A bit about my experience level: I'm not quite what you'd call an espresso fanatic, but I suppose I'm close. My wife and I have developed a fairly sophisticated appreciation for great coffee and artisanal espresso drinks, the seed of which was originally planted by a couple of trips to Italy (specifically two cafes--one in Florence and one in Lucca). This appreciation has grown over the years (with the help of Gimme! Coffee in Ithaca, NY) along with our skill level at producing various types of drinks ourselves using a wide array of manual and automatic devices. Most recently we owned an espresso machine made by Krups--an experience that started good (I could make decent...drinkable?...cappuccinos with it), and ended badly (we killed the machine after 1 year, 3 months simply by using it 4-5 times per week).
TGFCG: Thanks goodness for CoffeeGeek. As is the case with some other reviewers here, I started my research with intentions of purchasing something like the Rancilio Silvia, then realized that I wanted a heat exchanger machine. At that point, I started considering the Expobar Office or the Bezzera BZ02S, the least expensive HX machines. I didn't like some of the comments in the Expobar reviews and the Bezzera doesn't have the E-61 group head. I also didn't like the looks of either of those machines. At that point, I figured that if I was going to pay $750-$800 for a machine, I might as well step up and and pay the extra $200+/- and be completely satisfied.
Based 2+ months of ownership (2-3 drinks per day, yes I am wired right now), I can honestly say that my experience with this machine has been a delight. I ordered from Chris' Coffee (along with their Quickmill doserless stepless grinder) and received the machine in two (!) days. Nothing like instant gratificationÖ Chris' Coffeeís included instructions were good--I followed the setup procedure and everything went just fine.
As I was getting used to the machine and calibrating my grind, I called CC with a few questions and the woman on the line was extremely helpful, friendly and patient. After a few barely drinkable shots, I started pulling some delicious beauties--20+ second shots, lots of crema, great taste. With every shot I get a little better. I am far from an expert, but with this machine I canít foresee the need to upgrade (unless I want to plumb it).
Milk: I have never been able to produce microfoam milk like this! I am so happy; I cannot describe how easy it is (with proper technique) to produce microfoam with this machine. Beautiful & delicious.
The tactile act of using this machine is wonderful; from the feel of inserting the portafilter into the brew group to the feel of the lever used to pull shots to the steam & hot water valve openers to the feedback from the boiler & brew pressure gauges. Clean up is easy & it's easy to keep this machine looking beautiful. Everything about this machine looks and feels like quality. It's surprisingly heavy and it feels durable (like it could take a beating). There is no need to be delicate with this machine.
I really have to reach to find negatives, but to provided a well-rounded review I must: I wish the machine was a bit quieter (it has a vibratory pump, not a rotary)--it's not the best for sneaking in a quiet early-morning Americano before my wife and kids wake up. Also, itís quite tall, and those with standard 18Ē clearance from countertop to cabinet bottom will not be able to use the cup warmer. I really wish I could use the cup warmer--it's such a nice feature. But if I place the machine where I want on my counter, the clearance simply isnít there.
I figure Iíve made around 120-130 drinks (Update 3-1-08: thousands of drinks!) with this thing so far, and Iím even happier with the Anita now than when I first received it. (I have to admit: Sometimes I stand and stare at this machine as I'm drinking the espresso I just made with it. If you are serious (or think you might someday be serious) about espresso, just skip all the entry level and intermediate machines and get this one. (Update 3/1/08: Two solid years of use, and this machine is still going strong. My impression of this machine is that it will last forever, and I will want to keep it forever.)