After much deliberation, blog reading and agonizing, I've ordered my first home setup, it arrives in 2 days, reviews will be forthcoming:
1) Gaggia Espresso Pure
Like the commercial size heavy portafilter, NON pressurized
2) Upgraded Panarello Wand
More on this once I see and try it; one of the drawbacks of this machine is if you want to try and make proper microfoam with the panarello frother (a sleeve that fits around the wand with an air intake up high that sucks air into the milk, so you can "froth" milk with the wand at any old depth) it's not too friendly. With the Gaggia Classic, apparently you can replace it with a Silvia wand, but that doesn't work on the plain Baby or the Espresso Pure. And when you remove the standard plastic frother you're left with a tiny wand not long enough to steam anything more than 4 oz. I did eventually find a compatible Saeco "latte art/upgraded" plastic frother that allows you to remove the panarello outer sleeve and leaves you with a longer normal (albeit plastic) one for trying to create proper milk. I'll let you know how this works.
3) Baratza Maestro with portaholder
Would have liked to get the Virtuoso, but $ is $, and lots of good things are said about the basic Maestro so that's what I went with. Got the addon "portaholder" which is supposed to hold a portafilter in place, I'll review how that works too, and whether it's a pain to go back and forth between that and grinding for drip/press.
How are you making out with your setup? I started with a Gaggia Baby & Baratza Virtuoso almost a year ago. After a year of frustration with the Virt, I sold it and bought a Vario. (It's making it's way here as we speak). These grinders seem to grind fine enough, but the steps are too big to really dial in your shots using grind alone, but I have found some inexpensive ways to work around it.
Hey there! Sorry for not replying, the auto email landed in my junk folder by mistake so I just noticed it. Loving my setup actually, I find the Maestro seems to work well for me; it's on almost the finest grind setting, and with my Reg Barber tamper (YAY!) that I got from volunteering at the Western Canadian barista championships, I'm getting 22-24 second shots consistently, great crema too. When messing with it at first, it was either use too much coffee or get my wife to hop on my shoulders while I tamped to get a good shot, but I eventually got it worked out by going to the finest grind setting that it had. I find the opposite problem with the Maestro; when I want to grind for french press it doesn't quite get it coarse enough, so my coffee's always a tad chewy (although like a customer at my cafe told me today about his home french press setup "whoever said good to the last drop was true"). Loving the espresso pure machine, although regretting I didn't spend the extra few bucks for the espresso dose so I could program it to dispense the right amount of liquid without having to stare at it.