Excellent and articulate explanation, Jim. Thank you!
Re: Newbie suggestions....I think you guys have really excellent, consistent input for the priciples of Home Barista Newbie Formula for Success (eg., get a decent grinder, use fresh coffee, do whatever you want, but don't say we didn't warn you first, etc)....I have high hopes for my new and improved beverage-making equipment!
After spending a good (actually, embarrassingly copious) amount of time reading suggestions for a starter setup, I decided on a Baratza Vario (last minute over a Mazzer Mini--my usage is relatively low, so don't probably need the longevity of a semi-commercial machine, & I think I'll appreciate the Vario's size and convenience factors), and there are roasters nearby where I can get fresh beans. Just for a reference point, I'm going to start with Intelligentsia Black Cat & go from there.
After my initial "Wow, so this won't be a mere kitchen appliance outlay of cash....more like a home appliance outlay," I sucked it up, determined that I still wanted to be able to make a decent espresso, no matter how bougie the purchase would come off to my friends and family (whatever...they'll benefit from my bougie-ness!) and after hours of research and comparisons, was all decided on an ECM Technika IV....and then, I just couldn't help myself....at the last moment, aesthetics won out. I never thought I could be obsessed about something sitting on my kitchen counter....but the Elektra, she is a thing of beauty.
Thanks for all of the deliciously useful information!! I'll be putting it to the test, and hopefully happily caffeinated as I traverse the Newbie Learning Curve.