Hands down this is a professional machine for a discount price, spend the extra 30 bucks on a good tamper...
Positive Product Points
- Easy use - fast heat up - water reservoir fills from top or removable container - heavy brass 58mm portafilter - relatively easy to clean up
Negative Product Points
- Steam spout is a little low - Portafilter has a plastic dispenser instead of being molded brass like it used to be. (after 1 year no problems with it) - Steam spout does drip right after you "prime" the machine (and it's like 4 or 5 drips, no big deal) - Steam Knob has a little phillips head screw that comes somewhat loose from use (just tighten it every month or so, no big deal) - From time to time the portafiliter gets stuck to the group head gasket ring. (just wigle the portafilter around and it pops loose again)
First off let me start by saying they don't call me Mr. Research for nothing. I check re-check and then double check everything I do over and over and over till I know that I have found the best of the best that I can get for the money. So when I bought this machine I was sure that I was going to get what I was looking for. A good quality machine that made high quality espresso, with crema like every one tells me I should have...
From first view I was very happy with the unit, I purchased the "dark gray" model which is exactly what I thought it would be, BLACK. I have no idea whose idea of dark gray this is, but in any case.... Sure the machine was plastic on the outside, what isn't now days? I'm no coffee snob, so I don't expect my Mr. Coffee machine to be stainless steal, why should I expect that of my espresso machine? The most important thing to me is that the unit looks and feels like it will last. This machine has some weight behind it, and the Portafilter is a nice heavy brass unit like I see when I go to the restaurants for a good Cappuccino. The only thing that bothered me about the Portafilter was that they made this nice heavy brass thing with a little plastic piece snapped into the bottom. I haven't had any trouble with it yet, and I don't know if it's replaceable if I do in the future, but when I "tamp" the coffee into the Portafilter I often wonder if I may brake it off pushing it against the counter. Gaggia says you should get about 30lbs of tamping on the unit. (I used a bathroom scale to test my tamping pressure before doing any real tamping..Like I said, I'm Mr. Research). I would have liked it better if the dispensing holes were made from the same molded brass as the rest of the Portafilter is. I would recommend that you spend the extra 30 bucks and purchase a nice conical shaped metal tamper that fits perfectly (58mm) to do your tamping. You'll get a much better, even and accurate pressure then when using the cheap plastic one they give you with the machine.
I have read another review that talked about the handle being an odd size and shape, he said he had a big hand and that may be why, well I think that maybe he was right. I have a smaller (normal size) hand and the handle to this machine felt just fine in it when connecting it to the machine and using it to knock out the coffee from the filter basket. I suppose if I were going to spend more time with it, I would want something I could hold onto for hours, but since the above is all you do with the thing, why would this even be a concern for anyone???
I have read other reviews where people talk about how loud the pump is, well to them I say, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? First off, the pump is only on for about 20 or 30 seconds when you are actually extracting (cool word for dispensing) the espresso into your cup. My machine isn't that loud at all. You want to hear a loud pump, get a "food saver" vacuum sealer, you'll never complain about a loud espresso machine pump again. So for that one I say, GET OVER IT.
It took me about 3 cups of espresso before I got the idea on how to make a good drink. You know, like the ones you see in all the restaurants and instructional videos (if you can find those like I did). Speaking of which, Gaggia has a CD that comes with the machine you can play in your computer. It didn't play on the DVD player so don't bother with that... This disk was a VERY GOOD source of information on what everything is, how it works, what a good cup of espresso should look like, what to do if it doesn't and how to clean up your mess when you're all done. You almost don't have to read the direction book that comes with it if you just watch this video. I wish everything had video instructions like this thing did. My mom would finally be able to set the clock on the VCR.
Now for the milk frothing. The only real complaint that I have with this machine is; the steam stem is a little bit too low on the machine. Unless you use a "smaller" frothing pitcher (like 10 or 15oz type) then you may have a little trouble getting the pitcher out from under the "wand". It's kind of funny actually, they show you in the instructional how to froth the milk, then at the end of the video when the guys done he never shows you how he gets that full pitcher out... Obviously if you don't try to froth enough milk for more then about 2 lattes at a time you should have no trouble getting the pitcher out from underneath the wand. Another problem with the low wand is that when you push the wand back over the drip tray it doesn't go completely over the tray... It tends to hit the drip tray before stowing away into the underneath side next to the "group head" (thing the Portafilter connects to). The positive side of all this is, this machine has PLENTY of heat and steam to make the milk both HOT and frothy. I've read a lot of people complain about how their machines don't heat up very well and the espresso or milk is too cold. This is NOT going to be a problem with this machine from what I have seen. If you're not careful you may even get that milk too hot for the taste. I don't know about you, but I don't need my espresso to boil as it pours into the glass, a nice steam is all I need to see. Learning to froth is quite easy, and this machine makes it as simple as it can get. Just do what the instructional video shows you to, and in no time you'll be a regular Barista.
Some people have complained about the extra dripping from steam wands and Portafilter assemblies after brewing and steaming are done. For this issue I say, If you don't expect that when using something that has water passing through coffee grinds is going to drip after it sits for a second, or after steaming milk, there wont be a little bit of milk left in the wand to drip out, then you're dreaming. Everything drips a little. For the most part this machine is very good at cutting off any excess dripping when you turn pumps, switches and knobs off that you need to during the espresso making process.
There is no cup warmer on this unit. This hasn't been a problem for me yet. I have found that if I really require my cup to be warmed first then I dispense some hot water into the cup, let it sit for 10 seconds, then pour it out before extracting my espresso.
Finally, all in all I was very happy with the product that I purchased and I feel as if my research paid off. The last single shot of espresso that I made came out like heaven and the milk frothing was perfect with almost zero practice. If you're like me, and just want to get a good machine with a nice professional fell that makes a good cup of espresso for a sweet price.. then this machine is hands down the best for the price.
I purchaed my machine from Whole Latte Love.com and they had it at a good price. The shipping was fast and accurate. The box said it was a "silver" unit, but when I opened the box it was indeed the "dark gray" that I had asked for.
Three Month Followup
No problems with this machine so far, I'll be more helpful after one year, surely something must break by then? After all, isn't that when the warranty expires?
One Year Followup
I've had the unit for one year now, In that year I have found that I make about 2 lattes per day. I have extensive knowledge of this machine now both brewing and steaming. On the brew side I have found that when using the machine with a carbon based water filter the machine was able to go without a decalcification for almost the entire year. Sure sure, I know I was supposed to do it every 3 months, but I just wanted to see how hard the water really was... (your machine may not last that long). To this day the only major problem that I've had with the machine is, when doing a VERY through cleaning on the machine I was unable to remove the gasket on the group head without damaging it. This could have been my own fault, or the simple fact that it was tighter then I planed on. This will need to be replaced (Apx. $5.00?) Other then that, the only things that I have seen change are, I must keep a small Phillips head screw driver handy to tighten the steam knob up about once a month or so. The knob gets loose from opening and closing it twice a day. There's a little screw inside the knob top that I just tighten down and were back in business. The machine is performing just as well as it did the day that I bought it, Yes it still drips a little from the steam spout when I first turn it on, that's why G-d invented paper towel. I have to say that 1 year later I am still just as satisfied as I was the day that I have bought it. I was considering going with the bretus II double boiler this year. The only advantage that I could find was I would be able to steam my milk for guests while I pulled their shots... For $1,600.00 I figure I'll let the guests wait an extra 4 or 5 minutes for their lattes... Feel free to donate one to me if you feel bad enough for my guests... I would buy this machine again any day. After tasting my lattes, I've had 3 people ask to buy my machine when I upgrade. That should tell you something about how well this machine works...