Great machine, easy to use, fast and Chris is the only guy to buy from.
Positive Product Points
Fast with no worries about temp or steaming issues. I was pulling good (not great yet) shots without much experience. Fine looking machine. Silenced my toy buying friends who gave me grief about spending serious money on a "coffee machine". That ended once they saw the machine.
Negative Product Points
It is a bit pricey but you get value for your money. Still getting the hang of steaming milk. The machine gets hot (around the grouphead) so be careful with kids in the house.
I did not start out to buy a machine like this. Actually I started with a $95 Krupps steam driven unit that went back without even being opened. I then progressed to wanting a high end single boiler unit focusing on a Silvia or Venus. In my research I called Chris over at www.chriscoffee.com to see if he carried the Venus. Being a complete Newbie, I had a bunch of questions which Chris answered. I must have spent 20 min on the phone with him and hung up convinced that I needed a unit with a heat exchanger. I am basically lazy and knew that if the process of making a espresso or latte required a bunch of surfing and other black magic, I'd loose interest really fast. I had also looked at automatics but after seeing a C1000 at Williams Sonoma, I thought it felt like cheap plastic.
Once I got the machine home I was pulling shot after shot and they were actually good. The best part was that they were quick. No fancy steps. My Isomac Gran Macinino grinder deposits the coffee right into the portafilter which is great. I probably could have spent more on the grinder and may upgrade someday but I was already in for more than I expected. It seems to work fine for now. Anyway, a quick grind and tamp, lock it in a pull. Very quick. If the machine has been on for a while I pull some plain water through before grinding. After the pull I dump the puck, pull another blank to clean the screen and I am ready to go. Nothing like the complicated process my parents and friends related about their espresso machines.
The machine also looks very cool. You feel like you are operating a steam locomotive with the knobs and gauges. It produces steam like a locomotive too. Plenty of it and hot water too. The stainless looks great and is matched by the grinder and knockbox. It is a piece of art that I fully expect to have and use for 10-20 years if not longer.
The huge drip tray is a blessing. I can't imagine not having one so big. It lets you put the machine far away from the sink and never have a problem with where to dump things. Espresso is a wet process with the preheating of items & rinsing. The huge drip tray keeps all of the wetness under control. If you are looking at a machine with a reportedly small tray, think again.
First of all the $800 price is for a used, "damaged" machine so don't go crazy looking for a deal like this. Now that I have the machine, I would easily pay the full price for a Tea. I bought my unit from Chris at http://www.chriscoffee.com I cannot say enough good things about the experience. I live outside of Boston and actually went to see Chris in Albany. I was down in Armonk, NY and called Chris from there asking if I could get a break on a Tea if I came and picked it up. He said yes but that he also had a used unit in his demo room that he could work a deal on. It had been "modified" by it's previous owner who drilled a hole in the base (out of sight) and had a minor ding in it. "Say no more" was my reply and I drove up to Albany. Chris was there to meet me and spent at least an hour with me. He fired up the machine and pulled a couple of shots for me. He steamed some milk like a pro and whipped up a tasty cappy. He showed me the ins and outs of the machine which was great for a beginner like me. No question about it, the machine was mine. While his tech packed it up, Chris showed me around his operation (very impressive). This is not some web-only operation. It is a commercial coffee service provider and inspires a bunch of confidence that if I have a problem, they will still be in business and able to take care of me. The tech staff is very knowledgable and helpful. If you live within a day's drive of Albany, I would highly recommend making your purchase in person. If you have to order over the web, you can do so with no worries.
Three Month Followup
So I have my tea since March and I still absolutely love it. It took a week or so at first to get the tamp and shot pull down. Fresh beans make ALL the difference. Steaming the milk took a while and I was stuck for a solid month or two. Then I got the new steaming tip from Chris and overnight I became a master. Problem solved. I was marveling at how great it is to have my Tea in my house (on a timer) so I can enjoy a cap whenever I want. The machine has performed flawlessly. The HUGE drip tray is key. Buying any machine without one would be a mistake. Since the machine is 10ft from the sink, I dump tons of stuff into it and never worry. Shot mistakes, temp stablizing draw offs, whatever...right into the tray it goes. I also find myself using the hot water option a lot for tea or just when I need some hot water. Other people install those dispensers next the faucet at their since. I have on that is just as good and it makes great coffee to boot. Talk about two birds with one stone. :-) - Will