If you want a great machine that can make great espresso search no further.
Positive Product Points
Great looking machine Solid build Brass large capacity boiler Commercial size portafilter Great pressure
Negative Product Points
Very poor instruction manual Small drip tray
Previously I purchased a Starbucks Barista (actually a Saeco Via Venezia but it is identical) as a platform from which to launch myself into the world of espresso. This was adequate for pulling very average shots. At the time I thought they were great-mainly due to my total lack of experience. The frothed milk was similar to sea foam and the crema was weak and pale. After looking on the internet I discovered a site called Coffee for Connoisseurs (www.coffeeco.com.au) which supplies and also reviews many machines. My thirst for knowledge was insatiable at this stage so I eagerly read everything I could about the subject of coffee, machines and espresso. The common thread was that the machine I owned was very average and if I wanted to produce good and reproducibly good espresso amd milk based drinks the Saeco would have to go. After much negotiating with my wife, the go ahead was given to sell to Saeco and "upgrade". Her only concern was "It had better be worth it!" After reading various reviews, including those written Alan Frew of Coffee For Connoisseurs, the decision was made. It had to be a Rancilio Silvia. I ordered this online through Alan and the above website and it arrived a week later. If you live in Australia,NZ or Hong Kong I highly recommend using Alan not only for equipment but also beans. His service is second to none and his knowledge is vast. Anyways.....the parcel arrived and I upacked it with great excitement. Much to my delight my wife's first comment when she saw it on the bench next to the Saeco was "Wow, it looks great!". I was somewhat relieved to hear this. I eagerly read through the near useless instruction booklet (luckily Alan included his own instructions and checklist)and fired her up. A momentarily confusing aspect was that the switches are reversed as it has come from Italy. By this I mean that in Australia and New Zealand switches are on when they are down. On the Rancilio down is off. A very minor criticism/observation.
My first espresso was crap as was my second, third fourth and so on. I hopped back on the net and discovered that the grinder I has simply couldn't cut it, so the wallet was opened again and a better one was purchased. Immediately the shots improved. My wife, who loves latte, began comparing them to the coffee she regulary gets from cafes. Before I knew it I had the dark brown "mouse tail" of espresso flowing into the cups. The crema was dark and rich and the aroma was pungent and full of body.
After much trial and error and many kilos of beans I feel now as thought I can reliably pull great shots. I also put a great deal of time and effort into learning how to properly texture milk. The Silvia produces oodles of pressure to heat and texture milk for up to 4 lattes. Any more than this and you run out of puff. As with pulling shots, this takes time, practice and education. I can now produce milk with thick smooth and velvety foam. I am working on latte art but have had very limited success. This is due to my ability not the quality of the machine.
Occasionally I mess it up totally and over tamp, under tamp, over fill and under fill the portafilter but sh%t happens.
What I have found with the Silvia is that unlike the cheapies, everything needs to be good because any deficiencies ie beans, grinder etc will be shown up by the excellence of the machine.
Making good espresso is not easy at first with the Silvia but if you persevere you will soon be pulling shots a great deal better than the mass generated coloured water from the large, chain coffee shops and often better than the smaller boutique cafes.
I highly recommend this machine to anyone who wants to delve into the art of espresso. I personally would tell anyone not to waste their money on the cheapies with alumium boilers, non commercial portafilters and non commercial fittings. You will only very quickly find it's limitations and want to upgrade.
As for the Saeco, it is chugging away at a friends house. He is loves it. All he wants is to be able to generate lots of average espresso easily and with a minimum of fuss. Different strokes for different folks!
Purchased my Rancilio from Alan Frew at Coffee for Connoisseurs (www.coffeeco.com.au) I would highly recommend using him if you live in Australia, NZ or Hong Kong. His service is excellent and could not be faulted. Being an internet retailer his prices are considerably less expensive than any store I found.