Great introductory machine that can make good espresso if a few adjustments are made
Positive Product Points
Small size, low price, and not bad espresso. The stainless steel body, rocker switches and steam nob all give it a nice style, possibly tricking you into thinking that you actually bought a Silvia.
Negative Product Points
For the low price, the Classic has a few bad features, such as only one boiler, a Saeco pannarello wand for the steamer, a pressurized portafilter, and a temperature stabilization issue.
Full disclosure, I am an electrical engineer, meaning that the following review will contain references to modifications and tricks that can utilize the full potential of the Gaggia Classic. However, if you're not interested in such and just want to buy a darn espresso machine, I will iterate the advice of many others out there and suggest for you to just buy the Rancilio Silvia.
Now, for all that are interested in getting the most out of your money, or are just wanting a good gateway into the world of home espresso, I would whole heartedly recommend the Gaggia Classic. I have had mine for more than a year now, and it still operates efficiently and, after I mastered all the nuances, can make a pretty good shot of espresso (assuming that a good burr grinder and high quality beans are used).
First, as soon as you open the box find the portafilter and remove the filter basket. You will notice a black nozzle in the middle. This, along with the double and single shot filter baskets, are what make the portafilter a pressurized portafilter, designed to increase the water pressure on the coffee grounds, making the Gaggia a more effective espresso machine. Throw it away. It may help if your grinder is ineffective, but otherwise it just ruins nicely ground coffee beans. Luckily, Gaggia sent along a third filter basket that is supposed to be used with pods, and works brilliantly as just a regular double shot filter basket.
Second, the issue of the pannarello wand should be addressed. I image that the guys at Saeco were really proud of themselves when they decided to take the pannarello wand used with the Saeco Aroma and slap it onto all of the Gaggia models. However, all it manages to do is create undesirable macro foam, and therefore must be destroyed. The best replacement is the Rancilio Siliva steam wand, which can be bought on WholeLatteLove and easily added to the Gaggia.
Third, because of the rather cheap thermostats, there is a problem with getting the proper brewing temperature. After watching a few videos on temp surfing with the Rancilio Silvia, I applied the same technique with the Classic and found it worked just as well. For detailed instructions on how to do so, just search "temp surfing" or "Rancilio Silvia temp surfing" on youtube and a plethora of videos will pop up. A second temperature issue arises from the lack of a second boiler for steaming, resulting in low steam pressure. This, however, can be easily avoided if, after first pulling your shot of espresso, you flip the steam switch and manage to start steaming before the light comes on. The reason this trick works is because when that light comes on, it means the boiler has reached the right steaming temperature and starts to then cool down. If you manage to start steaming before this happens, the boiler will not reach that peak temperature, and remain on, giving a little kick to the steaming power of the Gaggia.
I hope this review has been helpful. Do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions about basic espresso techniques with the Gaggia Classic or Gaggia MDF grinder.
I bought it from EssentialEspresso.com, but would suggest buying it from WholeLatteLove.com. Do not buy it at the regular price, but rather the sale price of $375 as WholeLatteLove constantly puts it on and off sale.
Three Month Followup
One Year Followup
*This is actually a 2-year followup as I made the original review one year after I bought the Classic*
Well two years in and my Classic is still the first thing I go to after my morning shower. Everything I gave in my initial review still applies, but I have made a few additions to my espresso recipe I hope may help you in your journey to make Third Wave quality coffee.
First, I acquired a bottomless portafilter from Cafeparts.com for espresso pulling practice. If you think it's strange that I would spend money to buy a portafilter that looks like the maker forgot to add a bottom, I will only bring to your attention to ageless idiom that Less is More. Here, the goal of using a bottomless portafilter is to remove the mask that covers up our hideous unleveled tamping and learn from our mistakes. Most likely, the first time you use a bottomless portafilter espresso will spray out in all different directions, which is a good thing as you've found a flaw in your tamping, that once fixed, will make your espresso even better.
Second, I screwed onto my old portafilter a pressure gauge (and with the help of some teflon tape) used it to measure the pressure my Classic was putting forth. By then messing with the OPV (Over Pressure Valve) in the Classic (if that made no sense to you, type into google "Adjust Gaggia Classic Pressure" for a good youtube tutorial), I could alter the pressure to about 9 bars, which is ideal for espresso pulling.
Third, I bought a concept art shot glass that took the guessing out of pulling so I could measure out 2 shots worth of Ristretto espresso.
Overall, my Classic brings life to my bleak morning routine and has made me proud to be a self-declared coffee connoisseur. If your goal is make casual-coffee-drinking roommates, friends and family members jealous of your espresso know-how and stylish equipment, then the Classic is the way to go.