necessary. The pstat was also easily adjusted via the cup/temp method to bring it up a bit. What I love is how easy everything is to get to. I had the machine disassembled in about 10 minutes from never seeing it before and all fittings checked in no time. True quality to me doesn't just mean what is in the cup but what the engineers had in the form of foresight for the end user. If you like to tinker a bit and even get your hands dirtier with some serious upgrades this machine is great; it is not intimidating at all.
Steaming: This is a locomotive amongst most other home machines and rivals some commercial units. That being said, it is a locomotive amongst home machines. Things happen fast and furious. If you want to keep the standard 4-hole tip the trick I have found is to keep it dead center. I think the holes are cambered so that they create the whirlpool you want right from the middle. I suggest playing around with it, but I think most will opt for another tip or plugging the tip a bit for more control, unless of course you enjoy steaming quarts of milk at a time. I personally find plugging two opposite holes with toothpicks works quite well. I put about 8 ounces in, tilt the steam off to the side wall and turn it over (for me a half turn of the dial is fully open). About 30 seconds later I have the best foam I have made ever and it will only get better with practice. Microfoam is easy with the 2-hole, still haven't mastered the regular tip and more than likely never will, why would I?
Finish: Ugly like the mutt you picked up at the pound, but worth its weight in gold just as such. It does grow on you. Mine was a bit different than most in that it was really faded/tinted/stained. I have opted to paint it. Sand it lightly with some 300 grit paper, wipe down with some alcohol and get started. Taking this apart is easy so setup is also easy. I went to Hobby Lobby and found the model painting section. These paints are designed for ABS plastic, primer and clear not necessary on all of them. Mine did not require it but I added a coat of clear just for protection. Total investment: $20 (it took 4 cans of paint, and I had clear in the garage) and I have a like new (looking) sweet metallic red beakon that sparkles like a glimmer of hope offering bleary eyed passerby's a chance at clarity.
I don't know what else to say that hasn't been reiterated to death already. Yes it is plastic, get over it. I liken this to a sportscar: the shell doesn't matter much it's whats under the hood that counts most. Plus I kinda like the flexibility in being able to change it to fit, "our" kitchen is red, so now Oscar is too. If I ever go through a Picasso-esque blue period, Oscar will be there singing the blues with me too. For now we need to find him a suitable brother in arms for the front lines, i.e. a decent grinder to do battle with.
Fate somehow was smiling down on me for this purchase. Great ebayer to do business with, more than fair on price, shipping, and great follow up: and I quote: we just want to make sure you are happy, so anything we can do let us know. Please let us know if this (referring to the new fitting he sent out free of charge) works and get back to us so that we can make sure you are satisfied. Not many ebayer's have that sort of commitment. I also got lucky in another sense, my office has a NS MAC 2000 that they use with pods (I have TRIED so hard to get them to switch, glad they didn't as it worked in my favor) and they had the grounds diffuser and screen/screw on their machine and I had the pod option on mine, again an awesome benefit to all the commercially interchangeable pieces on their machines. 30 seconds later and a happy trade was made and it saved me another 50 bucks over chriscoffee's grounds kit, which can only be bought as the whole kit. Check cafeparts.com for the individual pieces and it should run you around $35 but their shipping very high for small items.
Another bonus point: Upgradeitis will only kick in for smaller items like pstats, OPV's, naked portafilters so your significant other can rest assured that this will be a one time large purchase without fear of needing to spend even more in the very near future.
*the right can of paint is cheap and makes a dramatic difference
**steam tip can be changed either with plugging or I believe the Isomac 2-hole tip
***NS has some expensive pieces like the portafilter (more than almost any other other than LM original yet regular stuff is cheap, like baskets, gaskets, valves, all nominally priced amongst all the others out there.