This machine is great value for money. You can spend more money for a chic steel exterior, but I'd say stick the extra cash in your grinder fund instead!
Positive Product Points
Great value for money and easy to use - I beat the pants off Starbuck's the first time out!
Negative Product Points
Pump is on the noisy side. No solenoid valve, so it continues to drip after brewing. It will occasionaly spray coffee grinds everywhere if the holder is removed too quickly - you need to release just a bit then wait a second or two for the pent-up steam to dissipate.
I'm new to this game and was looking for a reasonably priced machine with reliable innards. While web research indicated that machines like the Rancio Silvia or Solis SL-70 had almost unanimous praise, they were priced well above my budget, at least in the Montreal area. I wandered through several shops near Montreal's Little Italy district and got the feeling that the budget machines I was being shown just didn't have the robustness I was looking for. When I saw this Gaggia everything fell properly into place.
Some seem to think that the Espresso's plastic housing is ugly and cheap looking. Well, it won't win any beauty contests, but really - who cares? You can't drink a stainless steel housing. We may be less sensitive to this since the rest of our kitchen appliances are also in black, so the espresso machine doesn't attract much attention to itself.
The machine is drop-dead easy to use. As a beginner, I've been using store-ground coffee and find, as others have noted, that whether a crema is created is very sensitive to grind. So loose change is now being slowly scraped together so I can get a quality grinder and free myself from the vagaries of store grinders.
The tip of the steam wand won't clear the top of a large frothing cup unless the cup is slightly tipped to one side. If the cup is full of steamed milk, it's impossible to get the cup out from under without spilling a little. I found an easy fix for this. The Gaggia Espresso is just wide enough to fit easily on a piece of 8 1/2" wide black melamine shelving. I bought the shortest length of this shelving that I could find (about 3'), cut it to the right length and screwed 4 teflon feet underneath. This raises the machine just high enough above the counter so that my largest frothing mug will slide easily from underneath the wand. The machine also slides easily back and forth on the counter top for storage or use.
The staff at Espresso-Mali (Montreal) seemed well-informed and friendly. As I live and work in the suburbs, I haven't had any cause to go back there again - but I will probably do so once I get out looking for a grinder.
Three Month Followup
This is about a 6-month follow-up. The machine still works flawlessly and is making great coffee. No complaints. I'm still using store-ground coffee, but when I've had the opportunity to purchase from a more knowlegable store they will first ask what type of espresso machine I'm using. For Gaggia they use a finer grind than a generic setting, which takes about twice as long as the recommended 20-25 seconds to brew an espresso. But there's no arguing with the result: a much more consistent crema and a more rounded, less acidic flavour.