A great machine for making good espresso and milk-drinks.
Positive Product Points
+ Quick to heat up + Large water capacity + Quality stainless steel construction. Nicely packaged system + Easy to learn and make quality espresso drinks + Swivel steam wand is easy to adjust + Pressurized portafilter produces fine crema and consistent results + Many service locations for refurbishing / tuning up
Negative Product Points
– Pressurized portafilter limits quality of shots – Steam is not as “dry” as it could be – Soupy pucks are common; the grouphead dribbles – Overpriced at the retail price level, get it when it is on sale (imho)
I found this machine by accident while donating items to a thrift store. It had just come in and the staff hadn’t tested it yet to see if it was sellable. I expressed an interest and they said that if I promised to not return it I could have it for $10. Such a deal!
After checking the on-line manual I went to a local home espresso repair shop and bought two gaskets: the large rubber gasket in the grouphead and a small one for the steam wand valve. The screw for the grouphead screen was loose, but the culprit was the brass threads of the barrel that were stripped. A slightly larger screw solved that problem, for a while.
Replacing my Krups steamer, the Barista required I get a better grinder. Peet’s Coffee sold me a Capresso Infinity, a conical burr grinder well matched with this espresso machine. At the time I didn’t realize that my espresso journey was just starting.
The Barista produced some nice shots of espresso. This was especially true when I started to roast the green beans at home. The large double filter usually held about 16 ounces of grinds. I tamped with the Starbucks shot glass I used to collect the espresso as it fit the basket very well.
The pressurized portafilter means that the level of grind, freshness of bean, and pressure of tamp are less important to the final product. Although the purists talk against the pressurized portafilter, it really is preferable for people starting out and using the machine.
But it also means that Starbucks doesn’t have to worry about selling a machine that makes a better product than what they offer at their stores. That wouldn’t make good business sense.
My usual routine with the Barista was this: = Make sure the water tank was at a sufficient level. I used Brita filtered water = Turn on the Barista and prime the steam wand and grouphead = Grind the beans = Run the hot water through the grouphead and portafilter = Steam the milk up to around 150°F. Clean wand and run steam to clear out the tube. = Load the portafilter and tamp = Flush the grouphead to let the too-hot steam out into the cups to warm them = Mount the portafilter and pull the espresso (usually 20-25 seconds for a double shot) = Attempt latte art (usually not very successful, oh well!) = Clean portafilter and then let the machine run hot water through it until it runs clean
The last few weeks of using the Barista I used a new handmill from Zassenhaus which did a better job of grinding than the Capresso, which now sits quiet and unused. Less aroma comes from the hand milling and the grind setting is easier to dial in.
This routine produced the best coffee it made for me before I moved on to a lever machine. The espresso was quite good. But a demo on a couple of basic lever machines (LaPavoni and Sama [aka Ponte Vecchio]) got me started into upgrade mode. The lever machines gave more intensity of flavor without harshness. The Barista will now be sold or given away to a friend. And, yes, I can envision a double-boiler high-end semi-automatic in my kitchen within a few years…
In summary, the Barista is a great machine. It is a great way to get started in producing espresso at home while learning about it. For many people it is all they will ever need.
Buying from a thrift store is always an adventure. I lucked out and got a good machine that needed a few parts to make it run like new. But if a person were to buy the machine when Starbucks has their big sales, it would be worth the price. Craigslist seems to always have used and virtually new Starbucks Baristas for sale.