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Certainly one of the better names in espresso equipment. Rancilio's are unique in that their machines are actually made from pieces of their commercial units. The portafilter, brewhead, and steam wand, and three-way solenoid valve are taken right from their machines found in cafés and restaurants. Their portafilter is made from machined, marine-forged brass. The largest difference between their home and commercial products is the use of the electro-magnetic pump instead of a rotary vane pump. An interesting note, each machine has it's own name. The Railto line has two models: the Audrey (named after Audrey Hepburn) and the Nancy (named after former First Lady, Nancy Reagan). Their latest model, which fixes every quirk found on the Rialto, is called Silvia. If you know who this machine is named after, please send email to ! Rancilios are priced at 365$ and can be found at that price almost everywhere. It is common for these machines to be sold at higher-end coffee stores but even more common to purchase it over the web. Note: the Rialto line may not be around for much longer as the Silvia, a stainless steel encased machine, is replacing it. You may be able to find very good deals on the Audrey now. Look for these machines at http://www.wholelattelove.com and http://www.dailygrind.com today.
A unique animal all in itself! The La Pavoni is a dream, a pain in the butt, and a conversational piece, all in one. It is not a pump machine and not a steam machine. It is a lever-spring machine. And it is not for new-comers! La Pavoni is unforgiving and, when treated like a king, can produce some very, very good espresso. Aesthetically, Pavoni's machines are beautiful. Chrome, brass, knobs, gauges, domed top, big lever. They almost taste as good to the eye as their product does IF you pull it correctly. And they have a nice price tag to compliment their looks. You'll be hard-up to find any of Pavoni's "chrome peacocks" for less than 500$. Be warned, parts, such as thermostat fuses and switches, have a tendency to blow on these machines. They require that they be owned by special people - true espresso enthusiasts. But, Pavoni's are readily available at upper-ended coffee stores, upper-ended housewares stores, magazines, and via the web.
DeLonghi This is another Italian company who has been around the block once or twice. Their name is popular but their machine quality is questionable. For their price, the user needs to decide for themselves if the machine performs the way they would expect. DeLonghi has a strong presence on the shelves of more popular retailers, such as Dayton-Hudson's and also can be found at on-line auctions. For the money, one will find a better machine if they keep looking. But if you receive it as a gift, don't return it.
Briel Another well-known and sound name in the espresso machine business. Like Saeco, Briel has many different models to choose from and a wide variety of prices to boot. Briel is a fair to good buy and will make their owner a happy owner. Like other machines, you can find them in good stores and on the web. Briel also has a machine which accepts their espresso pods. Read above for comments on pod coffee.
Gaggia Gaggia, yet another, fine Italian manufacturer, makes very good machines. And their price tags prove it. Their most popular machines, the Espresso and Coffee, have metal housings, by-pass valves, and enough water storage to house Keiko, the killer whale (just kidding). They are definitely a sound investment. Look for them in popular housewares magazines and, more easily, on the web. Check out http://www.essetti.com for deals and details. If you find yourself in a quandry between a Rancilio and a Gaggia, sleep on it, wake-up, and toss a coin. Both manufacturer's make a fine product. Gaggia is also the creator of the ESE pod system. What's nice is that, for a few extra dollars, you can purchase an add-on component that allows you to use pods (from Illy Café) or your own coffee. You decide; but it is a nice feature to have IF you prefer pods. Gaggias appear frequently on on-line auctions. Again, check to see if it's refurbished. Usually, you will get a great deal.