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Starbucks Barista - Jared .'s Review
Posted: June 28, 2005, 5:17pm
review rating: 7.8
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
Starbucks Barista
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Arrow The Starbucks Barista has 163 Reviews
Arrow The Starbucks Barista has been rated 8.23 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Starbucks Barista reviews have been viewed 1,036,448 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Bam T 9.50
Carl Lobitz 8.67
Rick Wayne 8.22
Dave Jahsman 8.00
Kevin Bailey 8.00

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 6.8
Manufacturer: Saeco Quality: 6
Average Price: $350.00 Usability: 7
Price Paid: $400.00 Cost vs. Value 7
Where Bought: CharBucks Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 1 year Overall 6
Writer's Expertise: I live coffee Would Buy Again: No
Similar Items Owned:
Bottom Line: If you're going to buy this machine, buy it on sale and DON'T use the stock PPF!!! - Take the valve out or purchase a non-pressurized portafilter from Saeco.  It will be worthwhile to spend a bit of extra money and get a better machine to start out with.
Positive Product Points

Fast warm-up
Good Looks (I had the Graphite Grey - a dark grey metallic finish similar to an automotive finish)
Solidly built frame
Ulka 42w pump
Easily accessible to the consumer (like there's not a *$ on every corner)
Great customer service
Easy water fill access from top of machine
Stainless steel boiler
Ball-joint steam wand
Can microfroth milk with a bit of work

Negative Product Points

Pressurized portafilter (causes machine problems)
Water bin a pain to remove
Plastic drip tray
Small boiler
Small 53mm portafilter
Portafilter head not all brass
High price unless bought on sale
Did I mention the wanky pressurized portafilter?

Detailed Commentary

This machine is identical to the now defunct Saeco Via Venezia.  I'm guessing Starbuck's bought the rights to it.

The Barista machine I owned was a Christmas gift from my father in '03.  I have since had two other machines.  Thank goodness these carry a two-year warranty (which is renewed each time you have to trade in for a new one).  All three machines eventually developed a condition where they would no longer pump water through the portafilters.

The machine works pretty well when new, and if bought on sale, provide a pretty good initial value.  Unfortunately, it goes downhill from the first time you use it.

Some pertinent information about the pressurized portafilter (PPF):  The Saeco pressurized portafilters have a mechanism in the bottom of the portafilter handle which presses a small nylon pin into a small (less than 1/16") hole at the bottom of the portafilter using mechanical force via a spring.  The theory behind this design is that you, the consumer, are an idiot, and left to your own devices couldn't make a decent shot of espresso to save your life.  So they're going to help you.  Water pressure supplied by the pump through the boiler builds up inside of the portafilter until eventually it gets to the proper level for ideal coffee extraction and overcomes the spring's force so you get "the perfect" shot of espresso in your cup.  Also, that small orifice coupled with the plug pin serves to aerate (or foam) the espresso as it passes by, making you some "false crema" (evidenced by larger bubbles in the crema than you would see in professionally-prepared espresso).

This is supposed to take some of the variables out of the espresso equation to the perfect shot, i.e. grind size and tamping pressure.  Your are instructed to fill the portafilter basket level with finely ground coffee, then lock the portafilter into the machine.  What they don't tell you is that this action will use the shower screen in the group head to tamp the coffee down in the basket by about 1/4" (not good on the screen), so you might as well use a tamper and do it yourself before putting it in.  Go ahead, see for yourself.  Fill the basket, put the portfilter in, then take it back out.  I believe this equates to pretty close to the standard 30 - 40 lb tamp, judging by the amount the coffee compresses when following Starbuck's instructions.    

However, like any mechanical assembly, the pressure valve parts will eventually wear out or malfunction if not properly cared for.  Therein lies the problem.  Even using the strongest detergents safe for food preparation appliances, it is next to impossible to keep the small parts inside of the portafilter properly cleaned without some kind direct scrubbing action, and in fact you technically void your warranty if you take the portafilter apart to clean all those little parts (and you risk losing at least one of the springs).  There are three separate small nylon parts and two springs which make up the pressure valve mechanism, along with a white nylon housing that snaps onto the grey plastic portafilter bottom.  The valve is supposed to open under a preset amount of pressure, and then "reset" itself every time you insert the portafilter back into the machine (which is why it springs back about 15 degrees after locking it in).  The problem is that the build-up and acidity of the coffee eventually causes this valve to become too tight to open at all.

On my first machine, I called in to Starbucks customer service, and told them of the problem I was having.  They immediately diagnosed the problem as being the portafilter, and sent me out a replacement one (which also included a new shower screen and new portafilter baskets).  This action leads me to believe that this problem is much more commonplace on this machine than they’re letting on.  Once I received the new portafilter, I tried it out.  It did work, but still not as well as the original one did when the machine was new.

I elected to replace the machine at a local *$ store, and the whole situation was repeated on the additional two machines.  Each one failed after about 5 months.  I finally gave up and asked for a refund.

Over the course of nearly a year and a half, I had so time to fiddle with the machine (I am an engineer after all) to try and see how it would be best fixed.  Toward the end, I finally removed the newfangled valve system from the extra portafilter that they had sent me for my first machine, and started working on getting the grind and tamp just right.  ***This is the best thing you can possibly do to keep this machine working properly.***  When you find the right grind and get your tamp correct, this machine can actually produce a pretty good shot of espresso (it does use the venerable Ulka 42w pump, after all) through an non-pressurized portafilter.  When the PPF got to where it would no longer work on the final machine, I tried the non-pressurized portafilter, and still couldn’t get much anything to come out.  It is my theory that the PPF causes the pump to overwork, wearing it out VERY prematurely.

I finally did what I should have in the first place and bought a Rancilio Silvia.

Buying Experience

None - Gift.  Customer service was great everytime though.

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review rating: 7.8
Posted: June 28, 2005, 5:17pm
feedback: (2) comments | read | write
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