Cool retro looks and consistently great shots - a dream machine!
Positive Product Points
Rock solid construction with easy operation and a huge drip tray. Chunky looking but cool in a retro sort of way. E61 grouphead delivers great shots consistently. HX feature makes multiple latte production a breeze. Dual gauges are cool (not necessarily crucial but nice).
Negative Product Points
The water reservoir is far too small and the water in it gets quite warm when machine is sitting idle. Aesthetically speaking, the Isomac Millenium is more to my liking but this purchase was for function, not form. The replaceable tip of the stock steam wand tip is poor design - seek out the alternate tip for greatly improved steaming.
A couple months of research and the opinions of folks in the Coffeegeek discussion forums led me to the Isomac Tea / Mazzer Mini combination and also pointed me to Chris' Coffee Service, for which I am forever grateful. The rapid desire for upgrade after buying and using a Gaggia Baby / Solis Maestro combo for ten months led me to realize that this purchase should be carefully considered. My buying decision was ultimately made based on multiple factors:
E61 head said to be forgiving and gives consistent results
Simple construction style with minimum of electronics
Huge drip tray (the Gaggia drip tray is horribly undersized)
Good build quality and nice stainless steel finish
True commercial portafilter and lots of brass underneath
Fantastic service reputation of Chris' Coffee Service
Large number of experienced users in Coffeegeek means advice readily available in the forums
Called Chris' Coffee to discuss options and was pleasantly surprised to get Chris Nachtrieb himself on the phone. He discussed my choice with me and concurred that this duo was the best choice in the price range (separate Mazzer Mini review to be posted). I pass through Albany on occasion and arranged to pick it up in person. Free shipping was available but I like to establish personal business relationships with vendors when possible.
Chris stayed late to meet me - he is one intense and dedicated guy! He's in the commercial office coffee service business and has a large and thriving business with an enormous warehouse and some really nice equipment demo rooms. The sale of semi-commercial and commercial espresso machines and cafe supplies is only part of his business but he takes it very seriously. Had a nice tour of the facility, drank some espresso shots and headed home with my new gear. They have a full time service department and work on every type of coffee, espresso and grinding equipment imaginable - these guys know their stuff.
My heavy travel schedule prevented me from getting significant chunks of time to play with the Tea for the first month. I was not satisfied with the results I was getting (undextraction) and called for help. Chris walked me through some basic troubleshooting and finally reached the conclusion that there may be a faulty pump. He offered to let me send the machine back for them to replace the pump (it was the last unit he had in stock and more were not due to arrive for awhile). I opted to have him send the pump and do it myself as it was easier - he emailed explicit directions with step by step photos. It was a simple procedure and much easier than shipping the machien back. The pump replacement made a difference for awhile - things seemed better for but I still wasn't getting the consistency I thought was necessary and appropriate.
My erratic schedule prevented me from properly assessing performance, as I was still working on technique and didn't want to jump to hasty conclusions. Long story short: Grouphead pressure appeared to be low - got back on phone with Chris and he reached conclusion that there was a blockage in a feed tube. It appeared to be possibly related to water softener attachment but that was more or less ruled out. Soooo.... he sent me the guts of a brand new machine (before he even got the old one back) and I swapped out all the exterior components of my original machine (top, case, drip tray etc.).
In the process of packing up the old one to ship back, I noticed that something resembling plumber's putty had been used to seal the threads of elbow that exits boiler into pump. Chris had mentioned a suspicion that such a factor might be the cause. Close examination of the replacement unit showed that the connection on this is now soldered!
It would appear that a short term QC problem (long since corrected) at Isomac may have been at fault. It can happen - there was a rash of pressurestat failures in some Livia's recently (or so I hear). The point is this - any and all hardware, be it an espresso machine, a piece of networking gear or an automobile.... can have problems. It can affect even the best of brands. The real issue for me is this: what is the inherent build and component quality of the product and how good is the followup service from the vendor?
Isomac is the bomb (in a good way) and Chris is THE MAN! I've been involved in customer service related businesses for many years (previously front line support for network hardware and now do back line support). Chris and his staff set the bar at new levels for excellence in customer service. They were patient and jumped through hoops to make sure I was a happy customer. I wouldn't dream of making future purchases from anyone else and continue to encourage anyone who will isten (and even those who don't!) to buy from him.
The happy ending? I've now had three or four four months of continuous use with the Tea and it rocks! I'm pulling great shots with remarkable consistency and use it as often as five times per day when I'm home (which is about two - three weeks per month).
Steaming is a challenge until your get the alternate tip - it's a must for latte lovers - it makes producing perfect microfoam a breeze. I can honestly state that the quality of my shots at this point is limited only by my technique. The gear just doesn't get any better in this price range.
Chris has made a float valve kit available (yet another proactive customer service initiative on his part - just like the alternate tip that he located). I have yet to install mine but will do so soon and that will resolve the water tank size issue.
Bought it from Chris' Coffee Service - need I say more? Got a competitive price (discount he gave me for buying the Tea/Mini package ended up making him the lowest price of any vendor). Customer service has been unparalleled - as a vendor they are in a class of their own.