Not just another small appliance purchase; it is the opening to a whole new coffee universe
Positive Product Points
Elegent design, solid craftsmanship, simple and reliable machine. Allows the brewer most control over the brewing process. Requires attention by the user. For those simply seeking high quality espresso and are willing to learn about coffee and the brewing process.
Negative Product Points
The Europiccola takes time, coffee, practice, and possibly a lever espresso machine mentor, before you cultivate the skill of making a consistantly great cup of coffee. It takes commitment and practice to learn how to put together the variables of grind, tamp, and pull.
Am a realtive novice to espresso making (if you call my old $39 Melitta an espresso maker). After two weeks it is fair to say that my Europiccola and I are still getting "acquainted" with each other. The Europiccola is definately Italian in design and simplicity. It produces a marvelous cup of espresso by letting the brewer have considerable control in the "brewing" process. This is also the challenge: to learn the techique and art that allows you to pull a marvelous cup consistently. In this sense, purchasing a lever espresso maker is not just a consumer purchase; it is a lifestyle choice. It is for the person who appreciates artisan foods, products, traditions, and the variability in quality that comes with learning curve of how to make exceptional espresso. The difference is like getting your baguette from your local artisan baker and eating W_nderbread (oooops, probably a tradmark violation). It's easy to appreciate the art and skill that goes into an artisan product and to be underwhelmed by the bland but consistent taste of a mass produced product.
I have been using this machine for two weeks now, and am beginning to zone in on pulling a consistently good shot of espresso (not quite a great shot, but we all have to have some goals). My learning curve has been accelerated thanks to the mentorship of a local coffee roaster I "met" at www.home-barista.com, and who was kind enough to provide private demonstration at his roastery. So far I've learned about the importance of good, fresh coffee, finding the right grind setting combined with the proper tamp, and the proper "pull" to product a sweet, well-balanced shot with the proper creama. Am still learning the techiques for producing the perfect microfoam. This particular machine does require patiance and good observation skills. It has also cost nearly a pound of "practice" coffee.
Some of my early mistakes included grinding way too fine, tamping too hard, and choking the PF, or even worse, pulling too hard popping the O-ring off of the shower head in the group. This machine will take a less fine grind than other pump machines. Another mistake I made was overfilling the basket thus having it stick to the shower head. In compensating for overfilling, I've underfilled the basket making an absolutely horrible shot. At first to limit the variables, I thought I'd simply use a high quality pre-ground coffee (I reasoned that if the grind was the same, then I could concentrate on various tamp levels and pulls). I didn't expect much creama since I was using older roasted coffee. Now I realized that changing the grind level was a big part of zeroing in on the right combination of grind and tamp.
A few other points to consider. The Europiccola might not be the best machine if you leave your preschool aged children alone in the kitchen. The boiler and other parts do get hot. It does take more time to prepare a shot than the high end do-everything-for-you type machines. If you are always in a hurry, running late in the moring, this machine will probably have you stopping at a St_rbucks drive-thru. It is a little messier that self-contained machines, especially if you grind your own beans. The mess has lessen considerably as I get more accustomed to a new morning "ritual." The chrome does take some attention to regularly cleaning as well. As to creama problem (or the lack thereof) reported by some, I have not had any problems, especially since I buy my beans from a local roaster in small quantities. I suspect that older beans will produce a less satisfying creama then the fresh beans I've been using. Also, the little plastic tamper that comes with the machine is pretty useless. I will eventually have to invest in a 51 mm tamper sometime (ok, my wife has officially classified my coffee pruchases as a hobby, not just another appliance purchase). There is an automatic foamer that came with my machine, but I haven't tried it yet. I'm going to keep trying to master the art of microfoam making (thanks to the suggestions in lever machine forum on www.coffeegeek.com and www.home-barista.com).
Finally, what I discovered these past two weeks is that there is an entirely new coffee universe out there, and purchasing a lever espresso machine is either your first step towards "first contact" with intelligent life, or the twlight zone, depending on how much effort you're willing to put into learning the art.
Purchase on line form EspressoPeople.com, but after initial email confirmation of order all further shipping communications came via AabreeCoffee.com (listing the same produce at a higher price). This resulted in a quick call to EspressoPeople customer service (though I had to search the site abit for a phone number) who clarified the shipping process and my concerns about the different product pricing. Arrived well packed and on time.
Three Month Followup
Have use the Europiccola for 6+ months and still love it. My mistake was purchasing Infinity's Capresso coffee grinder. It was the reason I was having difficulty pulling a shot. Fortunately the grinder broke (ok, trying to get Infinity to honor its warrenty is another matter) and I now use a Solis Maestro which has made all the difference in the world. My earlier comments about not taking a fine grind were wrong. It will take a fine grind, the problem was with the fine grind setting of by first grinder. With fresh beans, consisted grind, I have been able to find the right tamp for consistently fine espresso. Even with stale beans and the right grind, the Europiccola produces great creama and has plenty of steam to froth milk to the right consistency for latte art. If you like the art and ritual of coffee, this is a terrific machine. I'm sorry I had to learn the hard way how important having a quality conical burr grinder is. Would buy this product again in a NY minute. Infinity's Capresso is another matter. I cannot recommend it too highly.