Starbucks Barista Espresso Machine
The Starbucks Barista espresso machine is capable of making a good shot of espresso but not necessarily right out of the box. It is pump driven and has a single boiler tank that pulls double duty to heat up water for espresso and for steaming milk. The body has a nice solid feel due to its stainless steel casing, and I really like that the steam wand can be adjusted in any direction.
The portafilter that comes with the machine is pressurized, and this is the cause of some of the problems with the machine. A pressurized portafilter, in my opinion, serves one purpose: it creates the illusion of a perfect shot. Crema (the “liquid gold” that tops a correctly-pulled shot) is produced artificially through a portafilter. A person could theoretically pull an excellent-looking shot through a pressurized portafilter without using correctly ground coffee or proper temperatures. It is possible to purchase an aftermarket non-pressurized portafilter that will fit in the Barista’s group head, and I recommend that you do so.
With an unpressurized portafilter, you will find that this machine is capable of good shots, but it’s temperamental. It’s best to let it heat up for as long as possible so that water temperature stays consistent throughout the extraction process. It’s also necessary to “temperature surf” before pulling your shots or else you risk burning your espresso. You do this by running water through the brew head until it flows it stops fluttering erratically and starts flowing in a smooth stream.
Steaming milk can also be tricky. Sometimes, I find that I have tons of strong steam pressure and can steam my milk to temperature in under a minute. At other times the steam seems to trickle out, and it takes several minutes to heat up a small pitcher. As best as I can figure out, you’ll receive more consistent results if you first heat up your machine with your steam button pushed, then switch to “temperature surfing” through the head, then reheat the boiler for steam pressure and steam your milk. This tends to work for me, but it’s a pain.
Overall, if you don’t mind a few modifications you’ll find that the Starbucks Barista is a competent machine for the price and that it is capable of creating genuinely good espresso shots and milk-based beverages. It is especially worth it if you can find one for under $200.00.