This is my user review of the Gaggia Classic espresso machine, a very well priced, tried and tested espresso machine. It’s just over £200 brand new, and you can pick them up used for around £100 (which I recommend, as the new model doesn’t appear to be quite as well received), but don’t let the low price give you the impression that this is a cheap machine, in my opinion it’s in a completely different league to the other machines in the same price bracket.
I make great coffees at home with the V60 and aeropress, but I want to be able to make espresso at home, and to steam milk. I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking into the various espresso machines available, and I’ve decided that I’m going to start with the Gaggia classic, use it for a while and review it – then try a different machine, so that eventually I’ll have written reviews on most of the popular espresso machines, at which point I’ll make a decision on which one to stick with.
I’m starting with the Gaggia classic, because as well as being one of the machines at the very bottom of the price range for prosumer espresso machines, it’s one of the most well-known espresso machines on the market. More people have owned the Gaggia classic over the past 30 odd years than most other espresso machines ever made.
If you read my review of the Sage Oracle, you’ll see that I really liked that machine, but there are two reasons I’ve not bought one (Sage let me have a demo unit for a week, which was very nice of them).
1: It’s sadly way out of my price range.
2: I have decided that I want to develop some home Barista skills, so I want a more manual machine rather than using a machine which does most of it for me. Some people want a machine which will take the frustration out of it and do most of the skilled stuff for them, and if that describes you then you may well want to look at the oracle, or a bean to cup machine.
So without further a do:
Gaggia Classic Espresso Machine Review
If you’re thinking of buying a Gaggia classic, then you’re probably just getting into home espresso – and like me you possibly fancy yourself as a bit of a home Barista; you want to develop some skill rather than just pressing a button.
From my experience so far, I really don’t think there’s much of a better choice for a first machine to introduce you to home espresso than the classic, simply because of the low-cost vs. the high quality. There are some things I think you should know, though, before you jump in, things I’m glad I figured out before I put my hand in my pocket, and I’ll share those with you in this review.
If your budget is around the £100 mark, and your option is to buy a new lower end consumer machine, or to buy a second-hand Gaggia classic for about the same cost, in my opinion you’re making a much better decision by going for a used classic over a brand new lower cost consumer end machine.
I bought my classic on ebay for £100. I collected it, got it home, plugged it in – and within minutes I was making espresso which I was very proud of!
Even brand new they’re only around £220, but the newer models just don’t seem to quite be the classic, it appears it’s a much more modern take on the classic, with different parts, which is why I decided to go for an older model, but I’ll get into this in a minute.
By the way – to check what Gaggia classics are ending soon on eBay, UK only, soonest to end – click here.
The Gaggia classic has been around for years, and years – in fact, it’s as old as I am! It was first built-in 1977, as was I.
Gaggia actually invented the espresso machine as we know it. While the first espresso machine was made in France in the early 1800s, and then the first automatic espresso machine was invented by Italian food Chemist Ernesto Illy, it was a chap by the name of Achille Gaggia, who owned a Cafe’ in Milan, who gave birth to modern espresso. He filed patent number 365726 for a “steam-free coffee machine” on Sep 5th 1938, and his design was very different to other espresso machines up until that point, with a piston mechanism which forced water through the coffee at high pressure. It’s thought that he came up with the idea after looking at the hydraulic system on the engine of a US Army Jeep.
The Gaggia classic is a single boiler machine, and they’re known for being reliable and for making very good espresso. I know this because I did a lot of reading up on the various forums prior to buying mine.
In case you weren’t sure of the difference between single boiler and dual, single boiler means that the machine can not make espresso and steam milk at the same time, a dual boiler can do both at the same time, but you will need to invest quite a bit more to get a dual boiler machine.
Watch my video review on my Youtube Channel
The Sage Oracle that I reviewed a while ago, is dual boiler, and it’s £1500 – as of course is the “Sage Dual Boiler” hence the name. Other prosumer machines made by Expobar, Fracino, Rocket, ECM, Quickmill, La Spaziale for example, are also dual boiler, but you’re looking at around £1,000 new as the starting point for dual boiler machines, or maybe £500+ for used.
During my research I found that some people say derogatory things about the Gaggia classic, but they often appear to be from people who don’t have one, or who are comparing them with machines which cost several times more, which I think is an unfair comparison.
Those who have one, or who had one in the past usually say very good things about them. The only one consistently negative thing that I’ve seen people saying about the classic, is the steam wand – the one it comes with isn’t great, but that’s no big deal as I’ll explain shortly, it’s a cheap and easy upgrade.
You’re not risking much money, in fact I’d say you’re risking nothing – if you decide that having an espresso machine like this isn’t for you, and you decide to just get a pod machine or bean to cup – then if you’ve paid around the hundred quid mark for it on eBay, you’ll get around the same for it if you put it back on eBay, so you’ll lose little or nothing. In fact, I’ll tell you a bit later on how to ensure that you get at least what you paid for it if not more.
I’ll just say something about “Prosumer” vs “consumer”. Prosumer machines are machines that are of a professional, commercial quality. They’re built differently to the lower end consumer machines, and as a result the espresso you make with them is going to be much closer to professional coffee shop quality, and they’re a lot more reliable. (Update, I’ve wrote another post about prosumer espresso machines vs consumer machines, if you’re interested).
Due to the price, unimposing design, and the lack of certain bells and whistles, most people wouldn’t necessarily regard the classic as a prosumer machine. While it certainly doesn’t look as awe-inspiring as some of the machines in that class do, and while it doesn’t have some of the features that many of these do such as PID (digital temp control), E61 grouphead and so on – I think due to the history of this machine, the build quality, reliability, and the high level of some of the parts used, it’s certainly in a different class from most of the consumer machines, including some which are sold at much higher ticket prices.
The portafilter is the full commercial size 58mm, and it’s made of solid chrome plated brass; that’s a heavy-duty professional style portafilter.
They have a 3 way solenoid valve (well, the older models do, they’ve removed this on the latest models), you won’t usually find this part in consumer espresso machines.
This machine (pre 2009 at least, I’m not sure if this is the case on newer models) uses the same vibration pump as is used in many of the machines that are regarded as prosumer, including some of the ECM and Fracino machines.
I’ve heard some people saying that they get inconsistent results with the classic, and I’m not sure why, but I can only imagine that it either has something to do with the beans they’re using, or their grinder, or something else such as tamping. In other words, a bad workman always blames his tools ;-). The boiler capacity on the classic is much smaller than on most of the machines that would usually be classed in the prosumer bracket, but I’ve not seen any negative impacts as a result. The only thing I can think is it would run out of steam quicker than a machine with a dual boiler, but I’ve not had any problems so far in terms of steaming, the steam seems powerful and it’s plenty enough for steaming milk for one or two cups at a time.
The things I think you need to keep in mind before buying a Gaggia Classic
1: They don’t make ’em like they used to…
I’m sure Gaggia / Phillips will hate me for saying this, and I may be wrong or out of date – but from what I’ve gathered, the older pre-2009 models of the classic are made with some higher quality parts than the newer models. If you read the Amazon reviews for the new model, you’ll see it’s only 2.5 out of 5 stars, and it appears that those who know the classic and thought they were purchasing a new version of their beloved machine, have been very disappointed by the latest model.
Italian firm Saeco, bought out Gaggia in 1999, and between then and around 2009 the machines were still made in Milan, with no major change to the way they were built. In 2009 however, Philips bought out Saeco along with Gaggia, and at some point after that they began to make changes to the innards, changes which most in the know regard as negative rather than positive.
For instance the older machines feature the three way solenoid valve, have 1440 watts of power vs. 1050 (I would imagine this is to comply with new EU regulations), and the boiler is stainless steel rather than Aluminium. There is a very detailed post about this on the Gaggia users group, including a comment from the Ex MD of Gaggia, Raj Beadle of Caffe Shop Ltd (exclusive distributor for Gaggia UK).
Having said that, if you look at reviews of the latest model in terms of the taste of the resulting espresso, and comparison tests on YouTube comparing the old and the new, these changes don’t actually appear to have had any negative impact on the espresso the machine makes, I think it’s mainly just a case of “they don’t make ’em like they used to” in terms of how long they’re likely to last.
How to tell if the machine you’re looking at is one of the older machines or a newer one.
The easiest way is to look at the date stamp on the bottom of the machine. If the person you’re buying it from hasn’t stated the age, just ask them to look at the bottom, their should be a date stamp.
The other way is to look on the underside of the portafilter handle, as the month and year of manufacture is usually found there, and while the portafilter might not be made in the same month as the machine it’s paired with, they’ll be made within a similar time-frame.
This isn’t a fail-safe way of figuring out the age of the machine though as it might not be the original portafilter.
The other give away is that as far as I can tell, all of the older models have is that the “classic” logo above “GAGGIA” whereas on the newer models it’s the other way around, but if you want to be sure just check the date stamp.
When searching eBay (again here is that link to the pre-done search for Gaggia classic, ending soonest, UK only) I found that they’re constantly coming up for sale, simply because I think many people start off with a classic and then upgrade at some point. Actually the lady that I collected the classic from, had changed from the classic to a one touch bean to cup machine because she had arthritis and was finding it increasingly difficult to lock the portafilter in place, so not everyone who sells their Gaggia classic on eBay does so for the same reason.
2. You’ll probably want to upgrade the steam wand.
The plastic Pannarello steam wand is not highly regarded, and I can see why. Actually, I managed to steam milk OK with it, by not turning the steam onto full power, and by constantly swirling the milk while steaming; but still, I’ve replaced the wand with a rancilio Silvia replacement steam wand, for £12, so I can do it properly.
I watched a YouTube video telling me how to fit it, it was a doddle, and If I can do it you can, I’m no engineer!! ;-). It took me about 5 or 10 mins max to swap it out.
All you do is get a spanner, undo the bolt on the wand, bend the Gaggia steam wand slightly straight so you can remove the bolt around the bend – take the nut and washer of the rancilio wand, put the Gaggia nut onto the rancilio want, push it into the Gaggia and fasten the nut. That’s it!
Once you do change to the better wand, just be advised that it’s a whole different ball game than using a pannarello, and requires some practise. What you’ll find is you need to hold it right at the top of the milk, and you’ll find the sweet spot in terms of the position and angle; it took me a few practice attempts but I’m there now, I think it’s brilliant! To start with I was submerging it too much and the results were crap, until I watched a couple of videos and noticed that you can usually see the tip of the wand right at the top.
See my video below, of steaming milk with the Gaggic Classic with the Rancilio Silvia steam wand
A couple of days in to using my Gaggia Classic
So far, I’m loving this machine! I’m amazed at the quality of the espresso I’m getting from it, and the milk I’m steaming with it is really good now that I’ve upgraded the steam wand.
The heat up time is quick, 5 mins or so. The espresso I’m making is consistently really good, the steaming capacity is great, and by turning off the steam and purging the steam wand for 30 seconds or so, I find I can get the boiler temp back down for making a second espresso within no time at all if I’m making more than one.
Don’t let the price give you the impression that this is a lesser machine. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that some prosumer machines do, but I think you need to ask yourself whether you need the extra bells and whistles you’re considering paying extra for.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to pay extra for a machine just because of the way it looks, if that’s important to you. I really like the look of some of the more expensive machines such as the Expobar, La Spaziale, Rocket, ECM, Vibiemme or Bezzera machines – and if I could afford it, yes I would pay the extra just because I like the way they look. That’s not because I want to show off, it’s just because I’m attracted to good looking things, as most of us are. That being said, I can’t afford to shell out just based on looks, so I need to think about function; I want to make good espresso and to be able steam milk well, so as far as I can see there’s nothing that the more expensive machines can do that I need to invest in right now.
So all I’m saying is, if you are going to spend more money, at least know what you’re paying for – are you paying for a more expensive machine because you like the way it looks and want it in your kitchen, if so fine, no problem with that; or are you paying more for a machine because it has features you don’t need?
What I like about it so far:
Space: It’s a compact machine, doesn’t take up much space in our small kitchen.
Aesthetics: looks quite nice in my opinion, it’s certainly not in any way offensive or garish.
Quick warm up: It doesn’t take long at all for the Gaggia classic to be ready to make espresso, I’ve read some people recommending 10 minutes or longer, but I find it’s up to temp in about 5 mins.
Ability to make great espresso: OK the espresso machine is only part of the story, the coffee itself plays a big part, as does the grinder, and the skill of the user – but so far I’m very happy at the quality of the espresso I’m able to make.
Water tank capacity: Although I have to say I wish it was even bigger – the Gaggia classic water tank is 2.1 litres, which is around double the capacity of most of the consumer espresso machines within a similar price bracket. If you see the post I wrote a while ago on budget espresso machines, they’re all within a similar price range to the price of the pre 2009 classic used, and they’re mainly around 1 litre water tanks.
Reliability: People have these machines for years, decades even. I’ve heard of many people using Gagia classics for several years, as long as they’re looked after they appear to just keep on going. You’ll often see them for sale on eBay as old as 15 – 20 years being sold as working perfectly.
Repairability (Did I just invent a word?): Parts are not hard to come by, and they’re not difficult to service or repair.
Upgradability (Did I just invent another word??): You’ll sometimes read that what lets the classic down is the awful steam wand – but it’s a doddle to swap it out for the Rancilio Silvia commercial style steam wand, which you can get for under £12, which will give you a much better, more professional steam wand. You can also install a PID kit (digital brew temp controller) if you wanted to be really fancy, although that will cost about a hundred quid which seems a bit steep given the cost of this espresso machine.
What I don’t like about it so far:
The steam wand. This is all I can think of currently that I don’t like about it, and as discussed you can fix this for £12 and about 5-10 mins.
The importance of fresh coffee
The coffee is of paramount importance of course, there’s no point having an espresso machine that is capable of making brilliant espresso, and using stale coffee. If you buy coffee from a supermarket, roasted who knows when and with usually around 12 months shelf life, it isn’t fresh – and you’ll taste the difference in the cup. If you don’t believe me, I would recommend you try a £1 trial bag from Pact cofee, or try one of the great coffees from Hasbean, and along side them, try an espresso made from coffee bought off the shelf in a supermarket. You’ll be able to taste the difference without a doubt, you’ll also be able to see the difference in terms of the way the coffee looks and the amount of crema, and you’ll be able to smell the difference.
The importance of the grinder
One thing I you need to know before you buy any espresso machine, is that if you want great espresso – you need a great grinder. If you don’t have a good grinder, you can have a great espresso machine, great freshly roasted coffee beans, and the grinder will be your weak link. It surprised me when I discovered just how important the grinder is, and how much you need to spend on a good grinder!
How to sell your Gaggia Classic for as much as you paid for it, or more.
I buy quite a lot on eBay, and I sell quite a lot on eBay too – I rarely pay top price on eBay, and never sell things on eBay for bottom price.
When it comes to both buying and selling, the first trick is to know the average selling price of the item you are buying or selling, in the same kind of quality as the item you want to buy or sell. You can easily figure this out by doing an advanced search on ebay, and ticking the box for “sold items” you’ll then be able to see what the average selling price is.
Once I have a good idea of the average selling price, I’ll see if there’s anyone selling what I’m after at buy it now at around the price I’m expecting to pay. If not, I’ll look if there’s someone locally (by clicking advanced, and then entering my post code and selecting a certain distance) that I can collect from who’s selling what I’m after, and I’ll contact them to see if they’d like to offer a buy it now price, as long as it’s around the average selling price (keeping in mind that I’ll also save on the delivery cost) then I’ll agree.
If I can’t find one locally like this, I’ll use Goofbid, a free auction sniper, to put on a snipe bid. I always put a bid on first via eBay, but then instead of putting my maximum bid on via eBay which gives other buyers the ability to nudge up my proxy bid, I put it on with Goofbid, which means that my max bid is put on within a couple of seconds of auction close. This isn’t an underhand tactic as far as I’m concerned, it’s only like manually waiting until right at the last minute to put on your max bid, but using a tool to do it automatically so that you don’t have to sit there waiting.
So that’s how I make sure I don’t pay more than I have to for anything on eBay. When it comes to selling used items on eBay, I have three words for you: Buy It Now. Most people only sell new products via buy it now, but a while ago I cottoned onto the fact that any popular items put on eBay at buy it now for around the top of the average auction close price, usually sell very quickly – so I tried it, and the item I was selling sold within the hour. Now whenever I’m selling on eBay (and I sell for friends and family on eBay too so I sell quite a bit), I always list used items buy it now, and I always research the average selling price and put the item on at the top of the average, and nearly always the item sells quickly.
In addition to the above, adding value to an item in any way enables you to sell it for more than you paid for it, and sometimes you can add more in perceived value than actual value. For instance, on average with the standard steam wand, the classic sells for around £100. You can get the Rancilio Silvia steam wand for just under £12, and you can fit yourself in 5-10 mins. The average selling price at the moment for the Gaggia classic with the Rancilio Silvia steam wand fitted, is around £150 – which means that the perceived value in the market place of the this mod having being done, is £50, for a cost of just under £12.
Plus, you’ll often find that images and descriptions aren’t too good on eBay, and by taking better photos, and writing better product descriptions, you can help to increase the bidding on your item. A good idea also is to take a short video of the machine in action, pulling a shot, and then put that up on YouTube or Vimeo, and embed it into the auction.
Gaggia Classic Review, Conclusion.
In conclusion, the Gaggia classic, with a Rancilio Silvia steam wand, rocks! I honestly don’t think you’ll get a better espresso machine for the money, especially if you’re going second-hand, and in which case I recommend going for a pre 2009 model as discussed. Don’t forget though that you’ll need a decent grinder, and great quality freshly roasted beans.
Update, a few weeks later…
I’ve had a few more weeks with the classic, and I am still very, very happy with it for the money. I’ve noticed a couple of tiny niggles, but they’re nothing serious.
Sometimes the steam wand leaks very slightly, but we’re only talking a slight drip so it’s nothing to get too concerned about, and don’t forget mine is 13 years old, so it’s good going for a machine costing a couple of hundred quid new that the only issue with it over a decade later is a tiny drip from the wand – plus, I swapped the wand for the Rancilio Silvia one of course, so it could be something to do with that.
The other very slight niggle is that although it allegedly reaches full temp after 5 mins, and the light comes on to indicate that it is ready, it’s not really – if you try to make espresso with it after 5 mins it’s not quite right, the brew temp is a bit cool, it takes a bit longer. 10 mins seems to be fine, although I try to give it 20 or 30 mins when I can. I also try to do a bit of “temperature surfing” which involves turning the steam on for a few seconds and then pulling the shot, in order to try to get the temp just right, but with out a PID (digital temp control) it’s very difficult.
I’ve seen some people say that the classic isn’t good for steaming milk because of the small boiler, but this is not what I’m finding at all, I’m finding it’s more than capable of producing enough steam to froth milk, although I only usually froth for one cup at a time, if you’re trying to froth enough milk to make 2 or more at a time then perhaps the size of the boiler will become an issue.
The image above is a photo of a flat white I’ve just made with the classic, not bad from a novice using a £100 espresso machine eh? 😉 Actually it’s a bit pants that one, I’ve done far better, but at least it shows that the texture is right – the crappy art is down to the user…
Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.