The Gaggia Classic espresso machine has been a favourite for home coffee enthusiasts for many years, so when Gaggia released the 2019 update, called the Classic Pro, we bought one, and used it as a daily driver for over a year.
During that time, I pulled the machine apart, upgraded components, added a PID and did various cleaning and repair jobs. I feel like I know this machine, but would I still recommend it in 2022?
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 still an excellent choice in 2022 for a particular coffee enthusiast, including espresso lovers like us, and why others should look at alternatives.
Summary Up Front
The Gaggia Classic Pro out of the. box can make great espresso, froth milk reasonably well, but not do both at the same time. It has a robust and simple stainless steel build quality and has a thriving secondary market for add-ons and upgrades, and is pretty easy to re-sell when the time comes.
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.
The machine is feeling a little dated now. Gaggia’s approach may be if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but I think a few small refinements could go a long way to extending the appeal of this machine. One of the machines they were previously compared to, the Rancilio Silvia Pro has been upgraded significantly recently, although it now comes at a higher cost.
It’s a Gateway to More Capable Machines
Another reason not discussed much, is how this machine allows you to experiment, tinker, and learn about the brewing mechanics at a reasonable cost. I would never modify my Rocket R58 which cost over £2k, but during my years with the Gaggia, I had no problem in swapping out the drip tray for a 3D printed variant, changing the filter basket, or even cleaning limescale out of the 3-way solenoid valve.
The fundamental knowledge of coffee machine mechanics I learned during that time is something I appreciate now. The simplicity of the machine, active community and thriving 3rd party market set made it possible.
Some Negatives to Consider
- It’s starting to look old compared to newer models
- No PID and therefore no way to control temperature which limits your ability to control extraction on darker vs lighter roasts.
- If you make milk based drinks, you’ll have to make the espresso’s first and then wait for the boiler to heat to milk frothing temperature. Making more than one milk based coffee, will take longer than you want. Look elsewhere if you’re regularly making several milky coffees.
- Although made from a stainless steel frame, It attracts grime after a while, especially on the base below the drip tray
- It comes out the box set to 15bar pressure, which is too high. You’ll need to change this to 9bar or lower using a kit. This is simple and cheap to do, but it might make some anxious
- A single boiler machine controlled by simple switches, it has some quality components where it counts that help in brewing quality espresso.
- Stability is pretty good once warmed up however due to the integrated group head with close proximity to the boiler and heavy brass portafilter which retains heat.
- Small footprint, easy to remove water reservoir or fill from top.
- Decent milk frothing, but you have to wait for the boiler to heat after you’ve brewed your espresso.
- Lots of aftermarket parts if you like to tinker and learn
What’s Changed from the Old Model
- The pump has reduced vibration. Feels less like an earthquake.
- Professional metal steam wand with two holes which is perhaps the biggest improvement overall. The old model had a plastic panarello wand which was easier to use, but at the cost of control and fine quality.
- The 2019 Classic Pro is made in Italy now. Previous models were outsourced to Romania
Gaggia Classic Pro Key Features
|Boiler Type||Single Boiler|
|Steam Wand||Yes - Professional|
|3-Way Solenoid Valve?||Yes|
Brewing Capability – 4.5/5
Since all coffee drinks start with an espresso base, a good machine, it goes without saying, should be able to brew good espresso. But there’s a catch. At this price point, some people may choose the 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 an espresso shot and is the easiest way to start making espresso if you don’t have a quality grinder, 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 to make good espresso with 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 espresso 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.
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 Lavazza or Illy 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 espresso machine. This means that the water used to brew the espresso comes from the same boiler as used for steaming milk. You want to brew your coffee between 90° to 96°C, and milk frothing 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.
Recently in fact, my solenoid valve did get blocked. Fortunately, fixing it was quite simple. I followed the advice in this video and it took 5 minutes to get it working again:
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.
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.
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.