Mini Slim Mill & Gaggia Classic – Tips & Tricks

The Gaggia Classic I own is an older model (the IEC power plug doesn’t have a ground) that I bought for less than half price used.  And so far so good, it’s been a good appliance.  I find I can make a couple of espressos a day with it and I’m happy.  The problems come when you want to start comparing those espressos with a what a good barista at a good coffee shop can pull.  I don’t think they’ll ever be the same, but there are few things a Gaggia Classic owner can do to eek out better espresso.

1) be patient.  when I get up in the AM I turn it on. Make sure the portafilter basket is clean and purge about 6 ounces of water out of the brew head, making sure the brew head is clean.  Then do something else for 10-15 minutes.  That’s how long it takes to warm up; 20 minutes is probably even better.

2) grinding with the Hario Mini Slim Mill Ceramic is a little futzy as the grind adjustment doesn’t seem to be particularly fine (i.e. the steps are too coarse and the ceramic burrset is small) but still it works.  For $35 or whatever, it gets you much closer to consistent espresso grounds than anything else that costs less than $100 or more.  Yes, a Mazzer would be nice, or even just a Rocky, but I can’t justify it.  So, with each bag of espresso I buy I have to find that sweet spot in the grind where it doesn’t choke the machine.  And it’s true with hand grinding, the more you do it the more of a “feel” you have for what grind you’re getting.  Grinding a double shot takes less than 3 minutes, by hand.

3) temperature surfing the Gaggia means waiting until the right hand “Brew Ready” light clicks back on (you can hear the relay) and wait about 20 seconds.  From doing tests I found this to be near the highest spot in the temperature of the boiler.  Yes, a PID would help or a bigger dual boiler machine would be nice as well.  But as far as the law of diminishing returns here, I’m sticking with what I have, and so temperature surfing the Gaggia it is.

4) So, you’ve waited about 15 minutes or so, you’ve ground your beans to something you know won’t quite choke the little Gaggia and your brew light has just flicked back on, you count down, and now you flip the brew switch and enjoy some espresso.  Hopefully your shot takes around 30 seconds to pull with a good solid 5-7 seconds at the beginning with infusion, the crema should be heady, rising above your 2oz line.  The best shots I’ve gotten from this machine have no sourness.  For whatever reason, the small boiler and little pressure pump of this machine often has sour shots, but when you pull a good one, it’s not sour – it’s smooth.  Good luck.

Hario Slim Mill - Hand GrinderGaggia Classic - Home Espresso Single Boiler

Temperature surfing the Gaggia Classic & the Hario Mini Mill Slim

Bought some Gimme! Leftist Espresso blend recently when we were visiting friends in NYC dropping off a nuptial related coffee making apparatus type gift. & Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying the Chestnut Hill Coffee Company’s espresso offerings of late & we actually rode bicyclettes all the way up that gosh darn Chestnut Hill to Germantown Ave.  It’s actually quite steep coming up from Forbidden Drive (i.e. sea level) in the Wissahickon Valley to 500 feet, averages about 10% grade or more in the beginning.

At any rate, some coffee related stuff:

1) The nuptial gift was a Capresso MT500 with reusable gold cone filter.  This is a pretty nice coffee making machine.  The advantages over the MT600 glass model, from my research include: 1) a stainless thermal carafe, 2) fully stainless heating element system, & 3) a Portuguese temperament

I’m not actually sure if the  MT500 model vs the Chinese constructed MG600 makes much of a difference, but according to Amazon reviews it does, and there’s over 300 reviews between them so I figure better to go with the older Portuguese made model.

Capresso MT500 Coffee Maker

Capresso MT500 Coffee Maker

I finally ordered my Hario Mini Mill Slim hand grinder.  The nice old Pe De C’ bought me for nuptials has worked well but basically the burrs are not tight enough except for certain blends of espresso, I needed more leeway and precision on the finer burr settings.  I usually don’t make more than a couple of double shots a day so I figure the Mini Mill and its ceramic burr set should be perfect and as a bonus I can travel with it.

Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Grinder

Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Grinder

I’ve been measuring the shots on the Gaggia Classic with an instant read thermometer.  About 30 seconds after the right hand brew temp light comes back on gives the highest brew temperatures, usually in the 180’s °F.  I need to either PID the machine or buy a new higher temp thermostat if I want 192 °F in my demitasse. Though the PID may get my starting brew temperature more consistent, supposedly the problem with these small single boiler machines is that they don’t have enough volume @n temperature to maintain a full 30″ shot at 201 °F (or @whatever you’re dialing in your espresso). A Swedish fellow from Stockholm managed to build his own heat exchanger / pre-heating coil using aluminum billet, to help the Gaggia maintain the temperature throughout the shot, you can read about it on Home-Barista.com.  I am not sure to what lengths I’ll go for that perfect shot.

DIY Gaggia Classic Heat Exchanger

DIY Gaggia Classic Heat Exchanger

Gaggia Classic PID @ Auberins

Gaggia Classic PID @ Auberins

Gaggia little Gaggia, the light of my life.

Found a used Gaggia Classic on newyork.craigslist.org.  Took the train up to Greenwich, paid the the cash to the pusher man in the back of his SUV and took home a “marginally used” single pump/single boiler w/3 way solenoid valve home espresso machine.  The Rancilio Silvia currently goes new for about $600 or more, the Gaggia Classic is usually just under $500.  I paid less than half of that so I feel good about it.  Now the grinding, that’s another story.  My vintage PeDe hand grinder goes pretty fine, but it’s still a bit coarse for the Gaggia.  I had Ellen at Sweet Leaf grind me some Hairbender with their Mazzer profi grinder and it’s perhaps too fine; I’ll try less tamp.  This morning it has tended towards a bit sour extraction though blonding doesn’t seem to be happening as quickly and I’m getting the full 30 seconds if not more, which makes me think it’s too fine.  With the Larry’s espresso I was using and the PeDe I was getting 15 seconds max but it was much sweeter, though likely much less extracted, so it’s a fine line.

So yeah, at this point I have some cleaning to do: back flush the porta filter basket and 3-way valve, and do a full descale of the system.  So far it doesn’t look like it was too heavily used though when I pulled the screen off the group head there was a pretty serious buildup of coffee soot/sludge so I’ll likely need to do a bit of cleaning around the group.

Gaggia Classic Espresso Machine

Gaggia Classic Espresso Machine

I did find a few terrific videos concerning grinding and cleaning I’ll link to here, from Seattle Coffee Gear and their blog here, The Brown Bean:


HTML5: http://youtu.be/N7Bn5IjZht8


HTML5: http://youtu.be/hLoaIWmufKk


HTML5: http://youtu.be/bxpOBZyK9MA


HTML5: http://youtu.be/uiP-6ZLJpp4