The Gaggia Baby Twin is an extremely capable home espresso machine that is loaded with high-tech features. The quality of the espresso shots is as good as as on the revered Rancilio Silvia. The capabilities and features of the machine are overwhelmingly positive, and overshadow a couple of the negative points. I will attempt to address all of these aspects throughout my review of the Baby Twin. Overall, I highly recommend this espresso machine!
Gaggia is a big player in the pantheon of Italian espresso machine manufacturers, and it deserves its place among the others such as La Pavoni and Rancilio. The overall build and quality of the machine and its components is excellent. The construction is solid and of high quality, with very few non-metal parts and pieces. Out of the box and onto the kitchen counter, the Baby Twin commands a presence with its shiny stainless steel housing, soft curves, and green backlighting of the Touch Ring control panel. It is more aesthetically beautiful than the average boxy shapes and spartan rocker switches of most other semi-automatic machines.
As an espresso machine, the Gaggia Baby Twin is a very solid performer! When you pull shots into clear shot glasses, the espresso flows from the portafilter spouts like thick warm honey, and there is a very definite "Guinness effect" of crema as the shots pour into the glasses. Most any home user, starting with good coffee beans, and equipped with a high quality burr grinder, should be able to achieve the same degree of success with the Baby Twin.
Some versions of the Baby Twin are equipped with an optional crema enhancing filter, similar to those found on the Francis!Francis! series of machines that you can use in the portafilter. My machine did not come with the "crema perfetta" portafilter insert, and honestly, I don't care to use them.
The Baby Twin comes with all the standard accessories you would expect, including the ubiquitous throw-away brown plastic tamper, three individual filter baskets (one single, one double, and one for pods), a coffee measuring spoon, portafilter, hardware for assembling the Turbo Frother/Pannarello steam wand, and the manual. The machine is extremely easy to set up, and the directions enable you to go from box to brew in just a few minutes' time.
Though some reviewers dis the Baby Twin for its aluminum boiler (as opposed to brass), the extremely powerful, externally mounted, dual heating elements come up to temperature very quickly and guard against some of the problems encountered with submerged heating elements. The professional style 58mm portafilter and brew group are made of very heavy chromed brass. The portafilter feels very solid in the hand and gives you the sense that you are working with a quality machine. The filter baskets are of the captive variety so knocking out the spent grounds doesn't become a mess as with non-captive filter baskets. The machine comes up to temperature quickly and the heavy metal components do their job of retaining heat efficiently.
What sets the Gaggia Baby Twin apart is all of its high-tech features and conveniences. As an example, the water reservoir is made of clear ABS so that you can easily verify the water level at a glance, without having to remove the lid or the reservoir itself. The very large capacity 60 oz reservoir means you can easily prepare dozens of drinks when entertaining without constantly having to refill; however, when you do have to refill you can either fill directly into the tank by removing its lid and pouring water in, or you can separate the reservoir from the machine altogether and carry it using an integral handle to the sink or pitcher you use for water supply. The bottom of the reservoir incorporates a spring-loaded check valve that closes when you remove the reservoir for transport to a water fill source, or opens when properly seated on the machine to guarantee automatic feed of water to the pump and boiler. A related convenience is that there is no messy water feed tube to snake in and out of the reservoir every time you remove it for filling.
Another feature is the drip tray water level indicator that is built into the Baby Twin. It is nothing more than a bright orange plastic float resting atop a metal jewel bearing that operates using the principle of bouyancy, but nonetheless, it's functional and lets you know when the drip tray needs to be emptied.
The Touch Ring control panel is one of the coolest control interfaces available on a semi-automatic espresso machine. The panel includes four function buttons and six indicator lights. The four function buttons, working clockwise from nine o'clock, are (1) single shot brew button, (2) double shot brew button, (3) hot water button, and (4) manual mode/programming mode button. Each of these four function buttons contains a pictogram to identify its function. In addition, there are two additional status lights on the machine, the steam light at the twelve o'clock position and the power light at the six o'clock position. All of the pictograms on the Touch Panel glow electroluminescent green. A solid light indicates that a mode or button is in standby, while a flashing light indicates that the mode or button is active, and no light indicates that the function is not available.
The steam light is not actually a function button that you push ON and OFF, but rather a system status light. In order to activate the steaming system, it is necessary to rotate the steam/hot water valve located on top of the machine fully clockwise to the FULL OPEN position. You will know that you have successfully activated the steaming system because the green steam light will flash and you will hear the pump forcing water through the thermoblock.
The programming mode allows the user to pre-program two custom brewing cycles (time/volume) and assign them to each of the brew buttons on the Touch Ring panel. These are stored in system memory and enable one-touch operation of the machine.
The Baby Twin includes a pre-infusion feature that wets the grounds with a splash of water immediately before the actual brew cycle begins and is automatically paired at the factory to the single shot brew button. This feature can be toggled on and off by the user through the programming mode button, according to your preferences. Though it can only be used with the single shot brew button, the user can program the single shot brew button to pull double shots, by entering the programming mode of the machine. The pre-infusion function is not usable through the double shot brew button.
The Baby Twin features a 3-way solenoid valve which means that you can remove the portafilter immediately after a brew cycle is completed, with very little risk of the dreaded portafilter "sneeze" common with machines that do not have such a valve.
Yet another great feature of the Baby Twin is the inclusion of an "active" cup warmer on the top of the machine. The Baby Twin uses a small heating element to actively heat espresso cups should you choose to store them on top of the machine. This feature is in stark contrast to "passive" heating systems that use residual heat from the main boiler heater in order to warm the espresso cups.
The raison d'etre of this machine, as its name "Baby Twin" implies, is the advantage of a dual heating system. The irony is that what should be its greatest strength is in reality its greatest weakness. The steaming capability of the machine is just OK. It is not as powerful as it should be. However, in the hands of a capable operator, you can stretch and heat milk acceptably well. A little "bang and swirl" of the steaming pitcher on the kitchen countertop will do wonders to smooth out the rough big bubbly texture of the milk and transform it into shiny pourable foam.
The other negative aspect of steaming with the Baby Twin is the inclusion of the pannarello type steaming wand. Excepting the obvious ease of use factor, I don't understand why Gaggia chose not to use a standard steaming wand on the Baby Twin.
One positive design element of the steaming system is that the wand is actually mounted on a fully articulating ball joint, so it can easily be rotated through a wide range of motion which makes maneuvering the steaming pitcher as easy as it is going to get on any machine. Cleaning the pannarello after steaming milk is easily accomplished by blowing a short blast of steam through the wand and wiping it down with a clean damp cloth. The stainless cover slips on and off easily for a more detailed cleaning.