If you have the space, the money to maintain it, and are coffee-obsessed, the Astra professional machine and the la Pavoni grinder together are a 10.
Positive Product Points
If maintained professionally, fast and powerful milk steamer/frother, perfect espresso, gibraltar, cappuccino, latte, et al for a crowd or for yourself.
Negative Product Points
Expensive, must be hard wired and plumbed, noisy--"cthunks" when pulls in water. Takes up a lot of counter/bar space in a home kitchen. Has to be maintained professionally with semi-annual 'ish visits. The paint peeled off the front in places, and the back is not nearly as attractive as some made in Italy ones. (The Astra is Italian parts assembled in the U.S.)
What is there to say about being able to have this machine and the la Pavoni grinder in my home kitchen? A wonderful thing that I am thankful for everyday. I realized how spoiled I am, when I tried to buy a small espresso machine for my significant other's house, where I am on some week-end mornings. After trying a couple, I decided to just go with the Mokka Express vetro (from Williams-Sonoma). Anything that pretends to be somewhat the same just didn't cut it. I have a two "head" system, rather than the three in the picture. One would be completely adequate. I still don't think I fully utilize the machine's capabilities because I have to fine tune the grind as the weather changes, and if I buy different coffees. For some reason, I am technically quite proficient at the espresso machine but the grinder intimidates me. It is sometimes a problem getting the gasket set tight enough to not drip when the grind needs to be super fine. I don't have the strength to have the proper gasket fit in the position it has to be in my kitchen I persist and learn as I go. I use Equator Estate Jaguar Organic Espresso (San Rafael based, mainly restaurant supplier but also does retail now. They supply the French Laundry and Per Se with all their coffee.) I also use Blue Bottle's Hayes Valley beans. My machine is too hot for most of their other coffees. I use ONLY Strauss organic, grass-fed and non-homogenized whole milk. (Point Reyes Station in Marin County). I think their milk makes a huge difference in my coffee drinks. Because I only make three to five coffee drinks on a regular day, I empty out the water chamber to cook with, make tea with it, etc. to keep the water fresh. The machine is supposed to be backwashed and cleaned thoroughly each week. I end up doing it about once a month. I don't speak coffee mechanics as well as many of you here, so sorry for the lack of specificity or accuracy in some of my descriptions.
I own this machine because I made a very ill-advised investment in a restaurant with a crazy chef. Let's say it cost me way more money than I knew I had to lose. It is, however, one of the great things that came from a very bad experience. The price above is an estimate of what the restaurant paid originally. I use it with a la Pavoni grinder. Together they have taught me how to make great coffee. The machine was mis-used at the restaurant. Fortune Chua of CoffeeMax repaired it and keeps it maintained for me--the visits are down to every six months to twelve months. Average visit now costs about $150.