Smallish reservoir No externally visible water level Entire unit (sans drip tray) gets extremely HOT!
I've been having a blast with my Tea for about two months now, and I can find no reason to upgrade anytime in the foreseeable future. First impression-wise, I was immediately struck by the amazing aesthetic design of the unit. With the exception of the plastic used in the portafilter handle, valve knobs, and steam and hot water wand grips, everything is made of mirror finish stainless steel. As mentioned by many others, no attempt has been made to reduce weight or cost at the expense of build quality. Properly maintained, the machine will probably be pumping out espresso long after I'm dead and buried! One drawback to the extensive use of stainless steel is the remarkably high temperatures encountered on its shell. Not really an issue unless you have small children. Also included in the box were two complete portafilter handles: one for single draw and one for double.
Warming up the machine, I began to appreciate the usefulness of a boiler pressure gauge. I was able to visually verify the proper function of the boiler thermostat, and identify how far along in the warmup process the machine was. First experiences brewing espresso yielded results that were noticeably superior to anything I had achieved previously. Crema was rich and light in color, flowing within one second of beginning the brew process. The brew pressure gauge asserted its usefulness by allowing me to QC my grind and tamp. The ability to simultaneously (or at least in rapid succession) steam milk was the primary reason I upgraded from the Silvia, and the Tea did not disappoint. Even with the steam valve fully open, the boiler did not fall behind. The two-hole nozzle took a little getting used to, having come from the Silvia with its single-hole nozzle, but generating good microfoam did not take long to master.
The tea is not completely without its shortcomings, minor though they may be. The 3 liter reservoir is a bit small, especially compared to the Livia with its 5 liters. The pressure sensitive shutoff could be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it. On the positive side, using highly pure water (as is advised to avoid boiler scale) will not cause false low water shutoffs, as can happen with conductivity sensors. On the negative side, the pressure switch shuts off the unit with more water remaining in the reservoir than a conductivity sensor would. Of course, the cost could definitely be considered a drawback, but with this machine you absolutely get what you pay for.
Let me say this about buying from Mr. Chris Nachtrieb: I've never felt better about spending a thousand dollars. I have the benefit of being local to the Albany area, so I was able to do business face-to-face. It was clear from the get-go that Mr. Nachtrieb was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable about espresso, and for that matter, coffee in general. He spent nearly two hours (after closing time, no less!) talking about everything from water quality to machine maintenance. He also provided a few water mineral test kits, and a blank portafilter insert for backflushing. Even further locking in my future business, he followed up via e-mail afterwards, ensuring that I was happy with my purchase.