There's a dial on the milk frother, too, which allows you to adjust the foam level in the milk you steam. The low end of the froth spectrum is for making lattes, while the opposite is meant for cappuccinos.
In terms of pulling shots of straight espresso, the Cafe Barista's and its vibration pump mechanism delivered mixed results. I was able to brew shots with the machine that had some of the flavor I was after. One shot in particular tasted nicely intense, with even a few chocolate notes (Costco House Blend, medium-fine burr grind).
To determine just how concentrated my espresso was, I used a Refractometer to measure the percentage of total dissolved solids (TDS) in solution. Readings for this specific shot came in with a TDS percentage of 10.1 percent. It's a decent result for espresso, but to achieve an ideal extract percentage of 20 percent, this TDS figure should be closer to 14 percent.
Unfortunately, this was the highest TDS result I logged from the Cafe Barista with my Costco test beans. Other shots, pulled back to back, varied greatly in potency, with TDS percentages running from the high of 10.1 to 8.8 then down to 6.8 percent. Bear in mind that these results were achieved using the large double-shot basket, which holds 0.4 ounce (11.3 grams) of grounds, and by pulling between 1.2 and 1.4 ounces (35.5 to 41.4ml) of water through the portafilter. Going with the recommended basket sizes yielded espresso with very weak flavor.
By comparison, the De'Longhi Dedica managed to squeeze TDS percentages of 15 to 16 percent from the same Costco roast. I could also taste much more in the espresso, with plenty of complexity, depth, smoke and chocolate.
The Cafe Barista fared worse when brewing lightly roasted beans. While my Quills Blacksmith Espresso coffee was freshly roasted, the machine failed to coax the complex flavors I know it contains if handled correctly. Instead of the notes of pear and fruity acidity balanced by sweetness I can usually taste, the shots were overwhelmingly sour.
I suspect the Cafe Barista suffers from the same problems that separate other lower-cost espresso makers from pricier models, namely a lack of consistent brewing temperature and pressure. Indeed, temperatures within the portafilter swung wildly between shots during a brew cycle, from as low as 198 degrees Fahrenheit (92.2 degrees Centigrade) to as high as 207 degrees F (97.2 C). And while I can't yet measure pressure within the machine, since brewing with very fine grounds completely clogs its portafilter, I'd bet it isn't very high.
In the Cafe Barista's defense, much if not all of its poor coffee flavor was masked by its steamed milk. It also produced drinkable frothed milk and coffee mixtures in just a few minutes.
In the luxurious world of espresso machines, a little cash does not go a long way. Still, if all you require is a potent coffee drink mellowed by sweet steamed milk, and for a price that's not in the stratosphere, then the $200 Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista should be on your short list. This is especially true if you have no desire to get your hands dirty frothing milk or pulling shots manually.
Spending an extra $100 for a better machine such as the $300, however, will pay off. Not only is the Dedica the superior espresso brewer, it's smaller and more stylish, and it steams milk faster.