Excellent value, heavy-duty portafilter handle, and the Gaggia reputation combine to create a great little machine.
Negative Product Points
Plastic housing and drip tray can't bring the product's appearance anywhere near upscale, and the heating mechanism is a bit noisy.
I've now owned the Gaggia Espresso for close to six months, and thought that should be sufficient time to craft a review. There are two (well, maybe three) things that initially drew me to the machine: a great price point, the stunning portafilter, and the Gaggia name. When you compare this to many other models out there in this low-end range, the Espresso is simply beyond compare. The internal mechanics are primarily the same as on their higher-end models, and the pump-driven method of extracting espresso is tried and true. The differences lie in the details: the plastic housing, drip tray and catch pan do look and feel rather cheap, but as soon as you lock that brass portafilter into the brewing group, there's no denying this machine has some really great potential.
It took me a while to find the right grind to use with this machine, but my recently acquired Gaggia MM grinder seems to have done the trick. It's helped me create consistently good espresso, with lasting crema and an ideal serving temperature. You can really hear the boiler when it's at work, but it does its job well. The machine is ready to serve after only six minutes of warm-up time, but as with other machines, the second and third brews pulled seem to taste better than the first (still one of life's sweet mysteries...).
When it comes to frothing milk, I'll admit it took me quite some time to reach a state of acceptability. Initial steaming sessions resulted in lukewarm milk with far too much froth, along with an overflowing frothing pitcher and one messy counter. I've since been able to "master" the steaming wand and its frothing sleeve. The key is to fill your pitcher no more than 1/3 full of milk, and to gently manoeuver the wand around the body of milk. The position of the wand leaves something to be desired, and if you use a larger pitcher, it's hard to take it out from under the wand when you're done frothing.
Operationally, the machine is very easy to use, clean and maintain. Adding water is a cinch, and the switches are solid and work well. A light comes on when the water is at the ideal temperature, so there's no guesswork there. When you switch to "steam" mode, don't be surprised to see a burst of steam come through the brewing group. This freaked me out at first, but it seems to be normal.
The appearance of the machine is acceptable to me -- it's certainly not the best-looking model on the market, but in black it still looks good on my countertop. It's definitely due for a redesign, but when that might happen is anyone's guess.
I have very little to complain about with this machine, it's been very dependable, and a worthwhile investment for my kitchen. Apart from a few idiosyncrasies like the steam bursts, the Gaggia Espresso is a reliable and well-built little machine. For the price on this unit, you really can't go wrong.
I did some online research before buying this product, but I decided to purchase it in a retail store. Unfortunately, there are no Canadian online retailers of Gaggia machines, and ordering from a U.S. online site would have proven too costly.
Three Month Followup
Well, I hate to say this, but my machine has gone belly-up. I am now unable to use the steam function, and the espresso section also has intermittent problems now. At least it's happened in the warranty period. I AM SO DISAPPOINTED!!! (I have left the ratings above as I had initially marked them, but am tempted to change them all to 0's!!!)