Very satisfied with the RPR!! (Results to Price Ratio). The costs are focused on what's inside (refreshing contrast)! The hefty commercial sized chromed brass head group / portafilter is a true standout for this price range!
Positive Product Points
Great value machine for under $200. Great bench mark entry for learning espresso basics. Good asthetics. Clear access / cleanup. Solid quality head gear / portafilter to learn the art..or chemistry / alchemy / magic?? of espresso !
Negative Product Points
No press. relief valve. Plastic body prone to resonance.
I'm not a professional barista by any means so take my opinions on this equipment as just that. I have however, been drinking espresso daily since '89 (first consuming way too much espresso while making my way thru a degree at UofW) so I do know what results I'm looking for.
Machine heats quickly and the rounded shape fits compactly on the counter. Pours seem consistent and I've had no quality issues. ( I've not bothered to RTD the temp or PG the pressure output, but the results have improved as I've improved on my end. )
I think this is a great entry-level machine which will give me a good benchmark should I move to a more feature-rich model.
No press. relief valve so the soggy puck is always there, however, I've never been oyster squirted removing the portafilter. And after 10 secs. or so I can use the knock box with no real added mess.
Plastic housing seems prone to resonating when first priming the pump/heating things up, however, once the shots are loaded and it's pumping against a pressure head, it is surprisingly quiet.
The biggest thing learned to date..... Buy a good conical grinder!! (The crema & pours from this machine improved drastically just by replacing my regular low dollar Black & Decker burr grinder with the conical burr grinder).
I experimented with the PODs.... below average results (I've tasted better from a Demo of the Nespresso and much easier auto-eject cansisters) . I did finally get fair results by placing a single filter basket from an old Bunn machine in the bottom of the Portafilter, placing in a POD, then putting in the proper Gaggia single filter basket with another POD.
Excellent. I did get a bum steer on the extra POD basket I ordered; The single filter basket (for most of you it's the dusty thing at the back of the drawer) is also designed to handle a POD should you want to experiment like I did. I had to return the POD filter and get my money back.
Three Month Followup
Machine is still working wonderfully - Since owning this machine I eventually added the infamous PID controller... more for salving my "can't leave good enough alone" temperment than necessity. The PID controller is a nice feature that's enabled me to dial in a good "average" 194F at the group head (It has about a 6-12 deg. temperature drop (I used David Schomer's thermocouple thru a dremelled hole in a portafilter basket method) inherent with this smaller boiler design... a trade-off for the fantastically quick warmup period which I so appreciate at 4ish in the morning to get my daughter off to skating.. The quick boiler response causes some pretty wide swings in temp, but as other posts note, you can learn to pull some blanks first and temp surf similar to Miss Silvia, in lieu of the PID. (MorHeat has a very economical PID - MPI Model VT4810 w/Autotune if you also like to tinker)..If you want photo / DIY details let me know)
I still have yet to use the frothing wand. I actually removed the plastic frothing portion to give better access to the hot water wand to fill my Americano... and even a hot-chocolate or two if a 10 yr old is whining about the early morning... lack of sleep.. "why can't I have caffeine"... etc..
I've also since been using my Isomac Tea, which I purchased a while back, and comparitively, the Gaggia Carezza does make a very comparable shot and, in my opinion, offers a great value for the price point. I would expect Gaggia Carrezza to soon dominate the entry level machine market via the Target'ish type stores (a better noise/ vibration dampening method would benefit this model tremedously along with the many afore mentioned shallow drip dish. This model needs to be near the sink, as you do need to empty the dish every few shots / rinses.
Final Line- Still think this is a fantastic "value" machine for the quality chromed brass, commercial size head group / portafilter. I recommend this to other friends who've asked my opinion for a good espresso machine. I've had no maintenance issues at all, even with the extra cycling the heater goes thru with my PID.