This machine is a real classic, and possibly underrated.
Positive Product Points
Top-notch espresso; good features and aesthetics. Truly a "classic."
Negative Product Points
Steaming could be better -- and the aluminum boiler still worries many people. Steam knob could be tighter after a few years.
This Gaggia Classic is the machine that got me into espresso. Yeah, I'd been an espresso drinker before, but this is what really catapulted me into loving coffee.
When I took a new job about nearly two years ago, this was the first piece of equipment I learned to use -- and I just kept learning. I started reading, worked on my technique and experimented with coffees, and eventually bought another machine for home. All of this has really brought into focus the positives that this machine has.
I work in a winery lab and most of the time, I'll make 4 lattes a day, one for each member of the crew. The machine will get left on for hours, sometimes go without cleaning for a long time, and always cleans up nice and makes good drinks when I have the time to do it right. A couple big positives: 58mm basket and very powerful boiler. After using the 53mm basket of my Solis SL-70, I really appreciate the larger group head. It just makes it easier to make great shots. The boiler design, also, I have no problems with at all -- for espresso. It gets the whole machine to temp fast; easily less than 10 minutes. I usually let it heat up the cups as well, so the whole process will take a half hour or so, but everything, including cups, is good and hot by then. It will cycle after each shot, but it will do so quickly, and because the capacity is so small, it's easy to induce a cycle. I have zero problems pulling good shots, just as long as the coffee is good.
The weak point is definitely, definitely the steaming capability. The small boiler is a detriment here. It's slow to get the milk steamed, and there is an appreciable drop-off before the boiler kicks in. However, that can be an OK thing if you're not that great at steaming milk (like me). It gives you time to hit the spot before the bubbles get really huge, and think there is something to be said for the "gentleness" of the steaming. While the Solis is faster and more powerful (by a long shot) it's also easier to mess up. I have a higher success rate with the Gaggia. OH -- this is of course after discarding the "steam toy" metal or plastic tip. There's a nice single hole tip under there.
Last word: the all-aluminum (like mine) or brushed steel (newer models) is a good look, and the 3-way solenoid is a good feature. However, it is an expensive upgrade. If I were going to get a Gaggia machine for home use, I'd go for one of the less expensive models; the only thing that affects performance is the 3-way solenoid, and while it's nice, you can live without it.
Can't comment on that -- bought before my time, but I believe the above info is correct.
Three Month Followup
In recent months, I've become a bit less enamored of the Classic. There are two reasons for this: I've been using my SL-70 at home quite a bit, and I've started roasting my own coffee -- but not enough for work, so the work coffee is usually old and oxidized. Also, the less I use the machine, the dirtier it gets. None of this is really the machine's fault, however, and one feature actually stands out as being very worthwhile: the 3-way solenoid. I would love to have one of those things at home on the Solis, especially when I'm trying to make two cappas before bolting out the door. Still a great machine -- the deficiencies are really with me.