If want to get into espresso you should take a hard look at the Gaggia Classic.
I've had this machine now for well over six months and feel like I can give a good take on what the strengths and weaknesses of this machine are, and in kind taste the best it can make.
I pretty much knew I wanted to get a Gaggia Classic after one evening when I went into Target and the krups machine they had there weighed maybe three pounds total, then I found myself in Peet's where they sell Gaggia machines and the portafilter was like 5lbs of chromed brass in my hand! It made a believer out of me and I have yet to look back!
So after that fateful night I found myself emptying a good portion of my tax return on a espresso machine (and of course a grinder but more on that later!). About a week later a beautiful machine shows up at my doorstep and I soon find out the good, the bad and the ugly of this machine.
One of the things that strikes you when you pull this machine out of the box is just how heavy it is for such a little machine. The machine itself is about twenty five pounds and the size of12 cup coffee maker. It's so heavy because there is so much packed into this machine that is not there in the lowly Krups one at Target.
The most obvious difference between most consumer espresso machines is the portafilter and group on this machine are large. By large I mean the same size that you find at most coffee shops, which means you, can find a lot of aftermarket accessories for the machine from filter baskets to tampers that make it easy to produce excellent espresso. Not only is it big, but heavy. That weight is brass, which is going to keep the temperature very stable and keep espresso from being bitter or sour.
Next there are a few things on the inside that are not common with similarly priced machines namely a 3 way solenoid valve and adjustable pressure valve. The first is merely a conveniences issue, when you're done brewing espresso the machine will release the excess pressure immediately so you don't have to wait around thirty or so seconds. The later is very important, espresso is brewed quickly at a high pressure, but it shouldn't be brewed at too high of a pressure. However, the pumps that are in these machine produce pressures that are much higher than those recommended levels, this causes bad tasting espresso. By being able to adjust the pressure down you are able to make a better tasting drink.
Let's not forget the boiler of this little machine and while the boiler is small it's powerful, this means you can brew and steam that much quicker out of the gate. I find this machine can be ready to brew espresso in about 15 minutes from a cold start, by then the entire machine is heated, which means when the water goes from the boiler to the coffee it gets there at about the right temp. The high voltage also mean you can go to steaming in about twenty seconds after you done brewing and I don't think there is another machine that can do that.
Unfortunately, it cannot be all butterflies and unicorns.
The biggest compliant with this machine and any SBDU (Single Boiler Dual Use) machine is the waiting time between making espresso and steaming your milk if so inclined. This is just a part of life however, when you are only paying under five hundred dollars for a new espresso machine. Like I said above though the wait time between the two is only twenty to thirty seconds. There are other machines where that wait time is much larger!
One thing that is annoying for me is the low height clearance from the bottom of the portafilter and the drip tray on this machine. This limits your cup choice, as I like to brew espresso directly into the cup I intend to use if I am not drinking it straight. For quite some time I didn't have separate cups that could fit, I have since bought new cups, but it stinks to have a new machine and not being able to do what you want.
The small boiler, it only holds a little over three ounces of water. This causes the water to drop in temp when brewing and if not careful can lead to a sour shot of espresso! There are ways around it, but it greatly reduces the ease of use and time it takes to make drinks.
The adjustable pressure valve, you need to adjusted! It’s set up out of the box for espresso pods that need more pressure. So if you want fresh coffee it means spending another 20 dollars to buy the tools you need to adjust the pressure.
My biggest complaint is the steam wand on this machine! It comes with a plastic aid that makes horrible bubbly milk. If you like a traditional cappa this might be for you, however if you want a smooth milky latte you will need to remove the plastic aid and reveal the ugly stubby wand. The wand is horribly small without the aid and the steam whole on the bottom is rather large. It just takes so much time to be able to get the hang of steaming with the ugly little stub, it probably wasn't until month three or four that I steamed my milk well almost all of the time!
There is a work around for the ugly but it requires another part and I have yet to do it! So no comment thus far
There are a lot of machines out there and ones more trumpeted even at this level, but the Gaggia Classic provides an excellent host of features for the price. Anyone that does buy this machine please check out the Yahoo user group all about home Gaggia espresso machine, they are a great help!
Rating: 4 Sta....Cups of espresso!