It’s fantastic to have access to coffee machines that handle all the hard work for you. There’ll come a point in your coffee journey though where you want a little more hands-on involvement.
You’ll know you’re ready for a more advanced machine when you start wishing you could tweak the texture of the milk in your drinks. You might also want more fine control over the bean preparation.
At this point, you’re ready for a semi-automatic espresso machine!
In this Gaggia Classic review, I’ve taken a close look at a machine range that’s been brewing up cafe-quality espresso for years now.
What you need to know
Semi-automatic espresso machines like the Gaggia Classic Pro are designed to give you more control over the brewing of the coffee.
You get to choose the amount of coffee used for a start. You can also choose whether to use pre-ground or whole beans (although for the latter you’ll need a grinder if there isn’t one built in).
You also have to use the right amount of pressure to “tamp” the coffee into its portafilter. If you’re making milk-based drinks, you’ll also use a steam wand to get the milk frothed to suit the drink in question.
They’re a really great option if you want to flex your coffee-making muscles a little bit, and have the opportunity to stamp your mark on the end result.
If you prefer something a little more hands-off though, then you might prefer an automatic espresso machine instead.
These give you the same brewing flexibility, but once you’ve set the thing up and entered the settings, it’ll do all the hard work for you.
Here are some of the most important things to consider when shopping for a semi-automatic machine:
Steam Wand: These vary in quality a great deal. If you want to make velvet-smooth lattes, make sure it can produce a decent micro foam.
Size: A bit of an obvious one this, but these machines can be quite bulky. Check the measurements carefully, and be sure you have enough space around its intended location to get to the back and sides of the unit for cleaning.
Pressure Gauge: If you’re very new to coffee-brewing, then having one of these will help you learn when enough is too much! They won’t make you a master barista overnight, but they’ll give you a good visual guide that helps you learn over time.
Taste: Another obvious thing to think about, but check the user reviews to make sure the espresso is up there with a coffee shop’s! Gaggia espresso machines have a solid reputation though, and coffee fanatics won’t be shy about giving their opinion.
Brew Time: Make sure the machine doesn’t take forever to warm up. This can vary a great deal between machines, so do a little digging around.
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The Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro is an evolution of the Classic product line that’s been going strong for many years now.
Significantly, it improves upon some of the biggest shortcomings we found with the Gaggia 14101 model.
First of all, the Pro does away with the Panarello steam wand of old. That had a habit of producing either very hot milk, or very thick foam, and nothing between.
That’s not a problem if you just want a frothy cappuccino, but it’s not so great if you want to make finely textured latte milk.
It was previously possible to “hack” the machine and replace this Panarello wand with an alternative. That took a fair bit of effort though – and more than you’d like given the machine was aimed at relative newcomers.
In its place now is a commercial steam wand that provides extra control while steaming and frothing milk. It’s now finally possible to achieve super smooth micro foam lattes!
The overall design has been revisited as well. Although it still has the Classic’s iconic industrial feel, Gaggia has streamlined the machine frame a little bit. In general it looks better, and it’s easier to clean as well.
The water reservoir has also been improved. While it’s still got the same generously-sized 72oz maximum capacity, it’s now much easier to remove from the machine for cleaning and refilling.
So, to summarize, the Classic Pro makes the same great espresso we enjoyed from its predecessor. At the same time it removes some of the fussiness involved, and dramatically improves upon what was a lacklustre steam wand.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the design features – new and old – that make the Classic Pro what it is.
The Classic series has never been shy about its industrial aesthetics. Despite a modest streamlining, this remains the case with the Classic Pro.
We’ve heard other people explain that the Classic Pro should be considered a machine, rather than an appliance that makes your kitchen look nice!
We think that’s absolutely correct, and it’s that industrial build that keeps these machines working for years and years.
How you feel about the Classic in your own kitchen will largely be a question of taste. Suffice to say, it at least stands out in a sea of super-slick and shiny espresso machines.
It’s not just the machine’s frame that’s industrial either.
Those switches are chunky enough to really feel, although there are only three settings to play with. One’s for power, the second’s for brewing, and the third’s for steaming.
Unlike the earlier machine (which somehow managed to make a three-button setup absurdly complicated), in the latest version each of these switches has its own indicator light. It’s now much easier to use as a result.
As for the size, the dimensions of the Classic Pro are 14 x 9.0 x 8.5 inches. You’ll see that listed as smaller on supplier websites, but those are the exact measurements once you’ve assembled the machine.
That’s pretty compact given the Classic’s power, and we wouldn’t struggle to find a permanent home for it in even our moderately-sized kitchen.
The 14101 picked up its fair share of criticism for noise, but things are much improved with the Classic Pro.
The mounting of the pump has been redesigned, and the latest version of the Classic makes a good deal less noise as a result.
It still pumps out fantastic espresso (the saving grace of the last machine), but now it does so without making such a racket!
Taste & Brewing
As for the quality of the espresso, it’s every bit as good as that brewed by the earlier machines.
Cafe-quality espresso is the Gaggia promise, and the Classic Pro has a great reputation for delivering on that front.
This is achieved largely through the use of a 58mm group head and portafilter, which is the same size as you’ll find in commercial machines.
You now also get different filter baskets out of the box.
For example, if you’re not using a grinder and want to stick to pre-ground, you can use the pressurized basket.
Once you’ve got a bit more confidence though (and a grinder!) you can start experimenting manually with the other filter.
I’m a big fan of espresso machines that ease you in gently, but let you spread your wings a bit when you’re ready to do so.
With that second filter basket on hand you can try changing the density of your coffee grounds, and really drill down to find a brew that works for you.
Something to keep in mind is that you can only really fit an espresso cup in this machine, although you can remove the drip tray if you have a larger mug. That comes with the risk of making a mess though, so just make sure the brew’s completely finished before taking the cup out.
A final word as well here on the time it takes to brew with the Classic Pro.
This is not the fastest machine in the world by any means. You’ll need to wait around five minutes before you can start brewing your first cup of the day.
That’s a bit of a shame, and as there are no programming options on a machine like this you can’t set things up in advance.
If waiting a while for your first cup of the day is something you’ll find frustrating, you should be aware of this before buying the Classic Pro.
Cleaning & Descaling
There’s no getting away from the fact that espresso machines need a fair bit of cleaning effort if they’re to remain in top condition.
That’s certainly the case with the Classic Pro, so be prepared to invest a little bit of time when it comes to maintenance.
It’s also really important that you descale the Classic regularly. This advice goes double if you live in a hard water area.
A failure to descale the Classic is by far the most common cause of defects that we’re aware of.
For that reason, we recommend grabbing some descaling solution along with the machine, and getting into the habit of caring for it right away.
Unlike some other machines, there are no descaling warning lights on the Classic Pro. We would suggest performing this task around once per month if you can possibly fit it into your schedule.
As reliable as the Gaggia Classic espresso machine series is, there are some very worthy alternatives that are worth considering as well.
The Breville Barista Express is one of the tried-and-tested semi-automatic espresso machines. It’s highly regarded by coffee enthusiasts, and comes with a built-in burr grinder as well. This guarantees a rich, smooth brew.
Like the other Breville machine mentioned below, it will take you a bit of practise to get your micro-foaming skills perfected. When you do though, you’ll be able to make lattes that blow your guest’s socks off.
If space is an issue and you’re concerned about fitting one of these machines in your kitchen, the Delonghi DEDICA is a great option. At only six inches wide, you shouldn’t struggle to find a home for it.
The good news is that there’s no compromise on the taste of the espresso. You can even fit much taller cups underneath the coffee dispenser. That’s ideal if you want to include taller espresso drinks as part of your repertoire.
This is the top of the line version of the Barista Express. It’s more of an automated experience, and all you have to do is enter your brewing preferences and let the machine do the rest.
We think you’ll like this one if talk of micro-foaming and pressure tamping makes you a bit nervous at this stage. You will pay a premium for the extra convenience though, so steady yourself before shopping!
To say the previous Gaggia Classic was a bit of a false-start is to put things mildly. Credit to Gaggia for taking that feedback on board though, and repairing the reputation of the Classic in this Pro edition.
The new commercial steam wand dramatically improves the quality of the milk foam. The overall re-design takes a little of the bluntness out of the previous frame too. Quality of life improvements for the switch controls are a welcome sight as well.
Click here if you want to find out more about the Gaggia Classic Pro, and find out what owners are making of this popular machine.