Easy to use, very high-quality parts and controls, water level in tank visible from front, tank refillable by either removing it or via top-mounted funnel, extremely durable.
Negative Product Points
Built-in grinder/doser (I have the original Estro Profi sold by Starbucks) cakes the grounds due to design of dose measurer.
After a number of machines from steam-driven to pump, Italian to Swiss I've discovered that good espresso has very little to do with the machine. The only important parameter in the machine itself is that it be pump, not steam driven. What it has a lot to do with are the following, in order of importance:
Skill of barista,
Freshness of roast,
Bean quality and type,
You can spend zillions on a fancy machine and if your beans are 6-week old Starbucks French Roast your coffee will suck. You can take the cheapest pump machine, however (like my $99 DeLonghi) and produce wonderful espresso given properly ground and freshly-roasted beans from a good blend.
Of course, we all love our gadgets, which is why my old faithful Estro will soon be replaced by a WEGA rotary. But that's for another review.
Anyway, this machine is not the one pictured. It's the Estro Profi, one of the first sold by Starbucks. It has a built-in grinder/doser mechanism, a drawer for small accessories (mainly screens), a removable drip tray and a small and useless knock-box. This machine was in a small espresso shop as their primary machine for two years before I obtained it. It saw a lot of hard use prior to my obtaining it and more once I got it - I drink a lot of espresso and my wife absolutely loves Americanos. We pull at least 6 and more like 8-10 shots a day from it.
The machine is nearly all steel, with a steel frame and polished steel cover. The drip tray is plastic with a perforated steel cover. It is very easily removed and emptied, but it is very small. Beneath the drip tray is a drawer for small accessories. One very cool thing about this drawer is that you can remove the drip tray and the drip tray cover will fit on the drawer, giving you more clearance for your cups.
The machine contains a large water reservoir. The reservoir is visible from the front during operation so you can see how much water you have remaining. You can remove the reservoir for filling, or you can simply pour water in through a door on top of the machine.
The device is powered by the standard Ulka vibration pump, which seems to work fine and produces ample pressure. The portafilters are "pressurized," meaning that you can close or open a valve in them by rotating the handle about 1/6 turn to the left (for open) after the filter has been seated in the brewhead. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not "enhance crema," nor does it cause your shots to be any less delicious than they would be without this feature. All it does for you is allow you to preinfuse the coffee and build up pressure behind the water charge before releasing it. If you rotate the handle back from the locked position to the open postion prior to starting the water flow, the handle will act very similarly to one that is not "pressurized." But bad beans or a bad grind will not produce crema in this "crema-enhancing" portafilter no matter how much you wiggle the handle.
There are four buttons on the front of the machine. The left-most is the main power switch which must be engaged to cause anything else to happen. Powering on starts the heating element in the boiler. There is a single green light on the front of the machine which will come on when the water in the boiler has reached brewing temperature. The next button to the right of the power switch is the brew switch. Next is the steam button - this is a single-boiler non-heat-exchanger machine, so for steam you must stop brewing and bring the water in the boiler up to steaming pressure. Hence the steam switch. The final button is to engage the grinder - more on this later.
Each of these buttons has a mechanical indicator built in so that you can see if they are engaged.
Steaming with the Estro... this device will steam up a pot of milk and create microfoam, but you have to be very skilled and patient. It takes nearly a minute and a half to steam up 6 oz of milk to 140 degrees. The nozzle has a single opening and once steam pressure is reached (after pressing the steam button and waiting until the green light comes back on) the machine has plenty of steam. But it's not delivered in the enormous volume one will get from the larger "semi-pro" espresso machines.
The pump is not self-priming, so after powering up or when cooling down from steaming, you need to run the pump by either opening the water valve or running the brewhead to ensure that your boiler is full. Also, if you like to leave it on as I do, open the water valve every so often to ensure that the boiler is full.
The water valve is a knob protruding from the left side of the machine. Opening it a little way will deliver hot water under boiler pressure, open it a little farther and the pump will engage and drive the hot water out of the nozzle. If you engage the steam switch, this knob is your steam valve. During steaming, the motor will not be engaged. The steam wand/hot water wand is chromed brass with a single-hole nozzle.
The grinder is a nice burr grinder with micro-metrical adjustment. The grinder hopper has 12 marks for grind adjustment and it makes clicks when you adjust it, but you can stop in-between clicks if you like. The threads on the grinder upper burr mount that move the burr up and down when you turn the hopper are tight enough that you don't have to worry about the machine changing grind settings due to vibration. The burrs are easily accessed by unscrewing the hopper all the way - the brass carrier with the threads and the top burr will come out and the grinding chamber and bottom burr are exposed for cleaning or maintenance. This grinder feeds into a complex mechanism that meters coffee via a small metal container, counterweight and microswitch. When a "dose" piles up against the counterweight and moves it against the microswitch, the grinder automatically shuts off. Pressing the portafilter into a fork beneath this hopper will engage a solenoid that will dump the coffee dose into the portafilter, and the grinder will then begin preparing another "dose." Note that all this only occurs if one has engaged the "grind" button on the front of the machine.
This all sounds like paradise, but in practice this grinder/doser has a severe problem. Although the grinder produces wonderfully consistent espresso grind in a nice variety of fineness, the mechanism that requires the coffee to pile up against a metal door forces the grinder to "pack" the coffee. If you use coffee that is roasted to any degree of darkness where there is oil on the beans, the coffee will pack into clods and clumps, some of which are quite hard. These are very difficult to break up and are a pain in the portafilter, where they never really absorb water. This leads to an inconsistent cup. I purchased a Mazzer Mini and avoided this problem altogether, but the intrepid and mechanical with time on their hands should probably simply remove the doser assembly and replace it with a chute or funnel. If this is done, the grinder would probably be regarded as sufficient, if not superior in quality.
Anyway - I love this machine. I will soon be replacing it just because I can, but it has functioned just fine for me and I imagine that it has many more years of life left. Look for it on Ebay soon if you're interested.
Well, I bought it from my ex, so you don't want to know. ;)
Three Month Followup
After many many years of faithful service the brewhead started leaking around the filter basket. An examination showed the main gasket in the brewhead to have become hard as plastic. I called Starbucks and not only were they amazingly kind, knowledgeable and professional, they simply refused to allow me to pay for a new gasket. They shipped it to me for free!
It was difficult to remove the old one, as it had become so hard. I had to basically pull it out in little V-shaped chunks the size of the tip of my favorite needle-nose pliers. Once I got it all out, the new gasket went in easy as pie - and now all is good.
I still love this machine.
I know I've stated many times that I will be ditching it "soon" for a new WEGA, but my wife always finds a reason that I can't afford it. But I swear - new WEGA soon. When I finally do it, though, I will miss this Estro... it has really done a great job. Easily worth twice the price.
One Year Followup
Wow - it's been a year? Time flies. Well, I did it - I finally ditched it (sold it back to the ex, believe it or not!) for a WEGA, not new but commercial. Anyway, for the money I still think the Profi was a great little machine. I stand by my previous comments about both the machine and Starbucks. Their coffee may be burnt, but they are awesome at customer service.