The First Looks review (found on this website) covered the initial setup, priming and first impressions of the machine. Please note that the instruction manual's Getting Starting section is sadly lacking - actually completely lacking! I would recommend you download the rewritten Gaggia Classic user's manual (also found on this website), for better instructions.
There are of course, criticisms to be made. Yes, there are the widely reported gaps around the flimsy warming tray and the drip tray could fit a bit better. The steam knob looks a bit too lightweight and plasticky. However all in all, this model has been around for many years and is a proven design.
Gaggia's small, but powerful boiler heats up and recycles quickly, so you should be able to steam multiple pitchers of milk if you have to. About 10 ounces of milk or so is the practical maximum before you start to run out of steam. If you are not going to use the turbofrother device, 10 ounces of milk is way too much. For good results, try frothing 4 to 5 ounces at a time with the bare wand. The end result is definately superior.
I have not felt the need to temperature surf or go through all kinds of machinations to produce a decent shot. A 30 minute warm-up (or longer) is all you need to pre-heat the machine and the portafilter. Be careful about putting too much coffee in the basket. Inserting the portafilter becomes difficult and you may get the dreaded "pfutt" and end up with coffee grounds and water in your cup.
Alternatively, you can use the crooked finger technique to make a slight depression in the coffee and then tamp. Ideally, the screen should not quite touch the dry puck, however after drawing your shot, the coffee grounds should expand sufficiently so that you may see the slight impression of the screw on the surface of the puck.
Milk frothing with the Gaggia turbofother was a challenge though. It took about six months for me to "get it". Please read the article on micro-texturization found under the brewing techniques section of this website for valuable tips and techniques. It should shorten the learning curve considerably. On the newer models, the stainless steel turbofrother has been recently replaced with a new plastic turbofrother with claims of better performance.
There are no gotchas per se, however remember to turn on the steam switch and the brew switch if you want hot water from the wand. And while you are doing this, be especially careful to remember to crack open the steam valve knob BEFORE you turn on the brew switch otherwise the big Ulka pump is going to get very quiet - very fast.
After several months living with the Gaggia Classic, you find yourself pulling more consistent shots. Without realizing it, you will find that skill and experience play an increasingly important role in extracting the best performance out of this machine.
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.