I had coveted an espresso machine for years and tried and abandoned the usual false-economy alternatives - moka pot and electric steam machine. The manager of my local Whittards (UK-wide chain selling coffee beans and equipment) knew this and tipped me off that she was about to run a special offer on this model. I tabled a motion before the Finance and General Purposes Committee (who, perhaps fortunately, was heavily pregnant at the time) and was pleasantly surprised when it was passed. I placed my order the next day.
The shop took a week to get a machine for me, by which time, as she loves to tell people, the F&GPC was in (the very early stages of) labour. She sent me off to collect it anyway, but that was Wednesday and, having other priorities, it took me till Sunday to open the box. Even in that sleep-deprived state, I found the machine very easy to set up and most of my early experiments were aimed at finding the right setting for the grinder - my first attempts were all too fine and tended to clog the Gaggia solid. It probably took a week of practice and experimentation to get to the point where I could produce a perfect 25-second shot at will.
And, two years on, that's what I still do. I bought the machine to make espresso and it does that beautifully, to the point where I now order an espresso in an unfamiliar restaurant and wonder whether it'll be as good as I can make at home. The small boiler means that the machine is ready for action in about 15 minutes - although I tend to switch it on after breakfast to ensure that it's thoroughly warm by coffee time - and the solenoid valve means that there's no waiting time between shots. Me and my Gaggia, we're very happy together.
I don't know if Sartre owned an espresso machine but if he did, he might have aphorised that 'Hell is other people who want cappuccinos'. The only trouble with owning an espresso machine is that people expect you to make milk shakes with it, and the Classic doesn't really approve of this. (Nor do I, especially after dinner!) It has a steaming tube, of course, but only one boiler, so one element of your cappuccino has to be set aside to go cold while you adjust the temperature up or down to make the other. This means that, while the Classic can make four double espressos in about three minutes, anything frothy in a gathering of more than two people takes much longer. There are physical limitations too: the steam tube, even with the plastic frother attached, is rather short and makes it awkward to fit the jug underneath. The frother, incidentally, works much better if you ease it off its mounting enough to show the orange O-ring underneath. Don't ask me why.
Crucial to keeping the Classic happy is keeping it clean. The manual tells you to clean the filter basket and holder, and to remove and clean the spray plate occasionally. What I had to discover for myself is that coffee residue builds up inside the bayonet mount for the filter holder, breaking the seal and causing water to dribble around the outside. I now keep a pot of cotton buds near the machine to remove this, and to swab out the inside of the spouts on the filter holder, which tend to clog up and spoil the flow. All this probably takes about twenty minutes a week but it's well worth the effort. One thing I don't do is descale, but that's because I filter all the water that goes into the machine. The water here has already ruined our shower mixer and I hate to think what it would do to the small-bore tubes in an espresso machine, but fortunately, there's an easy and cheap preventive measure.
In conclusion, I'm delighted with my Classic. It's become such a part of family life that when our two small boys play at making coffee, they use tiny cups and make slooshing noises as it brews. I can't comment on rival machines because I've never tried any, but against my absolute standard of how I want my coffee to taste, it measures up very well. As far as I know, it's the cheapest machine readily available in the UK that has both a brass filter holder and a three-way valve, and two of my friends have bought Classics when I've told them to look out for those two features. Would I like something bigger that produces more steam? (Even I enjoy an occasional cappuccino.) Yes, but not enough to justify the cost and the extra space it would take up. The Classic, for the time being, does just fine.