This makes good (indeed very good) espresso so easily accessable that the coffee religion may suffer for it. Buyer beware!
Positive Product Points
There are two approaches to being a serious coffee lover. The enjoyment of the well prepared beverage and the passionate involvement with the coffee religion. I've followed both paths in the past, and likely will again in the future.
The Starbucks Barista is made to totally satisfy the first of the two while at best keeping the conscience free for those persueing the latter. In a few words it is a practical espresso machine that is both esthetically and mechanically pleasing. It consistantly makes very good espresso. It is not a shrine.
Negative Product Points
The Barista is like a sports car with a well designed automatic transmission. It gets you where you are going with style and panache, but asks little from you in return. That is both its strength and its weakness.
The quality of the Barista is immediately apparent. Its weight speaks of solid construction and heavy-duty mechanicals. The stainless steel is not there as a facade or a fashion statement. It is fundemental to the construction of the device. The weight and fit of the portafilter components. too, speak of high build quality. Switches have the solid feel that one looks for in a fine automobile or motorcycle. That it is Italian is obvious from the way the esthetics are based on design, not decoration.
The machine makes a very fine espresso, with a good, thick, and lasting crema. The fact that it does so so effortlessly -- even with pre-packed and tamped "pods" (shudder) -- is almost offensive. (Shouldn't we have to work for our reward? What would our puritan ancestors have said?) Yet, for those of us who love good espresso and/or espresso based drinks, and who wish to have them as a simple part of everyday living, this machine is a boon. The fact that it makes such a fine cup without the skills (and joys) of mastering an art, though, removes the mystery and thus, possibly for some some, the joy of the drink.
There are some small deficiencies in the Barista's design which make it, even from a purely practical POV, less than "perfect." The water tank, for instance, can be easily filled from above, but to drain it and start with fresh water requires removing the multi-part drip tray/storage unit which seems unneccasarily cumbersome. Too, the repeated need to purge and prime the pump, while not difficult, seems out of place for what is obviously designed to be an upscale consumer item.
I have had coffee from a Barista that was made with both Strarbucks pods and fresh ground coffee. Both were (I am almost fearful to say) equally good. (Again, shudder) Even the decaf version of the pods make very good tasting espresso, although, to this reviewer that seems a bit like coitus interuptus.
Starbucks website is well designed and painless. The brochure that comes with the machine promises complete service either via their 800 number or through any Starbucks shop. Assuming they mean it (and other reviewers here say they do) that is pretty good!