A great looking machine, a great performer at a great price!
Positive Product Points
Fantastic price/quality ratio. Makes a great espresso with ample crema. The steam is not as strong as some more expensive machines but I soon developped the way to do it. The TEBA model I bought looks great.
Negative Product Points
Very little to be negative about. The TEBA Gaggia ( i am told similar models all have the same guts) does not have the steam of a professionnal machine or a rotating pump - but its at leat 85% there for the home user!
I own a Giotto by ECM that cost some $1,000. US. While I use the Giotto at my office, I wanted an espresso machine for the home but that did not cost as much and performed relatively well.
The Gaggia is well made. The body is metal and the TEBA model I bought is very good looking and it does not look cheap. I looked inside the machine: the boiler is made of aluminium and the part that fits into the handle is bolted to the bottom of the boiler. The pump looks impressive and of good quality. I would venture its about the same size as on my Giotto (but the Giotto has a very strong pressure system). The TEBA Gaggia is definitly well made with quality in mind. I bought once a Seaco Magic that cost some $300. U.S. and found that, for the price, I did not like to have a plastic body.
As for tamping, my experience that tamping is more a function of the coffe, the grind, the prevalent humidity and the machine itself. For the Gaggia, I find light tamping to work best, as suggested in the manual. I also base the quality of the espresso made by the output of the machine: the coffee as to come out not to slow or too fast. If the coffe comes out to slow or too fast, I stop the pump and just start over.
I have bought some 5 to six grinders. A really good inexpensive grinder I use at home is the BRAUN grinder with an ajustable grind fineness. Their Braun grinder can even grind too fine, so I set it at #3 or #4 grind.
I also had a Rancilio Syvia that made a good coffe, altough the Boiler is made of copper instead of aluminium with the Gaggia, I felt that I wanted more for the money and bought an ECM Giotto. The Giotto is an excellent machine ($1,000.) but not 4X better than the Gaggia at $250.! If money is no problem, then go for the Silvia, the Giotto or more...I would say that its the law of diminishing marginal return: for every extra dollard paid, the upgrade in quality/beauty/performance deminishes.
I also tried the steam espresso machine that really does not produce a great crema and much pressure. I also tried the Moulinex pump machine at $100. that does work to some extend but made me want for something better, the machine being at the portal of great espresso.
The Gaggia also come with a heavy handle (heavy group) wich translates in very good thermal distribution to make the espresso at the right temperature.
I have friends that have owned a Gaggia for some 15/20 years before any repair is needed. Thats good enough for me!
Any event, I strongly recommend the Gaggia and you will not be wondering if you bought the wrong thing. I try to buy at a store that has other more expensive machines. If the store has a good return policy, I can always try the machine and then return/upgrade for a minimal return fee. Also, I like a store that has on demonstration the machine I would like to buy. This allows you to taste and see how the machine works. Also, some stores has a coffee nut/geek on the premises who will give you all kinds of good information without pushing you the most profitable product!
I would definitly buy another Gaggia or give one as a gift!
The buying experience from the store was uneven since it never really provided usefull information untill I started asking lots of questions and trying various machines. I find that somme coffee stores are good at selling coffee and some are good at selling machines - but not good at both... I look for a salesman who is NOT an order taker (and who does not seem passive or bored) but appears to really know is products and is excited about it!!
Three Month Followup
Still quite happy with the TEBE Gaggia. Since the coffee grind is so important and I do not have a quality conical grinder, I have it ground at the coffe shop. The machine does produce a great coffee! As for steaming, it does a great job; I wait about a minute and then steam the milk; then i let it settle half a minute or so and then steam again..It steam really well, if not better than my ECM Giotto at work ! I drilled a very small hole in the side, top part of the plastic steaming tube. That modification brings a lot more air but I may block the small hole to see the difference, now that I am used to the Gaggia. The only thing to remember with this type of machine is to flush out the hot water after steaming to bring into the boiler fresh water that would be at the right temperature for the next espresso. Its really a great machine and I would by it again.