-Solid feel -Makes a great shot (even for a noob) -Very nice functional aesthetic -Easy set up -Steep learning curve
Negative Product Points
-A bit noisy -Very thin included documentation -Steep learning curve
OK, a bit of background: I'm coming from a pair of stove top espresso makers (a one shot and a two-shot) and had never pulled a shot of espresso on my own until I got the Anita home and warmed up. I do have a long standing love of espresso dating from a trip to Italy almost 10 years ago which has only intensified now that I have a young family and erratic sleep patterns. I NEED that double shot every morning to get things rolling. Thanks to my kids I now have a morning breakfast routine that happens in my kitchen rather than at my desk, and putting two and two together I decided that I'd like to start making my own "proper" espressos and cappuccinos. It also turns out that we most often get to see old friends when someone hosts a brunch so I was interested in getting something that could keep up with the demands of making a half dozen or more drinks.
I did a lot of research here at Coffee Geek (thank you!) and on other sites including Home Barista just so I knew generally what I was looking for when I went into a store for the first time. I had a great buying experience at Espresso Planet (see below). Once I got the Anita home it was very simple to get everything set up and after filling the boiler and then heating everything up for 30-40mins I was ready to go.
As noted above, my issues with the Anita are that the pump is a bit on the loud side and that the included documentation is basically non-existent. I expected the pump noise from other reviews and trying it in-store so I'm not surprised or disappointed, but it is not a silent running bit of kit. As for the thin documentation, I knew that the manual was available online both from my pre-purchase research and from Josh at Espresso Planet. Again, not a surprise but something to be aware of and the main reason that I only rated usability at only a 7.
Keen observers will note that I listed the steep learning curve as both a plus and minus. It is a minus because after one week I have progressed from a 30% success rate on double shots to about a 75% success rate. I thought that 2lbs dark roast sampler they threw in to the deal would last longer! It is a positive because I love the idea that making great espresso and cappuccinos is a craft with this machine. On the day of purchase I was actually offered a very good deal on a much higher end display model which included PID, auto-volume, and other conveniences, but said no because I want to have to learn about making espresso not just pushing a button. I knew going in to this that the e61 group head is forgiving but also requires some respect and dedication to produce consistently great shots and that's how I want it. I think that this is an important factor for anyone considering the Anita or a similar machine.
As for the experience of making espresso shots, I love the solid feel of the Anita. No need to brace the machine while inserting a portafilter - which is a good thing as many parts of the machine are quite hot after awhile! The polished steel and chromed group head have (to my eye) a beautiful form-follows-function aesthetic and the analog pressure gauges are a breath of fresh air in a digital world. Side note: as a scuba diver, the quality of craftsmanship and solidity of the Anita is reminiscent of a good 1st stage regulator and I trust my life with those things. It is a pleasure to see thick coffee and crema filling the bottom of the cup. I have to admit that I am still working on accurately judging "blonding" though. Perhaps a bottomless portafilter is in my future...
My wife and I both prefer cappuccinos at the start of our days so I have been doing a lot of milk frothing. It is probably more honest to say that I have been struggling with milk frothing as I only use whole milk that is nearly 4% milk fat and the steamer on the Anita is quite powerful. The taste and mouth-feel is very good but I am a few country miles away from latte art. As a point of reference I had previously tried the steamer on a friend's Breville and that just didn't prepare me for how fast the milk heats up with the Anita. I have also made use of the hot water wand a few times and find it to be a great convenience feature as I do occasionally get a craving for an Americano.
In the end I am very pleased with the Anita. It allows me to mostly make drinks that are at least as good as what I get at the local espresso bars - and my neighbourhood has some good ones. For me the Anita has the features, reputation, counter presence, and price point that I was looking for and I love having a new domain of knowledge to explore. I am really enjoying the addition of drinks from the Anita to my morning ritual and I expect to get years of service our of such a solid feeling piece of equipment.
I bought this machine from Espresso Planet (www.espressoplanet.com) in Mississauga, ON. I dealt with Josh who was knowledgeable, calm, and helpful. I went in a couple of weekends before I bought the Anita and was invited to try both the Anita and the Virtuoso Preciso grinder which I was also interested in. I had done a lot of online research on this site and others but still had a lot of questions and concerns about the Anita. After an hour or more of experimentation and discussion I was pleased to find that I liked the Anita, the Preciso, and the customer service at Espresso Planet. I gave myself a cooling off period of a couple of weeks and then went back and completed the sale. I received what I feel was a very reasonable deal for the Anita, Preciso, and a "starter kit" of quality accessories and 2lbs of coffee. I had my 2 year old son with me during both visits and the staff were very kind and patient with a busy dad and toddler. They even carried all the purchased items out to our car so I could focus on strapping in my kid. It's not a big thing, but something I appreciate these days. I hope that I will never need it, but Espresso Planet also does all the warranty work for the Anita, and based on the sale experience I feel very comfortable with the purchase.
Three Month Followup
It turns out you can learn a lot about coffee in 3 months. I now know that there are 3 places in my neighbourhood that sell beans with "roasted on" dates on the bag and two of them roast their own on premises. Cool! I have really improved my shot consistency and foaming technique and am confident in saying that I prefer my own drinks to the ones I get from cafes - even really good espresso bars.
Through all of this learning Anita has been just amazing. No doubts about on which side of the handle the problems were. I have altered two initial scores - usability goes from a 7 to a 9 and build quality from 9 to 10. In the end the lack of included documentation is offset by how easy this machine is to use each day once the initial learning curve is overcome. I also wish more of the devices I encounter each day were as solid as this chunk of brass, copper and steel. I think it is worth noting that the Anita I bought is the revised version with the flip up reservoir lid and more accessible OPV adjustment screw, both of which are very useful.
A few lessons learned: - an appliance timer definitely helps on the first shot each day as warmup time really is about 30mins - the reservoir is big enough for 6-8 cappuccinos (2 days in our house) including rinsing the portafilter and hot water for heating cups - it takes awhile to get comfortable with all the variables involved in espresso and milk frothing - patience is key - try different beans! I had no idea that coffee could have natural lemon, anise, or roast tomato(!) flavours