You have to grow into this machine, but once you do, you get awesome flavour
Positive Product Points
This machine will give excellent results, though you will need to experiment with different gind levels, quantity levels and tampering to acheive those results. You'll need to work your way up to the level of quality this machine has to offer. The pressurised portafilter makes this machine idiotproof. Howeer, once you start playing with the non-pressurised portafilter, you're in for a lot of fun... I still develop the skill to perfect crema coffee, yet I'm getting better and I enjoy working my way there, which is almost as fun as drinking the espresso itself !
Negative Product Points
The instructions show you how to clean and plug the machine, which is important, but I wished they had provided more information on how to devellop the Saeco classico to its full potential. They did include a nice little book on the history and origin of coffee however. Also, I wish they had enclosed a tamper (even a plastic one, to get us started).
I wished it had documented the pressurised versus non-pressurised portafilter issue. The instruction manula doesn't address this at all, while the staff @ Saeco feel very strongly that their pressurised portafilter is the way to go. Experience with this machine and freshly roasted (and ground) coffee prove them wrong.
Before I purchased my Saeco classico, I was using a Briel. It made superb crema and I tought it was a pretty good machine (at least compared to my first espresso machine, a small Braun -- don't buy, by the way --). My perception has changed when I visited an Italian friend of mine. He served me a 100% Arabica coffee from his Saeco Aroma (the euivalent of the Classico in Canada). I was amazed at the quality of the crema, and the intensity and concentration of the taste. I tied using his 100% Arabica coffee (same brand -- everything) in my Briel and like became boring... Since then, I've tried espresso from different recommended restaurants and have concluded that the Saeco Classico was as close as you can get from commercial quality espresso in the confort of your own home. I've organized an espresso tasting seminar by gathering friends who own espresso machines and have performed a head to head test amongst 5 different machines,using the same brewing conditions (I don't have the details on hand, but the Saeco and the Briel were two of them). The Saeco got the best rating from almost everyone. I didn't get to try the Rancillo Silvia. This would probably have been alternative. The clincher for Saeco was the presence of a Saeco repair shop in my neighbourhood (I hear that inter-city service is hell with Saeco) and the absence of the Silvia in stores from my location.
At first, I tought it was going to be a nightmare, but I spoke to the manager and he was very friendly and helpful. All things considered, I would highly recommend doing business with this store.
Three Month Followup
Even after a little mileage, still impresed with this machine's results. However, some seals are starting to leak a little, which is worrysome for the longer range. Fortunately, the local (Montreal Canada) service outlet is very convenient. The personnel is great and helpful and business hours are very accomodating. Would still have bought this machine knowing what the first 3 months would be like.