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My Friendly Local Espresso Machine Store (DC area)

Q: My Tuesday Morning $30 closeout special Farberware Espresso maker, surely no connoisseur's machine, which has been doing OK for three years and is now starting to leak and suffer from sticky valves. I've nursed it long enough and I'd like to take a step up when I replace it. I really, really, really, really want to buy from a real store, where I can go to look at various machines, talk to someone who knows something about them, maybe get a demonstration, and walk out the door with one. However, I can't find any place in my area to shop. There's the department stores and Bed Bath and Beyond, but nobody there knows anything and they have the "standard" Krups and the other one - essentially no choices. Has anyone discovered a reasonable place to shop for Espresso makers in the Washington DC area? Or have Espresso makers other than the department store brands just become so much of a limited interest novelty that the only place to buy is over the Internet?

A: Pretty much the latter. I know of no B&M store (except the 1st-line showroom) that has the depth of information, the comprehensive range of products and the helpful service that you can receive by shopping one of the top internet sites (e.g. wholelattelove, chriscoffee, 1st-line , in no particular order, apologies to others I have omitted). It's true that it would be nice to be able to see and handle the machines - your monitor is not good for judging size and heft and finish - it's one thing to read that the Silvia weighs x lbs. and the Saeco Via Veneto weighs y lbs., its another to pick up that chunk of brass and stainless and see the relative size and beauty of the machines, but once you get past that, you are really better off studying the alt.coffee archives, the info websites such as coffeegeek and those of the vendors and buying from one of them. Try http://www.caffepronto.com in Annapolis. He sells roasting supplies, and some high end grinders so he may be able to help you out with an Espresso maker as well. Great Espresso blends as well. It's been a while since I lived there, and I never found any while living there, so I dunno (now, if you want a guitar, I've got you covered). Home Espresso equipment likely isn't on any government procurement schedules, so you won't find many if any find local vendors (far easier to find local equipment contractors supplying document shredding machines and $10,000 hammers). Buying over the internet or by mail order has advantages and disadvantages compared to sourcing locally (assuming you can even find a local source). You can find a wider variety and range of equipment offered online, and competitive pricing. Some (many?) of the larger web retailers offer return policies (e.g. buyer's remorse, full satisfaction), so you can try out your purchase for a limited time (e.g. 14 or 30 days) and return it for a full refund if you don't like it. Otoh, after sales service can be a hassle, because you typically need to ship the machine back to the supplier or to a service center if there is no local service available (which can also be a problem with locally sourced equipment). As for local sourcing, how about Starbucks? They're located everywhere in downtown DC (although as I've never actually bothered stopping in one there I can only assume they sell Espresso machines like other Starbucks outlets do (did?) elsewhere). Their home Espresso machines (OEMed by Saeco mostly) are capable of producing decent shots (if you order a non-pressurized portafilter), and they have good warranty service. Their pricing is kind of high, but they have been known to have occasional sales when you could get bargains. Also, if you can't find household Espresso equipment locally, consider commercial equipment. Look in the phone book for commercial Espresso and restaurant equipment suppliers, and also ask in local restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, the Italian embassy, White House, etc. (wherever they use a commercial Espresso machine) where they got their machine and who services it, and contact those places. You can sometimes find used commercial Espresso equipment in good condition for fair prices (plus, you'll know who can install it and support it locally in case of a problem). Stop by Roasting House at 1004 Vermont NW (just north of K) and ask them who supplied/services their Espresso machine (and try a shot too).