If your a beginner and limited to $350 for an espresso machine and grinder at least consider this machine.
Positive Product Points
Engineering wise a well balanced machine for the money. It is a worthy starter espresso machine for those with a limited budget. The machine was a lot of fun to use and very educational but has caused me to get deeper into espresso and buy a prosumer machine.
Negative Product Points
The handle on the water reservoir is very flimsy and should be re designed. This is a starter machine so if you catch the espresso bug at all you will need to upgrade in the very near future.
This machine deserves a bit more coverage then it gets in the forums so I feel obligated to add my review but I will not compare with other brands since I am new to espresso machines and in no way suggesting this is the machine for you but here for the most part are the facts.
My budget for a new "coffee pot" was $150. US dollars. That my wife thought was absurdly high so when I suggested the Capresso at $250. and the Infinity grinder at $90. to boot, well I myself almost got the boot. I do not like "cheap" feeling merchandise and insisted the $350 was the lowest I could go not really knowing what I was getting into and so i'll add my findings here so someone else will be better informed on what the Capresso is all about.
Style wise this machine I feel out classes some very expensive machines. It has that roaring 20's look but you don't need me telling you what looks good. Make up your own mind.
I will say this machine has a sturdy build quality despite being for the most part a creature of plastic engineering. The plastic body has stood up well to a year of daily espresso making and I should add I make espresso not only for consumption but as a hobbyist so this machine gets more use then the average coffee machine. I play with this thing besides being a compulsive coffee or rather espresso addict.
Despite it's small size this machine sticks to my tile counter top. I applaud the engineering department at Capresso on this account. While removing the portafilter, water reservoir, drip tray and while operating the controls this machine stays put. It's no slider.
Metal was used to make the drip tray lid and when the lid is cleaned this gives the machine that bit of "metal" look and "feel" that it's plastic body lacks but it's shiny chrome plastic implies. The water reservoir, although plastic, is of the rigid transparent type and is very easy to access. The handle attached to the reservoir is downright cheap and flimsy and needs to be redesigned. It's the only really cheap feeling part on the machine. More on this later.
The portafilter is non pressurized light weight alumninum but has a sturdy plastic handle and 'clicks' into the machine with more exactness and authority then you may hope for in product in this price range. There is no significant thermal mass in this portafilter so the portafilter can cool rather quickly but the machine and portafilter can also be brought up to temperature in three to five minutes unlike high end machines that can take 30 to 45 minutes to warm up in the morning and be ready to make espresso. So all is not bleak in this price range of machine you just have to know how to play the game.
In any event I have had this machine a year with no mechanical problems. Interestingly, the machine is designed to be left on 24 / 7 a feature that some very expensive machines like to boast.
What's the shot quality of this machine ? During the time I have had this machine I have had the standard chain store espresso, the burnt espresso from steam driven machines and to my good fortune Malabar Gold served by Doctor John himself of the Summa Coffee Company. How does the Capresso stock up ? There is no reason you can't blow away the steam driven machines, outclass the big chain stores but face to face with an espresso pro like Doctor John and his "Malabar Gold", well, you'll be out gunned by several notches maybe a few more but that's not bad performance for the money it cost to get into this setup. Remember it's a beginners machine.
Still, this machine can make a full bodied espresso, much more so then what chain stores have to offer, and you will make lots of creme. I have used " Black Cat " and home roasted beans and other fresh blends and varietals and the creme can be overwhelming. The color of the creme is what may lack since it is more of the lighter brown to light tan color rather then dark red brown. Flavors I suspect are a bit less distinct and muted but still present. If the espresso is very sour or bitter it is more your doing then the machines limatations. In other words this is a real espresso machine not a coffee pot since how well it performs is due to a large part on your skill and kbowledge and ability to apply the four M's.
Given this is a beginners machine it must be understood you will get little out of this machine unless you apply the four M's. Good tachnique and a good blend are available regardless of budget. By all means get a decent metal tamper. Most important get one of the good books on espresso making. Ofcourse a great grinder but the Infinity works well with this machine despite it's small rnge of selections. The infinity also works well with other brewing apparatus and this flexiblility may be of interest to a beginner in espresso that wants to cover other coffee making methods as well as espresso.
I'll sum up shot quality in this manner. This machine is capable of making average espresso. Overall it will place you in the back of the pack but you will still be in the pack not left out of the espresso world. If you remember statistics an average may contain values high and low so some espresso you make will be VERY good and some awful. The awful stuff is due to your error but like wise the really good stuff is due to your rising skill level that this machine can help foster. This machine can ignite an espresso interest and not destroy it as the $50 steam machines in department stores.
The unit I have has an automatic frother. Despite claims that frothers break down and are more trouble then they are worth this one works well if you keep it clean but it will not let you explore the art or the skill of using a steam wand to froth milk. However, it will not frustrate those that want some foam in a reasonable period of time. It takes about 25 seconds for the thermoblock to get to steam temperature and about one minute to fill a twelve ounce frothing pitcher. The final temperature will be about 180 F. Interestingly the Infinity grinder will need about 25 seconds to grind one shot worth of coffee beans so this fits in well with your work flow when making espresso and steamed milk. The steam alone can heat a three ounce shot glass to a temperature to hot to hold in less then a minute so is a very useful tool in warming up glasses or other implements including adjusting the temperature of a portafilter when making espresso. The steamer is more then capable of melting choclate in a metal pitcher for making a mocha or other beverage. The compromise is the frothing quality of the milk which is by no means "microfoam" but a twelve ounce pitcher will have about 2 /3 very hot milk and 1/3 a thick foam that will stay in the pitcher unless spooned out. I would consider the froth as functional but not fine cusine quality for latte art or replicating perhaps the best drinks you have had in a gourmet caffe. Still it makes reasonable frothed drinks.
Thermoblocks are looked down upon but do provide some speed in getting to steam temperature but even 25 seconds can seem a bit long when making several drinks in a row and a few minutes I would think is VERY painfully slow. My advice would be to inquire how long boiler machines in this price range need to reach steam temperature and then look at the big picture. My hunch or guess is that the thermoblock system may be quite faster in reaching steam temperature then some boiler systems in this price range and maybe even twice the price range but the thermoblock may in part be responsible for temperature changes that will lighten creme color and effect depth and distinction of espresso taste. Although it might be a fair compromise in this price range.
The instuctions that accompany the Capresso are very nicely done so much so that I still keep and sometimes reference them when I need a review of the machine and to some extent they are a "bit" entertaining. However, ignore any reference they make to pouring shots two at a time. This machine can make some really good espresso if you limit shot volume to one ounce and some good espresso as you reach an ounce and a half with OK espresso at two ounces. Straight shots almost certainly will miss the mark at two ounces and seldom really good at an ounce and a half. So it's wishful thinking to expect to pour yourself and a friend two straight shots at the same time. Forget it.
This is not a production machine although when I first recieved it I invited over 25 or so people for a kids birthday party and made up an espresso menu. The machine made all kinds of espresso that night it just took all night to crank the drinks out. Good thing they were loving family !! This is not the machine for really entertaining large groups of strangers but will work well for a half dozen or so friends and family. It will work great for an individual or a couple of espresso types.
This machine was worth every penny I spent on it and has played a role in bringing me a step deeper in the espresso world. I will miss it style wise if it leaves my Kithchen counter and can't see giving it a spot in the closet. The Vertrano will take it's place and if every dollar used to design and build the Vertrano is as well engineered into it as it was in the Capresso the Vertrano will be some amazing machine.
It's a viable starter machine for those who can't see spending more then a few hundred dollars on an espresso setup but can manage to spend a bit more. I like this product it does justice to those starting in espresso E mail me and I'll be glad to talk more about it. It's that good for the money.
Soon after buying my machine I removed the water resrvoir from the machine and it crashed to the tile floor. The container cracked in the upper area and so was still usable but cracked nevertheless. The handle on it had come loose. I intended to call Capresso and complain or at least replace the part on an otherwise new machine. I never did but six months or so later called Capresso to buy some extra sieves. I remembered I needed to get a new container and so ordered a new container. The fellow on the phone asked why I needed such a replacement. I simply told him it fell on the floor but not how it happened. "Ohh he said .. we can raplace that free of charge since the machine is so new". That's cool I said to my self so I suggested to the rep maybe I should get another portafilter in case something happens to the one I have. He said "Nahh .. nothing ever happens to portafilters". Very cool again.
Their customer service always answered the phones in a timely manner when I called. Not bad.