High Quality Italian style espresso drinks and much easier to use than the Silvia
Positive Product Points
Reasonably easy to make Italian quality creamy espresso. Works well with many different espresso beans. Frothing is easy with good amount of pressure. Water resevior is easy to refill. Cup warmer is effective. The instructional DVD is good.
Negative Product Points
The frothing attachment sometimes blows off the steam wand during frothing, resulting in an explosion of milk all over your kitchen. The dial that controls the frothing pressure is poorly designed and hard to turn, especially if you are right-handed and trying to hold a pitcher of milk at the same time. The "perfect crema" device that comes with the machine is completely useless and doesn't even fit into the machine; Gaggia advised me to "throw it away". The written instructions are confusing.
I originally owned a Starbucks Barista and wanted to upgrade to the next level. After much research on this website, I purchased a Rancilio Silvia / Rocky combination from Whole Latte Love. It was the best of espresso, it was the worst of espresso. At times I wished that I hadn’t returned my Starbucks Barista. I spent 1 month fighting with Silvia…alternating between making both the best espresso drinks of my life…and the worst espresso drinks of my life. I found that the tiniest deviations (1 click on the grind setting, quantity of bean, tamping pressure, etc) with the Silvia / Rocky package resulted in the huge quality differences from shot to shot. I spent countless hours with Whole Latte Love support, and 3 cans of Illy beans, trying to adjust my technique to get consistent results. Finally, the return period was coming to an end, and I realized that Silvia was driving me insane, and I hadn’t made a “until death do we part” promise to her, so she got returned.
Once it had become apparent that my relationship with Silvia was souring, I ordered a Gaggia Classic and Gaggia MDF from Sur La Table (where you can return anything at anytime for any reason). I had both the Silvia and Gaggia Classic side-by-side for about 2 weeks. I found that while the Silvia occasionally outperformed the Classic, the Classic was much more consistently making very good espresso and cappuccinos.
The Gaggia Classic consistently brews Italian café quality espresso. As long as you get the grind settings, bean quantity, and tamping pressure reasonably correct, you will be able to follow the “golden rule” and achieve very good results. The Classic is far more forgiving than the Silvia and will tolerate slight deviations in your tamping pressure, bean quantity, etc.
The Classic has good frothing pressure (but nowhere near the pressure of the Silvia), and a “turbo frother” attachment that “automates” your frothing. The “turbo frother” is good in that you don’t need to perfectly position the steam wand in the milk; it is bad in that it occasionally blows off (due to pressure) and milk explodes all over your kitchen. Gaggia tech support advised me that to prevent this, you need to dissassemble the "turbo-frother" attachment into the 5 separate pieces, and then reassemble the 5 pieces on the steam wand; simply shoving the entire 5 piece assembly up the steam wand will result in occassional explosions of milk.
Experts may also dislike the “turbo frother” because it may reduce your ability to create custom designs in the froth. Note: the one area that the Silvia clearly outperforms the Classic is with the frothing.
The Classic has a design flaw in that it is difficult to hold a milk pitcher in your right hand and control the pressure with your left hand. The pressure dial is slippery and hard to turn.
The Classic comes with poorly written instructions, and a good instructional DVD. Watch the DVD and refer to the written instructions only when necessary.
The Classic also comes with a “perfect crema” rubber attachment that is supposed to fit underneath the filter basket. It doesn’t fit correctly, and Gaggia customer support told me that I should “throw it away” as it never works.
The Classic comes with a small rubber “nipple” attachment that is not documented in either the written instructions or DVD. Gaggia customer support told me that this “nipple” fits into the filter holder (under the single shot filter basket) and is used with pods. I haven’t tried out this pod compatibility yet.
Other notes: The water reservoir is easy to refill and detaches from the front; which is easier than the Silvia if you place your machine under a cabinet. The cup warmer above the machine is more effective than the Silvia as it actually does warm the cups (unlike the Silva which did nothing).
I have mentioned 3 machines in my review above.
I bought the Gaggia Classic and MDF grinder from Sur La Table's website. They do not sell these items in their stores. Their website had the same price as everyone else, but they also were offering free shipping and a lifetime return policy (anything can be returned at any time for any reason). Sur La Table took 3 weeks to deliver the Gaggia equipment from the time that I ordered it on their website. Sur La Table was a poor online experience as they don't communicate with you at all during the 3 week delay to tell you the status of your order. Also, they accidently charged my credit card for shipping, even though it was supposed to be free. It took 20 minutes with Customer Service to fix this.
I bought the Rancilio Silvia and Rocky grinder from Whole Latte Love. They were much better at customer service and they got me the machine in only a few days. However, they only offer a 1 month return policy (2 year warrenty on parts/labor). I had to pay $35 in shipping fees to return the Silvia / Rocky.
I bought the Starbucks Barista from a local Starbucks shop during their annual sale. They offer a 2 year return / warrenty period. Their telephone support was fantastic and they would simply ship me replacement parts every time something broke. Items can be returned directly to any Starbucks location.