This machine produces an espresso shot equal to any machine under $700!
Positive Product Points
I have used this daily for over 5 years producing great, consistent espresso. It has all the features of more expensive machines minus the fancy outside.
Negative Product Points
Steam capacity is fairly small due to the small Gaggia boiler. This is a problem on all the Gaggias though, so save your money.
After using this machine 1 - 2 times per day for over 5 years, it has never failed me. If used properly, it will produce outstanding and consistent shots every day. It is very reliable and packed with all the features of more expensive machines ($400) except a fancy package and 3 way solonoid valve. Unless you have $900 for a machine with a heat exchanger, buy this machine and a good grinder. Now for some tips and comments....
A very fine and consistent grind is essential to good espresso with this machine. If you do not have a good grinder such as the Rocky, go to your local barista and buy some beans ground from their commerical grinder with doser. (Do not let SBUX give you stuff ground on their coffee grinder on the back shelf, insist they use the espresso grinder on the same setting they use)
I have found 3 doses (18g) from a Rocky set at 9 for Lavazza Super Crema produces outstanding espresso. I do not believe any machine will produce a tastier shot than my Gaggia. Also, about 14g of SBUX espresso roast with a firm tamp does well on my machine.
For frothing, steam before you make espresso and then run water through. This will prevent burnt tasting espresso. Also, for max steam begin frothing right after light turns green.
Clean your machine!!! I waited years before my first cleaning and it was very difficult getting it apart. Pull out the shower screen, shower holder, and gasket occasionally. (Gasket will have to be replaced)
Bottom line.....use the $200 you save buying this machine and invest in a good grinder. This machine has everything you need!!!