So I'm finally making the oh so exciting jump into the home brewing espresso club! I've done my research and have been enlightened on the importance of bean quality, grind, tamper, etc...all the foundational goodies any coffee fiend should know.
I have a pretty limited budget, but would be willing to make a smart jump if needed. I originally targeted coupling the Saeco Aroma with a Capresso 560 Infinity grinder. A recent trip to Costco has me strongly considering the Saeco Via Venezia--as it's price to go at $150. Is there any discernable difference between the two Saecos? Would a jump up to an entry-level Gaggia be a wiser move? Also, how am I with my grinder selection? Thanks in advance for your help!
Some great choices there. It sounds like you will have a fresh bean supply nearby: one of the most important.
As for machine, both you mention are good machines. I am a fan of the Saeco's, although Gaggia seems to be making the better entry-level machine these days. For $300cdn, you can get yourself into the Gaggia Espresso lineup. Some of the key differences between the entry level Gaggia that I mention here and the Saeco is some of the components. Brass group in the Gaggia and a 58mm portafilter are the key ones. Although it may be a few bucks more, it is a bit more of a serious machine over the Via Venezia.
As for grinder, it starts and ends with the Baratza Maestro or Maestro Plus. These are the best grinders available today for a price that starts just under or over $100.
On our website here, Colin talks about the entry level Gaggia machines and the Baratza grindres in the 2008 Festive Buyers guide. Give that a quick read, and there should be some additional information to what I have wrote here.