Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say “C'mon guys, we're talking coffee here!” If you say coffee with the same urgency normally reserved by CDC personnel for the the word "Ebola", click on to the next review-- this is not your machine. If, however, you betray the possibility that there might be other concerns (How old would JP Stevens have to be to survive a second Bush term? Do epidurals really increase the cesarean rate? Is it ever appropriate to play notes inegales in an allemande?) in your life, read on.
True coffeegeeks are going to have (at least) two cavils with this machine: the pressurized portafilter (actually a pressurized filter basket) and the potential for temperature instability caused by the use of a thermoblock heating element and an aluminum PF.
Temperature Considerations: I don't have the equipment or expertise to monitor temperature during a shot. All I can do is vouch for the quality of the output. The thermoblock does allow for very quick recovery times after pulling a shot. I bought 3 extra filter baskets, and I can pull four doubles pretty much as fast as I can change the baskets.
Pressurized Filter: Having a pressurized filter doesn't mean surrendering all control over your shots. Although you can't be a 30-pound gorilla, there's still ample room to experiment with tamping pressure, and although the optimal grind is going to be coarser than with a commercial type filter/PF, there's still plenty of latitude.
The BOTTOM LINE on this machine is that IT MAKES GOOD ESPRESSO. Having said this, I will concede that there is a certain bitterness (more noticeable with lighter roasts) that I have not been able to entirely eliminate, and I suspect that this is due to the pressurized filter basket.
I’m not a huge fan of milk or milk drinks. The few cappucinos I have inflicted on innocent bystanders were well-received, and I can make pretty good mochas. The Froth Express system, which siphons milk out of a container, is a bit tricky to regulate. By turning a knob, you adjust the output from froth to steamed milk, in varying proportion. I found that the actual useful range of adjustment was quite small, and that there wasn't much room between getting lots of relatively cool froth and getting smaller amounts of hotter milk that seemed to be admixed with a fair bit of hot water. It's possible that with more practice, finer control would be possible. For my purposes, the froth was of satisfactory quality. I doubt it would qualify as microfoam, but if you're into doing latte art, you're probably not looking at this machine anyway.
1) Ergonomics: Very well designed, from the way the portafilter handle fits your hand to the little click when it locks into place. The reservoir is a bit small but is very easy to access and remove for refilling.
2) Aesthetics: This is subjective, but I think the machine is very attractive. There's a lot of plastic, but the design works. By contrast, the Gaggia Coffee on display at the local Peet's may have better specs (at $350) but it looks "plasticky" and cheap.
3) If You Are On A Budget:
One of the axioms on this site is that you can't make good espresso wthout a grinder. I think this is an overstatement. You may not be able to make great espresso without a grinder, but with an outlay of about $250 for this machine you can make espresso that's better than most of what I've had in the US or Italy. When you consider that a commonly recommended "starter outfit" is the Gaggia Carezza espresso machine at about $250 coupled with the $110 Solis Maestro or the $150 Solis Maestro Plus grinder, the EspressoPro is worth a good look. This is particularly true if you live near a source of freshly ground coffee (I've gotten much better results with Peets or Starbucks ground to a "5" on the Ditting grinders in the store than with tinned Illy or LaVazza preground). And in 2004, who doesn't live within spitting distance of a Starbucks? You can probably even cut another $30-$50 off your original outlay if you buy the Espresso Classic, which I believe is the same machine with a more conventional steam tip instead of the FrothExpress.