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GAGGIA CLASSIC PRO REVIEW – WHEN TO BUY ONE AND WHEN NOT!

The Gaggia Classic has been a favourite for home espresso enthusiasts for many years, so when Gaggia released the 2019 update, called the Classic Pro, we bought one.

The Gaggia Classic Pro is a semi-automatic machine that has several limitations, yet this hasn’t stopped a dedicated fanbase from continuing to buy them. Read on to understand why we think the Gaggia Classic Pro is an excellent choice for a particular coffee enthusiast, and why others should stay away.

Summary Up Front

The Gaggia Classic Pro will make great espresso, froth milk reasonably well, but not do both at the same time. It has a robust and simple build quality and has a thriving secondary market for add-ons and upgrades, and retains its value very well.

Choose it if you want an affordable entry into making espresso, wish to have a separate grinder, and don’t need to make many milk-based drinks in quick succession.

Gaggia Classic Pro Key Features

FunctionDescription
Boiler TypeSingle Boiler
Temperature ControlNo
Pressure GaugeNo
Water SourceResevoir
Steam WandYes - Professional
GrinderNo
3-Way Solenoid Valve?Yes

Brewing Capability – 4.5/5

A good espresso machine, it goes without saying, should make good espresso. But there’s a catch. At this price point, some people may choose the Gaggia Classic Pro to use with a pressurised basket and pre-ground coffee, while others attracted by its capability and low price point want to grind our own coffee. Setting up a machine to give good results for one, will affect the results of the other. 

High-Pressure Extraction by Default is not ideal for regular shots

A pressurised basket simplifies the process of pulling a shot, but it also requires more pressure than is ideal for use with a regular basket. The Classic Pro out of the box pushes around 14 bar through your coffee. Too much for freshly ground coffee which requires 9 bar.

The good news is that kits are available for less than £5 ($6) which supply you with a small spring and some tubes. The spring took 5 minutes to replace and took the pressure down to the ideal 9 bar level.

The beans matter

That said before I bought the kit I was still getting great shots with darker roasts. This is an Italian made machine, and the Italians prefer a stronger robust flavour, which is easier and more forgiving to extract.

However, when you move toward using a medium or light roast, you will struggle to get the best out of the beans without having fine control over several aspects of the extraction, including having the pressure set to a lower 9 bar, and with an ability to set the temperature.

She’s no beauty, but the shots are pretty good. Note the non-standard PID device stuck on the left side of the machine.

Temperature Control

Hotter water extracts coffee faster than colder water, so if you want to get into your single-origin fine espressos, you will need temperature control.

The thermostat inside the Gaggia Classic Pro is a physical block that expands with heat and contracts as it cools. There is no finesse in this as you can imagine.

Your only indication that the ‘right’ temperature has been reached is that the light on the brew switch comes on.

This simplicity, of course, is an advantage if you don’t want to get deeply involved in the intricacies of making espresso. It works quite well with the regular Lavatza or Ille beans and other Italian roasts. You will not be disappointed and can get a lot of pleasure from trying different beans and making tasty coffee.

Should you wish to raise your brewing game, the Gaggia secondary market has your back. There are several PID kits on the market which allow you to replace the old physical thermometer with a digital one accurate to one-tenth of a degree (measured at the boiler).

I shamefully admit that I have close to zero practical handyman skills. I’ve tried, but I don’t have what it takes. However, I was able in a couple of hours, following instructions from Mr Shades and a kit I bought from him on eBay, to install a PID. Amazingly, it worked and has continued to work reliably for several months so far. The benefit of this PID is the level of control and the visibility of the boiler temperature that it gives you.

Frothing Milk – 4/5

The Gaggia Classic Pro is a single boiler machine. This means that the water used to brew the espresso comes from the same boiler as used to steam milk. You want to brew your coffee between 90° to 96°C, and frothing milk requires a much higher temperature.

So you’re probably best to steam the milk first and then wait for the boiler to cool to the right temperature to make your espresso. Pushing the brew button releases a bunch of steam and helps the cooling. It will still take a minute or more and you’ll need to swirl your milk jug before pouring.

This means a certain amount of waiting from doing one to the other. It doesn’t have much impact when making a single milk-based drink, but if you need to do several, then it might be an issue to consider. Moving up to a dual boiler machine though means reconsidering your budget.

The milk wand on the 2019 model is a ‘proper’ wand, instead of the ‘Panarello’ type wand which simplifies the steaming process, but simultaneously removes much of the control and results in a consistently average result. The Pro wand now included gives you more control over the frothing process meaning you can make a total pig’s ear of it, but you can also learn how to steam milk properly, switching between cappuccino style – with more air and froth, and a latte with smooth microfoam that is needed for latte art. The Pro wand is a good thing considering the market for this machine and has been universally appreciated. 

Some reviewers have criticized the lack of flexibility on the wand mechanics for positioning it inside the jug, but I’ve never had an issue making perfect microfoam. Once you learn the jug position, it’s counterproductive to move around more than a fraction when heating milk. Cappuccinos or lattes were easily achieved if taking a bit longer than on machines with more power.

Ease of Use – 4.5/5

If you want to push a button and go, the Gaggia Classic Pro will reward you with good results, especially on a traditional Italian roast. I’ve taken off half a point for the limitations of a single boiler, which may mean you need to work a little harder when producing multiple milk drinks.

There are three buttons on the front. ON, BREW, and STEAM. Simples!

Filling the water tank is straightforward with convenient access from the top. If your machine sits on your counter, under your cupboards, you still have just enough room to pour water from a Breville filter into the tank.

Maintenance and Cleaning – 3/5

Like others who have reviewed this machine, the main area of disappointment is the cleaning regime. Unlike the Sage / Breville Barista express with its enviable ‘Clean me’ button, The Gaggia likes things done ‘old school’, requiring you to strip the machine. Depending on how hard your water is, you might be doing this once or twice a year.

The boiler is a coated aluminium type, which won’t rust, but the build-up of limescale might cause damage to the coating. Other components, like the solenoid valve – used to extract water from the basket to the drip tray to prevent your finished puck becoming ‘soupy’, will get blocked quite easily without regular descaling.

no soupy watery residue on top of the puck means less clean up

Gaggia Classic Pro vs Sage / Breville Barista Express

But if this is the extent of your needs, I think there are other choices to consider. Consider a machine with a grinder built-in like the Sage (marketed as Breville in the US) Barista Express which costs about £100 ($125) more than the Gaggia but includes the cost of the grinder which you have to pay for separately with the Gaggia Classic Pro.

Temperature Adjustment

The Sage/Breville Barista Express offer some crude adjustments. There’s no easy indication of boiler temperature, and it seems like they’ve added it to fill out the feature sheet, but they don’t expect anyone to use it.

Built-in Grinder

Taking an integrated approach as we know has benefits, but brings with it limitations. Having a grinder built into the machine makes it a doddle to use, requires less space and arguably looks nicer.

On the other hand, if you want to raise your barista game in the future, upgrading the grinder will not be possible. You could ignore the built-in grinder and use a separate external one, but then that empty hopper is going to stare at you every morning making you wonder why you didn’t just buy them separately, to begin with.

Summary and Wrap Up

The Gaggia Classic Pro is built to last and be a workhorse as long as you show it a bit of love from time to time. Easy to work on, cheap and available parts and an upgrader’s dream. This is a machine that will get you started for just over the $500 barrier.

You will still need to buy a separate grinder, tamper and some other bits, but you’ll have a bought into a system that allows you to grow. If you do decide to sell it, the Classic Pro retains its value well.

Written by Nick Baskett

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