A great machine that will give you many great shots!
Positive Product Points
It makes GREAT espresso and looks really cool. It can produce good shots easily, great shots with only a little practice.
Negative Product Points
So far, I have only a few minor complaints. It would be nice if the gauge faces were glass instead of plastic; for this much money, why not? As others have said, the water reservoir is really a bit small, and you get no warning when it's low.
I'm one of apparently a very small minority that didn't buy from Chris. not for any reason other than he wasn't open the day my wife finally gave in. Please don't beat me! Anyway, when FedEx delivered an enormous box, and I picked it up, I wondered if I had just purchased a small car... this beastie is HEAVY.
I unpacked it, set it up, and then looked at the instruction book. What an absolute riot! It reads like they sent the original Italian manual to Japan for translation into English. If you're not mechanically inclined, or don't have any experience with a pump-driven machine, you'd better find someone to show you how to work it!
It's an absolutely beautiful machine, a real eye-catcher. You'll certainly be the envy of just about everyone, espresso fanatic or not.
I've used a number of consumer machines over the years, and only rarely been able to coax a really good shot out of any of them. After a couple of test shots to get my grind right, I was consistently pulling shots that were without a doubt better than anything I've ever done at home, and better than just about any espresso bar I've been to, including in Italy. (Just because they're Italian and invented espresso doesn't mean you can't get some pretty mediocre coffee there!)
You'll be producing shots with incredible, rich, crema and wonderful flavor in no time at all.
Some people have found steaming with the supplied wand to be a little tricky, but for some reason I was able to produce excellent microfroth on the first try. I think the pitcher shape is a big factor. Plenty of steam, and there was a pretty small amout of water to bleed out before getting nice, dry steam.
Do be aware that while the heated group is very nice, it also gets very hot! Touching it is a habit you'll not get into. Speaking of the heated group, it takes a good 20 minutes to warm up, and will end up over optimum brewing temperature. It's not a La Marzocco, after all. I've probed it with my Fluke temp meter. After everything's up to temp, the initial flow from mine is around 205F. Run some water through the group first. After proper cooling, my temp during a shot averages around 195F.
The water tank really is the weakest part of the machine. It's relatively small, and you have no way of knowing how much water you have left, other than suddenly seeing the pressure start dropping right in the middle of a shot. I have mine on a counter with overhead cabinets, so to fill or check the water, I have to slide the Tea out, not very convenient given its weight. I'm probably going to plumb it in using one of Chris's kits. It would be nice if he offered a drain kit, too!
In summary, this is really a great machine, and you won't be disappointed with it. I'm planning to do some more accurate temperature profiling, and will post the results in my followup (assuming I can remember to do a followup!)
I have no complaints whatsoever with WholeLatteLove.. called on a Saturday, got it the following Wednesday. They test the machine before shipment, so you shouldn't have any surprises.
Three Month Followup
This really is a great machine. I've added the direct-plumb-in kit from Chris, which resolves one of my complaints - the water tank is just too small. Works great! I did find one Tea problem that's now solved - although most parts are nice stainless or brass, the support screws and springs for the water tank are NOT. So, if you spill any water, they all rust. Tacky, just like the cheap plastic bezels and guage faceplates. Moot point for me, now.
I also tried Chris's replacement steaming tip. I have mixed feelings about this. It's definitely nice for frothing a small amount of milk, but for larger quantities, I find the stock tip to be just fine, and a bit faster. Personal preference on this one.
Other than my minor complaints, the machine has performed flawlessly. It can turn out espresso and cappucchino pretty much constantly, as I found when I had a party recently. Never ran out of water or steam.
I'm very pleased, and would certainly recommend the Tea!
One Year Followup
It's been a little over a year since I got my Tea, and I'm just as happy with it now as I was then. It's performed flawlessly, and I have no complaints other than the initial ones I mentioned in my previous review. I've settled into a routine that works great for me. I find that a half-hour warmup is fine. The brewhead temp has stabilized by then, and you're ready to go. I love the pump pressure gague! I go for a grind and tamp that gives me a 20-25 second pull at 9 Bar. The Tea has no problem with consistency, but you can certainly see the effects of your grind and tamp! Best advice: get a GOOD grinder. Consistency in grind and tamp means consistency in espresso! I'd certainly buy a Tea again!