My Dad was right, saving your money and buying quality does pay off. There, I said it.
Positive Product Points
- Beautiful on the outside, more beautiful on the inside (very good design and layout). - Well built - Minimal learning curve for machine of this type
Negative Product Points
- Don't like the clear plastic thing that rims the top to keep the cups from falling off the side. Maybe it is high expectations, but I feel no plastic should be seen on a machine costing this much and otherwise made from metals.
I went out to buy a new machine, because my ten year old machine was failing. I was originally looking for a Silvia, mostly because I was familiar with that type of machine.
I had looked on the web (especially coffeegeek) and saw other, larger machines, but these metal monsters all looked a little much for the home. After going to a few stores, I saw the Giotto for the first time, and understood all the fuss. I was still planning on the Sivia though, but the more I researched on the web, the more I wanted a heat exchanger. I also looked at Isomacs, Wegas, and the Euro2000. Finally, it was between the Isomac (price), and the ECM (reputation of quality and good espresso). The more people I met who had bought these machines and had them for a long time, the more I found that most had bought Giottos, and all of them were operating well. The deciding factor was when I saw pictures at espressopeople.com of the insides of the two machines, and then took the top off a Giotto and a Isomac Mil. at two local stores. The ECM was beautifully laid out, and really seemed "designed". Artful. Almost everything was metal. The path from the bolier to the wands and the portafilter was short and purposeful. "Everything in its place" thinking. The Isomac just looked like everything was just shoved inside. I know that may sound superficial, but this was the most expensive appliance I had ever considered buying (even if I got the Isomac), and I wanted it to be perfect.
Which brings me to my next point. Pre-purchase I was very hesitant to buy one of the machines in this category because of the reviews I read (mainly on coffeegeek). It seemed to me that for so much money, too many people bought them and had problems, and one had even broken during a coffeegeek test. Although none I read concerned Giotto's, I was still hesitant. I decided if I got one it would definitely have to be local, so if it broke I wouldn't have to ship it across the border and wait forever to get it back. The local dealer gave me a competitive price, and told me not to worry, the Giotto had been incredibly reliable for them. They reassured me if there was a problem they would be there to fix it. So, I took the plunge, gave them all the money I had saved, and after a basic tutorial on machine use and backflushing, brought this huge brown box home containing the Giotto.
Within a 1/2 hour I was getting good results with the ground coffee they gave me, using the provided plastic tamper. It was amazing. 22 seconds, good crema, not great, and better taste than I thought you could get at home. My friends that criticized said purchase were converts. I practised in the afternoons with cheap beans and got better. But little did I know what was to come.
I didn't have any money left for a grinder when I got the machine(this machine kind of killed the budget), so I had to save. Now I have matched it with an Anfim Haus grinder (a great grinder and a good value), and a tamper from espresso parts NW. I get beans from a killer local roaster (a really nice British guy who is a great teacher) a 1/2 pound at a time, and pound out shot after shot of espresso that flows like melted brown butter coming out, and tastes unbelievable. My girlfriend, who used to think espresso was too sour (at local coffeehouses), loves it. I am blown away every morning how easy it is. It truly is just so easy.
This machine performs flawlessly, and is quiet at rest. It makes quiet noises periodically. It sounds like a librarian shushing people every so often. I love it. I live in a loft, so I hear the sounds all the time. I feel it is reminding me it is there, and every now and again, I go over just for the heck of it, grind some cheap beans, and practise. I have had no problems, just like my dealer said. They smiled when I went back and told them they were right. Anyway, I will update in a few months, but for now, I am very happy.
To be honest, like anything worthwhile, this takes work. 1200 dollars does not automatically buy you great coffee. This machine will not make bad coffee taste good, and it will not reward bad technique (although it is more forgiving than some other machines I played with). It is though, an unbelievable tool that can tranform the mundane ritual of making coffee into a beautiful experience if used correctly. But, using it correctly is not brain surgery, it just takes some time.
Now for what I don't like. The little plastic thingy that rims the top of the machine (it is not on the machine in the picture above) does annoy me. That is one thing I did like about the Isomac Mil. better (it has a little metal railing). I really have this hang up about having plastic anywhere on a machine like this. If I could tell the company anything I would tell them that this looks cheap, and cheap is not good when people are shelling out such a significant amount. I take it off, then I put it back on (because it does serve a purpose). I go back and forth. But, that's it. Really and truly.
Great. I will usually pay a little more if it supports a local business, but I would pay more in the future because these were great people to deal with. I must have asked a million questions and they answered every one correctly. Plus, they really love the machines, inside and out. When I asked if I could see the inside, they were the only place that had pre-removed the screws, so that the tops could be taken off. They weren't surprised, they expected it. They felt, as I had come to feel, that the "machine" is really what is on the inside. One store I went to was so bad I don't think the salesman even knew they were selling espresso machines. He just kept saying, "This one, it the best" over and over. I was really reassured I was in capable hands and much more comfortable about making such a big purchase. Oh, yeah, the box is big and heavy, so bring a friend to help carry it from the car to your house. It was trapped in my car until I could find someone. By the way the price at the top is in U.S. dollars and reflects the exchange rate when I bought it (greater than 1.30 Ca to USD). Sorry if this has confused people (I have received several emails from people who thought I paid Ca1200 asking how I got it so cheap).
Three Month Followup
I am still very happy with this machine. Have had no quality issues. Can't believe I waited this long to do this. Recently purchased a used Rossi RR45 to pair with it. The learning curve was long, but after about 3 pounds (yikes!) of coffee, my results are now even better. I feel I the performance of this machine matches most commercial models I have tried (especially if they have E61 groups). I really love this machine, and it makes me happy every day.
The only problem I have water in the resovoir gets very hot when the machine is left on for awhile, and I often find myself pouring it in a pot so I can replace it with cooler water. If I don't do this, I find it affects the taste of the espresso. Right now, I just try and leave the resovoir about 1/3 to 1/2 full, so it is easy to add cold water to bring the temperature down. I guess I could insulate the boilers (which I don't really want to mess with). But this is a problem with all machines in this category, so to me it does not reflect on the machine.
I have recommended this machine to all my friends, and hope that anyone considering this type of machine gives this one a serious look, because I feel it is at the head of its class :)
One Year Followup
It has been more than a year since I bought the machine (pretty close to 2 and a half now) but I never did this, so better late than never. Still love the machine. Still think I made the right decision given the machines available locally at the time. The market now has many more alternatives today, but I still feel you can't go wrong with this machine. I drilled a hole in the top about a year ago at approximately the location of the pstat so I could access it without taking the top off via a long screw driver and a flashlight and it has made periodic adjustments easier. If you look at the top of the machine, there are several rows of holes to heat the cups, and now the right most row has an extra one. I also had to drill through a metal sheet that comes up between the internal components and the reservoir and then bends ninety degrees and run anteriorly across the top of the machine immediately below the top when I did this. If you are mechanically inclined, I recommend this as it does make adjustments way easier. I have never yet had a mechanical problem with the machine. It has been very reliable, both for me and others I met who owned the machine. In the next year or two, I want to upgrade to a true commercial machine (rotary pump, PID, huge boilers, etc.) as cash flow improves, but it is more because I want to than I need too.