I suppose if you are looking at this machine, you are interested in expresso. I also suppose you want a machine that will produce good tasting expresso, lattes, mocha's etc. very much as good (or better) as you get in coffee shops. So to make this review complete, i will compare this machine to another one I own - Rancilio Silvia (costs $500 and is worth every single one of them). With Silvia, I can achieve expresso quality just as good as in most coffee shops (or better).
First good things about Barista:
-it looks great and will definetely attract attention of your friends.
-it is very easy to use, beacause it does not involve techniques like temping etc. But this is a bad thing too, because you have no control over how you make your expresso.
-it definetely has a great water tank. But, I also think it is a waste, because the steaming power of this machine is so low, you will never need the volume provided.
I don't see anything esle good about this machine, so now to the bad things:
First of all, if you are a casual expresso drinker, you might not see any difference in taste. I, for example, like to drink a latte every other day the least. Most of the time I have a couple of lattes or more a day. So I do enjoy this drink and the flavor from Barista seem to be quite bitter with unpleasant aftertaste, when the coffee taste is not strong enough. I would actually take this statement to another level and say that Barista makes more of a strong coffee, than expresso. Silvia, on the other hand make great tasting expresso: rich, full of flavor, no bitter aftertaste. So, if you really care about good expresso coffee taste, I think Barista will everntually disappoint you, as it was in my case. This happened to me after 6 months of almost daily use, when a friend let me try his latte from a coffee shop - that's when I realized that latte from my Barista would never taste as good. That's when I started doing reasearch on coffeegeek.com forums and found out that there are quite a bit of people of the same opinion. Partially it is the faulf of the pressurized portafilter (PPF). Anybody will tell you, that PPF cannot produce good expersso. I am not going to elaborate on this, but you can do some search on this in coffeegeek.com forums. One solution to this problem is getting a non-pressurized PF for Saeco Classio from Saeco, since it will fit Barista. However, I simply don't think that Barista has enough pressure to do real expresso. Even beans ground in blade grinder choke Barista's pump and it doesn't sound healthy. So I doubt it will deliver enough pressure to a non-pressurized PF, which you have to temp. Even Starbuck support told me that it wouldn't have sufficient pressure. Silvia, on the other hand, has plenty of pressure and the pump doesn't sound like it's going to die, if you happen to overload it. Besides, Silvia's shot quality is great. you will never regret spending extra $200. I think it's woth it.
When it comes to steaming, you cannot steam more than two-three glasses of milk in Barista, eventually just water will start to come out of the steam wand. This is really ennoing if you are entertaining guests. Silvia, on the other hand has TONS more steaming power, especially, if you purchase the three-hole steaming tip from wholelattelove.com. Silvia is a steaming beast. The only downside, is a small water tank... but i am ready to put up with if for the sake of all other features. Difference in steaming is one glass of milk in 1min50sec on Barista vs 50sec on Silvia with the 3-hole tip. Plus you can steam glass after glass, on Silvia :) The steam want on Silvia is also easier to use, and it comes with a rubber guard, so that you won't burn your fingers.
Barista doesn't have 3-way solenoid valve, unlike Silvia. That means that the pressure is not immediately released form the PF on Barista, and if you take PF off right away after brewing, it the pressure will force the ground out of PF everywhere else, making a mess.
Shots with Barista are inconsistent, so reproducibility is a problem. The Starbucks support sent me a replacement PPF, but it was still just as useless as the old one. So I say the machine is just not a good machine. I SERIOUSLY don't recommend Starbucks Barista to anybody who likes good expresso, or latte. It is hard to hear, but you can't just save on an expresso machine if you want results you are not going to regret. So I suggest a Rancilio SIlvia for $500, or Solis SL-70 for $350 w/ non-pressurized portafilter baskets from wholelattelove.com or aabreecoffee.com
I don't consider Starbucks Barista a real Expresso machine. In fact, i have lost a lot of respect for Starbucks, after my experience with this machine. The fact the they endorse, support and stand behing a poor product makes me doubt their dedication to good tasting expresso. I think they trade taste for quick money.