1 Store2 Reviews
Pros: Shot options, strength options, push button operation, Compact size, style.
Cons: Water/bean storage requring more frequent refill. Minor, nuisance cleaning spots. Nov 2012 update: brewing noise.
Style = A, Design = B, hopper = B, Water tank = B-, adjustments = A, Cleaning = C, Coffee/Shots = A
We used to have a Starbucks brand espresson machine, the older, manual type where you had to fill, load and draw your own shots and build your custom coffee drink, which used to be latte's. I'm more flexible and will drink drip coffee or custom Americanos, lattes etc. My wife is an iced Americano drinker, period. In-laws drink drip coffee.
After much research, We selected this machine for Style/Design and function.
Style: We wanted something for our limited kitchen counter space. Specifically something that would fit under our upper cabinets when not in direct use. This unit does that. It's compact and can sit back under the upper cabinets even when in use. Ours has stainless front, black tray and sides and is almost cubed in design. We really like it.
Design: It's good, solid and compact but there are trade offs for it. The water storage tank is modest and needs refilled frequently if you pull several shots or cups of drip. The trade off is that the water tank is in front of the unit and can be pulled out (like a drawer), refilled and replaced without moving the machine around. It's direct access. It has an adjustable dispenser to accomodate small shot cups or it raises up to fit a traditional size coffee cup. (not modern day large mugs or coffee shop cups). The front has dark display window where led lights and icons display your selections as well as maintenance issues (such as low water etc.)
The been hopper and grinder are on top and has limited capacity too. But it does a great job of grinding and has an adjustment knob on top to dial in your preferred grind. The beans are more spread out in the hopper. It's not a tank or deep bowl, it's really most of the top of the unit, shallow and covered with a semi-flexible plastic lid. The lid fits snuggly on top covering the beens and grinder. Built in to the top is a "by pass" port where you can put specialty grinds (not beans) in order to draw a separate shot or cup such as decaff or someones personal blend in lieu of using the beans already in the hopper.
Adjustments: In addition to the grinder adjustment, the controls offer adjustments too. The controls are push buttons. One shot or two, three different strengths shots/coffee, one drip cup or two, or by pass for specialty grinds.
Cleaning: After the grind and pour, the used grounds are discharged into a small tank for storage and then disposal. This tank is also located in front, pulls out like a drawer to empty and then slides back it. It fills up and signals "full" after only about 5/6 shots. This tank needs cleand regularly as moist grounds gather at the bottom. Not a big deal.
The fronts of the water and grounds tanks are stainless and get small splatter drops from shots and/or water but not excessively so. There is a tray on which you set the cup or shot glasses on, under the dispenser. This tray requires the most cleaning of all and is the most troublesome.
Tray: Two pieces, the molded black plastic base and the removable chrome top. The top has holes in it where drips/splatters/spills drain into the back base. This black tray is about 1 inche deep and collects water. As I found out, it seems to collect misc. water from the brew process and discharged grounds. This water and some minor coffee grounds/dust accumulate in one branch of the tray directly under the brew group. The tray has a small, noticeable float that rises as water gathers indicating how full it's getting. It can be emptied any time but if it gets very full, you now have a balancing act going on removing the tray and carrying it to the sink to dump without spilling. The tray needs cleaning regularly. If you were to use the machine without the tray in place, it would leak all over the counter.
Brew Group: This is where the grounds are tamped and the water goes through making the coffee. It is a one piece unit, removeable for cleaning and maintenance. Made mostly of hard plastic. The unit itself needs periodic cleaning/rinsing and drying. The compartment for it is located on the right side of the machine. A door opens and the brew group is removed/reinserted. With the brew group out, there are misc coffee grounds that gather on the bottom of the compartment. Overtime, there can be quite a few. It's a bit of a pain to clean these grounds up. A dustbuster is good for the loose grounds, but there are a few more moist grounds left behind. Not terrible, but a nuisance to clean.
Coffee: I'm not an expert on coffee. We both put flavor and/or creamer in ours so it's rare I could tell the difference in true coffee quality. But, all shots and drip pours seem consisent. The shots have the color/layers and crema as expected. But you can draw shot(s), half up of coffee or full cup of coffee. No more brewing a half carafe or full pot and letting it sit or burn with some traditional coffee makers.
Other stuff: We don't really use the steam wand. I have and it works .... like a steam wand, nothing unusual here.
After three months, our unit leaked all over the counter, a couple times. I was not happy. After 6 months, it stopped working. Not happy. I called service who walked me through a couple self-help steps without success. I sent it back for warranty repair: $36 shipping each way so $72 total. It was returned as promised so all in all gone for a couple months. A long list of repair parts and it seems to work just fine. I don't generally deduct "points", "stars" or grades from a product if it malfunctions a first time. So, I'm still pleased with this product.
Update Nov 20, 2012: Still working well! we use it daily for both of us. Note: This is NOT a quiet machine. When you first turn it on, it primes itself with maybe a 20 second medium-low droning pump sound, then when you draw the cup or shot, it first makes a 10+second higher pitched grinding sound; next it draws the cup/shot with another pumping sound, finally a short mechanical sound as it dumps the used grounds into their waste tank.
So, if you get up early in the morning and want to have a quiet cup by yourself or surprise your partner with a cup, be aware that the who process is a loud one. I have found myself missing the more traditional, coffee brewing process that's quieter and tends to have a growing coffee aroma versus the loud, quicker coffee shots.
Update: Dec 17, 2013: Still going without worry. Sometimes, there is an error light when all things seem fine: water level, used grinds empty, beans full. It usually clears if I pull & replace the used grounds bin and/or open/close the housing door. Simple enough.
We use this thing every day, drawing at least 8-10 shots every day, epmtying, refilling. The "descale" light does come on and I descale it shortly after the light appears. Cleaning the brew group housing is my least favorite. Loose grounds, wet grounds gather at the bottom of this area. I end up using the vacuum cleaner attachement to get most of it, the wet paper towel. Just not much fun.
And, I'm really starting to miss the quiet, gentle grew of a carafe of coffee where the aroma fills the room/house. Definitely a by-gone thing. We use a Keurig and k-cups at work and it's similarly non-charming but quieter than the semi-automatic. But, this has been a reilable and consistent coffee making machine!