Home equipment reviews - The Gaggia Carezza

GAGGIA Carezza from Whole Latte LoveThe Gaggia Carezza 

Looks | From a casual glance, the Gaggia Carezza looks like it was designed not to stand out in the kitchen.

Let me rephrase that. I think a Gaggia designer or two put their heads together and decided to come up with something that would not visually stand out.
The Gaggia Carezza looks like a tall drip brewer. Now let me tell you how I see this. Someone out there wants a machine that simply fits into the kitchen without shocking anyone. If any of our readers have heard of the ultra-sexy machine, the Francis-francis, you will quickly realize that this is the machine that is the furthest away from the Gaggia in terms of modern design.

Out of the box| The Carezza is generally shipped double-boxed and all contents and extras are safely cocooned in styrofoam. Color options include grey, white and silver. The Carezza is a solid entry level unit from the venerable Gaggia company. Underneath an ABS/Polycarbonate (plastic) skin are some robust components not out of place on higher end machines. A 58mm brass portafilter is standard equipment on the Carezza. An aluminum boiler, with a 3.5 fluid ounce capacity, is ample for double-shots of espresso.

Controls | The Carezza is straighforward as espresso machines go. A trio of heavy-duty rocker-switches (shown at right) control everything. All functions are obvious: On - Off, Steam, and Brew. There are two (hard to see) LED (light emitting diodes) below the switch cluster that indicate power on and brew/steam readiness. A turn of the 'fairly readable' manual is a good idea! Read the manual and then read it again.

Creature features | The steam knob of the Carezza is on top of the unit. Similar to the Gaggia Baby, the top mounted steam knob takes a bit of getting used to. The downside to a top mounted steam knob, as I discovered, is that it gets hot to the touch after a session of steaming and it kind of eliminates the top of the machine as a candidate for a cup warmer. The reservoir, although awkward to attach, is visible from the front of the unit and it can be filled from the top. The reservoir holds 6 cups of water and that allows for plenty of brews. The drip tray, on the other hand captures an alarmingly small 100ml of waste water. I think that Gaggia could have easily done better in this department! The Carezza, like other entry-level Gaggia units does not have a 3-way solenoid. The 3-way solenoid, when activated, depressurizes the portafilter and allows for a quick removal of waste coffee and prompt reloading of the portafilter for subsequent brews. When using the Carezza, necessity dictates that you wait a minute while the portafilter pressure dissipates. If you pull the portafilter off right away, you may be surprised by the spray of hot coffee grounds! (Mark at coffeegeek calls this a 'sneeze'. Okay, good term.)

First use | As with all new espresso machines, it is a good idea to run lots of water through them. This is easy stuff, folks. Fill up the reservoir and power on the unit. Open the steam knob fully counterclockwise and press the brew switch. The pump will sound like a cement mixer with a "new" machine. Don't panic! This is normal. Running water through any new espresso machine serves two important purposes. Water removes any residue from the manufacture and testing processes that your machine went through prior to leaving the factory.
Running water through a machine that has just been switched on helps it warm up. Okay, you do not need to waste water. A couple of reservoirs worth of water is good after the initial out-of-the-box break in period. For general use, a few 5-second bursts of water through the portafilter heed warm-up and facilitate a superior brew.

Fact | Espresso brews best when everything is warmed up. Ideal brew temperature for espresso is about 195 degrees (F) and accordingly, any component that comes in contact with the espresso coffee, from the boiler on down through the brew group and into the coffee portafilter, should be Hot. The Carezza is well powered and the ready-lite comes on in less than 4 minutes. That said, I would give it 15 to 20 minutes to heat up, running some water through the system every 5 minutes or so. Folks, if you are in a hurry, leave the machine off and pull down a bottle of instant coffee from the cupboard. Espresso, great espresso is a journey, not a drive-through.

 

Results | I approached the Carezza as a person who is a satisfied Rancilio Silvia user. The Silvia has a couple of creature features that I like but they are not completely necessary to enjoy a satisfying espresso experience. The Carezza pulled me over to team Gaggia quickly. The Carezza achieved temperature stability within about 15 minutes. Brew temperature fluctuated between 196 and 204 degrees depending on whether I was temperature surfing or coming off of a milk frothing session. Using the same grind that I have been using with the Silvia, the Carezza had no trouble streaming off two and a half ounces of crema capped espresso in about 20 seconds.

The initial shots were good and improved with each successive shot. If anything, they were slightly less intense than the Rancilio shots, but this would not be something that a Latte, Cappuccino or Americano drinker would notice. For fans of the foam milk topped beverages, like the Cappuccino, the Carezza is no slouch in the steam department. I am not a big fan of the ubiquitos turbo-frother but in Gaggia's case, they almost seem to be over-powered. I had no trouble foaming 6 fluid ounces of cold milk in, what seemed like, 45 seconds or so. I think if I had not loaned out my 12 ounce steel carafe (I must get that back!), I would have had more reasonable results in the quest for micro-foam.

Beefs | The drip tray on the Carezza is a tad shallow. I found myself emptying the tray several times during each brew session.
The wand does not pivot very far away from the body of the Carezza. One needs to have the Carezza at counters edge if they wish to take advantage of deeper milk carafes.

Compare | The Gaggia Carezza and the Gaggia Espresso have virtually identical performance. The Saeco Classico and Solis SL70 have some benefits and disadvantages:

Grinders used in all tests include: Rancilio Rocky and the Gaggia MDF. The benchmark machine was the Rancilio Silvia.

Buy | The Gaggia Carezza is available from EspressoTec.Com in Canada. Price: Under $200.