A good buy and an excellent workhorse that produces an excellent espresso with little fuss.
Positive Product Points
Very large water reservoir, reasonable size, easy to use, produces best espresso I've made at home. Portafilter is heavy and solid. Base adjusts for different cup sizes. Fits under my low kitchen cabinets which have less than 14" clearance.
Negative Product Points
Ships only with pressurized and pod filter baskets, but I knew this and ordered an aftermarket non-pressurized basket with the machine. Styling has a bit of a 50s look to me.
If you remove the portafilter too soon after a shot, grounds go everywhere, including up into the housing where the portafilter locks in. If that happens, the portafiilter doesn't lock effectively, and shot quality goes down. You can clean it out, but it takes some time and patience.
I bought this with a Solis Maestro Plus grinder, a non-pressurized filter basket, a 53mm Expressivo tamper, and some coffee from Whole Latte Love. The tamper is great, and the SL-70 is a workhorse. The grinder has been more temperamental.
It probably took twenty minutes to get everything out of the box and set up. I turned the SL-70 on, and waited for the green light. I admired the heavy brass portafilter (big improvement over the oxidizing aluminum on my old Krups).
Meanwhile, I tried the grinder, using the Java Joe's beans that I'd bought with it. My first grind (at the espresso setting on the Maestro Plus) took forever, and turned out way too fine. I adjusted a couple of steps coarser, and tried a shot with the pressurized filter. The crema was poor and the shot had an unpleasant burnt taste. I hadn't expected much from the pressurized filter, so that wasn't much of a disappointment. Maybe I could perfect my technique, but that was my one and only try. I've got a couple of pressurized filter baskets I'm willing to part with.
Then I tried with the non-pressurized filter. Amazingly enough, the results were beautiful: about 25 seconds for a double shot with a great crema! It was much better than anything I had ever been able to produce with my old Krups/Pavoni combo, which mostly sat unused because the results were so disappointing.
Since then, I've consistently found that if I get the grind right, the SL-70 will deliver. Too fine, and it chokes. Too coarse and it's like a poor excuse for drip. The portafilter feels solid, and goes on and off the machine easily. I try to give the machine more than a minimum warm-up (I'm told it can stay on all day), and run a blank shot to warm the grouphead and the cup. (I've had way too many lukewarm espressos in cardboard cups.)
You don't want to pull the filter off too soon after use or you're likely to see and maybe feel a brown spray. There's usually some puddling in the filter after use, but I keep a small saucer on the tray so that I can just drop everything there for a trip to the sink.
My two months of experience with this machine have confirmed the wisdom all over the web that the grinder is critical. My grinder isn't as repeatable as I'd like, so the first shot in any espresso sesssion is rarely right, and I wind up tossing and starting over. But the second almost always works. Once I get the grind right, I'm back in espresso heaven. Maybe it would be even more heavenly if I'd spent two or three times as much for the companionship of Silvia or Livia or whoever, but I'm very happy with what SL-70 can do. Actually, I thought about investing another $100 for Silvia, but I passed because of all the talk about her temperamentalness and the need to perfect the fine art of temperature surfing.
The grinder is another story. I've reluctantly concluded that my hope for a single grinder that would do it all -- back and forth between drip and espresso -- was in vain. (Actually, I think there's a big opening in the market for a product really designed to do that job, but I can't find it.) So I hate to admit even to myself that I've just put in my order for a new, espresso-only grinder that costs more than the SL-70.
Beware all who contemplate buying good espresso equipment -- this is a very seductive hobby!
Foaming? Personally, I've never liked any food or beverage that mixes milk with coffee, so I haven't tested the milk foaming capabilities. They're reported to be good. Eventually I'll try to make some capuccinos when I find some guests who seem like appropriate test subjects.
WLL's web site is excellent and ordering on-line went smoothly. Delivery was quick and everything was in good condition. When I needed help on my grinder, they just referred me to Baratza (the Solis people in the US), but that's O.K. because Baratza has been very responsive. If you ever have problems with Solis machines, give them a call -- they want to help.
Three Month Followup
This is a one-year follow-up. Basically, I still agree with what I wote in the early months. Unlike some reviewers, I've had no problems with the SL-70 (well... there was the one time when I removed the basket too soon after brewing and coffee grounds went damned near everywhere). I basically use the machinet for one or two doppios a day, and performance has been excellent and very consistent. (One key was replacing my Maestro+ grinder with a Cimbali Jr. The Cimbali is pricey, but its precision and repeatability are near perfect. I use the Maestro + for drip, and it's great for a job where grind precision isn't critical -- quick, quiet, and clean.)
I only steam when I'm making a drink for someone else, but with little practice I'm able to get very reliable results. So my SL-70 still qualifies as the workhorse I said it was last year.
One Year Followup
After 3-1/2 years, the SL-70 continues to do its job as well as ever, reliably producing very good shots. So far, I've had zero maintenance issues.