Maybe you, Dear Reader, have transcended your base desires, and live an ascetic and wholesome exsistence, far from the turmoil of life in a big city. Then again, if you’re reading this site, probably not, so you’ll understand when I say I can’t live without a coffee machine. You’ll also understand my horror* as the Krups (late 90s model) started making steadily less satisfying coffee, and worse, did not respond to descaling and new gaskets.
Time to replace the dear old beast.
The new machine is a Gaggia Classic.
It is a strange, temperamental monster, but ultimately rather rewarding. Here are some notes on how it works for me, offered, as usual, in the hope that you find them useful.
The outside is sexy. Not in a dramatic way, like a Pavoni, but solid and steely, in the way moden plastic kitchen gadgets aren’t; it’s heavy, too. Easy to clean as well. (Two quite innocuous screws will take the top off, exposing all the working parts, which themselves look like they could be unscrewed and individually replaced. Definitely not modern manufacturing techniques. Don’t try this unless you’ve disconnected the machine from the power supply.)
The water tank inside is theoretically removable, but quite a faff to do so, fortunately it’s filled from a funnel that’s opened by a hatch in the top of the machine. Two silicone hoses are used to suck the water up into the pump. It would be better if one could remove the tank more easily, as the temptation is to just keep filling it from the top, and letting lifeforms grow in the tank. Mind you, the easily removable tank in the Krups had a funny valve at the bottom, and if you didn’t put it in firmly, the machine gently leaked the entire contents!
There’s the usual drip tray with a metal grille, and then a piece of plastic under that, which warps when it cops too much hot water, causing the grille to rise up amusingly. So far no mess or accidents.
The brewing head comes with a one shot and a double shot filter, which need to be levered out with a butter knife. There’s a little plastic pin that sits underneath that – a new innovation apparently – which I’m sure is going to vanish down the drain at some point. The brewing head doesn’t eject the spent grounds, nor will a light tap do the trick, so you will need running water and a spoon handle to dislodge.
The thing heats up rapidly, with the light counter-intuitively going on when it’s ready. A second switch increases the heat for steaming the milk, but more about that in a moment. A third switch – not logical at all! – gets the pump going to deliver the espresso itself.
The espresso? Despite all my moaning, it’s damned fine. Smooth, velvety, and a layer of crema so thick that the sugar floats on top. Brings back happy memories of my first proper espresso in Milan.
The arrangements for steaming milk are not as convenient as perhaps they should be. There’s the usual modern turbo frothing attachment, a multi channeled plastic nozzle that goes on the end of the metal arm, so you get hot milk, a layer of useful dense froth, and then a useless layer of cold milk meringue on top. The steaming arm is too short to use without the attachment, although I recall reading that one can unbolt the entire assembly and use a Rancillo part instead. That said, it’s no huge drama, but you do need a spoon to hold back the meringue when you tip the milk onto your coffee.
There’s a switch to put it into steaming mode. This requires a higher temperature, and if you can see your electricity meter from the kitchen, you’ll see the doodah start to whir ’round like crazy, as though all available dilithium is being channeled to the warp core. One side effect is that you need to make your espresso first, as the machine will be too hot after steaming, and the coffee will have a nasty burnt taste, unless you wait about five minutes for it to cool down.
Summary: Perfect espresso, but a bit of a dramarama for steamed milk.
Gaggia! Ooh la la-ah!
*and maybe also the tiny thought at the time that, “if the worst thing in my life right now is a broken down coffee machine, then I am profoundly grateful for everything else.”