A sleek, stainless-steel workhorse that stands up to more expensive machines. Big bang for your buck!
Positive Product Points
One of the better espresso machines in its class. Pulls amazing shots for the money paid! Solid, stainless-steel construction, large, straight-forward buttons, strong steaming function, fairly large drip tray, and classic shape for the steam wand. The water chamber holds plenty of water for flushing and brewing 6 cappucini in a row. Basically, if you are thinking about buying this machine, you can't go wrong.
Negative Product Points
The machine comes with two sizes of filter inserts for the portafilter - a one shot and a two shot size. I threw out the one shot size because I brew using the ristretto method. As for other negatives, the steam wand drips when it's not in use - you have to keep it over the drip tray or it will flood the counter. Although few and far machines at this price point have cup warmers (and this one comes with one), I'd have to leave the machine on for at least 30 minutes before the cups would be properly heated. Frankly, I think it's easier just to fill them with hot water. Comes with a pressurized portafilter, but it can be modified (explained below). Also comes with a cheap plastic tamper - don't even bother - buy a good one. Steam in the wand seems to run out if flushed too long, despite that there is plenty of water still left. The steam wand also spits for awhile right after you turn it on. If you accidentally over-tamp (AKA use too much pressure), the machine compensates by spilling coffee and grounds out of the screw holes on the bottom of the portafilter and into your cups.
There is a learning curve with this machine. I've had this machine since 2004 and am still finding new things out about it to this day. The proper way that I, personally, have found to operate this machine to make a cappucino/latte (so far) goes like this:
1 - Take out the water chamber and refill it (I never use water that sits for more than 30 minutes and it is always filtered). Place the water chamber back in the machine. 2 - Turn the machine on. Turn the frothing mechanism on to let it heat up, but not the steam wand. Let the machine heat up for at least 1 minute. 3 - When you can hear the water start to bubble inside the boiler, put your espresso cups/shot glasses underneath the portafilter and push the brew function to flush out the old water and heat up the cups. Set the filled cups aside. 4 - Turn on the steam wand and let it run for about 3 minutes or until it stops spitting. Stay out of the way - it may spit hot water on you! 5 - While the steaming function is heating up, take your frothing pitcher out of the fridge/freezer and fill partly with milk. Set aside. Take out the cup you will drink out of and fill that with hot tap water. Grab a wet towel. 6 - When the steam wand has stopped spitting and is creating non-stop steam, briefly turn the nob to off. The "not-ready" light should go off to let you know it has been properly heated. Take the towel and flip the steam wand around to the front (watch out - it's hot!). Place the steam wand into the milk just until the two side holes on the steam wand are barely submerged and slowly turn the steam knob barely on (about a quarter-turn). 7 - As you surf the top of the milk, the wand will suck milk through the two holes on the sides, pump steam into it and will shoot it out of the bottom hole. You should see bubbles of milk getting sucked back in on both sides and re-processed into smaller bubbles. Continue to froth like this until the steam starts getting louder and you hear a "ch-ch-ch" sound. Use a thermometer in the beginning to act as a reference point. 8 - At this point, plunge the steam wand all the way to the bottom of the frothing pitcher. This will heat up the remaining milk. When you again start to hear a "ch-ch-ch" sound, turn the knob to off and set the milk aside. 9 - Briefly turn the knob back on, while wiping up any milk that has been sucked into the wand with a towel. Turn it back off. 10 - Flip the wand back to its original position over the drip tray. 11 - Prepare the coffee grounds for your shot and dose them into the portafilter. I usually stop midway and bang the bottom of the portafilter on the counter a couple of times to ensure it is being dosed evenly. 12 - When you have a nice mound of coffee grounds, sweep them with your finger (or better yet, the flat side of a butter knife or the lid to your dosing chamber) in a north-south-east-west direction pointing towards the middle of the portafilter. This will esure the grounds fill all crevasses evenly. Scrape any remaining grounds off to level it in one sweeping motion. 13 - Now it is time to tamp. The first tamp is done down the middle of the portafilter and should require at least 30 lbs of pressure. Afterwards, bang the handle of the tamp (never the tamping surface or you'll scratch it - and once you scratch your tamper, you're screwed) against the sides of the portafilter to loosen any grounds on the edge and move them to the middle. Then tamp four more times, once again in a north-south-east-west direction, twisting the tamper around and around as you tamp. 14 - Before locking the portafilter in place, flush a couple ounces of water out of the machine via the brewing function (this machine requires temperature surfing in order to bring it up to the neccessary 195 degrees). 15 - Dump the water out of your espresso cups into the drip tray and wipe them clean. Place them underneath the portafilter and pull your shot(s). 16 - Immediately after pulling, remove the cups and set aside. You don't want any remaining coffee dripping in there because it will be bitter and over-extracted. 17 - Retrieve your drinking cup and dump out the hot water. Wipe clean. 18 - Pour the shots into the cup. 19 - Swirl the frothed milk around in the pitcher a few times in both directions until the milk becomes glossy and silky. If neccessary, bang it on the counter a few times to bring large bubbles to the surface and make them break up. 20 - Pour the cappucino. Enjoy!
1 - Press the steam button to off so the steaming function can cool down. 2 - Remove the portafilter and wash it out under running water (the puck cannot be banged into a dumping chamber because the filter insert will get dumped out with it). 3 - Run a few ounces of water through the machine to flush it out again. Wipe the bottom of the grouphead with a towel to brush off any remaining grounds. 4 - Turn off the machine. 5 - Turn the steam wand to "on" and let any remaining water out. This will do this even with the machine shut off. If you don't do this, the steam wand will continue to drip for awhile and you will come back to a drip tray that is half-full. Watch out - it will spit again. 6 - Dump the water out of the drip tray. 7 - Lock the portafilter back in place (it should always be kept locked when using the machine as long as you are not washing it out in order to keep it hot). 8 - Unplug and then clean out your grinder.
Up above, I explained that the machine comes with a pressurized portafilter. This can be modified to become a non-pressurized, pressurized portafilter (if that makes any sence) by doing the following:
1 - Turn the portafilter upside-down and remove the three screws. They are in there tight, so be careful not to strip them. 2 - Separate the handle from the metal pressurized mechanism. 3 - Inside, you will see a spring, plastic hinge, and pin. If you remove these three pieces, it will no longer be a pressurized portafilter (but it will still have the pin-sized hole, so technically, it won't be a true non-pressurized portafilter). Doing it this way, I have been able to achieve sizable volumes of real crema on this machine. If you complete these steps, be aware that you will have probably voided the warranty (if there is one), and don't throw out the parts. They can be put back if you don't like it. Mine did the stupid thing of falling down the sink, so I can't go back even if I wanted to. Note: Even as a non-pressurized, pressurized portafilter, the screws will need to be removed and the inside taken apart and cleaned thoroughly at least once a week or grounds may build up and clog the pin-sized hole. The frothing attachment will also need to be removed daily and washed out. Frothed milk will build up in there no matter how much you flush it out.
All in all, this machine has never had any major problems except maybe one or two explosions of coffee grounds (which was all my fault because I over-tamped and the pressure built up). It's a reliable workhorse that will outlast most machines on the market and will bring you big bang for your buck.
Ebay can often be unreliable, but I had no major problems with buying this refurbished machine on there (returned within the "one month customer satisfaction period). This is the second greatest deal I have gotten on Ebay so far, the first of which is my grinder (I'll review that later).