The Betsy makes excellent espresso at a very nice price.
Positive Product Points
My 5 months of experience with the Betsy convinces me that it is capable of making quite good espresso. It is a very good value, leaving money in the budget for the requisite excellent grinder.
Negative Product Points
The plastic case is a little loose on the cast metal frame causing concerns about it durability. Others complain about it's rather funky/exaggerated styling, but hey, I bought mine in red!
That I put about 10 years of heavy use on a moka pot may be taken as evidence that I would not spend extravagantly when I decided that I deserved a real espresso machine. I had absorbed the conventional wisdom of alt.coffee that the grinder is more important than the espresso machine. I was therefore fairly sure that I would soon be buying a Rocky grinder, and I was reluctant to spend $400 for an espresso machine. When I discovered the Betsy available for $199, apparently sharing many specifications, if not components, with the Sylvia, it seemed to be a good entree. I thought that the smaller boiler and quicker heat time might be an advantage. When I received the Betsy, I tried to continue to use the inexpensive Bosch burr grinder that I had used for many years. With the Bosch I was unable to achieve brew times longer than 12 seconds, and the coffee was thin, short of crema and unsatisfactory. I accelerated the purchase of a Rocky. (A minor pause occurred at that point as I just then became aware of the Solis Maestro.) With the Rocky, followed by the purchase of a Brita water filter, and shortly thereafter beginning to home roast, then a custom turned tamper; I find that with care I can consistently make excellent espressos. This is the proof of the pudding to me. Maybe I am not getting god shots, but I get shots with good crema, heavy body, and excellent flavor. I feel am making far better shots than are available from local shops. I believe that further improvement in my espresso quality would come more easily by upgrading the grinder and certainly by improving my roasting technique, than by buying a better espresso machine. I am sure that I will buy a better machine someday, but I do not now feel the need to based on the quality of the shots I draw. I am not yet satisfied with my ability to steam milk with the Betsy, but for now I attribute that to lack of motivation and practice. The Betsy seems to produce plenty of steam. The quick time to heat turns out to be completely irrelevant as I always warm the machine up long before using it. I have used the Betsy to serve coffee for up to 5 people after dinner and found it capable of making 5 doubles in quick succession. I heat water in a microwave for making Americanos. The exuberant Italian styling of the Betsy, does not offend me. If anything, I think that it complements the standard white Rocky very well. The Betsy is built on a substantial cast frame, but the shape is filled out with molded plastic covers that seem to hang loosely and rattle on the frame. I am concerned about the durability of these parts, but they are not necessarily subject to rough use.
Very excellent service from 1st Line. My Betsy came with a slow leak in the water tank and 1st Line replaced it very quickly.
Three Month Followup
A little more than a year after my purchase, and after a particularly excellent shot, I realized that I owed it to the world to post a rave about the wonderful service I have continued to enjoy from my Betsy. I wish that more of my purchases gave such long term pleasure. I read from 1st Line Equipment that the Betsy is no longer in production. That is too bad. I would recommend it to anybody looking for an entry level espresso maker.
By the way, the steaming function proved to be completely capable as well.
One Year Followup
Actually a 6 year followup: After 6 years of regular use, I got tired of water leaking around the original, hardened gasket and ordered a replacement from 1st Line. Taking the machine apart to install the new gasket was nothing that I ever wanted to do, but was a gratifying and confidence building experience. I was impressed by the quality of the internal components, particularly the heavy brass boiler.
I have been very pleased with the brewing performance since installing the replacement gasket. I guess that I will delay buying that new Isomac Zaffiro for a couple of more years now. :-)
I haven't abused the machine, but it has held up remarkably well, inside and out. I cannot imagine expecting better service out of a $200 entry level espresso maker. And I have no idea what to recommend to a buyer interested in a new machine near that price point today.