The Good Stuff:
Very fast heat cycling times, commercial size 58mm filter, powerful pump, sturdily built, nice wrap-around stainless finish, looks good from all angles. Understated "classic" design.
Not so good stuff:
Uneven gaps around edges around cup warming tray, drip tray could fit better. Short wand.
Stuff that could be improved:
An extra brace under the drip tray, so that your machine won't rack when you are cranking hard on your overfilled portafilter... An optional PLAIN steam wand. How about a solid, round portafilter handle?
Before you do anything else, after unpacking your new machine. DO NOT READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. Ok, you can read them later, however do NOT follow the manual's Getting Started section (there isn't any).
First of all, the manufacturer has packed the accessory items ( filter baskets, el-cheapo plastic tamper and coffee measuring spoon) in the reservoir. It might be a good idea to remove these items before filling the reservoir with water. To remove the reservoir, you remove the stainless steel bypass drain tube. Yes, that's the thing that's blocking the reservoir from sliding straight out. Pull straight down on the tube to remove it. No, you don't need a crescent wrench to remove it! You will note that there is a rubber intake tube that hangs down into the reservoir. Its sole purpose is to suck up the water to the pump. When you put the reservoir back, make darn sure that the tube is hanging down into the reservoir and is not stuck behind the reservoir. Don't forget to put back the straight piece of stainless tubing - the bypass tube.
Now you can fill the reservoir. Unless kitchen cabinet clearance is an issue for you, you will most likely be filling the water tank from the top. There is a black plastic lid that can be removed so you can dump the water in. There is the word "max" on the reservoir and you have probably already figured this out - this is the maximum level of water you want to put in the tank.
CAUTION: DO NOT FOLLOW THE PRIMING INSTRUCTIONS IN THE MANUAL.
Do you really want to heat up the boiler tank red hot when it is empty? Do you plug in your electric kettle empty?
Do this instead:
1. Place a cup or your frothing pitcher under the wand. Notice that the wand can be swiveled out from the machine.
2. Open up the steam valve all the way anti-clockwise. That's the black knob on the right hand side of the machine.
3. Turn on the power/boiler heater switch. That's the electrical switch on the far left
4. Turn on the steam switch - the middle large switch
5. Turn on the brew/pump switch - the one on the far right. You should now get a stream of hot water coming out of the wand. It might take several seconds for the boiler to fill before you get water. Fill a cup of water or so.
6. Turn off the pump/brew switch switch - the one on the far right
7. Turn off the steam switch - the middle switch
8. Close steam valve. Be gentle, don't crank down too hard.
9. Place a cup on the drip tray - that's the stainless steel plate with all of the round holes. We are now going to run water through your "group".
10.Turn on the pump/brew switch. Water should come out in a few seconds or so. Feel free to fill a cup of water or so.
11.Turn off the pump/brew switch.
Your pump has now been primed. Keep the following point in mind - if you run the pump without any water, you will likely ruin the pump. OK, you can safely read the rest of the manual now. Actually, other than the bad priming instructions, the manual is not as bad as everyone says it is. The ordering of some of the instructions could be improved. Maybe some day, someone will rewrite it.
Ok, if you look hard enough, you will find minor faults in this Italian made machine - the uneven gaps around the cup tray the most noticeable. Down below, the drip tray is not flush with the front "foot" of the machine and yes, the drip tray reservoir would have looked better in stainless steel rather than black plastic. The drip tray edge is razor sharp - be careful - and the edges of some of the plastic bits could have been trimmed better. Grab a file if it bothers you.
Other than these aesthetic shortcomings, the Classic is a sturdy machine that performs dependably. It is easy to fill and also easy to view the level of the water in the reservoir. The reservoir can easily be removed for cleaning. The machine warms up quite quickly thanks to its bigger than average heating elements. The rocker type of switches are large and appear to be heavy duty, however remember to turn off the steam switch before turning off the power switch to avoid unecessary wear on the electrical contacts.
Oh, almost forgot the turbo-frother thing. Gaggia obviously went to the extra expense to design and fabricate a stainless steel turbo frothing attachment and it does work. Anyone can make a great topping-like foam the first time and every time. However, getting microfoam is a moving target with this device. When you graduate to being a true coffee afficianado, you may want to remove said device and try to steam using the bare wand instead.
I can easily steam up to 10 oz of milk without any problem. The boiler recycles very quickly, so if you want to steam another pitcher of milk just refill the boiler, bleed and you're back in business by the time you've put the milk back in the fridge.
This machine has been around for many years. It is a proven performer and represents good value for the money.
There is one caveat however and it is a bit of a controversy. Gaggia uses a unique composite aluminum/brass boiler with an imbedded heating element. There have been a few reports of accelerated corrosion of the aluminum part of this boiler. It might be galvanic reaction of dissimilar metals or certain corrosive hard water conditions or perhaps solar flares - who knows? The debate is still ongoing.
Other machines to consider in this class - Silvia or Solis.
--- UPDATE --- Using the wrong type of water will cause accelerated corrosion of these composite boilers. Apparently, hard, acidic water is the culprit. If you have hard water in your area, play it safe by using reverse osmosis water buffered with a pinch of baking soda. Thanks to Jim Schulman for the tip!
Glenn S. is a senior financial consultant with a successful firm in Southern Ontario. He works and lives in Waterloo and is the most prolific member of CoffeeCrew.Com.