Until this point my home coffee experience was firstly a succession of Bodum French presses and then filter papers. Then something spurred me on toward espresso machines - probably one of those tempter ads as you go into eBay. After finding the CoffeeGeek website and reading the reviews, I decided upon the Gaggia Classic as something that might be in my league. There is a small but steady stream of them on eBay.co.uk and eventually I got one for £100 that was roughly four years old that had had minimal use and had been well looked after in the interim.
After a few trials and failed attempts with slightly different beans and grinds I started to get the hang of it. I am using predominently Lavazza espresso beans and my trusty old Russell Hobbs blade grinder - I know, Muppet! ...but funds are tight at the moment and I find that if you shake the poor little grinder like a maraca for roughly twenty seconds, you get near enough to an espresso grind - roughly 70% of the time it hits the spot. A friend lent me a commercial Fracino grinder which was way too big for the kitchen and also if you are only making one or two cups a day, the doser is a waste of time (and beans) as you waste so much to get a single filter full. From checking through the reviews it seems that there is a big gulf between the 'cheap and cheerful' home grinders and the pro stuff. Anyway, I've got my eye on a KitchenAid Proline Burr Grinder as this seems to hit all of the right buttons for the level that I will be at for the next few years - so come on Santa.
Given all of the above and assuming that my maraca grinding technique produces the right grind (and that I don't over tamp the filter), the Gaggia Classic holds up its end of the bargain quite nicely. I have used the single shot filter just once and never again, because I need a double shot to quench my need for caffeine and, as I have read on this site previously, the double just seems to work better. I don't have a problem with the portafilter handle as it is well cast but I do wonder how long the plastic outer of the handle will last due to careless knocking out of old grinds on the waste bin.
I am thoroughly pleased with my little Gaggia and (as a home worker) I look forward with glee to coffee time in the morning. Not only the drinking of it but also the process of making it. Once you've ground, tamped, clicked in the portafilter and pressed the switch - there's that wait of about three to four seconds before you get a hint of whether this is going to be a super crema or a nescafe. Then it starts to flow and the anticipation grows further. Within 8 seconds you know whether you've got a winner or whether it's back to the grinder to start again. But when you hit the sweet spot, what a feeling! As far as I am concerned when it doesn't work out, it's never the Gaggia's fault - it's me and my Carmen Miranda grinder who need to sharpen up our acts.
As I mentioned in the negative points, the fact that this machine has only a single boiler means that you need to change it between the 90 degree espresso setting and the 110 degree steam setting to make cappucinos. It takes about a minute to change up but a fair bit longer to come back down. This is not a problem for one or two cups as you pull the shots, change the mode and then do the milk. However, when attempting a round of coffees for four or more and you'll either be serving cold espressos with hot milk on top or changing up and down through the gears all night. Probably best to go back to the french press for parties? I have read that some machines have two boilers for this very purpose and if you were regularly making rounds of coffees, maybe that would be a good reason to shop elsewhere?
One other little niggle, my darling Gaggia bit me this morning. While cleaning out the drip tray I accidentally ran my finger along the underside edge of the drip tray grate - you could cut bread with that sucker, so beware.
Overall, I would have no reservation in recommending this great little machine to someone who loves their coffee and wants to have the real stuff at home. It's well built, looks good and when fed the right ingredients will give you a great shot.