The Tea is the way to go if you want consistant, great espresso and a quality machine to interact with on a daily basis.
Positive Product Points
This is a beautiful, well made machine and a pleasure to use.
Negative Product Points
None that I have uncovered at this point
I have used a Gaggia Paros for several years with moderate success. After I broke it and lacked the strong desire to fix it (read: excuse to get a new, better machine!) I decided, since I enjoy espresso so much, to take the plunge and get a Tea. I have been diligently reading the reviews on this excellent site and, for the many reasons mentioned in the Tea reviews, decided that the Tea would fit the bill. I have had it for almost two weeks and it has not disappointed. From the get go, I have been making consistantly great espressos, and look forward to improving my technique over the many years I hope to use this machine. I also bought a Rocky doserless at the same time to make sure that I was getting a decent grind.
Since I have only had my Tea about two weeks, I have not yet tried the many freshly roasted beans available by mail and locally. I am therefore unsure as to this machine's true potential. From the two pounds of Italian Canardo Miscela Bar beans I was provided at the time of my purchase, (which I have almost exhausted) I can only imagine that I am going to be enjoying some awesome espressos.
The beauty of this machine is how easy it is to use. My wife, who has been very gracious with counter space, is a tea drinker but also likes to use about a one quarter shot of espresso in the morning, mixed with a ton of milk. For the 4 years or so I had the gaggia, she never wanted to mess with it at all. She is now using the handy hot water dispenser for tea, and also pulling shots for me after I have downed my first double. This was an absolutely unexpected bonus. As complicated as the Tea looks, with its great dials and knobs, it is intuitive and very user friendly. It is very easy to backflush, and it is a simple matter to keep it clean by running water through the grouphead after every pull. The drip tray is large, easy to empty and nice and solid, making it a pleasure to handle, and the knobs and seals are nice and tight, without a drip in sight.
I have had espressos in good Italian restaurants in NYC and in every coffee house and espresso bar I can find in my area. I must say, the crema this machine produces is like I have never experienced before, pretty much fills the entire cup, and lasts for a good solid 5-10 minutes in the cup. It is like drinking an espresso milkshake, and I really don't know what I am doing! I try to follow the proper amount in the portafilter and the correct tamping pressure, but I have a long way to go before I am consistant, so this machine really does have an enormous amount of forgiveness.
A quick note about quality. I make probably 4-5 double shots a day, at least. I appreciate beautifully crafted things, hand trown dinnerware, good, solid built to last tools, you get the idea. If I am going to be using something this much, I want it all to feel good in my hands. Turning the knobs, pulling the shots, empting the tray, these are all good experiences because all these parts are solid, good quality, thoughtfully crafted. I bought myself a Reg Barber tamper for the same reason. With me, the ritual is more than just the good espresso, it is the physical interaction with the machine. The tea adds that dimension where the plastic and lighted buttons and drip tray of the Gaggia did not.
As you will see in the buying experience below, I am very lucky to live in the Albany area and near Chris' Coffee Service. I was totally spoiled, because I had one of Chris' technicians come to the house and direct plumb the Tea, together with a carbon filter and water softener. They did a beautiful job and the Tea runs flawlessly. I would definitely recommend the direct plumb option, without going through the in-machine tank. Never having to fill the Tea makes it so easy to use and keep flushed and clean. This is particularly so with the Tea sitting under cabinets. This is also nice because when the Tea has been on a long time, it is nice to run water through the grouphead to cool it down a bit-,no need to fill it with water, just an occasional dump of the drip tray.
What else can I say at this point? the Tea is one great machine!
I will repeat what everyone has said: Chris' Coffee Service is a class act and the way to go. My office actually uses Chris' for its commercial coffee service, and I asked my office manager how they are to work with before I explored buying from them and she said their service was unbelievable. Whenever there is a problem with the machine (we have one of those super automatic individual pick a flavor machines) someone from Chris is there almost instantaneously, problem solved. Period. I was thus not surprised to find so much positive feedback on this forum. After this added confirmation, I picked up the phone, talked to Chris and arranged to meet him at this place for a hands on demonstration of the Tea.
I went to visit Chris and he demonstrated the Tea for me, pulled some unbelievable shots, explained how it worked, went through the Rocky, showed me the tampers, including the Reg Barber, and was incredibly informative. I went into the shop where the machines are prepared for shipment, and saw the care his technicians were giving to each machine, making sure they were working properly before shipment. I was in the warehouse where everything was in its place. It was very impressive, like a master craftsman's workshop of espresso machines, tools and parts. I It was obvious, these people know what they are doing. Chris worked out a great price, including installation, and I was set to go.
The installation process was equally impressive. The technician brought it to the house, and it was still very warm. Before bringing it over, he started it up in the shop, went over it, making sure it was working perfectly. the grind on the Rocky grinder had also been adjusted by the technician before coming over to make sure it would produce a great shot from the Tea. ( As you can see from above, he knew what he was doing, and I have not messed with the grind setting a whole lot since.) The technician went through the whole machine with me, made sure I understood how to backflush, clean, etc. before leaving me on my own. Chris also provides excellent written instructions, since the ones that come with the Tea are mostly useless.
I have to say, as a lawyer I am used to seeing how things can go bad, how people don't back up their promises, how people can be all talk and no substance. How refreshing to purchase from someone who really wants to ensure that the customer is satisfied. Chris was awesome and stood behind everything. I must echo all that has been said before, he is the "go to" guy if you are interested in getting a good espresso machine, grinder or anything relating to coffee.