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Starbucks Barista - Eric C's Review
Posted: July 13, 2003, 3:05pm
review rating: 7.8
feedback: (4) comments | read | write
Starbucks Barista
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Arrow The Starbucks Barista has 163 Reviews
Arrow The Starbucks Barista has been rated 8.23 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Starbucks Barista reviews have been viewed 1,008,278 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Bam T 9.50
Carl Lobitz 8.67
Rick Wayne 8.22
Jim Pennington 8.00
Larry Holt 8.00

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 7.2
Manufacturer: Estro Quality: 8
Average Price: $350.00 Usability: 6
Price Paid: $250.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: Starbucks Aesthetics 4
Owned for: 2 months Overall 8
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Cheapo Krups
Bottom Line: Excellent shots with fine grind and preheated portafilter. Great value.
Positive Product Points

Very good value for money. Pressurized portafilter doesn't require tamping, which is convenient. Customer service is always available and well-meaning. Large water tank. Makes hot water quickly. Seattle area repair shop vouches for internals (they can repair).

Negative Product Points

Smoked plastic water tank makes reading water level a little difficult. Not a big deal though since the bottom third of tank isn't visible.

Portafilter handle unnecessarily narrow where it joins body (mine broke).

Detailed Commentary

After 15+ years of making Melitta cone coffee into my cup every morning, I started to taste the paper. After I started to taste it, the pulpy flavor wouldn't go away. I tried a gold filter, but don't like the murky taste that results from having the sediment sit in the cup. Ditto for french press.

Usually once a month I'll go to a good cafe (In seattle: Lighthouse, Zeitgeist, Cherry Street) and order a double espresso, or maybe a double machiatto, and I really enjoyed the taste of these drinks. Anyway, decided to get an espresso machine.

Called Home Espresso Repair (I used to live near them), they make good shots and know what I like. They recommended the Starbucks barista as being easily the best value. Said to wait for it to be on sale for $250. They claim the Saeco internals have hardly changed for 15 years. Also said that any significant upgrade would cost $500 for La Pavoni.

Called starbucks, they were having a sale that weekend. Went and purchased it.

Got home, watched the included video. Followed instructions and found that the damn thing wouldn't prime. I guess I didn't follow the instructions exactly, I waited about 30 seconds before sending the water through the steam wand. This caused vapor lock so the pump wouldn't work. Went through the trouble shooting guide to no avail. Called the store, they said that some machines were really hard to prime. Finally turned the damn thing off and had breakfast without espresso. Few hours later I tried again and pump primed correctly. The machine had just needed to cool.

Made a few shots with it. Result was quite good, strong coffee, but not what I would call good espresso. Made very tasty americanos, but not something that I liked to drink straight. The americanos were a huge improvement from the drip I was making before. The full shot took roughly 15 seconds from button push to 2oz mark. That was with my Starbucks barista grinder set on full fine. What was wrong, my taste buds, my coffee, the machine, the grinder, water, temperature, lunar phase?

Went to Lighthouse a few weeks later and had a double. Wow, tasted fantastic, I want to make me some of that at home. Purchased a bag of their espresso beans (mixture of 2 latin, 1 sumatra, 1 sanani). Went right home, I couldn't make anything even close. My friends all said, "I told you so", but what is going on here? What exactly is wrong with this machine makes it impossible to replicate the coffee from the cafe? We have hall-effect hard-drive heads, out of order execution and register renaming on superscaler processors, and color lcd displays. That stuff is complicated. Why should making coffee be so difficult? Boyle's law? Sheesh.

Went to the store where I purchased the machine. This is an old store, one of the first, and the employees care. He gave me some coffee ground for the machine (and checked with a lupe against some baggy of (maybe ISO) normalized espresso ground beans), and went through the operation with me.

This tasted bad, but I don't like starbucks coffee. I didn't see much difference between his grind and what my home grinder provided.

Called Starbucks, the guy went through the usual QA, and finally told me that the machine was just not going to be able to make the coffee I wanted. Something about the machine needing to be plumbed. This is not what I want to hear.

Went to three different seattle area coffee machine stores. Tried a La Pavoni piston machine, whose operator was able to produce a good shot using my coffee. Tried the Nuovo Simmoneli Oscar, which produced mediocre shots, and a $5000 professional machine which also produced mediocre shots with my beans. That is crap. Indicates that the operator and grind have way more to do with the taste than the machine.

I was all set to get the La Pavoni, even though it was terribly inconvenient. A friend offered that I should adjust my grinder to permit a finer grind. Found the instructions on the internet. Adjusted 2 stops and reassembled without a problem. Coffee was immediatelly awesome, as good as at Lighthouse Coffee House.

Also, I found that pre-heating the portafilter and group head with hot water made a big difference.

Also need to be careful not to let too much water through, about 1.5oz makes the flavor that I am after.

Conclusion: If you aren't getting good shots from the machine play with the grind. With coffee at the correct grind I can getting very good tasting shots with very little trouble. I am now using a very fine grind (almost clumping). Yes the shot has tons of Crema and tiger-stripes, etc, but it also is very forward. I now happily drink the shots straight. Also, friends who don't like coffee like the straight shots that I make with this machine.

Buying Experience

Starbucks has fantastic operation, the employees were enthusiastic and tried to be helpful. Phone help was always there, though didn't find my problem. Appears that the three ring binder at starbucks says the grind should be courser than I prefer. Buy the machine and experiment with grind, shot size until you get something good. Use good beans (try Peets mocha java) to get good flavor.

Three Month Followup

The old Starbucks grinder gave up the ghost and we purchased a closeout Nuova Simonelli Grinta grinder for $150 at Emerald City Espresso (commercial espresso sales). Wonderful to have fine grind control. I usually adjust the grind every 1-2 days. I can't emphasize enough how important the grind is! No kidding, the grinder is as important as the espresso machine. Stay away from Starbuck's grinders! No wonder they are advocating those coffee pellets!

I am still happy with the coffee that is coming out of the machine, but I RENOUNCE the technique that I advocated above. I can get better shots by tamping the coffee, but I've also dropped my usability rating because tamping is a pain. You can make drinkable shots without tamping, but they won't be as full-flavored. $8/lb I will tamp to get the most from each shot.

To tamp the coffee I was previously relying on:
-The perfect amount of coffee in the portafilter
-the closing screw-action of the portafilter
-a shove of the portafilter handle
to cause the filter screen to tamp the coffee. That is ridiculous, I'll could damage the screen, and I eventually broke the handle off my portafilter. Note that I didn't push very hard, I didn't need to hold the machine with the other hand or anything, but the force eventually caused the portafilter handle to break. The handle is stylishly narrowed where it joins the body, and it snapped at the thinest part. I called Starbuck's excellent phone help and described what I was doing and the likely cause, and Starbucks sent me another portafilter kit for free.  "Starbucks Lady" said that she'd never heard of this happening. I can see the new one flexing too, so its only a matter of time until it also breaks.

I have seen the portafilter that ships with the non-starbucks version of this machine, and the handle is much thicker and doesn't taper where it joins the portafilter body, so I think Starbucks made a bad decision weakening the handle so it would fit their fashion template. Fortunately the machine has been made for a long time, so replacement parts are readily available.

I purchased a cheap, undersized plastic tamper, and am now using it to make better shots by pre-tamping the coffee. In a way this is easier since I don't need to be so precise about the quantity of coffee I use, and can get the coffee correct before I attach the portafilter, but it can take a minute to get the coffee correctly compacted. I am thinking of buying a metal tamper since I'm having trouble getting the edges to pack consistantly.

If I could change anything, I'd like a larger-diameter portafilter, this machine can't really make full-sized shots (but the small ones it does make are very good!)

Anyway, a year of near-constant use and still no regrets!

Followup: The plastic tamper was too flexy. I splurged and paid $5 for an aluminum tamper. Good solid tamper edge is important for getting those grounds packed up properly across the puck.

One Year Followup

The old Starbucks grinder gave up the ghost and we purchased a closeout Nuova Simonelli Grinta grinder for $150 at Emerald City Espresso (commercial espresso sales). Wonderful to have fine grind control. I usually adjust the grind every 1-2 days. I can't emphasize enough how important the grind is! No kidding, the grinder is as important as the espresso machine. Stay away from Starbuck's grinders! No wonder they are advocating those coffee pellets!

I am still happy with the coffee that is coming out of the machine, but I RENOUNCE the technique that I advocated above. I can get better shots by tamping the coffee, but I've also dropped my usability rating because tamping is a pain. You can make drinkable shots without tamping, but they won't be as full-flavored. $8/lb I will tamp to get the most from each shot.

To tamp the coffee I was previously relying on:
-The perfect amount of coffee in the portafilter
-the closing screw-action of the portafilter
-a shove of the portafilter handle
to cause the filter screen to tamp the coffee. That is ridiculous, I'll could damage the screen, and I eventually broke the handle off my portafilter. Note that I didn't push very hard, I didn't need to hold the machine with the other hand or anything, but the force eventually caused the portafilter handle to break. The handle is stylishly narrowed where it joins the body, and it snapped at the thinest part. I called Starbuck's excellent phone help and described what I was doing and the likely cause, and Starbucks sent me another portafilter kit for free.  "Starbucks Lady" said that she'd never heard of this happening. I can see the new one flexing too, so its only a matter of time until it also breaks.

I have seen the portafilter that ships with the non-starbucks version of this machine, and the handle is much thicker and doesn't taper where it joins the portafilter body, so I think Starbucks made a bad decision weakening the handle so it would fit their fashion template. Fortunately the machine has been made for a long time, so replacement parts are readily available.

I purchased a cheap, undersized plastic tamper, and am now using it to make better shots by pre-tamping the coffee. In a way this is easier since I don't need to be so precise about the quantity of coffee I use, and can get the coffee correct before I attach the portafilter, but it can take a minute to get the coffee correctly compacted. I am thinking of buying a metal tamper since I'm having trouble getting the edges to pack consistantly.

If I could change anything, I'd like a larger-diameter portafilter, this machine can't really make full-sized shots (but the small ones it does make are very good!)

Anyway, a year of near-constant use and still no regrets!

Followup: The plastic tamper was too flexy. I splurged and paid $5 for an aluminum tamper. Good solid tamper edge is important for getting those grounds packed up properly across the puck.


=============================================
3 Year Followup: Goodbye Barista, you served me well...
---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------

I spent too much time at friends houses, got a taste for the cups that a Silvia, Expobar Office, and now Expobar Brewtus can produce. After 6 months of getting by with what had previously tasted good, I am now the proud owner of an Expobar Brewtus 2. Home espresso has improved by several orders of magnitude, and now equals or exceeds the shots from the best cafes in seattle. I am no longer restricted to drip beans.

Barista has been retired to quiet vacation duty in the San Juans.

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review rating: 7.8
Posted: July 13, 2003, 3:05pm
feedback: (4) comments | read | write
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