After reading for 18 months about espresso, beans, roasting, shots, barristas, I realized I knew nothing about coffee. This is after owning three coffee shops in South America for 10 years, with a commercial Pavoni double head espresso machine, Bunn Grinder, buying some outstanding coffee, making my own blend, and drinking it for years.
After months of reading reviews and searching refurbished machines and new ones, I determined the Saeco Espresso Classico was the machine I wanted to start with. I gave myself a budget of $300 since I didn't intend to go for a more expensive machine, and I really wasnít looking for the semi-automatics and definitely not the automatics. I really wanted to get the feel of the good shots of espresso.
I tried the Starbucks Barrista for 2 weeks and took it back for a refund. I just felt it was too much money for what it did. There were a few features that could be appreciated that I do not have on the Classico, but I felt I could get what I wanted for less. Turned out I was right!
The Saeco Classico has proven to get the job done in fine fashion since I started using it. This is one of the best machines in it's class in my opinion. Keep in mind I graduated from a commercial machine to a Krups "steamer," to a "real" consumer espresso machine. But after reading literally hundreds of reviews before doing that on Gaggias, Solis, Rancilio, Capreso, Pavoni, Bodum, Elektra, and talking to espresso owners, I felt like I had owned more than one.
Yes, the portafilter is not my favorite, and the steam wand does leak, which seems to be a trait of this machine per other reviews. The retailer tells me to bring it in and he will change the gasket which seems to be the problem. These are the only drawbacks I have encountered up to now.
There was a bit of a learning curve as to how to get steam for frothing, since the owners manual was left out of the box. But once I got past that there has been no problem. I found that by frothing before pulling the shots, I have more than enough steam. And I have had no issues getting good froth. Personally, I am not that patient, so I simply heat my milk in the micro.
90% of the time I drink Americanos, and only on occasion do I drink a Soy Latte. Rarely do I drink the Capuccino, but when I make one for someone else I have not had any problem with frothing/steaming the milk. The steam wand is used just the way it came out of the box.
I also made certain that I got a good conical burr grinder. It would have been an absolute disaster to spend money on a good machine, and not be able to grind fine enough to get the best results from the shot. I found the Solis Maestro Classic for $69.00 + $10 shipping from Costco.
Again, it was the least expensive conical burr, not flat burr, that could do the job. My reason for saying this is, the budget minded need not fear, because there are good products out there at reasonable prices.
I have used both drip grind consistency as well as very fine espresso with good results. Keep in mind when I say good results, it is taking into consideration the drip grind does not taste the same as the fine grind. The grinding consistency does make a huge difference
But not to stray, I have found thus far that the Saeco Classico does an excellent job. Iím not an expert yet, but give me a few more months at the roasters shop, and the retailer where I bought this that also does barrista training, and Iíll get there.
I get my beans from a local roaster that does nothing but gourmet beans. He is new to roasting but man, is he a perfectionist! I have had the pleasure of turning thousands of dollars of business his way. It is a relationship made in heaven. He has introduced me to Dragon Phoenix Pearls Tea by David Rios and some of the best sipping chocolate ever. But I stray again.
Some machines can't use a fine grind to make really great espresso, because the pump pressure is not good enough. This is where the pressurized portafilters have become popular. Also, the material the boiler is made from determines recovery time, and how long it's likely to last. Again, for the money, the Classico looks to be one of the best in it's class.
I have brewed approximately 285 double espressos since June 19 of this year. You can have great beans, and a great grind, but if you don't have a good machine you're going to be getting something that only resembles espresso. I've been to Starbucks and many others, and I'll take mine. At an average of $3 per Tall Soy Latte, I've paid for my machine almost three time!