Be sure to check the regular Classico reviews as some there include the Rapid Steam featured models. The newest stainless steel and basic black models are Rapid Steam units. You get steam and lots of it in a hurry with this machine and that is the point. See the detailed comments for the positive features.
Negative Product Points
The only complaints I have are with the organization and meagerness of parts of the owners manual, and (worse) the fact that the one small phillips head screw holding the screen in the brewhead is a BEAR to get out. I ended up using a bit of penetrating oil and had to rap the head of the screwdriver (I used a gunsmiths set as a standard length simply wont fit inbetween the brewhead shelf and the grilled spill-tray) to ensure a solid bite to turn it. Tightening it back finger tight has ensured my ability to continue to perform the requisite periodic cleaning of the screen and gasket assembly. I simply wish Saeco had used something a bit easier to manipulate. -------------------------------- -------------------------------- See my six month and two year updates below.
Frothing with either a 20 oz or 8 oz stainless pitcher is a breeze. The steaming wand can be oriented effectively and if you don't go beyond a 1/3rd full pitcher (recommended) you will have no problems or need to elevate the unit, etc. Although it comes with a creama-enhanced portafilter, and regular one (not just recommended...a mandatory addition in my view) is readily available from Saeco. I bought one and two spare portafilter baskets and have not used the enhanced one since these were delivered to me. In combination with a Solis Molino grinder, I get consistent shots with decent creama. When I have used super fresh beans from a local source the creama (not unsurprisingly) is superb. Beans do count as our host here says and this machine can do the trick!
The 2 espresso cups/saucers, video, and manual are decent pluses at $215 from Whole Latte Love (I got a "special" open box @ $179 which was identical to a new one save the box being opened... fantastic deal!). I have not followed Saecos recommended routine in "blowing through" about 4 ounces of hot water as a prep as I never noticed any difference with the shots when I didnt. Whether this is an error or dumb move by a first time pump machine owner I will leave to others to judge. Routine clean up is a breeze and I have made sure that after every shot it gets the treatment. I wont clamp a portafilter in for a second shot without wiping the brewhead down!
I did a lot of research and asked numerous questions before making my move in acquiring my first pump machine. The Rancilio Silva held great appeal as did the automatic Solis SL90, but we are talking about significantly more money with both available around $400 street price. Under that price point this machine in both finishes is a stand out. Another reviewer as aptly termed these Saecos as the "Chevys of espresso machines". I echo that: reliable, consistent, and most importantly VERY capable with the under $20 non-creama-enhanced portafilter.
(My quality/output rating is WITH the add on portafilter.... it would be a 3.5 or so with the standard which IS very effective in wringing creama from any fodder you feed it, but it seems to give a flat, uninspired taste that some have said runs to bitter... see our Hosts comments as well as those from others on the tradeoffs associated with enhanced portafilters. I would also probably rate the whole unit as a 4.25 without the add on portafilter too).
And after 3 months the salient issue for readers is "would he buy this model again?" Absolutely! And I feel I traded nothing off in not going with the stainless steel model.... they are the same save the cosmetics. A very effective set up with the Solis Mulino grinder for under $325 total plus shipping! Highly recommended!
Well I have had a problem. I'm ham fisted with a 8 3/8" wrist so getting at that recessed phillips screw in the brewhead to clean the metal mesh disk became an issue. (see my negative product points) One to the point where I bunged up that screw beyond hope. Extremely frustrated, I ended up sending the machine back under warrenty. To my great surprise, the Saeco folks not only removed the shredded screw but listened to my laments (I was rather expressive to them about this) about the small space between the brewhead and tray frame for my hand and installed a large head slotted screw that extends below the plain of the mesh filter. I can readily get at it now to perform the requisite maintenance. Yeah, it leaves a dimple in the coffee "puck" but so what! It doesn't affect the unit's performance or the taste. I'm a happy camper with the product support and service that I received.
And having now garnered more experience, I would revise my useability and quality ratings to reflect this design issue, but the beta coffeegeek software as yet doesn't allow that for registered users. Regardless I would still buy this machine again... great value and performance at its price point!
-------------------------------------- ------------------------------------- 2 YEAR FOLLOW UP:
I write this in February 2003 with just short of 2 years with this machine. I've noted that the newest models have separated the switch functions by providing a stand alone steam wand switch. There may have been other improvements in the last two years but I'm unaware of them. More to the point this morning disaster struck. Removing the portafilter the dispersion screen and half the screen holding it in the brewhead fell out. The rest was hopefessly sheered off inside the brass it mates to in the brewhead. I'd been careful since the factory repair to never torque this puppy down. I'm quite upset that one lousy screw has now incapacitated this machine. The prospects of shipping and non-warranty repair costs have me now considering a replacement. This is definately not something I'd expected this soon! In that regard I'm down to either getting another of this model so that the accessories and parts I now have might have some utility. Or going to a Rancilio Silva with commercial grade portafilter and La Morzacco baskets. That's a couple hundred dollars difference when accessories are included. This was essentially where I was two years ago as these were the two models I had pruned my selection down to. I plan to stay with my Solis Molino grinder. And, no... I haven't decided yet what to do <sigh>.
BTW when editing reviews the original ratings can NOT be changed. I would no longer be rating this unit a straight "10" across the board. An overall 8.75 would be more accurate based upon my longer experience now. Still a great choice.
WholeLatteLove was very responsive in handling my inital order but wasn't much help when I send several e-mails asking about getting a non-pressurized portafilter... I eventually ordered direct from Saeco.