First off, this is a machine for serious coffee drinkers.
It looks and feels like the goods, and after some initial trial and error, it is possible to make some very fine coffee at home.
You may even find yourself questioning the need to go elsewhere for coffee!
I have a basic philosophy when it comes to all things electrical, which may fly in the face of some CG commentators, namely: If you have to read the freakin manual, then the machine just ain't worth it!
Now, you may want to rethink this when it comes to the Gaggia Classic, as it has a few tricky features, which, while it is no doubt possible to work out for yourself, you could save yourself a lot of time, and more that a few coffee beans, by doing your homework first.
Firstly, you need to allow approximately 6 to 10 mins start-up time, to allow the pf to come up to temperature.
Then, don't bother starting with some crappy old beans, and hope for the best - coz crappy old beans wont cut it!
I went through about a pound of beans, trying to get the grind setting right on my Rancillio Rocky doserless grinder, and let me tell you, the magic wasn't happening!
Then I decided to ditch the old stuff, and move on to a new and freshly opened packet of single origin East Timor beans, set my grinder to setting 6, and Voila!
And my experience has not changed since, in that I have only ever been able to produce quality coffee through this machine by starting with a quality product, and treating it with respect.
At least it keeps you honest!
I found that I get the best results by only engaging the the boiler to extract the coffee first, then flicking on the switch for the steam pressure, but more on that latter.
As i said earlier, this baby builds up a fair amount of pressure, so make sure that you run some hot water through the group head, before adding the pf. I usually run about 30ml through to take the pressure off, and to cool things down a little.
Then I grind fresh to order, using the double basket, with a fine powder-like grind, that begins to 'pill' in your pf, as you are running it through the grinder.
A setting 6 or 7 on my Rocky seems to do the trick, and usually, there isn't too much variation from these settings.
I can't even imagine what pre-ground or packaged coffee would be like through the Classic, given that it seems to spit out anything that it doesn't like.
Then I flick on the steam switch, place a dish cloth under the steam arm, and let off some steam, both to build up pressure, and also to allow the first harsh jet of steam to escape.
After about 10 sec or so, the steam should stop hissing and spitting, and produce a good, dry steam, with plenty of pressure, depending upon where the boiler is in its heat cycle.
Some commentators have noted that there is not a lot of room to fit a mug under the pf, but this can be remedied by extracting into a glass, then pouring into the mug. Besides, this is not really a problem for me, as I would rather have two small coffees, one after the other, than drink out of a mug anyway.
Also, for best results, only use a small 300ml milk jug for frothing, even if you have to use it twice, because, although the boiler has only a relatively small capacity, the start-up time between heat cycles is reasonably quick.
Don't forget to turn the steam switch off, though, before extracting your next coffee, otherwise you will end up with steam through your group head, which will scold the coffee, and if the pf is not loaded, a shower of water everywhere.
And whilst plenty has been said about the useless panerello frothing device, I found that if I removed it completely, I had no room left to manoeuvre the milk jug, so I took the extension off, but left the plastic attachment device still on, and have had no problems with either cleanliness, or producing excellent microfoam.
This is a machine for an experienced user, who wants quality espresso, and who is willing to make the effort.
Or for the less experienced, be prepared to make some mistakes, and to learn as you go.
Don't bother purchasing the Gaggia Classic, though, unless you are prepared to make an equivalent investment in a quality grinder, as pre-ground coffee, or stale beans, just wont cut it!