A nice machine that will start you on the road to really understanding espresso.
Positive Product Points
This boxy machine can make a very good espresso. Plenty of power for steaming milk. Nice, heavy portafilter.
Negative Product Points
Demanding grind quality. Possible quality control issues. Boxy. Small steamer wand. Limitations of a singler-boiler machine. Lousy tamper included.
Well, let's start with the good stuff. I can make a very good espresso. I love the nice, heavy portafilter. And let's face it, where else are you going to get something this good for $200? I've thrown out the little staemer attachment and can make good foam. This thing is miles ahead of my old Il Primo as far as how good a shot of espresso it can make.
I turn it on and can have a very good shot with very little warmup time.
However, one thing I miss from my il primo days is the ability to pull a shot and instantly steam the milk. As with all pump-powered, single-boiler, non-HX machines, it takes a few seconds to go from espresso-power to steam-power. It's not too long, but I'm still getting better at timing it so that my milk is still hot and/or the espresso is still a good temperature so my cappuchino is just right. It takes some doing. (But heck, this is going to be a limitation of every machine until you start paying three times as much for a double-boiler or a HX machine). It is possible to make a good cap, but it'll take some practice. On the other hand, the espresso is so good, who cares?
The steam wand is too short. I don't use the little plastic foam-aiding attachment myself, so I had to buy a smaller pitcher to steam in. (Otherwise I'm wasting too much milk).
I love the full-size, 58mm portafilter but it has one drawback: the damn thing is finnicky! Expect to pay $150 (at least) for a grinder to really make this thing happy. It is possible to choke it with too fine a grind, and if you're too coarse you won't get much in the way of crema and will have a hard time getting a shot to pull longer than 18 seconds. Some people have had trouble with the Maestro Plus grinder, so I've gone for the Innova.
(With my Il Primo, I would get the shot I would get no matter what I did. This puppy requires some skill with grind + tamp to get the most out of, but rewards you for it.)
Also, throw out the little plastic tamper that comes with this machine. For some reason that must make sense only in Italian, they included a tamper that is not only cheap plastic, but is too small for the portafilter! Plan to spend around $20 for a full-sized, 58mm tamper if you want to get the most out of this machine.
Also, a possible quality control issue: I had to take my machine to the shop after owning it for about a week. The pump locked up. Now the importika people were great about the warranty, no problem, but keep your boxes, and don't leave the thing on all night (which they said could cause my problem, although I'm not sure if it did in my case).
Aside from that, my main gripes are the fact that this machine made me realize that there are advantages to spending a ton more money on an HX machine, and the fact that I've had to invest in a nice grinder and tamper. You are NOT going to get a perfect setup for $200 here, but this machine is certainly a nice centerpiece.
Would I buy again? I'm not sure. Since I now see the value of a better machine, if I could afford one, I'd probably get one. On the other hand, I am happy with this and if I don't have further pump problems (it's been a few weeks, knock on wood) then this will have proved to be a very nice addition to my kitchen, and honestly I couldn't really afford more at this point anyway. Color me happy.
aabreecoffee.com. I clicked. They sent. No problem.
Three Month Followup
This is supposed to be a 3-month followup but I think I've had this machine for close to a year, now. The problem with the pump has not recurred, and I'm still very happy with the machine. I've noticed a few quirks, however, which I'd like to share:
The machine leaks a little through the portafilter when it's at temperature. This is not a big deal. It also occasionally leakys a tiny amount through the steam wand. Again, not a big deal.
The machine gives you the best espresso if you let it cycle once or twice, then pull a blank shot (no grounds) then pull a real shot. Sometimes, otherwise, the first shot is a little sour, which I'm told comes from too low a temperature. But letting it cycle one extra time (light goes on, light goes off, light goes on, blank shot, light comes back on, rela shot) solves that nicely. However, if you leave the machine on for a couple of hours, the espresso takes on a slightly metallic taste (you can solve this by pulling an extra couple of blank shots). The machine heats up quickly enough that I simply recommend turning it off after every use.