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Starbucks Italia Digital - Ernie Scheidl's Review
Posted: March 28, 2004, 2:02am
review rating: 7.9
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Starbucks Italia Digital
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Arrow The Starbucks Italia Digital has 21 Reviews
Arrow The Starbucks Italia Digital has been rated 7.92 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since February 24, 2004.
Arrow Starbucks Italia Digital reviews have been viewed 146,559 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Dan Cascioppo 8.12
Ernie Scheidl 7.88
Andrew Brady 7.20
Gary Howarth 7.00
Kevin Clifford 7.00

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 9.8
Manufacturer: Saeco Quality: 10
Average Price: $995.00 Usability: 9
Price Paid: $790.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: Starbucks Aesthetics 10
Owned for: 1 month Overall 10
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Krups Novo 2100
Bottom Line: Great looks.  Great value.  If you love coffee and coffee flavored drinks but don't have the time to fuss and clean up, this is a great machine to own.
Positive Product Points

Very quick and easy to use.  Like having a Starbucks right in your own home!  Consistent professional results. No more messy clean up as with non automatics.  Beautiful to look at, a real conversation piece.  Lot’s of stainless steel and chrome, no cheap plastic look like many of the other machines in it's class.  Extremely programmable and adjustable to ones taste.  Great for entertaining.  Friends can line up and get their drinks as quickly as if they were at a fancy coffee house. Makes you look like a Pro Barista!  

Starbuck's toll free customer support and warranty are second to none.  Comes with a 2 year warranty.

Negative Product Points

The grounds (puck) counter doesn't automatically reset when you empty the gounds bin.  It will tell you to "Empty Grounds" even 1 or 2 pucks after you just emptied them.  It counts 10-12 shots then tells you to empty the grounds bin and won't allow you to make another drink until you do.  You can trick it by opening the door, pulling out the grounds drawer and counting to 10 before reinserting it.  The best thing to do is just let it do it's thing and don't bother emptying the grounds until it tells you to.  Still, it's an annoyance that you can't just clean it out the night before so that you don't have to worry about it telling you to "Empty Grounds" during your morning rush.

The owners manual is lacking in some very important information. (See tips below)  

My first one destroyed itself after only 10 days of ownership.

Detailed Commentary

This is a Super-Automatic.  Fill the hopper with fresh whole beans and the reservoir with water and you’re ready to go!  Just push the button of your choice and your moments away from a professional quality beverage.  My wife and I enjoy our coffee so much more now.  Fancy coffee drinks are so easy to make, there’s no reason not to have them every day.  Several times a day in fact!  The Digital Italia also includes a button for making a regular cup of coffee that the non-digital doesn’t include.  It tastes a lot like an Americano with a thick crema on the surface.  Because of this feature, it has also replaced our drip coffee maker.  I have only used our drip coffee maker once since purchasing this super-automatic and was very disappointed in the taste after getting accustomed to the superior flavor of the coffee from the Digital Italia.  We no longer dump out stale coffee or have to deal with thermal carafe’s anymore.  It’s coffee on demand now.  One cup at a time, fresh, when you want it, anytime of the day.  I had no idea how much this would revolutionize our coffee habits!  Want a coffee?  Push a button, voila’ there it is!  There are three separate programmable coffee buttons.  One is for a regular shot, another is for a long shot, and the last one is for a regular coffee.  And it will automatically make double shots of any drink if you like.  Oh, if you want a cappuccino or a latte’, it’s a little more involved because you have to steam the milk.  But that’s pretty easy to do to.  Another feature I liked on the Digital Italia over the non-digital is that the steam wand is of all metal construction and has a much greater range of motion.  Also, the height adjustable coffee dispenser is much heavier and sturdier.  This machine will also give you cups of hot water on demand through the steam wand if you’d like to make yourself a cup of tea or a hot cocoa.  And it has a bypass doser for pre-ground coffee so you can make a decaf or any other kind of coffee without having to change the beans in the hopper.  The machine also tells you when it needs water, coffee beans, or needs to have the grounds bin emptied. (Except with that annoying feature as mentioned in the "Negative Product Points" section.)  It’s intelligent enough to know if it has enough water in the reservoir to complete the drink you’re about to make.  It won’t let you get started and then run out of water half way through it.  It also tells you when it’s time to decalcify it, and then walks you through the entire process step by step.  It has a built in clock that can preheat and rinse the machine for you so it’s ready when you get up in the morning.  It also has a battery back up that protects all your custom programming and continues to keep time in the event of a power failure.  The clock can be hid if you like so you don’t have to see it.  And it even has a “shotometer” (like an odometer in a car) that keeps track of how many shots the machine has made.

Unfortunately, my first machine lasted only 10 day’s before destroying itself.  I don't know for sure, but I may have had something to do with it's early death because I didn’t understand the machine’s limitations.  Or that super-automatics are a different breed than manual espresso machines.  I was dead set on getting the machine to achieve a 25 second pull like you’re supposed to get when you use a manual machine.  After all, the owner’s manual didn’t say that I shouldn’t try to set it up like that or that there was any difference between a manual and a super-automatic in that regard.  It wasn’t until I talked to the people at customer service that I found out different.  I still don’t understand why there would be a difference, but nonetheless I am very happy with the results I am getting with my current settings on my new machine.  I couldn’t be happier with Starbucks warranty service.  My original machine failed on a Sunday morning.  I called the 800 number that is listed on the inside of the front door and the inside of the hopper lid.  The young man I talked to was wonderful to deal with and by that afternoon I had a brand new Digital Italia sitting in my kitchen.  On a Sunday!  He had located another one at a local Starbucks and all I had to do was exchange the damaged one for the new one.  He was very apologetic that my machine failed and the people at the store were also very apologetic as well.  What a concept!  Treat the customer like a King!  If only all companies were like that.

I got some tips from customer service that I'd like to share.  These will not be found not in the owner’s manual but some of them really should be.

  1. Starbucks customer service told me that setting the grind control knob any lower than 8 (It goes from 0 – 18) could clog the grounds chute and possibly cause problems.  I had my original machine set on 2 in order to get that 25 second pull for a 1.5 oz. shot.  I have my new machine set on 8 with the dose control knob set 1 dot + past the center mark.  This makes a beautiful 1 oz. shot with a 1/8 inch + cap of rich thick caramel colored crema.  At those settings it only takes 10 seconds to pull a shot though.  The flavor however is still excellent with a long and lingering aftertaste.  I have the Long Shot button programmed to pull a 1.5 oz. shot, and that takes only 13 seconds.

  2. Any adjustments you make on the grind setting will take 3 to 4 shots before any noticeable changes take place. (That one is in the manual.)   However, any adjustments on the dose control knob are instantaneous.

  3. After steaming a pitcher of milk and between steaming multiple pitchers of milk, always turn off the steam mode and run an ounce or two of hot water through the steam wand.  This will relieve the pressure in the tank and prevent future seal problems down the road.  It also insures that there is enough water in the tank to create the proper steam pressure needed to obtain perfect froth.  Not doing so will result in low steam pressure and those large milk bubbles that make for weak froth.  This is especially important when doing consecutive pitchers of milk.  Believe me, I know.  This is very important information.  If you don’t turn the steam mode off when you’re done and run an ounce or two of hot water through the wand, pressure will continue to build in the tank and eventually cause the seals to leak.  This couldl result in a hissing noise that may require service.

  4. There is a lube grease on the moving parts of the removable brew unit.  When rinsing the unit in the sink, use only cool to warm water.  Hot water will wash the grease off over time.  If you find that you need to add more grease, you can purchase it at Radio Shack.  It’s called food grade lube grease.

  5. You can do a manual rinse by pushing the Pre-Ground Coffee button and pushing one of the shot buttons.  This will run a shot of hot water through the system without using any grounds.

This is really a great machine, and I don’t for a second regret purchasing it.  Starbucks has been wonderful to work with.  Their Customer Service has been a benchmark for all others to be judged against from my experience.

This machine makes espresso that is as good and in most cases better than any that I have ever had at the various coffee shops.  It does this despite the fact that I don't have it set to do the recomended 20 to 25 second pull.  The most important thing to me is that this works with my hectic lifestyle and because of that it gets a lot of use and enjoyment.  I quit using my Krups Novo because it was too much hassle and clean-up.  And it was difficult to achieve consistant results.   I highly recommend this machine to anyone who loves coffee and needs a high level of convenience.

Buying Experience

Wonderful.  The people at Starbucks made me feel like a celebrity during my purchase.  I left the store feeling very good.

Three Month Followup

Still love the machine and wouldn’t be without it.  The counter say's we've made 1062 drinks with it!  It has definitely paid for itself if we were to have bought all those drinks at a coffee shop.  Most of those drinks made were doubles, but even if you cut the number in half and do the math we're still well ahead of the game.

The only annoying feature about the machine that I have found is the fact that the puck counter doesn't reset to zero if you empty the puck bin early.  And that has proved to be even more of an annoyance now than in the beginning, now that I have lived with the machine for a few months.  You can't just get it ready for the next morning by topping off the water, adding beans and emptying the grounds bin, because emptying the grounds bin early doesn't do anything for you.  The counter must run the full cycle (10 -12 pucks) before resetting itself back to zero.  This means that about every other day we're faced with the message "empty grounds" in the morning while we're trying to get ready to rush off to work.  Also, if family or friends drop by while we're at work, I don't want them to have to worry about emptying the grounds if they should decide to make themselves a drink.  If you've never done it, it's not the easiest thing to figure out how to do without looking at the owner’s manual first.  And I don't want them to break anything trying to figure it out.  So if I know they're coming over while I'm going to be gone, I have to stand there and make blank shots until "empty grounds" appears in the display and then empty the grounds that are in there so I can be sure that they're not going to have to deal with that themselves.  

Other than that annoying feature though I still love the machine.  It makes awesome drinks.  My friends and family say they can't get coffee drinks anywhere as good as they get here.  And I have to agree with them.  They're right!  I'm not blowing my own horn here.  The machine is just that good!

If Starbucks were to allow me to make changes to this unit, here are the things I would change:

  1.   Fix it so that the counter resets to zero whenever the grounds drawer is removed to empty the grounds.
  2.   Fix it so that whenever the bypass doser door is open it automatically sets the machine for pre-ground coffee.  That way you can't forget to press the pre-ground coffee button and end up double dosing the brew unit.  Double dosing the brew unit can be a costly mistake.  I would leave the existing button there so you can still toggle the feature on and off.  But just design it so that anytime you open the bypass doser door it automatically turns the pre-ground coffee feature on.  The worst thing that could happen is that somebody opens the bypass door without you knowing it and you end up with a blank shot.  Nothing damaging about that.  But if you load the doser with pre-ground coffee and forget to push the pre-ground coffee button, the machine will grind another dose of coffee and double load the brew unit which will put a tremendous strain on the tamper and possibly break gears internally trying to tamp all that ground coffee.  Much worse!
  3.  Design the coffee spout so that you can fit travel mugs under it.  I realize that would require a major redesign though unlike the first two suggestions.  Which leads me up to my next request.
    I would also like to see Starbuck's come out with a "Super" Digital Italia.  One that held at least half again as much water and could store at least 20 pucks before needing emptying.  With a major re-design like that, they could then design the coffee spout tall enough to fit travel mugs under it.  Also, an automatic self-filling water valve kit would be a very welcome option indeed!

I still love my machine and I don't regret the purchase.  I think it's one of the best machines out there for the price.  Especially when you consider the quality of the coffee drinks it makes and the high-quality aesthetic appearance of the unit.  Everyone that sees it say's "wow!.. that's impressive".

But if they ever come out with that Super model I just described above, I would definitely be interested.

One Year Followup

Nothing much really to add.  It's still going strong and the counter is over 3000 now!  The quality of the drinks is just as good as the day I bought it. And the steam for frothing is just as powerful.  I can't detect any change in performance at all over the past year.  I simply keep it clean and lube the brew unit about every 4 - 6 weeks.  The little bit of maintenance required to keep your Super Automatic healthy is nothing compared to all the hassle and cleaning involved with a conventional Espresso machine.  I know.  I had one and it hardly ever got used because of all the work and cleaning involved.  This machine has not only replaced our old Espresso machine, it has also done away with our Drip Coffee maker.  We finally just removed it from the counter and put it in the pantry because we never use it anymore.

My favorite drink is still the Cafe' Crema.  That's the thick rich Americano type drink that you get when you push the "Coffee" button.  My Wife's is the Caramel Latte', and my Daughter's is a Caramel Macchiato like they serve at Starbucks.

I highly recommend this machine.

UPDATE 11/5/2005

New Feature Discovered!

I discovered that you can stop the coffee process at any time if you push the coffee button again after the brewing cycle has started.  This is really handy if you want to leave enough room in the cup for things such as milk or liquors.  Let's say you brew a double Cafe' Crema and you want to leave room for "extras".  You simply watch the coffee level come up until you feel you've left enough room for your extra additives, then you push the coffee button again and the brew process stops, leaving you with the extra room you need.  This does not effect the setting you have programmed into the machine.

My machine has now brewed over 4000 shots with no problems!

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review rating: 7.9
Posted: March 28, 2004, 2:02am
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