I have read many, many times, that until I invested in a good quality burr grinder, and a good quality tamper, (along with recently roasted and quality beans), ...and practice, practice, practice...that the best I could hope for was moderate success with my La Pavoni Europiccola. I did not truly understand how important and correct this advice is...
I have done tons of research pre and post purchase on each of these items, and because of budget, started with just the espresso machine, then gradually added all of the additional parts as time and money allowed. I took commonly given advice and "practiced" with Illy pre-ground medium roast espresso grind, working on my technique with the espresso machine itself, pending my eventual purchase of quality burr grinder, tamper, and other miscellaneous accessories. As most of you can imagine, I had some success with the pre-ground, all the while accepting that all of this would change drastically for the better, once I could get a burr grinder and tamper.
I had to decide between the Ascaso I-Mini and the Rancilio Rocky, and though there are fantastic reviews on the Rocky, I decided to go with the I-Mini because (1) initial cost is about $70.00 USD cheaper, (2) the I-Mini is relatively new to the market (though the company has been around for years) whereas the Rancilio Rocky model (not Rancilio the company) has been around since the nineties, (3) the Ascaso has a stepless grind adjustment, while the Rocky has 55 stepped settings, (4) the machine uses a conical burr design, and finally (5) I personally think the Ascaso is more aesthetically beautiful than the Rancilio.
I spent about 30-45 minutes slowly adjusting the grind, using beans from a local, but very good purveyor and roaster of coffee beans (The Spice Merchant in Wichita). I took some advice and used the fineness of the grind of the Illy as a rough guide for an initial starting point, then fine tuned it from there, after drawing a shot or two between successive adjustments to the grind. It took me a while, and a good bit of determination, but I finally have the Ascaso set to a very good grind for the Pavoni.
The weight and construction of the actual grinder are heavy and solid, and I can't imagine that given the appropriate care and cleaning, that the grinder would eventually break down because of poor build and craftsmanship. Its true that the hopper is clear acrylic or plastic, and a lot of people complain that that is a cheap characteristic, but mine appears to be very sturdy and definitely fits into the grinder very solidly. I'm one of those types of people that doesn't mind spending the extra money on quality products, but I also take care of them once I purchase them.
My intent is to use the grinder solely for espresso, so I don't have to worry excessively about changing the grind setting from day to day, except for an occasional adjustment for humidity. If you plan on using the grinder for several different coffee preparation methods, I can see how you might dislike all of the grind adjustments.
Aesthetically, I don't think I have seen many other grinders in the 200-500 USD price range that look nicer sitting out on a counter in a kitchen.
Though I am positive that the Rancilio Rocky is a great machine, and that the Mazzer Mini is even better, I must truly recommend this Ascaso I-Mini as a wonderful alternative to other burr grinders in its price class.
The most minor consideration for me was a preference for a conical burr grinder over a flat burr grinder. This Ascaso I-Mini has a conical burr design, whereas the Rancilio Rocky has a flat burr design.
As a last note, I will ashamedly admit to the problem of trying to "make do" with the plastic, ill-fitting, "toy" tamper that the Pavoni and many other machines come with. I did this only awaiting a decision on, the order of and eventual arrival of a good quality stainless steel tamper from EPNW. I did the best I could with the plastic tamper, but obviously, I was consigned to mediocrity from the very beginning.
Now that I have at least a basic set-up of tools, and am ever-improving technique through research and practice, my espresso is by far, worlds better than anything I have ever bought at a commercial coffee bar. I appreciate all of the help from fellow contributors, bloggers, and reviewers. In this case, specifically for the Ascaso, I-Mini, I got great advice from this website and thankfully no buyer's remorse whatsoever.