After a month I am very pleased with the Kitchenaid. Fun and easy to use, looks great, and makes super espresso.
Positive Product Points
Solid Build Attractive style Nice, big drain pan
Negative Product Points
Had to return the first purchase because of a faulty power light. The frother is a bit anemic and sometimes takes a long time to produce a nice foam
I bought this machine in Canada and the price paid is in C$. This is my first espresso machine and I'm pretty much a newbie at this. Despite the issues raised by the other reviewers, I bought this machine because the machine was being offered at 2/3 list price and at this particular retailer I was able to secure another 10% off plus obtain a 1 year payment defferal with no interest or carrying charges. So it was a pretty good deal in my books.
The first machine I took home was defective..the power light didn't work - the machine would have scored higher on quality if it were not for this. I did use it until I had the chance to return it and the unit took a long time to heat up.. much longer than the 6 minutes in the manual, and consistent with what other reviewers have said. The retailer took the machine back and gave me a replacement, no questions.
I've now had the machine for a month and I couldn't be happier. This new machine is up to temp within 6 minutes as advertised and is working exceptionally well, although the temperature gauges don't seem to be that accurate (though they are consistent in their readings). And it brews terrific shots...as good as anything I've had anywhere else (and I'm not talking Starbucks, which are not worthy of comment). I just came back from two weeks in Italy and drank espressos and cappucino's every day, none of which were any better than what the Kitchenaid is producing for me. Unless I've screwed up, I get a terrific crema all the time. The key for me is a very, very firm tamp. I have this maker teamed up with a Rancilio Rocky doserless grinder set at 8.
The machine is very sturdy and while I do worry about quality control in the manufacture based on the other reviews and my initial experience, the machine seems to handle regular use very well (so far). I've been brewing about 5 or more shots a day since getting the machine. Also, given the amount of coffee I am making, the large reservoir is really useful. Although other reviewers have complained about the location of the reservoir, I don't mind it at all. It works well under low cupboards as I don't have to access the top of the machine...just slide the reservoir left or right and fill.
Now, the machine is big and needs space, but with the big machine comes a big drip pan. Given how messy making espressos is, I like the large pan.
Unfortunately, not having any experience to compare to, I can't give a sound evaluation of the steamer. Suffice it to say, that it works just fine for me. I seem to get lots of steam. But I'm not a froth expert,,, so I really don't know for sure.
I bought the Kitchenaid at a Canadian housewares vendor, Home outfitters. The deal was good and return of the first defective machine was hassle free.
Three Month Followup
I've now owned the machine for 4 months. It has performed flawlessly and I can't be more pleased with the unit. The machine heats quickly. It makes great shots with a beautiful crema virtually every time (admittedly sometimes a shot does go bad)- I have yet to have a better commercially prepared espresso. And I use it a lot, preparing no fewer than two double shots each and every day. I don't brew regular coffee anymore. The key to a good espresso with this unit (mine, anyway) is a very firm tamp . In this regard, the cheapo plastic tamper that comes with the unit is useless. And I bought a heavy cast metal tamper almost immediately and am glad that I did. The weight and heft of build is also showing its benefits because making espresso is not that delicate an activity, especially when making numerous drinks in rapid succession. And this machine is a brick and all the components very solidly built. It doesn't budge an inch when I'm attaching or removing the portafilter. Initially I was a bit concerned about the placement of the rear sliding reservoir, but now I find that it is a blessing because my unit is under kitchen cabinets which prevents me from easily accessing the top for filling. And given the weight of this machine I don't want to move it unless I have to. Finally, the frother. It works fine and I have no real quibbles. However in my estimation it is probably the weakest component of the unit. Sometimes the pressure can be a bit feeble and pattience is necessary to get a good foam. And I can't seem to get a really good microfoam out of it. But then that could just be lack of technique on my part although from other reviews about this machine it may be a poorly designed frother. However, this is a minor point in my estimation as the foam is still really good. And any deficiency is partly made up for by the convenience of the double boiler system. Steam is always at the ready.
Kitchen-Aid has dropped the price of this maker to $600 (probably because their original pricing was way too high) Overall, I would have to say that at $600 this machine is worth it.
One Year Followup
I've had the KitchenAid for 13 months now and continue to be extremely happy with it. The machine is used constantly... My wife and I each have a double-shot capuccino each and every morning... On top of that will be the occasional mid-day/or evening drink plus whatever we produce when we have company. In total, we've made over a thousand drinks with it. Our main coffee is Blaser barista d'arte. My grinder is a Rancilio Rocky. We have now fine-tuned our barista skills and the machine makes a wonderful, crema-laden shot without fail. We were in Italy this fall and drank a lot of capuccinos and expressos. Without question the KitchenAid produced drinks that were on par or better than almost anything we had there. There were one or two exceptions, but overall.. our machine and the coffee we used produced superior results. We were also in Germany and Switzerland, where they seem to really like to use the fully automatic machines and I can honestly say that no place we went could touch the coffee the Italians make, and our model KitchenAid produced better results than them all. Given the regular use we make of the machine I can say that I am constantly thankful for it's robust build. There is nothing flimsy at all about it and it easily handles all the rough handling of regular use that I can dish out. For a regular user I think that finding a solidly built machine is critically important. Seeing how some of the cheaper basic consumer espresso makers are built, I wouldn't expect them to last very long. I changed the location of the machine to an open counter and my earlier complaint about the location of the water reservoir no longer applies. Indeed, it is ideally situated for its current location. The only real weakness I have found is the frother. I said this last time and the comment still holds: it is a bit anemic and sometimes struggles a bit with the frothing action - taking a long while at times to produce a nice foam. Purging the boiler does help, but even then it's not perfect. However, the froth produced is still fine and it is a very minor quibble.
Overall, based on my experience, I would not hesitate to recommend this espresso maker to anyone.