Gaggia Classic Review 2021 – The Best Beginner Espresso Machine?

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an extreme close up of the gaggia classic

It’s fantastic to have access to an espresso machine that handles 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 my Gaggia Classic review, I’ve taken a close look at an espresso machine range that’s been brewing up cafe-quality coffee drinks for years now.

(Want to learn more about home coffee brewing? Take a look through my guide for other brewing methods, buying guides and more.)

Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso...
  • Rugged Brushed Stainless Steel housing
  • Commercial three-way solenoid valve. Capacity water tank - 2,1 liter
  • Commercial-style 58mm chrome-plated brass portability and brew group

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Important: Gaggia Classic vs Gaggia Classic Pro

I need to start this review with a quick historical note.

Ever since it launched in the 90s, the original Gaggia Classic had proved itself to be….well, a classic.

Unfortunately by the time the 2015 model launched, much of the good work had been undone.

Certain elements had been cheapened considerably. There was a change in switch quality, the commercial grade 3 way solenoid valve had been removed, and the general build quality had taken a noticeable step backwards.

The Gaggia Classic Pro is essentially a return to form. It significantly improves on even the historically awesome Gaggia Classic, with better build quality all-round.

Throughout this review I’ll be using the terms “Gaggia Classic” and “Gaggia Classic Pro” interchangeably.

I just want to stress that I’m always talking about the latest incarnation of this very popular espresso maker.

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 your 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 your coffee maker doesn’t have 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 froth just right for 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 too.

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 espresso 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. Make 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 aren’t exactly shy about sharing their opinon.

Brew Time: Make sure the espresso coffee maker doesn’t take forever to warm up. This can vary a great deal between machines, so do a little digging around.

The Gaggia Classic Pro

Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso...
  • Rugged Brushed Stainless Steel housing
  • Commercial three-way solenoid valve. Capacity water tank - 2,1 liter
  • Commercial-style 58mm chrome-plated brass portability and brew group

The Gaggia 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 that emerged with 2015’s Gaggia 14101 model.

First of all, the Classic 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 much in-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 espresso machine and replace this Panarello wand with an alternative. That took a fair bit of effort though, and more hassle than the target market should be expected to put up with.

In its place now is a commercial steam wand that provides extra control whileyou steam and froth 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 iconic industrial feel of the Gaggia Classic, the company 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 72 ounce maximum capacity, it’s now much easier to remove the tank from the machine for cleaning and refilling.

So, to summarize, the Gaggia 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 lackluster steam wand.

Features Of The Gaggia Classic Pro

Let’s take a closer look at some of the design features – new and old – that make the Gaggia Classic Pro what it is.

The Classic Gaggia Industrial Design

The Classic series has never been shy about its industrial aesthetics. Despite a modest streamlining, this remains the case with the Classic Pro.

I’ve heard other people explain that the Pro should be considered a machine, rather than an appliance that makes your kitchen look nice.

I 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 Gaggia 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 model (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 Gaggic 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 I don’t think you’ll struggle to find a permanent home for it in even a modestly-sized kitchen.

Re-Designed Pump Means Less Noise

The 14101 picked up its fair share of criticism for noise, but things are much improved with the Gaggia Classic Pro.

The mounting of the pump has been redesigned, and the latest version of the Classic makes much less of a racket as a result.

It still pumps out fantastic espresso (the saving grace of the last machine), but now it does so without annoying the entire household.

Espresso Brewing Quality & Flavor

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 more than delivers 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, along with the machine

If you’re not using a grinder and want to stick to pre-ground coffee, for example, you can use the pressurized basket instead.

Once you’ve got a bit more confidence though (and a grinder!) you can start experimenting manually with the other filter.

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.

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. This extra functionality allows you to do precisely that.

Something to keep in mind is that you can only really fit an espresso cup under the spout of 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 from underneath.

A final word as well here on the time it takes to brew with the Gaggia 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 Is Essential

There’s no getting away from the fact that espresso machines need a fair bit of cleaning care and attention if they’re to remain in top condition.

That’s certainly the case with the Gaggia Classic Pro, so be prepared to invest a little bit of time when it comes to maintenance.

It’s also really important that you undertake the descaling process of the Classic regularly. This advice goes double if you live in a hard water area, where mineral build-up occurs much more quickly.

A failure to descale the Classic is by far the most common cause of defects that I’m aware of.

For that reason, I recommend grabbing some descaling solution along with the machine, and getting into the habit of caring for it right away.

Unlike some other machines though, there are no descaling warning lights on the Classic Pro control panel.

The best solution? I’d suggest performing this task around once per month, and before unseen problems start building up beneath the surface.

Alternative Espresso Machines

As reliable as the Gaggia Classic espresso machine series is, there are some very worthy alternatives that are worth looking at too.

Breville Barista Express

The Breville Barista Express is one of the tried-and-tested semi-automatic espresso makers. It’s highly regarded by coffee enthusiasts, and comes with a built-in grinder as well. This guarantees a rich, smooth brew.

Sale
Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Express delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: Integrated precision conical burr grinder grinds on demand to deliver the right...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

Like the other Breville machine covered below, it will take you a bit of practice to get your micro-foaming skills perfected. When you do though, you’ll be able to make lattes that blow your guests’ socks off.

Delonghi EC680M DEDICA

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 anywhere.

Sale
De'Longhi EC680M Espresso, Stainless Steel,...
  • EVERY CUP TO YOUR LIKING: 15-bar professional pressure assures quality results every time, and adjustable...
  • EASY TO CLEAN: Removable water tank and drip tray make for easy cleanup, and the parts are dishwasher...
  • BREW LIKE A PRO: Whatever your preference – single or double espresso, cappuccino or latte – the...

The good news is that the small size doesn’t mean any compromise in the quality of the espresso shots it produces.

You can also fit much taller cups underneath the coffee dispenser. That’s ideal if you want to include taller espresso drinks as part of your repertoire. No need to muck out the drip tray constantly!

Breville Barista Touch

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.

Sale
Breville Maker Barista Touch Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Touch delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: With a single touch, the integrated precision conical burr grinder with dose...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

I think you’ll like this one if all this talk of micro-foaming and pressure tamping makes you a bit nervous at this stage.

You will pay a premium for this extra convenience though, so be prepared for something significantly more expensive than the price range I’ve covered so far.

The Gaggia Classic Pro Review: The Final Verdict

To say the previous Gaggia Classic was a bit of a false-start is to put things mildly.

Credit to Gaggia though for taking that feedback on board, and repairing the reputation of the Classic with this Pro edition.

Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso...
  • Rugged Brushed Stainless Steel housing
  • Commercial three-way solenoid valve. Capacity water tank - 2,1 liter
  • Commercial-style 58mm chrome-plated brass portability and brew group

The new commercial steam wand dramatically improves the quality of the foam. When you froth milk for your lattes or cappuccinos, you now get much better results.

The overall re-design takes a little of the bluntness out of the previous frame too. It still looks like a Gaggia, but it’s a slightly softer affair on your kitchen countertop.

Quality of life improvements for the switch controls are a welcome sight as well. They feel better, they work well, and I think they’ll help keep the machine in service for longer.

The verdict? As an entry level machine, the Gaggia Classic is now very much back in favor with espresso lovers.

Click here if you want to find out more about the Gaggia Classic Pro, and discover what its owners are making of this timeless coffee machine.