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As fun as it can be to tinker and tweak every stage of the brewing process, the prospect of grinding, tamping and finely adjusting a cup of coffee is too intimidating for some. I know it took me a while to overcome my fear of just messing the whole thing up.
Fortunately there’s a category of coffee machine that handles the whole process from start to finish, and without comprising on the end result.
You still get a barista-quality coffee from a super-automatic espresso machine, but all you have to do is set the brew up and then let the appliance do the hard work.
In our Gaggia Brera review, I’m taking a deep dive into one of the most popular, tried and tested super-automatic machines. Does it really live up to the hype?
What to look for in a super-automatic
Before looking at the Gaggia Brera super-automatic espresso machine in greater detail, it’s worth talking for a moment about how these machines work, and who they’re designed for.
As the name suggests, these coffee makers offer maximum convenience, with little in the way of manual control.
The idea here is pretty simple. You set the machine to brew your espresso shot exactly how you want it, and the device then takes over the heavy lifting.
It basically acts like a home barista, working to your request to give you an amazing espresso shot. There’s no risk of spoiling the brew yourself, and they help you focus on enjoying the drink itself.
For that reason, machines like the Brera are best suited for those of you who are just dipping their toes into the world of specialty coffee drinks.
They’ll work really well for you if you want to take charge of the initial set-up, but aren’t quite ready for the world of tamping, pressure control and so on.
If you do want that kind of fine control, you’ll find a semi-automatic espresso machine to be of more interest instead. Those offer a much more hands-on experience all-round.
When looking at individual automatic espresso machines though, there are a few things I think you should watch out for:
- Water Reservoir: The smaller the water reservoir is, the more often you’ll have to fill it. Think about your level of espresso consumption and where the right balance will lie in this regard.
- Grinder: Check the type of grinder that’s built into the machine. A burr grinder will outperform a blade grinder for aroma and flavor.
- Double Shot Mode: Some of these machines produce their double espresso shots by simply using more water. The end result is, of course, a weaker brew overall. On the flip side, machines that brew the espresso twice will take longer. Decide what will work best for you.
- Ease of Use: If you’re buying a machine like this, you likely want it to be fairly simple to operate. Look for a machine with clear instructions, easy to access – and clearly marked – controls, and a simple cleaning regime.
- Bypass Doser: If your machine has one of these you can use it to brew a cup of pre-ground coffee, without having to empty the bean hopper. A lot of people find this convenient for grabbing a cup of decaf coffee, for example, without “tainting” the coffee.
The Gaggia Brera is a super-automatic espresso machine that’s stood the test of time. In fact, it’s a model that’s been brewing up excellent espresso for nearly 10 years now.
There is one element of the machine you still need to control manually though: the steam wand.
If you’ve never used one before then it can take a little bit of practice to get the art of frothing and foaming your milk just right. I think this is one of the easier wands to use though
It’ll take you a few attempts to start with – so don’t be put off – but the end result is well worth the effort. It simply opens up so many more drink options to you, including lattes and cappuccinos.
- Ceramic burr grinder helps to maximize the aroma and flavor of the beans you use.
- High quality espresso, although this is of course dependent on the bean quality!
- Stylish, modern design that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional environment.
- Compact design makes it accessible for those of you with very small kitchens.
- Good value for money at this end of the market.
- Bypass doser lets you skip the beans and brew up your favorite pre-ground coffee.
- The water reservoir is a little on the small side at around 41oz.
- Self-cleaning rinse cycle drains the reservoir further.
- The steam wand is good for making basic milk froth, but not suitable for fine latte art.
- Although the front is stainless steel, other elements are constructed from plastic.
- Limited customization options, although that is part and parcel of these machines.
Gaggia Brera: Main Features
That’s the very broad overview of the Gaggia Brera espresso machine, then. In this next section I’m going to look at some of the key features of the machine in greater detail.
This machine is, of course, designed to put a stellar cup of coffee in your hands. How does it go about doing this though?
The Brera’s built-in grinder is something known as a ceramic burr grinder. There are a couple of benefits to taking this approach.
For a start, burr grinders do a much better job of producing a consistent coffee grind than blade grinders do. The end result is a superior brew when it comes to flavor and aroma.
A ceramic build is superior to other materials as well.
Stainless steel blades have a tendency to create a lot of heat, which can really detract from the grind quality.
This is much less of an issue if the grinder is ceramic though, and you’ll lose less flavor during the whole process.
Rather than simply adding more water to the brew, the Brera produces its double shots by actually completing the brew cycle twice.
As I mentioned earlier on in this review, that’s good for quality, but not so good for the impatient.
You’ll have to decide whether you prefer speed over experience. Personally I’m happy to wait a little longer, and will always favor a machine that takes this approach.
It’s quite common for these coffee makers to include something known as a bypass doser. It’s present and correct with the Brera.
Why’s this feature so handy? Well, if you want to get a quick cup of pre-ground coffee (decaf, for example), you can cut out the bean grinding process altogether and go straight to a different brew.
Without one of these, you have to scoop out all the beans from the hopper, replace them with whatever you want to use instead, and then repeat the process.
(The bean hopper that sits on top of the machine takes a generous quantity of beans by the way. It’s also airtight and resistant to UV, which is great for preserving the beans’ quality long-term.)
You wouldn’t expect a machine at this end of the market to make the greatest espresso in the world, but I would say the Brera punches above its weight.
It’s really very good stuff, and if you’re coming from the world of drip coffee in particular then I think you’ll be impressed.
The coffee’s also remarkably hot for a machine of this type. It’s one of the common complaints with super-automatics, but the Brera impresses here.
The Brera makes use of something known as a Pannarello wand.
This attachment sits on the wand itself and automatically directs the airflow. This makes the manual frothing process a little simpler for you.
This is how you make your milk froth for things like cappuccinos and lattes, and we’ve got a guide to the whole process elsewhere on Viva Flavor. That should help you get started (and there are a few clever frothing “hacks” in there as well if you need a shortcut!).
The Brera is a single-boiler machine, which means the same heat source is used for all stages of drink preparation.
Normally this can be a problem, as you really don’t want your milk and espresso to heat up at the same temperature.
To handle this, the Brera makes use of something called “Raping Steam Technology”. This gets the wand from a cold start to frothing-ready in about nine seconds.
I reckon that’s good enough and won’t cause your espresso to go cold before serving.
You can also use the wand on the Brera as a hot water dispenser. You’ll find that useful if you want to make other hot drinks like tea or hot chocolate.
Water Reservoir & Dimensions
If there’s one thing I wish I could change about the Brera it’s the size of the water reservoir.
At 41oz, it’s a little on the small side and so is only good for around four or five drinks.
As much as I’d like it to be bigger though, that would increase the size of the machine. It’s designed to be compact, and so this is perhaps just one of those trade-offs that had to be made.
If you need to measure up for your own kitchen space, the official dimensions are 12.4” (H) x 10” (W) x 17.5” (D).
As far as weight is concerned, it’s 19lb once unboxed and assembled. As compact as it is, the Brera’s not designed to be moved around a great deal so I think that’s fine.
Controls and Ease of Use
The Brera is a very simple machine to operate. There are just four buttons controlling things like the quantity of water used, double shots, the overall coffee strength and so on.
There’s a primitive but functional display screen which makes it very clear which options your working with too. There’s a dial for when you want to adjust the grind.
On the subject of grinding, the Gaggia has some clever, patented Adapting System tech built in. This adjusts the grinder settings over time to accommodate your favorite beans.
Overall I think it’s a very simple machine to operate, and I can’t imagine anyone struggling to find their way around the thing!
Here’s a closer look at some of the other main features of the Gaggia Brera.
Adjustable cup height
It can be a bit annoying fitting your preferred mugs and cups under this sort of machine. There’s a little bit of give in terms of the Brera’s coffee dispenser height though.
You can move it up or down a little, but there’s not a huge amount of space to play with – perhaps 4.5 inches maximum.
As a general rule, you’ll want the coffee to dispense quite close to the cup. You’ll get a better crema that way, which is the rich, tan-colored froth that sits on top of the drink.
Like many other coffee machines, the Brera makes use of the heat generated by the boiler to passively pre-warm your cups. There’s no dedicated active warming, but it does the job well enough.
These machines tend to brew a little cooler than drip makers, and so I really recommend making use of this feature whenever it’s available
(If you need something to keep your coffee warm after brewing, have a look at my guide to the best coffee mug warmers you can buy.)
Power Saving Mode
The Brera automatically powers down one hour after its last use. That’s good for your bills and good for the environment too.
The only thing I wish I could do is actually tweak that timer, but alas it’s fixed at 60 minutes.
When I’m done, I’m done and I really don’t need my coffee maker to be on standby for much longer after that. It’s a minor niggle really, but something to be aware of.
Cleaning & Descaling
The Brera goes through a self-cleaning rinse cycle whenever the machine is powered on or off. For that reason, it’s really important to make sure you have a cup underneath the dispenser when you do this!
That process is great for keeping the machine in good working order, but it will put further strain on that small-ish water reservoir. I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, but it will result in a more frequent refill.
The actual brewing unit is easy to detach from the machine, and it’s recommended that you give it a thorough, separate clean at least once a week. That’ll help maintain the quality of your espresso in the long run.
You’ll also get a notification from the machine when you need to descale it. Don’t ignore this, as mineral build-up will dramatically decrease the machine’s lifespan.
These things are built to last for years, but they need a little tender loving care to keep them in top working condition.
Here are some other coffee machines that are worth exploring alongside the Brera:
If you’re really conflicted over the Brera’s water reservoir, the Anima’s is around 50% larger at 60oz. That’ll keep the coffee flowing longer between refills!
You’ve also got more room to play with in terms of cup size. 5.9 inches is the maximum height here, which is a decent increase over the Brera’s 4.5”.
The Anima is about one inch taller than the Brera, but on the other hand it saves a little space on the width (8.7”) and depth (17”) dimensions.
The Brera does just enough in terms of customization, but De’Longhi’s machine goes quite a bit further on this front.
There are thirteen different grind settings to play with for a start, which should be enough for coffee enthusiasts working at this level.
It’s a little fiddlier to use as a result though, with many more dials and brewing options. If the thought of that is intimidating you might want to stick to something a little simpler.
Still, the coffee’s great and the tank’s beefier than the Brera at a maximum 60oz capacity.
If you’re someone who gets through a lot of coffee then I think you might find the Brera’s water reservoir size a little frustrating in the long-term.
In general though the Brera’s a great option if you want a compact and very effective super-automatic machine. It does a lot of the hard work for you, but opens up a world of specialty coffee drinks at the same time.
It would be unfair to expect a machine like this to produce the greatest espresso money can buy either, but it’s still impressive stuff! It hits – and exceeds – the mark you’d want it to at this level, and the ceramic grinder’s a really welcome inclusion too.
Click here to find out more about the machine, and read more Gaggia Brera espresso machine reviews.