1) Fast heat up times. The manual recommends 6 minutes. I typically turn the machine on and let it warm up for ~15 minutes. Thirty minutes is ideal so that the group reaches optimal temperature (very hot!).
2) Relatively easy to modify. In my case Iíve added a PID, Silvia steam wand and a naked portafilter with relative ease.
3) Very good shot quality once you learned the ins and outs. Make sure you have a decent grinder though, otherwise youíll get crappy shots.
4) Steam power is sufficient in my case. I can easily make microfoam and latte art. Steams milk for up to two caps in one cycle with little effort. Good luck, however, if you need to entertain at a large party.
5) All metal construction (minus the drip pan). Finish has held up nicely over the past 2 years.
Negative Product Points
1) The steam valve leaks. This can be a bit annoying at times. Keep a kitchen towel on standby and you should be all set.
2) When I purchased this machine, I did not like the steam wand from day one. After removing the frothing aid device itís a bit too short and this makes steaming cumbersome, especially to make microfoam. Fruthermore the tip diameter is a bit large and this depletes the steam supply quickly. I replaced mine with a stock Silvia wand and Im now satisfied with steam capability. I and others have posted details on how to do this on the CG forums.
3) Trash the plastic toy tamper and get the real thing. My Reg Barber has served me well.
4) The instructions are so-so. You get most of the information necessary to operate the machine, but they are poorly written.
5) Aluminum boiler. Some have reported problems with corroded boilers due to dissimilar metals at the group / boiler junction. I descale with Cleancaf often (~ 1 a month) and keep my machine clean to help minimize boiler corrosion issues. So far so good.
6) The cup warmer could be a bit hotter.
In general Iím very satisfied with my Gaggia Coffee. It produces outstanding shots now that Im familiar with it. Iíve contemplated various times on getting a high-grade prosumer machine but now that Iíve figured the machine out and modified it to my liking I really see no reason to upgrade. I can hardly justify based on espresso quality alone. Besides, the wife already thinks Iíve gone off the deep end with my espresso obsession and Iíd hate to bring up the prospect of a $1K purchase.
The machine is built like a tank! I was happily surprised by the weight when I first received it. However, Its not excessively bulky, it fits nicely underneath my kitchen cabinet. The finish is also very durable. After two years of daily use (about 1 shot and 2 caps a day) the machine looks as good as new. The machine is all metal construction except for the drip tray and portafilter handle. The drip tray is made of thick and - what appears to be - very durable plastic, so Iím actually not concerned about it.
As with many noncommercial machines, the Coffee requires temp surfing to get best results. To do this I wait Ďtill the end of the heat up cycle, press the stem knob (this turns on the heating element), wait for ~10 seconds and start brewing. In general the water temp at the brew head on my machine was a bit low (~195 F) even at the peak of the cycle and this procedure heated up the brew temp and produced better espresso. Mineís been upgraded with a PID and this is no longer an issue; I now keep it at ~ 202F.
For those contemplating this machine, be aware that it requires a quality grinder. Many on this site agree that the grinder is far more important than the espresso machine. Follow this advice! I did and have never regret it. Iím using a Mazzer mini with my Coffee and I get outstanding results. I previously had a cheap Pavoni burr grinder and the results were mediocre at best. Virtually zero consistency in shot quality, maybe 1 in 5 shots were acceptable. I could not believe the improvement in my espresso after upgrading grinders. I now make a very good shots >80% of times. This machine is certainly capable, but make sure you have a decent grinder first; otherwise youíll be disappointed.
Also, make sure you use fresh beans and grind shortly before brewing. Prior to roasting my own beans, I played around with a number of brands (ground and beans) e.g., LaVazza, Illy, caffe Kimbo, as well as beans from local roasters with mixed/partial success. I really canít blame the machine, however, for the not so great shot quality. Now that I roast I consistently get exceptional results.
This machine definitely has its quirks. However, it is a solid performer IMO. I doubt you could find a better machine for a comparable price.
Purchased at WholeLatteLove. Great customer service and quick delivery.