An excellent machine at any price - a fantastic buy for the money. You will not be disappointed.
Positive Product Points
A great HX machine at an incredible price Comes with direct water and drain hookup
Negative Product Points
No pressure gauge and shipped at 14 bar pressure
I'm a North American living in the UK. I have used a la Pavoni Europiccola for years but decided I wanted something that could make at least four drinks in succession. Ideally, I would have preferred a machine that could be used back in the US or Canada on domestic 220V (you know, like your dryer) but it seems all machines with pumps sold in the UK (and Europe, Africa, South America, much of Asia...) are 50Hz and the pumps do not take kindly to the 60Hz electric power in North America. So no pump machines can easily be switched form North America to Europe or vice versa (unlike lever machines, which should be happy unless they have electronics?)
So - rather than the machine of my dreams to last a lifetime, I started looking for a heat-exchanger machine at the best price. The Expobar sort of snuck up on me - I was not aware of the brand until I saw it doing a search on espresso on eBay. But the specs looked great - and the price! Half what the (always pricey) UK market wanted for lesser machines. Researching further produced many positive reviews from owners (and hereís another.)
As others have mentioned, this is not an overly "stylish" machine (it's Spanish, not Italian :-) but it is attractive and functional. It's well put together and well-designed. It lacks a pressure gauge, but I sprung for a portafilter-mounted one and I suppose I can recoup the investment on eBay if I want, now that I have used it to dial down the 14 bar "as shipped" pressure to a more pleasing 10 bar. By the way, it is a good idea to re-route the pump overflow back to the water reservoir. All you need is some aquarium tubing.
The finish is excellent stainless steel, but I fear the company has over-reacted to criticism of its water level window, as they had stuck a tacky level decal on there which only obscured it more. I removed the plastic window entirely and that makes it *just* possible to see the level. I think it would be better to put one of those submersible 12V lamps in the reservoir to make it easier to see how much water was left.
The machine came reasonably well-packed in fitted foam inside cardboard but really needed a second box with foam pellets as well. It had been safely-but-not-too-prettily converted to a UK plug and the humorous Spanish/French/English instruction "manual" (leaflet) was augmented by a single sheet from the seller sort-of explaining how to set up the dispense controls. The bit about "strangling" the milk could be used on Saturday Night Live. No mention was made of the pre-infusion setting. In short, I think everyone from the manufacturer to the sellers sell this machine short of its true ability.
It took a few days to dial in grinds and timings, but I am very happy with the Expobar. Ironically, the electric compliance label say this is a 50Hz/60Hz machine (so would work in North America) but the Ulka pump says 50Hz, and I have been warned they wonít work on 60 Hz. Perhaps thatís all that would have to be changed. Iíll update my review if/when I move back with it.
Via eBay and no problems, but not your typical retail experience and therefore less support and information. The seller has a UK storefront but also sells on eBay UK. I must say in general my "connoisseur coffee" experience in the UK has been spotty. It's either high-end department stores (like Selfridges) or catering companies - not much in between. The latter sort of expect you to just buy it - they don't offer much information.
Three Month Followup
A couple of small problems with the Expobar, but still going strong.
First problem was my own doing. I routed the pump "overflow" (which increases as you dial back the pressure on the portafilter) into the reservoir. That worked fine, but I neglected to put a loop in the line at the top of the tank and one night it siphoned half the water onto my countertop. Oops! Fixed in a flash. BTW - using Volvic water as installing filters to fix London's VERY hard water is a major job. Drain has been plumbed in, though, using John Guest (headquarters in West London) fittings.
The other problem is an aggravation. I have the machine on a timer that comes on an hour before I get up. For the first month or so, all worked fine - the machine was ready to go when I was. Then, one day, it wasn't "hot". There was plenty of steam, but the group head was not hot (just warm) and the cups on top were cooler as well. Actuating the pump could result in 20+ seconds of no water, then a change in pump tone followed by water flow. After this, everything heats up normally. So - some sort of airlock? Discussions with various experts, including the seller and industry legends have not resulted in any progress so far. I went so far as to replace the Ulka pump (I figured it would be a good idea to have a spare) with no improvement. But that did give me an opportunity to check all the innards for loose connections, etc. Nothing found.
My next idea is to replace the vacuum break as possibly it is sticking - although I have been told if this is so I would not have steam. But for $10, it's worth a shot. I can't see a pressurestat or thermostat being the cause as all works well once some water is drawn off. Will report back after.
Anyway - don't get the wrong idea. This is a great machine that makes excellent coffee. Even with its "morning problem" the next 20 coffees of the day will be great.
Finally, Maplin here in the UK (like Radio Shack in USA) had these tiny submersible 12V lights on sale and I wired one up into the reservoir. It comes on with the machine and now I can see the water level from across the room!
PS - I also invested in Les Albjerg's Cocobolo wood tamper/handle combo. Gorgeous
One Year Followup
Machine has been working flawlessly apart from the occasional lack of automatically thermosiphoning now and then. Not sure if you can really call that a fault and it doesn't affect the use of the machine except to add a bit of wait time after power up. I've switched to Reverse Osmosis water back-mixed with a little tap water to give me boiler-safe hardness. The TDS of tap water here in central London is 400 - 500! I liked this machine so much that I ended up buying a second one for a holiday home. I considered the double boiler Brewtus but after looking at the reviews, they all seemed to be owned by mad physicists and this machine just "works" for half the price.
This is a good E-61 HX machine at a great price and works very well in smaller kitchens.
I had a new drip tray grate made as the supplied wire grate lets small cups/shot glasses tip a bit.