First, let's settle what the Cuisinart EM-200 isn't. It isn't a professional espresso machine that would satisfy the most demanding purist. What it is however, is a very good consumer machine that is attractive enough to leave on the counter and produces espresso good enough for most espresso fans.
Recommend this product?
First, let's talk about pricing. The EM-200 retails for around $500, but that's a tough price-point, since if you add $50-$100 to that, you get in the territory of some exceptional home machines . . . however, if you find the EM-200 at a price that begins with a "3", it is in my opinion much better than the typical machine selling for under $400.
It's a great design, clean and modern but it still looks like a classic espresso machine, which I like. The build quality is very good; all stainless, the portafilter is sturdy (for this price range), everything fits together nicely, and the machine exudes sturdiness. The one problem with the machine's build quality is the plastic knob that controls the steam wand for frothing milk (which we'll address later). Why Cuisinart stuck a very flimsy plastic knob on an otherwise sturdy machine, I'll never know. One other minor shortcoming with the design/build, is that there is very little clearance between the portafilter (where the espresso comes out) and the bottom tray, so you have to "pull" your shots into smaller glasses (not crazy small mind you, but many mugs, latte cups, and larger cappuccino cups might not fit.
Operation could not be simpler. There's a large, easy to fill water resevoir. You fill the portafilter with coffee grounds, then hit one of three buttons (depending on how much coffee you put in), a single shot, a double shot, or the "manual" button that lets you control the length of your shot. The machine also lets you program a shot lengthin, but to be honest I haven't seen the need to monkey with that.
The machine uses a pump to drive pressure (that's what you hear when you turn it on), as well as a "pressurized" portafilter. Many espresso fanatics hate this pressurized filter, as it is seen as a crema enhancer or even something that makes false crema. While this might be true, here are my observations as it pertains to the EM-200. First, I am able to use a fairly fine grind and hard tamp without plugging the filter at all. Second, there is a significant difference in the amount and quality of the resulting crema when I use freshly roasted and ground espresso beans versus just throwing in some stale pre-ground junk coffee. Finally, I haven't noticed any detrioration in the actual espresso. It tastes as good as any standard home machine I've tried. So in the end, if the machine cheats a little so that there's some forgiveness for the home barrista in terms of coffee quality and tamping skill, it isn't the end of the world.
Like any other espresso machine, you have to experiment with your grind and tamping. I found that if I didn't use a sufficiently fine ground (surprising for a home machine with a pressurized portafilter) and firm tamp, that espresso would shoot out of the top of the portafilter. It would still make it's way to the cup, but it wasn't pretty. Too fine a grind will choke the machine, but I've been impressed with how fine it has to be for that to happen. Cuisinart supplies you with a plastic flat tamp/scoop; cheap but effective.
The EM-200does tend to drip a bit much after you're done or when you're switching from espresso to milk frothing, but there's a decent sized drip-tray. Also, when the machine was very new, there was a lot of steam coming up from the drip tray area, but that seems to have tapered off.
The frothing function is fine, not great, not horrible, just "fine". Froth FIRST, as it takes a while to switch from espresso to milk-frothing (the machine in general takes a long time to warm up and build pressure, but what do you expect from such a small package?). The wand moves sufficiently, builds average steam, and can be used as a very handy hot water dispenser. The knob that controls the steam is horrible; it's flimsy and sometimes even fails to click all the way back to "off". I'm just waiting for it to bust. Fortunately, Cuisinart slapped a very generous warranty on this machine (for a kitchen electronic) of three years.
The EM-200 is also easy to clean, although I would have liked to be able to take more apart to clean or service it (replace gaskets) easily.
All in all, a very good machine for the street price, and one that you could use to competently serve espresso or cappucino to the most demanding of dinner guests. I probably use it three or more times a day, and it has been doing just fine.