This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Barista Espresso Machine and Grinder

This is my third Barista machine. The first one I had was called the Estro Vapore, but it was almost identical to this model. The Barista unit has a two-year guarantee, and if you use it heavily it should last at least that long. Starbucks (which bought the Italian company that makes the unit) has been steadily improving the quality over the years, without changing the basic well-proven design. My last one, for example, had a brushed-metal surface on basic steel, and developed a rust problem. The current model, shown here, also available in a variety of colors, is solid stainless steel, and sturdier than its predecessors.

The Barista does two things a good cappuccino machine needs to be able to do: 1) steam milk properly, with real steam from a wand that’s long enough to reach down into a steaming flask – and not some annoying “frothing” gimmick; and 2) produce strong espresso, in a dark black stream that tans to cream, from properly ground beans, and quickly. The Barista does this easily.

Simply put, the Barista is the best espresso machine for the money on the market. You have to spend a lot more to get a better machine. Take Peets Coffee stores, for example. They sell a commercial-grade machine for about $1200, plus a Gaggia machine for $350. I’ve met some people who swear by the Gaggia; but for me it’s too tall and too plasticy. The Barista’s body is good solid metal, and it fits nicely under a counter, making it easy to move out of the way.

The supplemental Barista Grinder is a relatively new product, sold only in Starbucks stores (it’s not shown on the Web site, for some dumb reason) and it’s so durn handy it knocks me out. First, it’s easy to pour out one mix of beans and put in another (impossible with my old grinder). Second, the grind settings are accurate and easy to adjust. Third, the ground coffee accumulates in an easily removable little container. Fourth, it’s not too big. All huge plusses. It also grinds very evenly, which is a must for proper espresso extraction.

For additional opinions on Barista gear, check out the ratings at CoffeeGeek.com or Epinions and elsewhere .

Strangely, the Starbuck machines are not available via the web. You need to present your self at a local Starbucks store and pick one up there. If colors matter to you, they come in a nice variety. Call ahead because not all branches inventory them.

-- Doc Searls  

Starbucks Barista Grinder
$200
Available from Starbucks

Starbucks Barista Espresso Machine
$400
*Previously* available from Starbucks