This is my 4th cheap steam espresso maker in the last 15 years. The others have all been Mr Coffee (2 different models) with varying degrees of success, but unfortunately they no longer make the model that lasted the longest (7 years) and the current reviews of the new Mr...
This is my 4th cheap steam espresso maker in the last 15 years. The others have all been Mr Coffee (2 different models) with varying degrees of success, but unfortunately they no longer make the model that lasted the longest (7 years) and the current reviews of the new Mr Coffee models are pretty bad so I thought I''d try a Bella this time.
So far it''s a mixed bag. The manual says to run plain water through it 2 times before brewing - I ran 5 through it including one primarily through the steamer/frother and did not notice any plastic or metallic smells like some have reported. The carafe is almost identical to the ones that came with the Mr Coffee makers I''ve used, with two big improvements: the top snaps on (I burned my thumb several times on the old ones trying to hold the lid on while pouring the coffee) and this one does not drip at the lip like the Mr Coffee carafes all did. The width of the included tamper fits the coffee basket perfectly (unlike the Mr Coffee brewers) so you can evenly tamp it down, but it''s not deep enough to reach a single serving of coffee. Not a problem for me as I never use less than a full basket of coffee - otherwise it''s too weak. The other end of the tamper is a spoon for measuring the coffee.
On to brewing... I was pleasantly surprised with the end result - the espresso had a nice oily appearance with a tan colored foam at the top. It''s not crema, but what do you expect for the price. I used ground Starbucks French Roast (dark) coffee, the kind you find in the bag at the supermarket, and was also surprised at the flavor - there were some subtleties that I had never tasted using the old Mr Coffee or the automatic drip maker. All in all, a good cup of coffee. The steam wand actually heated the milk faster than the old Mr Coffee machines, and the plastic frother worked surprisingly well, giving a good foamy head to the milk. Just like on all the Mr Coffee machines, the steam wand is too short and too close to the maker, but if you use a smaller pitcher and hold it at an angle, it will work. There''s a plastic pressure button on the top of the maker that pops up when pressure is high. At first I thought it was a gimmick, but I found that if you try to steam the milk before the button is fully extended, you''ll get hot water in your milk instead of steam, so it does serve a useful purpose. Too bad the manual doesn''t mention that.
Now for the bad side. First the manual includes the following ''Plasticizer Warning'': " CAUTION: To prevent plasticizers from migrating to the finish of the counter top or table top or other furniture, place non-plastic containers or place mats between the appliance and the finish of the counter top. Failure to do so may cause the finish to darken. Permanent blemishes may occur or stains can appear." This makes me wonder if those same plasticizers can also migrate into my coffee or milk, which doesn''t sound like it would be very good for your health. Second problem, and it''s big, is the cheap switch. This is a very poorly made switch, and I suspect it will sooner or later be the point of failure. You need to turn it very gently (the manual even says so), but when I turn mine until it clicks in the On position, the machine does not turn on. I have to very gently turn it a little further to make it work as indicated by the amber light. Not good. I also had a very hard time removing the plastic frother from the steam wand - you just have to pull straight down with brute force. I prefer latte to cappuccino, and all other cheap steam espresso makers I''ve used say to take the plastic frother off for just steam. The manual doesn''t mention it other than to say wipe the outside with a clean cloth after use, but it HAS to come off for cleaning, otherwise it will quickly fill with dried stale milk residue. Finally the overall sloppy quality is demonstrated by a proofreader''s comment being left in the manual - I''ll leave it to you to discover it.
Bottom line: I don''t think anyone would expect Starbucks quality espresso from a machine as inexpensive as this (if you do you will be disappointed). For that you need an espresso maker that uses real pressure - not just steam - and a good one will cost hundreds of dollars. But for the price, this makes a nice cup of espresso and will adequately prep the milk for a latte or cappuccino. My concern is for the lack of quality, especially for the switch. Another review stated that after a short amount of use, smoke started pouring out of the switch and the machine died. I don''t understand why a company won''t spend a few cents more for a decent switch, and I expect this one won''t last long. The warranty on defects and workmanship lasts a full year - I hope I don''t have to use it. Will update this review to let you know how it goes over time...
Update 8/15/2014: After 1 month, two things have changed. The switch is broken in now and is much easier to turn. It also moves into the On position without the extra effort. The ridge which held the carafe lid on while pouring has completely worn off, and the lid now falls off while pouring out the last bit of coffee, meaning I''m back to burning my thumb to hold it on, just like with the Mr. Coffee machines.