There are a lot of great espresso makers out there for >$1000. You won't be sorry with this one..
Positive Product Points
Like most 110-120V semi-commercial machines, the Giotto packs into a small package a powerful machine that can make fabulous espresso in practiced hands, along with good steaming power and the convenience of producing steam while you brew. Compared with its competition, I prefer the Giotto's looks, the flexibility of the mobile steam wand, the slightly smaller footprint, and the fabulous Faema E61 group. The steam wand pivots from its rear (rather than top) mounting point, which adds the flexibility of steaming at any angle, and allows the wand to be put into tall pitchers (something the Livia 90 can't do without a stand).
Negative Product Points
The rear mount of the steam wand makes it a bit harder to clean the wand, since the wand tends to move as you push and pull on it while cleaning it. Not a big deal. Obviously, the thermal stability that comes with an even larger boiler (as in most $2000 machines) and the steam power that comes with a 220V power supply (as in most coffee houses) are desireable charcteristics that the Giotto lacks; but lets get real. It's barely over $1000.
I was looking for a machine that 1) makes great coffee, 2) is smallish, 3) was under $1500, 4) did not require a stand, 5) looks great, as it should for that kind of money, and 6) was popular enough that I know I can get parts for it 5-10 years down the road. I felt that this machine was the only one that met all of the criteria, and that reviewers were uniformly happy with.
After easing into the rhythm of making my morning 2xdouble cappuccino for the past couple months, I think I have enough experience with the Giotto to write intelligently about the experience. I have to preface by saying that I was a content Saeco owner for 8 years before it started leaking too much to be useful. I think I made something over 5000 cappuccinos on that machine, and I was very good at getting it to do what I wanted. But now, I'm an ECM owner and I'm above all of the waiting that was involved in surfing the temperature waves of the Saeco. I'll review the machine issue by issue:
Build: Great. No complaints.
Temp stability: Although the temperature and pressure obviously do wax and wane with the cycling of the heater, it is very predictable. The temperature doesn't drop far while brewing espresso, but the heater generally turns on during the brew, so you can steam while it's on and producing a strong amount of steam (late in the brew or within the 5 seconds or so afterward when the heater is still on). Watching the pressure gauge tells you where you are, and you know when the machine is almost at its thermostat setpoint; which is useful when making coffee or steaming milk. Very easy to use. Very consistent. Very stable, especially compared to the Rio Vapore/Silvia class of machines.
The Faema E61 group is a classic for a reason. It is beautiful, stays very hot (and gets that way in about 1/2 an hour), and if that's because of the "thermosyphon circulation system," then great. I don't care why it looks great and works great, but it does. Brewing single and double shots with my Rancilio grinder is a snap. Every shot is great now, and the God Shots do sometimes (with increasing frequency as I get better) occur. I was suprised to find that the actual pump power for getting water through coffee of a given grind is similar to (not much greater than) that of my Saeco machine. Makes sense, but I thought my Saeco probably had lower-than-pefect pump power - which was likely not the case. Summary: The espresso from the Giotto is MUCH more consistent than with the small-boiler machines, owing to the thermal characteristics of the head and filter, as well as the huge boiler. No surprise.
Aesthetics: This machine is as beautiful as expected. The pictures say it all.
Steam: Lots of talk in the reviews about steam power. Once again: get real. It's 110V, 1500W. If you steam while the boiler is active, the power is great. If the boiler is off, the steam power is not so great. This is the case with every espresso maker designed for home use, as far as I can tell. It takes about 15-20sec to steam milk for one or two cups. The two-hole steam tip works great, although I'm more used to the one-hole version on my Saeco. With 2 weeks practice, I became nearly as adept at using this wand as I was with my Saeco. Now I find that the main advantage to this machine over my Saeco, as far as steaming goes, is realy in the lack of waiting for the machine to heat up, and in the volume of steam that makes the frothing process MUCH quicker. I made perfect, thick, "micro-bubble" cappuccino with my Saeco (which always supprised my fellow Saeco owners, I am happy to gloat), and now I get the same perfect milk - only faster from my new, fancy machine.
Espresso: I think this machine makes espresso just as well as any other in the upper home use strata. It's fabulous, but probably not significantly different than the Livia, the Rancilio, or any of the other machines in the category. Damned good coffee, need I say more?
Regarding brewing, I finally learned that the finest grind is not always the best. I used to dial in the finest grind I could get the machine to push through. Now I've realized that one step coarser (moving from around 6-7 to 7-8) often produces better tasting, less bitter espresso with still beautiful crema and texture. Depends on the coffee, I suppose.
Mr Cappuccino provided the coffee maker promptly, but I have a few issues with them. First, anyone considering buying thier coffee maker from Canada for import to the US should know that the duties are around $60-70 at the border. Further, you should have the foresight (which I did not) to have the shipper REMOVE any coffee samples in the box, as any amount of coffee prompts a $20 Dept of Agriculture approval fee at the border. For coffee I didn't want or even know they were providing, that wasn't worth it. Further, Walter at the shop is a "busy" guy. He's great to talk to and deal with when you accidentally get him on the line, but his memory evidently isn't great, as he can't remember to return phone calls. I called at least 6 times during the pre-buy to post-buy period, and never did I get a returned phone call. Sorry, I can't recommend this shop when it comes to any sort of follow-up issues. Specifically, The dumb plastic thingy that decorates the top of the machine on around the cup warmer broke in transit, and I wanted it replaced - but no phone call back, so I'm just living with it. Also, Walter promised a blind filter basket for backflushing, which he failed to send. Again, no return phone calls, so my requests to the woman who answers the phone most of the time have gone unaddressed. Bah, humbug. If you're out there, Walter, I would have appreciated just a little follow-up.