I bought this machine because I had $200 gift certificate to William's Sonoma, and didn't need a $200 pot. I had done very little research on home espresso, but it looked well built. I have used commercial machines and grinders at my office, and have been trained how to do so successfully but my girlfriend who was a barista at a real coffee shop. So, I rushed home and excitedly pulled a shot with some espresso that I had ground for me by my favorite coffee shop. What I got was absolutely acrid, sour, piss water. We decided that we should get a grinder to allow us more control, so we went out and bought a fifty dollar Cuisinart DBM8 'burr' grinder. This didn't help in the least. The consistency of the resulting coffee sludge that came out of the machine after pulling a shot was the first symptom that I tried to fix.
I noticed that on commercial filter baskets, when filled with water, they drain within a few seconds. However, with the EM100's filter, the water never drained. This is because it has a pressurized filter which is meant to be a crutch for poorly ground, old coffee. So, I decided to order a new set of replacement filter baskets, which I subsequently modified with my Dremmel. The basket has two layers on the bottom, the first is like any real filter basket, and the second has one tiny hole in it. By cutting a half to one inch square hole through the bottom layer, I made the basket drain properly. I don't recommend doing this, however, you can buy a set of single walled, non pressurized filter baskets from Breville (part swf100) that should fit this machine. Mine are currently in the mail.
Having resolved the filter basket issue, I still could not get a drinkable shot of espresso. Then I realized that my grinder was not up to the task. After reading about grinders, I did not want to spend $500 on a high end grinder until I had some idea if it would help. Instead, I opted to get a Porlex hand grinder. This grinder made all the difference. Though it is not really an espresso grinder, it was able to grind fine enough to get decent coffee from my machine. I could even stall the machine out if I ground too finely. Now that I've seen what can be done with my cheap $65 dollar hand-grinder, I have finally sprung for a LeLit PL053 grinder. I eagerly await it's arrival so that I can finally push this machine to it's limits.
So far, I have concentrated on the espresso. This is because I have never had any problems making good foam with this machine. It can be a little bit tricky to get the stock milk pot under the steam nozzle, but so long as you don't overkill the milk, it's no problem. Just be sure to have a wet towel nearby so that you can clean the milk off before it dries on. I have read in other reviews that the steam wand has a tendency to fail. Mine has not had a problem, but I'm quite careful with it. I should also mention that I have never used the metal tube that goes over the steam wand, it seems like another hard-to-clean crutch.
In conclusion, I think that this machine is very capable, and relatively well made. This is particularly true given the current sub-$200 price. At present, I am able to make better espresso than most coffee shops. This is quite respectable for the $300 investment. However, if you really want to get into espresso, I'd save up and buy a higher end machine. I will be happily using mine until it dies, but if I had to do it again, I would have spent the money on a $1000 machine. Also, it cannot be said enough times that the grinder is much more important than the espresso machine.