I worked with a Delonghi ec-155 ($99) and spice grinder ($20) which is certainly less than ideal for coffee and am now ready to make the upgrade to a proper machine, however you can make some decent drinks with that set up
Couple things about that inexpensive of a set up, espresso shots are not going to be good plain - you are going to have to cut everything with milk / sugar / flavoring
The steaming wand is going to suck, they machine doesnt make that good of steam but if you steam the milk three times (the green light goes on when it is ready and off when it loses all steam) you can get a passable steamed milk
I would recommend getting some 1% or skim milk, some sugarfree starbucks flavors, and good beans, and you can make a pretty comparable Skinny Vanilla or Hazlenut Latte to what they would serve you at Starbucks - which is a lot cheaper, and then when you are ready to move on to the next level of coffee, you can decide if you want to make the investment to get some better gear - everyone has to start somewhere and that is where I started at
You can also make some pretty good Vietnamese Iced Coffee, fire a double shot of espresso in a mixing tin (cocktail shaker) with roughly 1 Tablespoon of sweet condensed milk with ice, shake, then strain over fresh ice into a glass
The condensed milk will cut the bitterness of the espresso
(yes i know that is not the traditional way to make Ca phe da, but it is pretty close and still a good drink and you are using the espresso machine to do it)
I also find that a bitter espresso makes a good mixture to dip ladyfingers into if you are going to make tiaramisu - gives it more bite than something that was smoother...cuts the sweetness better (or I imagine at least have not tested it with the new machine I plan to get)
Hope some of that is helpful for that price range set up you are looking for - for your budget you can do better than the $20 spice grinder i had been using as well :)
I don't know what model Saeco you acquired, but I can speak to the Saeco Aroma. I have one paired with the Baratza Preciso, and it makes great espresso if you're willing to put in a little time. I removed the pressurizing assembly from the PF. I have a fast reading digital thermometer to determine the best temp surf timing. I weigh and time each shot. I read alot on Coffee Geek and Home-Barista. I was also lucky in that I have two incredibly knowledgable local cafes. One is Portola Coffee Lab, and the other is Martin Dietrich's cafe. I was able to get their freshly roasted beans, and compare my shots to their shots to begin to learn what espresso tasted like.
So far I have not been able to produce microfoam, but I haven't spent nearly the time on that issue. I am beginning to concentrate on it now, and hope to overcome the machine's steaming capabilities. There are some posters here who are able to make microfoam with this machine, so I think there's hope.
Symbols: = New Posts since your last visit = No New Posts since last visit = Newest post
Forum Rules: No profanity, illegal acts or personal attacks will be tolerated in these discussion boards. No commercial posting of any nature will be tolerated; only private sales by private individuals, in the "Buy and Sell" forum. No cross posting allowed - do not post your topic to more than one forum, nor repost a topic to the same forum. Who Can Read The Forum? Anyone can read posts in these discussion boards. Who Can Post New Topics? Any registered CoffeeGeek member can post new topics. Who Can Post Replies? Any registered CoffeeGeek member can post replies. Can Photos be posted? Anyone can post photos in their new topics or replies. Who can change or delete posts? Any CoffeeGeek member can edit their own posts. Only moderators can delete posts. Probationary Period: If you are a new signup for CoffeeGeek, you cannot promote, endorse, criticise or otherwise post an unsolicited endorsement for any company, product or service in your first five postings.