Coffee lovers seem to all take a similar journey in their quest for the next best cup. But, each has their own stopping points along the journey. Some stop early on feeling completely satisfied with your basic drip coffee maker and ground coffee from the store. Some continue on the path and find gourmet coffee beans and a blade grinder make them happy. Some go further and seek to replicate the espresso drinks they enjoy at a local coffee house. These folks buy a home espresso machine and are very happy making cappuccinos and lattes at home.
However, there will always be group of folks who are not satisfied with this level of coffee enjoyment and continue on the path for a better cup. These folks love to spend their time working at their craft, getting recommendations, acquiring better grinders, better machines, tweaking the grind, tamp technique, machine temperature, and so forth. They believe that EVERYONE shouldn't be just satisfied with their current level of coffee enjoyment and should also be on a quest for the next better cup. It is these folks who will tell you that the Starbucks Barista is an inadequate machine for producing espresso. But, what if you just want a nice cup on a daily basis and don't want to deal with the trouble and expense of pursuing "The God Shot"? What if good espresso is good enough for you? The Starbucks Barista is a machine for these people.
Everyone starts out as a beginner. I was happy to use my Krups Espresso Mini "steam toy" for years. I really didn't know that a better cup was out there until this machine died and I replaced it with a Mr. Coffee pump espresso machine. Having a more powerful extraction, I learned for the first time what crema tasted like and found myself enjoying the process of improving my technique. When this machine started having problems after 2 years of use (I think I only descaled it once in that whole time), I started to do some careful research to find the next machine to replace it. I was immediately impressed by the overwhelming number of opinions being written about the Starbucks Barista. Many were positive complementing the espresso quality, ease of use and reliability of the machine. I learned that it was built by Saeco in Italy, metal in construction and heavy, things you want to look for in better machines. But, I was mainly struck by the mentions of Starbucks top-notch customer service in quickly resolving any issues owners may have experienced. This product "feature" appealed to me greatly having problems locating support and service for other appliances I owned. So, I was sold on the Barista's reputation alone and I quickly bought one for the lowest price I could find.
This "upgrade" is the perfect next step in the journey for someone like me. My wife and I enjoy having a cappuccino or latte in the AM as our morning jolt. Often, we like to also have a cappuccino or espresso in the late afternoon as well. This machine meets these modest production requirements admirably and produces very good espresso shots with a nice layer of crema. It's consistent, easy to use and easy to clean up. The unit heats up quickly (this is great when I'm in a hurry to get out the door in the morning) and produces adequate steam for frothing a 20 oz pitcher of milk. Its 96 oz water tank is more than enough to handle priming, brewing and steaming for producing several espresso drinks. If I have any complaints about this machine it would be that it doesn't always produce a very hot espresso shot, but simply switching on the steam switch for a few extra seconds before brewing has helped me overcome this issue.
As I have grown comfortable in using the Barista, I find that you can easily take this machine to the next level by acquiring a non-pressurized portafilter, a decent burr grinder and a metal tamp. Having recently done this, I am now enjoying experimentation with these and have even started home roasting. I believe that this little machine will suit me just fine for the next few years until I am ready once again to take the next step in the quest for a better cup!