If you want to get started brewing your own espresso shots and lattes, the Starbucks Barista is an unbeatable value as your first machine.
Positive Product Points
Looks Great in the kitchen. Well Built. Easy access for repair. Probably the best starter Machine value. 2 year warranty. Good customer support.
Negative Product Points
Steam is marginal without tricks. Sloppy puck. Sometimes hard to prime.
I purchased this machine three years ago when the candy apple red color was available. As with any new machine, there was a learning curve to obtaining the optimum results that the machine is capable of producing. With the pressurized reporta filter, the main variable for the espresso shot is grind. I am using a Starbucks Barista burr grinder. I do not find much difference between espresso made with a grind having sugar granule consistency or the finest grind I can produce. I am satisfied that this machine produces up to its full potential within this range. I personally use a sugar granule consistency as recommended by Starbucks. I have not purchased a non-pressurized porta filter as some have recommended. I am skeptical that the pressure and temperature control of the Starbucks Barista machine without the pressurized filter will be adequate to take advantage of a consistent tamp.
For steaming I always start with 8 oz of cold 2% milk in a 16 oz stainless pitcher. I bleed some water off the boiler through the steam wand before elevating to steam temperature. When the steam ready light comes on, I bleed out steam through the wand into my latte mug until the light goes out. This warms the mug, removes any residual water from the steam path and insures that the heating element is on (it is on when the light is out) when I begin to froth the milk. I wait about five seconds and start to froth. If you time it properly you will get plenty of steam for micro foam and the ready light will be coming on just as the milk reaches 160 degrees. If the element goes off too soon you will not produce the best micro foam the machine is capable of producing.
I use the machine mainly for making lattes and at about two per day I made 2000+ before I noticed that the machine would trip my ground fault breaker on occasion. Shortly after that I experienced a random situation where the pump would not produce enough pressure to brew an espresso shot through the reporta filter. Starbucks customer service explained that a calcium build up on the heating element would trip the ground fault breaker and that a similar build up within the pump would degrade the pressure. The obvious solution was to decalcify the machine, which I had been doing every six months. After three sequential treatments the ground fault breaker problem was solved but the pressure output of the pump remained deficient. It would sound normal but before the espresso shot would flow, the pump became very silent and just could not generate enough pressure. Another call to Starbucks customer service and they suggested I purchase a new reporta filter at $30. Before going that route I took mine to a local Starbucks store and determined it worked fine on a demo machine.
I decided to take the machine apart to see what was inside. The pump is an ULKA Model EX5 which is very simple to replace and can be purchased online for about $50. Before I ordered a replacement I searched this website and found an excellent review of how to repair this pump by Rod Schiffman. This was just the encouragement I needed to try a pump repair. I followed Rod's photo log and with some common tools I was able to disassemble, clean and reassemble my pump. I reinstalled it, primed it before hooking up the high pressure fitting and the results were better than expected. My machine is now working as good as new. Total time to do the repair was less than two hours. This ULKA pump is used in many espresso machines in this category and I suspect that the majority of them could be repaired when problems develop.
I am expecting at least another three years use out of my Starbucks Barista. When it finally gives up I'll be ready for a more capable machine. Until then I'll continue to make lattes that are far superior to those brewed at the Starbucks stores.
Purchased at a Starbucks store on sale with an additional discout because it was a floor model.