I recommend the Cafe Retro to anyone who just want somewhat good espresso, but doesnt care much (or at all) about making the perfect espresso shot.
Positive Product Points
+ Strong steam preassure and good heating/cooling time. + Accurate temperature meter. + Nice design (hey, at least it's something!)
Negative Product Points
- The machine is dependant on it's crema enchanter (a special type of portafilter basket) to gain enough preassure to make good espresso. - If you want to develop your skills as a barista, this machine will become very limiting very soon. - Unneccesarily expensive. - No backflush ability, so cleaning is made very hard.
The Kenwood Cafe Retro was the first real espressomachine I bought, hoping it would satisfy my needs for the time being. I was hoping I could keep this machine for a while, to learn and become a skillfull barista, you see, one of the mayor goals in my life back then was being able to make very good espresso, steamed milk and perhaps even latte art. The Kenwood Cafe Retro is absolutely (I mean Absolutely) not fit for that! I would recommend it to anyone who wants a good looking machine, better espresso than the bulk and plastic <$100 machines could ever produce and does not at all care about developing any barista skills.
When I owned this machine (it's now sold and long gone :) ) I had huge problems of getting good crema on my espresso. Apparantly, the big crook was the crema-enchanter basket the machine was shipped with. A crema enchanter is simply a special portafilter basket with only one or a few holes (much looking like a blind-filter) that helps the machine holding a steady and high preassure. More expensive machines dont need those because it can build up preassure all by itself (combined with well tampered coffee of course), but apparantly the Cafe Retro simply can not. Is this neccesarily a bad thing then? Well, if you do not want to spend hours and hours and sack after sack with beans on tamping training, it's good. If you actually want to control the taste of your coffee yourself, its not.
Compared with other espresso machines in it's price group (e.g. the Gaggia Classic for about $100 more, which I own now) the Cafe Retro really hits the bottom of a well it could never climb out of. The difference is much like paying $420 for a really well working, good espresso machine and throwing $320 to the fishes. The difference between Gaggia Classic and the Cafe Retro is HUGE! I have now owned a Classic about 6 months (just the same time that I owned the Retro) and I have not regret the upgrade even for a single moment! Basicly, every single detail is better on the Classic than the Retro. Everything from temperature stability, portafilter material, basket size, backflush ability to the professional impression of the Classic, easability replace broken parts and how much easier it is to get spare parts for it. After all, once you have decided to spend $200 on a machine, the extra $100 for one that lasts much longer just is not that hard anymore :)
It's also worth mentioning that the Cafe Retro have no backflush gauge, so cleaning it could be very hard (or even impossible without breaking it). And cleaning is important. Indeed. Important!
Espressomania is a swedish company (http://www.espressomania.se) wich sells and ships a dozen of espresso machines. I had no trouble at all recieving the goods and the delivery was pretty fast, so the vendor seems overall reliable.
Three Month Followup
As said eariler I sold the machine pretty fast, and my skills as a barista have flourished ever since. Almost a year has past and I'm now looking to buy even more expensive machines, in the 4-5000$ interval.
By this I just want to ensure you that this machine is crapworth and shouldn't be purchared by anyone. I honestly felt bad when I sold it off.