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.