Pavoni vs. Riviera/Gaggia vs. Saeco

Q: I'm looking to buy a serious Espresso/cappuccino machine and I haven't decided whether to get a manual piston maker or an electric pump machine. I really like the romantic aspect of the manual makers but I'm also worried that the increased prep time will make it so much of a chore that I won't use it as much. I also entertain quite a bit and would rather not spend hours making cappuccinos at every party. Then again, I've heard that the manual maker, when used properly and the karma is just right, makes superb Espresso. I just recieved specs and a price list from Thomas Cara and after I wiped my own drool off the pages I realized my decision has just been made more difficult. Anyway, my real questions are: Which is the better manual pistion maker: Pavoni or Riviera? AND Which is the better electic pump machine: Gaggia (the older all-metal version) or the Saeco Vapore? I've used both of the electric machines and I'm leaning toward the Gaggia, but I'd like to hear other opinions. I need input on, in the order of importance, Espresso/cappuccino quality, product quality, reliability, convenience, and features.

A: Funny you should mention Thomas Cara. My husband and I were just visiting San Francisco and happened upon that store. What a beautiful assortment of machines! Also, the man who helped us (Thomas Cara?) was very informative. If you decide on an electric pump machine rather than a manual one, I do have one to highly recommend: the Livia 90 by Pasquini. We also bought the grinder, which is a separate machine. There is a steep price tag, but, we'd had a series of less expensive Espresso machines over the years, and were sick of replacing each machine after 1 or 2 years. They simply didn't hold up to heavy use. Also, we were never totally happy with crema and frothing capabilities. This is a big prelude to telling you the cost. For the Espresso maker, $1200; for the grinder, I think around $400 or so. But, we' ve never had a machine that could even touch the Livia 90. It's like having a commercial Espresso maker in your home. You should also look at the Rancilio Miss Audrey, about $400.00, as an alternative to the Gaggia and Saeco pump machines. An excellent machine with many of the same quality features/construction of the Gaggia. Gaggia is now owned by Bunn Corp. quick shot in the morning. Further, the cleanup (after each session) is a time consuming chore. We only use ours on weekends - more for the activity than any real differential in quality. As for an electric machine - I think you have answered your own question - the saeco vapore is a great machine as is the gaggia - personally, I prefer the vapore - but if you prefer the gaggia - it is the one you should have. As for other possible choices - there is no reason in the world to pay more than a thousand dollars for a home machine - unless its a fun thing that you can afford to do - (I originally bought our brass/copper pavoni because I thought it was a great sculpture - and - repeating myself - it is fun to use and does make (with practice) good shots). There are lots of machines out there - we have owned at least a dozen - the pump machines that we have owned have cost us between $150 - $500 - none have worn out, but a couple have required regasketing or soldering after about three years of use (cost less than $40) - those that we don't still own are out there with our kids or are with friends and are still kicking.