This is a great entry level Heat Exchange machine, once properly set it is hard to beat for the price.
Positive Product Points
This is a great entry level Heat Exchange machine. Once properly set, the machine can produce excellent espresso and foam.
Negative Product Points
The cup warming tray could be made stronger and more stable. There could be better quality control*. The boiler settings might have to be adjusted out the box in order to get the best performance. I would recommend purchasing Eric's E61 Thermometer Kit from Chris's Coffee in order to get a better sense of what your machine is actually doing.
This is a great entry level Heat Exchange machine. Easy to use and sturdy enough* to produce great shots once you get everything dialed in. The drip tray is very large, which is great when you are pulling more then your average number of shots. There is plenty of steam and the newer single hole tip makes working up nice foam pretty simple. The reservoir is large enough to handle plenty of shots before refilling. The E61 type group-head works like a charm and is fairly easy to clean, especially with is sleek dispersion screen. All in all, for the price this machine is hard to beat.
*When I first turned on the machine, I noticed a lot of water dripping from the bottom. With some investigation, I realized that one of the pipe nuts was loose, which was an easy fix*
Purchased from WholeLatteLove via eBay.
Three Month Followup
After 3 months of heavy usage, I have had no further technical problems. The chrome finish is easy enough to clean and shows little, if any, signs of wear. I have found that this machine does MUCH BETTER with slightly oilier coffee such as Urth Cafe's Urth Italia Roast vs. drier roasts such as Intelligentsia's Black Cat. I have tried many varieties of this comparison and it seems to be the rule with this machine (maybe a result of its' temperature and pressure stability characteristics). Still happy and would recommend it as a first heat exchange espresso machine.
One Year Followup
***I had to revise this Followup given the change in performance***
I have to say that this machine has provided me many hours of frustration regarding irregular shots. In my previous 1+ year follow-up I stated that increasing the boiler pressure to 1.3-1.4 improved the shot quality; and it did for a day or so for some unknown reason. However, right after that brief mystery period, my shots have been highly irregular and poor at best. I tried other bean varieties, tamp and prep methods, and grind settings, all to no avail. I was about to sell this machine until I came across "Eric's E61 Thermometer". A friend that works for Intelligentsia Coffee told me that the issue was probably do to with the brew temperature, but these machines lack any ability to gauge it. I figured, “what the hell”, $89.95 is worth a last ditch effort, so I ordered one from Chris's Coffee, and installed it. Instantly, I could see what the problem was. 1.3-1.4 bar is way too high a setting! These machines require a cooling flush before you pull a shot. Before, at that high of setting, the machine was stable at 230-234 deg. F and my cooling flushes only brought the temperature to 215 deg. F, which is about 15 deg. too high. It was also taking a minute or so to cool down to that temperature, which was draining the reservoir. After playing with the boiler thermostat setting, I found that adjusting the machines boiler settings to on at 1.0 and off at 1.1 bar (which brings it to approaching 1.2 bar), the machine is stable at 214 - 216 deg. F. My cooling flushes are much shorter, resulting in more water saved. I pull a cooling flush to 203-204 deg. F, and with the portafilter all prepped and ready to go, gets me a brewing temperature of about 200-201 deg. F (using Danessi Gold beans). At this setting I have been able to brew consistently delicious shots. I know that these machines are not perfect, but at these prices who could expect them to be? I highly recommend that you go and get that thermometer. Then call Whole Latte Love and get instructions on how to adjust the boiler thermostat as their instructions include images (in brief, it is the black module above the boiler with the gear type horizontal ring, by turning the ring counter clockwise, while looking down on it, you decrease the thermostat setting and vice versa). When using the thermometer, you can properly set your boiler to a temperature that provides you with a good amount of steam and brew temperature. It also allows you to see what you are doing temperature-wise insuring better shots and less wasted water and coffee. Without the ability to gauge temperature, I think that using this machine will have the tendency to produce shots with a high degree of irregularity. With that said, I can only recommend this machine with the addition of Eric’s E61 or similar thermometer kit.