Right off the bat, let me say that I am a newbie. The only other espresso "machines" I've ever owned or used are mocha pots.
So, this review is based upon very limited experience.
This is the first time I have ever seen crema in my own house!
This machine is equipped with a crema-enhancer filter basket. I am told that it will produce "fake" crema from anything resembling coffee.
I believe the way this works is this:
The espresso under extraction pressure from the business side of the filter is forced through a single tiny hole in the bottom of the filter. When the espresso goes from the 10-15 bar extraction pressure to atmospheric pressure, it bubbles and froths due to the sudden pressure drop. In Engineering-speak, this is essentially cavitation.
Even though it will produce crema via pressure-drop induced cavitation, I can't imagine how this would prevent or impede real crema production.
I have found that depending upon the grind, and the degree of tamp pressure, that "real" crema is also produced with ease. At least it sure looks like the numerous "God Shot" photos I have seen here on Coffee Geek.
The portafilter housing is made of plated brass (not aluminum as reported by some) and is quite substantial. Warming it up with a short shot of water before extraction keeps the assembly toasty warm plenty long for a good extraction.
I've measured the water temperture at various times (e.g. heater just on, just off, or about to come on, etc.) to see how much fluctuation exists. Temperature regulation is much better that I would have guessed. My mesurements were made with a type K thermocouple held under the water stream, so the method leave a bit to be desired. This technique is, however, vastly superior to a mechanical measurement with a thermometer.
Compared to the espresso I have made with my mocha pots, or that was served to me by numereous friends with their own machines, I really love the end product. Espresso from the neighborhood Mom & Pop stands, (and of course Starbuck's) is inferior. I guess that is what counts.
The 800ESXL is very user friendly. It heats up from dead cold in a minute or so, and even my first try yielded a fairly good cup of espresso - albiet a bit watery due to my failure to tamp enough.
About an hour ago I made another shot with lots of tamp. It took about 30 seconds to pull, and the flavor was great - with red-brown flecked crema that was thick and viscous, clinging to the side of my cup for the whole sipping process. Adding a bit of sweetener required me to stir since it merely laid on top of the crema.
Tamping only lightly yields inferior results. To my untrained brain, this debunks the comments of others that tell me tamping is useless on a pressurized machine.
I chose this unit partly because of its very sharp appearance and obvious external visual quality.
I chose this unit in spite of numerous negative opinions here on CG. The regular crowd on CG are a bit rabid for my current state of espresso experience, and I was looking for a machine that I could operate, use, and enjoy, even though my skill level is essentially zero.
Hopefully, I, too, will become educated and skilled to the degree that I also will find this to be an undesireable espresso machine. But, in the mantime, I am very pleased with the Breville's performance and the product it produces.