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Starbucks Barista - Doug Welty's Review
Posted: January 6, 2005, 9:45am
review rating: 7.3
feedback: (0) 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 1,038,996 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: 7.8
Manufacturer: Estro Quality: 8
Average Price: $350.00 Usability: 7
Price Paid: $275.00 Cost vs. Value 8
Where Bought: Starbucks Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 4+ years Overall 8
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Krups Mini
Bottom Line: The best machine I've seen for anything near its price.
Positive Product Points

Solid metal construction
Quick warmup
Large easy-filling tank
Powerful steaming for the price
Outstanding customer service

Negative Product Points

Plastic trays and inserts rattle a bit
Requires frequent de-scaling if hard water is used
Steam is on the wet side
Portafilter size is smaller than commercial standard

Detailed Commentary

I bought this machine a little over six years ago, after throughly wearing out a Krups starter machine. I own the black Estro Vapore model, which was replaced a few months after I bought it by the Starbucks Barista branded model, which appears to be pretty much identical to this day.

After six years' daily use pulling one or two double shots every morning, the Vapore is still going strong with only one minor parts replacement, about which more below.

Mine came with two portafilters and two inserts - one spring-loaded, pressure-retaining portafilter, which is the one I mostly use, and a second flow-through portafilter. One insert holds a double shot, and the other can be used for a single shot or prepackaged pods, which I have always viewed as a waste of money.  I use the pressure-retaining portafilter and the double basket.

I obtain consistently good, smooth 20-second shots, with acceptable if not always luxurious crema, using finely burr-ground Costco french roast. I always tamp manually and leave a little headspace, which keeps masses of grounds from sticking to the filter screen.

In contrast to other reviewers, I have found that the Vapore will handle just about anything I put in the portafilter, right down to coffee dust. The results of a too-fine, too-tamped shot may not taste great, but something always trickles out into the cup. Do not be afraid to experiment. In fact, on a couple of occasions when I've accidentally plugged the portafilter by allowing debris to get between the insert and the filter body, the thing has simply stalled and hummed. Aside from a small explosion of wet grounds when removing the portafilter (there is no separate pressure-relief valve), no harm to portafilter, machine, or man.

Steaming is good, but not 100% consistent. The wand should always be flushed before its first use, and the steam is rarely as dry as one would like. There is plenty of power to steam enough milk for two good lattesi at a time. I find I get the best resuts and smallest bubbles using whole milk and adding in about a half-teaspoon of heavy cream. I suspect that skim milk users would not be satisfied with this machine as the dampish steam would thin it even further.

Here in Northern Virginia, our water is mineral-rich, and I have found that the Vapore loses steaming power as minerals build up in its innards.  It is noticeable if I go about six weeks without a cleaning, and putting it off much longer will create telltale dried-milk deposits on the steaming wand. The instructions warn against using vinegar to descale the Vapore, but who ever reads instructions? I descale mine with a two-to-one solution of water to white vinegar, letting the machine sit powered-on for about an hour and running a fresh cup of vinegar water every ten minutes or so, and like-new steaming power is restored. That's also a good occasion to clean out the screen (held on by a coin-slot screw, easily removed) and wipe down the head surface behind it.

The only problems in six years of use have been these: first, the steam valve is getting a bit tired, and it has to be cranked down tight to keep the wand from dripping while I'm pulling shots. That's minor, and doesn't worry me.  Second, the thick black rubber gasket around the head unit that seals the portafilter wore out after about four years, and water and grounds started seeping out when pressure built up. I temporarily substituted the non-pressure-retaining portafilter, which does give decent results, and contacted Starbucks tech support.  They politely sent me a replacement gasket promptly, for free, by first-class mail.  Can't beat that kind of service.

When and if it finally wears out, I'll likely upgrade to something along the lines of a La Valentina.  Right now, though, it looks as if I might have a long wait.

Buying Experience

I bought during a $50 discount sale and got a detailed demonstration of the machine, volunteered by a well-trained employee, the non-pressure-retaining portafilter (just introducted at the time) upgrade, and a half-pound of Starbucks espresso blend gratis.

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review rating: 7.3
Posted: January 6, 2005, 9:45am
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