I'm buying my spouse an espresso maker and have been doing a lot of reading (including the current active thread and other old ones, coffeegeek, amazon reviews, etc.). I'd set a $300 limit so I could afford to add a nice grinder for ~$500 total. In this vein, I've been leaning toward a Gaggia Evolution ($285). But I'm seduced by the beautiful Ascaso Innova Arc (aka Arc Fun) and Francis!Francis! X3 machines (both ~$500). I haven't seen a lot of info on the Ascaso's but what I have sounds good. If anyone has any experience with this machine (or the others), I'd love your input.
We're novices (only have a stove top maker and the $3 Ikea frother) but are interested in learning and will use it for both espresso and coffee drinks so good steaming/frothing capability is important. Our counter space is limited, so a small footprint is also important.
BIG QUESTIONS: Are the Ascaso and FF! machines really worth 2x as much? They have a brass boiler and portafilter - how important is that? Am I missing another great (and pretty) machine under $500 - or better yet under $300!? Thanks!