First: if I pan this machine, it's *my* fault, not the machine's. My taste buds are just weird. In truth, this review will be useless to 99% of Americans. I am from Puerto Rico, and don't know much about the fancy terms bandied about here. I'm not a coffee snob. I simply grew up drinking a certain beverage, and have never found that beverage anywhere since moving to the States. I can't drink what passes for "coffee" here. Since 1994 I've had a Krups Maximo 863, and that has made pretty good coffee for my tastes (using beans from Cafe Campo Rey in Lares, PR). My American friends won't drink it, though -- they'll call it 'tar'.
In early December 2004, after much research and study, I bought a Starbucks Italia Digital. Exactly seven days later, I returned it.
It's a beautiful machine. It's friendly, simple, easy to use, well designed. It just doesn't produce what I call coffee. The resulting beverage is not bad: it's smooth, delicate and moderately tasty... it's just not what I had expected.
The first problem is strength: it's just not very strong. I think this is because of the grounds holder: my Krups has a little cup called a "double", which holds 16 grams of grounds. The Italia holds a constant 8 grams, half of what I'm used to. However, even if I reduce the amount of water, the brew is still not very strong. I don't know why. It has an interesting flavor, but is kind of ephemeral - it doesn't grab my attention, and the taste doesn't linger for a half-hour like the stuff I'm used to.
Second, the brew is not hot. It feels lukewarm. A few tests showed that my Krups produces coffee at about 146 degrees F, but the output of the Italia is only 126-132. I drink it black and straight, no milk or froth or froofroo. I don't use (nor did I know about) cup warmers, and don't plan to. It's just not my thing. I want a cup of coffee, not a "coffee experience". So temperature is a pretty big concern.
The Starbucks Hotline was amazingly helpful. They were concerned, they went over the settings with me (yes I had RTFM'ed), gave me good tests to run and things to check. We spent more than one hour in the course of two phone calls. In the end, they admitted that this just might not be the machine for me. I am grateful for their support and help, and if they had a strong-coffee-making machine I would buy it in a heartbeat. These people stand by their product, and I wish I could reward that.
I like the machine. I like the concept. I like the ease of use. (I don't like weekly cleanings -- I'm more used to every-few-months :-). I like everything except the coffee. And once again, that is *my* fault. I can and will gladly recommend this machine (and Starbucks support) to Americans.