I've owned this machine for a little over a month now, and I have to say that it has surpassed my expectations. At the price I paid, it's in the class with the deLonghi, Breville, Starbucks, and Hamilton Beach machines, and it is far superior to them. Paired with a good grinder, tamper, and fresh coffee, this machine is plenty capable of making good espresso. It makes an excellent cup of tea in less than a minute, too—just put 2 bags in the single basket and turn on the pump. The espresso and espresso based drinks will beat the coffee chains, and a majority of coffee shops.
One of the greatest points of this machine (and all Gaggias) is the heavy, commercial style, 58mm brass portafilter. Simply pulling a 15 second blank shot will make the metal too-hot-to-the-touch, and ready to pull the shot. The plastic spouts are fine, if you can get over the fact that they’re plastic. You can also replace them with something aftermarket. This machine has an incredibly fast boiler. I turn on the machine when I get up, and by the time that I’ve filled the tank, frozen my milk, and ground and tamped my shot, the machine is ready to pull the blank—probably less than 5 minutes in all. As to the comments about the small drip tray, I find that it’s plenty big enough to catch espresso drips, purge the wand, and clean the shower screen half a dozen times before it needs emptying.
When figuring out the machine, there’s a bit of a learning curve, the 3 push button system is a bit minimal, but works well once you’ve figured it out. There’s a power button, a button that turns on the pump AND brings the machine to brew temp, and a button that brings the machine to milk steaming temp. 1 temp indicator light turns green to notify the machine is at temp for brewing OR steaming, depending on which button is pressed in. The green light is small and weak; in average light it’s hard to tell when it’s on and when it’s off. The boiler goes through cycles; once the light turns green, the boiler turns off, and the water temp starts falling, so it’s important to have the shot ready, and to pull as soon as the light turns green!
Steaming on this machine isn’t as bad as some reviews make it sound. The steam wand is short, but if you only take off the large cone of the jet frother, there’s this weird stubby nozzle that gives the bare wand an extra inch. This nozzle is made of plastic, so the milk doesn’t scald on to the wand, like on a metal wand. This makes cleaning the wand a cinch. There’s plenty of steam power to make an 8 oz, microfoam latte, but you have to steam your milk in a 12 oz pitcher! The short wand does not reach far enough to use a 20oz pitcher! If you need a larger wand, read the forums and retrofit a silvia wand. The lack of a 3-way solenoid is no problem unless you use the “crema enhacer" (Tried this: coffee everywhere, huge mess), or you overfill the filter basket. The cup warmer is no good; catch the blank water in your cup to warm it instead. There’s no basket for pulling a blank, but since I always make a double, I use the single basket—works just fine.
One last note—there’s a lot of plastic in this machine, but that’s not a problem, because they kept the tried and true internals. The plastic exterior is plenty durable, but it will get dirty, so don’t buy the red one. Plus plastic looks much more subtle, which is important in a machine that has look of a skyscraper. The buttons are flimsy, but I’ve heard of plenty of the Gaggia rocker switches breaking after daily use. The water tank is only fillable from the left side; Oh well. The hoses in the tank don't touch the bottom, so you can only use 3/4 the water tank, which is plenty for a blank, a double espresso, milk steam, and a shower screen flush. This machine is still a diamond in the rough as far as quality is concerned.