Ok, the Starbucks Barista Espresso machine has several positive points that I'd like to point out. First I'll touch upon the aesthetics. Available in several different colors, ranging from red, white, bronze, graphite, black, to stainless steel, the Barista is a sexy machine. I bought the stainless finish, priced at about $50 dollars more, if you are trying to save money, the graphite looks just as nice. How does its image stack up against other consumer machines? I've seen sexier, but those usually came with a higher price tag.
Pulling a shot of espresso doesn’t get much easier than this, unless you are using a super automatic. Just to prove how easy it is to use, I have a father who doesn't even know how to turn on the family computer and yet after watching the short instructional film that came with the unit, even he could pull a decent shot of espresso. Here, watch - press the espresso button to start the shot and again to stop and BAAAAM... Your done!
Another plus of this machine is that it pulls a consistent shot. I am not exactly sure why this is, but I’ll bet the bank that it has something to do with its pressure retaining portafilter. While it has its benefits, it also has some drawbacks that I will get to later.
Lastly, it has a water reservoir capacity of 96 ounces. If you can't afford a machine with a direct water line-in, this is the next best thing. Find it a pain to take out the tank to refill the reservoir? All you have to do is flip back the lid on top of the unit and pour your water in.
The negatives. The machine definitely pulls an above average shot with minimal effort, but it could be so much better if a few things were changed. First is the water temperature. If you know anything about coffee extraction, you’ll also know that water temperature, among other things, plays a major roll in the quality of the shot. I tested out the brewing temperature of this machine and it tops off at about 188 Celsius, with the ideal brewing temperature being about 15 degrees warmer.
Back to the pressure retaining portafilter. With minimal skill involved, it pulls an above average, consistent shot of espresso. While it serves its purpose, I prefer something with a little more flexibility. I am a big fan of the restrettto, or the “crutch” as Mark Prince calls it, and in order to get that type of a shot you either have to add more coffee or grind it finer. If you try grinding it finer on this machine you’ll notice that it drips out and the coffee taste like pure ass. The only option left is to add more coffee, but even there you are restricted b/c if you add too much the portafilter won’t go on. Again, if you just want a straightforward show of espresso then it is still a good machine.
Lastly, the steaming wand. It has one boiler so before you steam your milk you have to prime the machine to get it to the right temperature for steam. When steaming your milk, the pressure dies out about 30 seconds into the process, at which the boiler kicks back on and starts pumping out more steam. I also noticed that the steam is a little wet. After an excessive amount of use the wand starts to develop a slight drip when pulling shots of espresso, but no biggie. I am not bashing the steaming ability of this machine, because it is definitely better than most other machines that i've tried. Are there better machines with better steaming capabilities? Yes and they cost a lot more.