Reasonably priced pump machine which can make some good drinks -- once you lose the crema disc.
Positive Product Points
Reasonably priced pump machine, which fits well into my (small) kitchen. Makes some pretty good espresso, and got me hooked! Heats up quickly, and has plenty of steaming power.
Negative Product Points
This isn't a heavy duty machine: the case is plasticy, and the portafilter feels very light compared to higher-end machines. The crema disc didn't seem to help my coffee, and eventually clogged.
I bought this machine without knowing a great deal about home espresso. For the first few months when I was using it, I managed to produce quite pleasant strong coffee, but nothing which could really be called espresso. When I tried grinding coffee fine, flow was reduced to a drip, and then choked completely, so I went back to coarse grind -- not much finer than for drip coffee. Then one day the flow stopped completely.
Ouch, had I broken it? The pump still seemed to be running, and without a portafilter, water was still coming though. I started to suspect the flexible plastic disc which filled a chamber at the bottom of the filter basket. Figuring that I didn't have anything to lose, I first enlarged the hole in this disc, then removed it completely. Having done this, the machine was transformed! I could use a much finer grind, and finally, I was getting true espresso from the machine -- much closer to what I hoped for in a cafe. Once I'd got the grind right and made myself a suitably sized tamper (forget the built-in one), I also started to see real crema: far more than I got with the crema disc in place!
One thing this machine has never had any trouble with is steaming. There always seems to be plenty of steam on tap when you ask for it, and milk froths and heats quickly. I've never had any trouble with the frothing device on the end of the steam wand, except that it needs to be dismantled and cleaned fairly regularly. I'd be interested to try frothing without this, but the wand on it's own is far too short to get to the bottom of a pitcher.
Nowadays, I use the machine with a Rancilio Rocky grinder and home-roast beans (yes, I've learned a lot more about coffee over the last six months!), and I'm getting some really pretty good shots. However, there's recently been a lot of water leaking out around the grouphead (doesn't seem to be a gasket problem).
I've been using this machine several times a day, and it's done a lot to get me interested in espresso. Since removing the crema disc I've experimented and learned a lot about the variables controlling a good cup, too. But I'm starting to doubt that I'll still be using it a year from now -- especially if the leaks get worse.
Bought this machine from a high-street shop (an attractive option, since I'd never owned an espresso machine before), and had no trouble. Actually paid UKP100.
Three Month Followup
Since writing the review, I've given and upgraded to a Rancilio Silvia. It's clearly a better machine (as you'd hope, given the price!). But it was still the Chamonix which got me hooked on home espresso!