Pros: Compact, makes great coffee. Well made. Good sized reservoir.
Cons: A bit noisy when pumping. Steam wand seals tend to be weak.
I won't go into too many details describing this machine, but will go straight into some tips for getting the best out experience out of this Saeco semi-automatic. Learning how to use this machine will reward you with coffee better than any chain, and on par with better coffee shops! Coffee is also way better than any "pod" machine, e.g. Nespresso or Tassimo, and at about 15 cents per shot (vs. up to $1 per shot).
1. YOUR COFFEE
The design of the pressurized portafilter allows for a very forgiving grind, from medium-fine to espresso. While it is still a good idea to get a good grinder (I have an inexpensive Baratza, the Bodum burr grinder is also good), you can get your fresh coffee beans ground at a specialty store at the medium-fine setting. Whatever you do, don't use a blade grinder or a cheap flat-burr grinder.
At the moment I prefer a "full city roast" Sumatra blend (medium-dark) as it tends to be less acidic and has great almost chocolatey flavor. Get fair trade and organic if you can find it. We need to take care of our farmers and the land if we want to be able to keep drinking good coffee in the future!
2. PREPARE THE MACHINE
When you start up the machine and the ready light comes on, it isn't really ready to make a good shot. If you are in a hurry, run some water a few times without coffee to warm up the portafilter. I usually do this once or twice. You can also let the machine sit idle, but it will take about 30 minutes to warm up completely.
3. FROTH YOUR MILK FIRST
Press the steam button and wait for the ready light. Open the steam wand valve to release any water. Immerse the wand into your milk and open the valve. Leave the end of the panarello always in the milk! You will get the best results if you move your frothing mug in a horizontal circle, not up and down. Be patient, it takes a bit of time to get that nice, dense microfoam. I get better results with 1% low fat milk.
4. PREPARE YOUR SHOT
After turning off the steam button, run water through the portafilter until the ready light goes off. This is really important as the water/steam in the boiler is too hot. Put the desired amount of coffee in the portafilter (15 g per cup). With the ready light on, pump your shot.
You are now ready to drink a delicious espresso beverage!
Start by removing the grounds from the portafilter. Use a spoon! Whatever you do, don't bang it out like the baristas do, as the pressure mechanism can get damaged. Replace the portafilter and run some water through the machine. This will make sure that the spouts and mechanism don't get gummed up. Your portafilter will last a long time if you do this every time you make coffee.
Remove the end of the Panarello wand and rinse it out with water under the tap.
Remove the catch tray and rinse it out. It can get pretty stinky if you don't.
Tip: keep the steam wand folded over the catch tray, as it tends to drip.
This is a very low-maintenance machine, but the frequency of descaling will depend on how hard your water is. Generally you can go 3 to 6 months without descaling as the heater element is not directly touching the water in the boiler (great design).
You don't need any fancy descaler... they are all made from citric acid. Either buy citric acid (from your pharmacy) or if you can find it, packets of unsweetened Kool-aid do the trick just fine.
Dissolve 3 packets of (unsweetened! very important) Kool-aid or about 3 tablespoons of citric acid in about a quart of water (directly in the reservoir is fine). Run some water through the machine, and let it sit for a few minutes and run water through again. Repeat about 3 or 4 times. It doesn't hurt to run some water through the wand as well.
At the same time, wash out the reservoir with soap and water. Depending on your water quality, you may want to wash out the reservoir more frequently. Just check once in a while to see if the sides feel slimy (ick). You should also remove the filter tip on the water intake tube and wipe down the tube with soapy water as well.
That's all there is to it! We have had our machine now for over 3 years, and it still runs like new. we hope to keep enjoying this machne for many years to come.