A solid performer for the home, functional and easy to use.
Positive Product Points
The little Barista made 2 or more espresso drinks a day for four years with only a minor mechanical problem. The problem was fixed with 1 (toll free!) phone call to the help line number printed right on the reservoir. For a small, inexpensive machine, it makes a darned good shot.
Negative Product Points
The portafilter is one of those spring loaded things. I never did figure out why. The only way to get crema was with a good old fashioned tamp. Pulling a good shot required using more coffee than recommended by either the experts or the manufacturer. Because of this, the shots tended to be just slightly more bitter than the better shots I've had. The machine did leak just a bit from the steam wand and the group head. There is no solenoid valve to release pressure at the group head.
Considering the price, this may have been the best investment I have ever made in a coffee machine. The Barista is a trooper that does its job day after day with nary a whimper.
The machine, although small, has decent weight and a steady base. The reservoir is filled through a flip up door on the top of the machine and is relatively easy to fill. The reservoir can easily be removed for cleaning. The drip trap slides in and out easily and has decent volume. Underneath the drip tray is a small drawer where you can put your pod adapter and leave it there forever ;^). The controls are very easy to operate. The steam wand swivels both horizontally and vertically so steaming is easy in just about any container.
You have to prime the machine by running water through the steam wand and through the group head. Unless you've had a self-priming machine in the past, you won't know that this is a pain in the rear. With a slight overload of the double filter basket and a very firm tamp, you can get a decent shot of thick espresso with a fine head of crema, assuming you use fresh coffee ground properly of course. One thing the Barista does have going for it is that it doesn't use a "frothing aid" or other such gimmick. As a result you can produce decent micro-foamed milk once you learn the technique.
Cleaning up after brewing is a matter of wiping down the steam wand and running a bit of water through the group head, then wiping it with a towel. Every so often, you can clean and descale the water lines by mixing up some Cleancaf or similar product in the reservoir then running it through the steam wand and group head. The lack of solenoid valve means you can't backflush the machine. Periodically you must remove the dispersion screen and wipe that out as well.
Overall, the machine is an attractive, functional unit that has performed very well for several years. Given the same circumstances, I would buy it again and have, in fact, recommended it to several friends.
Say what you will about Starbucks, they are everywhere and usually have the machine in stock. Buying was painless and I went from my front door to theirs and back to mine within an hour. I can't speak highly enough of my experience with the consumer helpline. They were able to talk me through a self-repair on the one and only thing that went wrong over four years. No repackaging, no shipping back, no hassles.
Three Month Followup
Not a three month follow-up, but a comment after six months+ with a better quality machine (Pasquini Livia). The crema enhancing portafilter sucks, really. What I thought was a decent shot is really just bitter swill. I need to find a non-pressurized replacment filter and try the machine again. Until then I am revising my rating downward.