- Created: Tuesday, 01 June 2004 14:45
- Written by colin
The Gaggia Espresso
Looks | The Gaggia Espresso is the product of the time honored and the trusted, from every angle, inside and out. Consider this, Gaggia has had a long time to think about what works in the home. They co-invented home espresso along with historically significant companies like Faema. Another important fact about Gaggia marketing is this one - Put the best internals in all machines. That way, every Gaggia consumer gets great espresso and cappuccino. Naturally, sacrifices have to be made somewhere or, as logic would dictate, there would only be one machine in their product line! Gaggia separates the better from the best thusly: Give the flagship units a skin of steel, gold plate for good measure. The Gaggia espresso is the entry level unit and at 200 dollars, or so, stands head and shoulders alongside the most esoteric and polished senior members of the Gaggia line-up. Read on.
Out of the box | The Gaggia Espresso is generally shipped double-boxed and all contents and extras are safely sheathed in styrofoam. Color options include black and white. The Gaggia Espresso is a serviceable offering from a wide product line. Underneath an ABS/Polycarbonate (plastic) skin are all the same internals you would find in the most expensive Gaggia selections - 58mm brass portafilter, chromed forged marine brass brew group, 17-bar vibration pump, aluminum boiler with dual external heating elements are standard issue on the Gaggia Espresso. Only on the most expensive units does one find a 3-way solenoid that enhances performance.
Controls | The Gaggia Espresso control panel is unsurprising and practical. Three rocker-switches control all critical functions. All functions are obvious: On - Off, Steam, and Brew. LED (light emitting diodes) ready-lites, within individual switches, indicate power on and brew/steam readiness. A read of the manual is a good idea! Please read the manual.
Creature features | The steam knob of the Gaggia Espresso is on the right of the unit. The right mounted steam knob, to me, is the most obvious and ergonomic location. The reservoir, although somewhat difficult to get at, is visible from the front of the unit and it can be filled from the top. The reservoir holds 6 cups of water which allows for plenty of shots without refilling. The drip tray, like the Rancilio Silvia, holds about 1/2 a liter of water. The Gaggia Espresso does not have a 3-way solenoid found in more expensive Gaggia's. The 3-way solenoid, when activated, de-pressurizes the portafilter and allows for a quick removal of waste coffee and prompt reloading of the portafilter for subsequent brews. When using the Gaggia Espresso, 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! Be careful!
If you like the idea of hot and scalding coffee grounds coating the walls of your kitchen and possibly your person, go ahead, yank that portafilter right off without letting the machine 'rest'.
First use | Advice - Run lots of water through the Gaggia Espresso upon first use. 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.
Facts | Espresso brews best when everything is warmed up. Our sample Gaggia Espresso brewed at a perfect 195 degrees (F) after a 20 minute warm up period. A Hot machine means great espresso. The Gaggia Espresso is a well powered (1370 Watt boiler) with the same internals of the more expensive Gaggia models. The ready-lite comes on in less than 4 minutes, folks, but as I have said before, a 20 minute warm up is advisable for the best drinks. 15 to 20 minutes of your time combined with running some water through the system every 5 minutes or so pays off in intense shots of coffee and towers of crema. Option: Okay, so you are in a hurry. Switch on steam mode. Wait 2 minutes. Press brew switch with an empty portafilter attached. This hastens the warm up period. Make sure you come out of steam mode and wait a few minutes for the machine to cool to brew temperature. Superheated water and coffee do not mix. Trust me on this.
Results | I approached the Gaggia Espresso ready to produce perfect coffee. The Gaggia Espresso reaches a stable brewing temperature within about 15 minutes. Judging by the readings on my Fluke digital thermometer, brew water temperatures fluctuated between 195 and 202 degrees. Using a standard espresso grind, the Gaggia Espresso had no trouble brewing two and a half ounces of espresso in about 20 seconds.
As always, subsequent shots of espresso were rich, intense and capable of holding up any latte, cappuccino or Cafe mocha. They were slightly less intense than what my Rancilio would put out, but I do not think anyone is going to notice. For fans of foam milk the Gaggia Espresso holds its own effortlessly. I am not a big fan of the ubiquitous Gaggia turbo-frother because they make it hard to achieve micro-foam (micro-foam is beyond the scope of this document) and as a result, latte art.
Beefs | The Gaggia Espresso is an all plastic unit and major pieces are held together tab and groove style. Although this eliminates pesky screw heads from showing, it means that the overall fit and finished can be somewhat reduced. The Gaggia Espresso does not really have a cup warmer but that is okay, as most cup warmers are useless. Want to heat your cups (and you should), place them in a tray of boiling water. Your drinks will be better.
Compare machines| The Gaggia Carezza and the Gaggia Espresso have virtually identical performance. Their internals are exactly same right down to the switches, wire blocks and plumbing. One would, by definition, pick one over the other on looks alone. The Saeco Classico and Solis SL70 have some benefits and disadvantages.
- The commercial style 58MM unpressurized filters in the Gaggia's demand a more precise grind.
- Conversely, the Solis and Saeco machines are more tolerant of grind and tamp and can handle finer and coarser grinds.
- You get what you pay for - the Gaggia's in this price point are light on the skin. They are lighter and they use more plastic.
- The Gaggia's, in my opinion, have a slight edge in terms of producing intense espresso.
- Grinding your own coffee at home? You will need a good grinder to take full advantage of what the Gaggia's can do.
Grinders used in all tests include: Rancilio Rocky and the Gaggia MDF. The benchmark machine was the Rancilio Silvia.
Buy | The Gaggia Espresso is available from EspressoTec.Com in Canada. Price: Under $230
Colin Newell lives, works and plays with coffee equipment in Victoria, Canada. Not suprisingly, he takes all his own pictures...