I don’t know if espresso machines require a break-in time, but this one sure made it seem so. The machine required some experimentation to get the balance of grind and brew-time just right, but that is pretty much normal for any espresso machine. I kept going for a “10” at 25 seconds, and now I’ve got my grinder (Solis Maestro Plus) set at one notch finer than “ESP,” and a 25-second pull comes out nearly perfect every time. Or is it perfect nearly every time . . .
I had trouble at first with the brew coming through too fast (read: weak) no matter how fine the grind or firm the tamp. Then I finally figured out that it was impossible to get a good tamp with the cheesy little plastic “tamper” supplied with the machine, and I was getting some channeling. I finally did figure out how to do it, by firmly pressing all the way around the edges to minimize channeling, but it was difficult to get a consistent tamp. Then when I got a real tamper, that was suddenly no longer an issue and the pulls also got even more consistent with each shot. The real tamper fits the basket perfectly and puts even pressure all around, including the edges. The tamper is one of those nice, heavy stainless ones with the rosewood handle.
When the machine was about six months old, one of the plastic brackets that hold the pump in place broke off, raising the noise level of the machine from really loud to frightening. That was an easy fix, but it does point out one reason to avoid so much plastic.
I’ve read much about the peculiar placement of the steam knob, but for me, it falls nicely to hand once you get used to it. The only reason I could complain about it is if I needed to have the machine under a kitchen top-cabinet, in which case the knob would be inaccessible. Actually, the machine won’t even fit under most standard-height upper cabinets because of the placement of the knob.
The frothing attachment is another common area of discontent with other reviewers, and I almost like it. Maybe it is because of my usage of the machine, which is no doubt somewhat unique. My morning ritual is to prepare a cap for myself and a chai latte for my Lovely Bride. So after I pull my double-shot, I steam enough milk for both drinks. I use the frothing attachment in a 500 ml stainless pitcher and in about 90 seconds I have a beautiful milk/froth for both drinks. I pour the pitcher about one-quarter full and when the milk gets to 170 degrees, the rich, thick froth is up to the rim of the pitcher. The froth is very fine and works well for both the cap and the latte. Of course, most of the milk goes into the latte.
When I make just the cap for myself, I still use the same pitcher but with only a tiny bit of milk. It works great every time. After every frothing operation, I pull off the extension tube (or whatever its proper name might be), rinse it under the faucet, and discharge a bit of steam through the remaining frothing attachment into a glass of water. I’ve never had a problem with it.
While on the subject of morning ritual, this actually begins with a trip (stumble?) to the kitchen to turn on the machine before attending to the other necessities of the morning, like feeding the cats and getting the paper. That gives the machine its necessary 6 minutes to heat up to best performance temp. Then I grind my beans while pulling a blank shot and I’m ready to make espresso.
I have used the machine to make half a dozen caps and/or lattes in a row and once you get the routine down it works fine. I have never noticed any big deal about not having a three-way valve. Yes, there’s a little “poof,” but with a bit of finesse, one can remove the pf without decorating the kitchen. One trick I use for quick turnaround is this: when I start my pull, I press both the “espresso” and the “steam” buttons at the same time. This does not seem to affect the temp of the finished espresso, but it definitely gets the steam light on more quickly after making the pull. Of course, when I’m making two or three drinks at once, I do the shots first and then froth the milk for all of them afterwards.