Produces excellent espresso. But if you are serious about developing your espresso skills, buy a machine without the pressurized crema disk.
Positive Product Points
Makes good espresso (most of the time); seems solid and well made; easy access to water tank; storage drawer under drip tray; swivelling steam wand; training video included.
Negative Product Points
Use of push buttons not at all intuitive; crema disk seems to limit my ability to improve my espresso skills; difficult to get brew time beyond 18 seconds (may have reached the limits of my grinder).
After plowing through the consumer reviews over and over, I had narrowed my choices to the Starbucks or the Silvia. Money was an issue as I had been out of work for 3 months, but my old Krups machine had finally died and it was time for a REAL machine. What to do? I had never seen a quality home espresso maker in action. I couldn't find anyplace where I could see the Rancilio in action, and other's comments about temperature instability on the Silvia concerned me.
On the other hand, I could see and try the Starbucks machine near home. In the store I made an espresso that was so far superior to any that I had made before -- and better than most that I had purchased -- that there was no question. The Barista was proven, the Silvia had to be bought sight unseen.
I am pleased with the Barista overall. I can turn out quality shots, and all of my friends are impressed. I like the power of the steamer, and the fact that you can swivel the steam wand to any practical position (including out of the way). I have served over a dozen people at once, and experienced no recovery time to speak of. I have no trouble seeing the water level in my Barista as some have complained, and I like the ease with which I can refill or remove the water tank.
But after 3 months or so I began to understand why many others had called this a beginner's machine. The crema disk limits the flexibility of what you can do by varying the tamping pressure. I cannot make a decent single shot. The brewing is over in 10 seconds, and the result is worse than the old Krups machine. Doubles are excellent, but I would like to be able to slow the brew cycle by a few seconds.
I must also mention that the inadequacies I have experienced may be related to my grinder. I have modified my Braun burr grinder down as fine as it will go, but it's old and tired. A new grinder is next on the list, and I hope this will allow me to improve my espresso all the more.
I should also note that my experience with Starbucks tech support was outstanding. I was concerned early on about the brew time. The rep on the phone was extremely patient as we tested the machine. When she asked to make a couple of test shots, she immediately informed me that she would send me some free coffee to replace that which we used. (The full pound I received was appreciated, especially since we only pulled two shots in the testing).
I bought the machine at my local Starbucks. The manager had answered all of my questions, and offered me a demo but I didn't have the time that morning. I returned the following day (with my wife in tow) to get the promised demo. The manager was out, but the staff immediately set out to perform the demo for me. The only problem was that they had not been adequately trained on the Barista, and apologetically stumbled around quite a bit. I actually knew how to use the machine better than they did, based on the manager's instructions the day before. I was able to examine the very machine I would buy before taking it out of the store.
But I must hand it to the folks who were trying to do the demo. They apologized, and asked if I could wait for a few minutes while they reread the manual. I did, and they did, and together we turned out some very good espresso. The fact that they stumbled around so much told me that there were no "expert tricks" being played on me, and convinced me that this machine could make excellent espresso.
The instructions included were good, and the video was fun. I had one problem trying to prime the machine the first time -- water was not going through the hose from the tank to the boiler. After some playing around, I discovered that the filter on the end of the hose was shoved on so tightly that the pump could not draw water. I loosened the filter, and have had no malfunctions since.