Excellent machine, very durable, easy to break-down for cleaning and repair
Positive Product Points
Usability, Repairability, Looks, Quality of Craftsmanship.
Negative Product Points
Somewhat loud on pump starp-up, if water tubing is empty steam valve needs to be open for the pump to able to start. Portafilter has somewhat complex mechanics, coffee sticks to it.
I friend of mine gave me this one once he "upgraded" to an automatic, thinking that this one is broken. This was in 2005, and I have been using it daily, ~2-3espressos/day, ever since.
MY RULES that I have created over the years for perfect espresso: 1) Extra Dark Coffee: taste better, less caffeine but not sour 2) Use ONLY - Distilled, Deionized or Reverse-Osmosis water: does not impart taste due to dissolved solids, keeps pump clean. 3) Ground Coffee Beans just prior consumption: prevents oxidation of coffee and therefore reduces sourness/acidity. 4) Keep beans in Freezer: grinding the beans heats the coffee and depending on how long it could get quite hot and oxidize it (sour). Frozen beans gives more time to ground-down the bean without overheating them. 5) Burr-Grinders do not give fine enough grounds. Regular grinders give more precise grinds if shaken during the grinding. If grinding start clumping too much yet there are still large particle, break apart with a tea-spoon then continue grinding. Depending on sharpness of blade, geometry of grind chamber my preference are 45sec-60sec for dark-roasts, 60sec-90sec for light roasts. 6) CLEAN CLEAN the components which are exposes to the path where coffee comes in contact with: there will be a heavy buildup of oily coffee deposits, really difficult to scrub-off. Deposits impart sourness to coffee. 7) Buy only Fresh Roasted coffee: No matter how good the brand of coffee is, it oxidizes even in sealed containers, WholeFoods usually roast coffee at least once a week. 8) Determine freshness/taste: I chew about 2-3 beans before I buy and wait to see what aftertaste it leaves in my mouth. FYI: Chewing coffee beans is easy with dark roasts but almost impossible with light roasts. 9) Pressing the coffee grounds: I use as tight as possible tamper as the portafilter container, and press as hard as possible. 10) Ground size: I prefer powder size... finer even then turkish-coffee-ground store grinder, if too fine do not press as much, even 15 atmosphere are not enought. If you get no or very slow drips 1drop/10sec do not press as hard. 11) Brew Time: use combination of ground-size and pressing the grounds so as complete brew time is no more then 30sec, oxidizes the coffee and sours the taste. 12) Good coffee could be super strong yet not sour enough to be able to be consumed without addition of sugar and/or milk.
What I have done to it: I have replaced the plastic steam 90degree tubing connector, broken apart the pump and polished it with toothpaste, added foil-faced foam under the top cover to reduce noise, disassembled the portafilter 3-4 times for cleaning, disassembled the boiler's bottom plate (where the portafilter mounts to) for cleaning, replaced bolts of portafilter ones which connect the plastic handle to the aluminum body, Broken apart the brass seal element for the steam output due to leaking out of the steam valve.
Issues I have found with it: Portafilter has a somewhat complex mechanism and a lot of coffee sticks to the plastic insides possibly souring the coffee. Portafilter body is aluminum and the bolts needed to the replaced with larger diameter ones since the grooves have had worned out. Portafilter handle is hollow and has opening to where the coffee comes out of the chamber so coffee can get stuck there a give an stale smell. The portafilter gives me the most gripes about this machine but that does not diminish my liking for this espresso machine. Since some parts of the plastic mechanism for controlling the pressure release has broken, I control the pressure by varying the grounding of the coffee and/or how strongly I press with the tamper. Since I have lost the tiny spring which opens the pinhole opening inside the portafilter, pressure varies everytime, I love extremely strong espresso (puddles of coffee oil on surface) the brass-to-brass sealing of the steam output valve for the steamer drips a bit 1-3drop/sec. The inherent High pressure of the pump-espesso machines causes coffee to go everywhere and stick to many components.
My motto is "S****'s Infamous Espresso: Many have tried it, some have NOT survived it"