Thanks for the super-comprehensive response! At this point I've entirely resigned myself to getting used/refurbished machinery.
In terms of usability, what exactly are the differences between the Gaggia Classic and its peers, such as the Gaggia Evolution or the Gaggia Baby Class? Is it simply an issue of construction quality? I'm guessing that the cheaper plastic construction that some of the cheaper Gaggia machines use would inherently have poorer heat retention, but of course what do I know.
I'm patiently scouring eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, Google Shopping, etc. for potential deals. Making espresso for myself at home is still very much an experiment of interest at this point, so I'm very wary of spending anything over 400-500USD. Hopefully my eventual skills will be able to justify the purchases!
Thanks for all of the help so far guys! You guys are awesome.
All of those are single boilers. If you want milk drinks I would suggest you look for a used HX, the NS Oscar that I got. Sometimes you can find them for as little as 400 but mostly they are at the 500 mark. The move fast at the 400 mark. I got mine at a coffee shop that used it for catering. I like milk drinks also and I am not sorry I skipped the Single boiler class of machine. Even though I use much less milk than I did when I started, I still use a few oz of milk.
Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.
SBDU machines are ok for a milk drink, I do that once or twice a day. More than one milk drink at a setting is a little more difficult. Do you make pulls and then do the milk for both, or do you switch back and forth from heating to steam and then cooling back to stable?
I have a PID to control the temperature including steaming so the steam temperature stays fairly high, not dependant on a bimetal steam thermostat. The steam is adequate for a milk drink and very easy to do one at a time.
As Helen noted, if you are going to get into milk drinks, more than one at a time, SBDU is not really where you will want to go. That said, I am happy with the Classic.
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