gaggia_classicI’ve been the happy owner of a Gaggia Classic espresso machine for more than 2 years. It’s a stout, shining beast of a machine that sits proudly in my kitchen and provides 3 or 4 excellent cups of espresso that make my daily website programming much more pleasant. So pleased have I been with the machine that I persuaded my parents to buy one too… and they haven’t managed to get a good espresso out of it! Wouldn’t a Nespresso machine be so much easier they asked me? Anyway, all of this has prompted me to write the simple guide to good espresso with a Gaggia Classic.

1 – Coffee grind (vital)
This is far and away the most important factor to make a good espresso. If your coffee grind is too coarse the water flows through too quickly, giving a kind of americano coffee that can taste a bit burnt. If the grind is too fine very little water passes through the coffee and you get a ristretto of extreme potency. Experiment with different coffee grinds until you get a small cup of espresso coffee with a rich brown crema on top in 20-30 seconds. Good espresso coffee should be adequately finely groud to mean the individual grains are hard to make out with the naked eye and the coffee can be almost moulded with the coffee scoop.

2 – Coffee (important)
Get some espresso coffee – simple as that. Should be 100% arabica beans as cheaper robusta beans can make your espresso bitter. Lavazza Qualità Rossa will do the job just fine. Monmouth Coffee Company Organic Espresso Blend is a favourite of mine. Even the espresso beans at my local Delhaize in Brussels are perfectly fine. Essentially don’t go for bargain basement, but you don’t have to pay over the odds.

3 – Heating the machine (medium importance)
The Gaggia manual states that the machine should be left on for at least 6 minutes before making an espresso. Out of experience I’ve found that 2-3 minutes is perfectly adequate. A Gaggia Classic is rated at 1200W (about half as powerful as a kettle), so don’t leave it on unnecessarily long. Just make sure that you make the coffee as soon as you’ve put the coffee in the coffee filter, and also make sure you make your espresso first before frothing any milk.

4 – Other factors
A few other things to bear in mind:

  • Use the 2 cup filter, even if you’re making just 1 cup of espresso, and half-fill it. It’s much easier to fill than the 1 cup filter.
  • Avoid water with too much limescale in it – filter water before putting it in the machine
  • If you want to grind your own beans (highly recommended) then get a burr grinder – my Krups Expert GVX231 has done a fine job

48 Comments

  1. Salvolino Tafazzi

    Hello Jon. Hope you can give me some good advice here: I have tried already two brands of decaf (Illy and Mauro) and both gave me the same problem. I guess they are both too finely ground so water doesn’t flow through as it should and coffee drips out at a painstaking pace (over a minute to fill up one third of a small expresso cup). What comes out is an extremely concentrated (and bitter) espresso. Any ideas? Thank you!

  2. Hi Jon, while my first Gaggia Classic had died, bought a different brand to see if it was as good. Of course it wasn’t, but I’ve tried most of the types of coffees from Whittards, I would recommend their Café Français coffee ground for espresso, if you bulk buy your coffee ground freeze the bags. This coffee is an everyday, every hour, tasty drinking coffee. You know how sometimes Italian Espresso is just that little bit bitter?
    I haven’t tried the real French coffee yet, but I must. The double Gaggia filter basket is the one to use, for sure, the single one is a waste of time!

  3. @jB Turbidy – eh, you can’t get away with a rant without some details! What happened? Why did it break down? What was broken?

    My 2006 Classic made thousands of espresso and many hundreds of cappuccino without any problem. The only thing was the rubber seal grew a little worn.

  4. jB Turbidy

    It seems like a love in when it comes to everyone discussing the Gaggia Classic. I have nothing but the opposite experience. I think the machine is poorly manufactured, but that could be the highlight because the Customer Service at Gaggia could be the worst I have ever experienced. That takes work. I sent 30 emails to their customer service email and did not receive the curiosity of one response . It was such a horrific ordeal I took great pride and honor in throwing my 18 month old Gaggia Classic in the garbage. At least now I don’t have to complain about it any longer .

  5. Rick – I am afraid I do not know the answer to this. Is there a hole for the duct to connect to? Because for the Classic to work well it’s pretty fundamental as this stops excess water dripping through the filter head.

    I bought a new Classic in Europe in October (the old one was fine, this was an additional machine). Apart from this new machine being made in Romania rather than Italy the machine was itself identical to my original one bought in 2006.

  6. Rick Pegrum

    Hi Jon
    After a lot of investigation and reading I decided to buy a Gaggia Classic from Amazon. When it arrived I set it up, but it wasn’t until my third cup of expresso that I realised that the decompression duct was missing! I contacted Amazon who immediately said that they would replace the machine, or if I purchased the duct as a spare part they would credit me the cost..which I thought was very fair. However looking on other sites it looks as though the duct is no longer supplied! Do you or any of your bloggers have any knowledge about this before I send the machine back and get it replaced with another new machine, probably without the duct as well!!!

  7. Try Taylors of Harrogate Espresso, I have found it is the perfect grind for my Classic, exactly the consistency described above.

  8. Oliver

    D’oh! I retract! After looking at the Amazon description of the Cuisinart, I see actually it’s no less classic than the Classic in design. Still I know Gaggia now offers this “perfect crema” thing. I just can’t swear it’s as good as a classic pull with just the right fineness of grind, because I’ve never tasted the product.

  9. Oliver

    One more thought: Like you, I used to evangelize about my bare-bones Gaggia to people who simply couldn’t be bothered, but then in a moment of desperation for caffeine at my sister’s home, I accepted an espresso from a Cuisinart espresso machine. A Cuisinart! And it was awesome. I think they must employ the same innovation that Gaggia sells as the “perfect crema” design, which takes away from the grounds the job of withstanding just the right amount of water pressure for an espresso-type coffee extraction. So I don’t think you have to go the hard-core route to get good espresso anymore–even if you want to stick with Gaggia.

  10. Oliver

    I’d add that working out the correct grind setting applies every time you use a different brand or roast of bean. I regularly switch the setting on my burr grind back and forth a couple clicks depending on which of the two roasts I buy. Also there’s a prevailing myth that espresso calls for a dark roast, which I think most coffee snobs will tell you is bunk. I suppose the bunk originates just from the observation that the drink itself is dark. Nota bene: There are so many more flavors and distinctions to notice between beans when you use a medium or even a light roast for your espresso. The switch from dark was expensive for me, because it made me a whole lot pick pickier, but oh is the espresso so much better. It would take an awful lot of foam and sugar not to notice.

  11. Yesterday, we finally called a halt to using illy in our Gaggia Classic .. the price has reached £6.48 a tin. The search was on for an acceptable replacement. This morning we tried Waitrose Espresso and Lavazza Espresso, both at half the price. The Waitorse was marginally better but we found neither able to deliver a really good crema as yet and the Lavazza seemd particularly bitter and almost undrinkable compared to illy. Seeing as so many others find Lavazza really good is there anything I could be doing wrong and does anyone else have experience of illy and comparable products?

  12. Hi Jon, I use the same grinder and gaggic classic for my coffee needs. What is the grind setting that u are using right now? I’m still experimenting with the ground settings and i’m trying to figure out the range which is suitable. I just bought the machine 2 months ago and i’m in love with it!

    Thanks for the awesome post

  13. Richard Sinclair

    Basically I am just repeating matt’s question I also have the same grinder and have just bought a Gaggia Classic and would appreciate knowing your grind setting. Thanks Richard

  14. John & Dasa

    On 27.10.11 Robert from Cheltenham asked “Could anyone recommend a burr grinder that will grind to a sand like consistency (UK). Thanks.”

    We’ve used a KitchenAid grinder, Artisan model – solid and reliable (after 18 months daily use) we use max’ settings 7-8 for consistently fine ground coffee.
    We recently bought our 2nd new Classic (at a cracking price!) and Dasa insists on using only bottled water in this hard water area.

  15. Speaking of grinders, I am using a SAECO Titan conical burr grinder. After grinding the beans, static cling is everywhere. Coffee grounds literally fly to nearby surfaces and make a general mess of the countertop. Can anything be done to reduce the “flying grounds”?

  16. hi jon, i have the same grinder as you and a small delonghi espresso machine. i was just wondering exactly what setting (which dot) you find best for espresso making?

  17. korkut

    Hi, Read your blog with interest. I had a Gaggia Treviso machine for several years, and now decided to upgrade to a Classic… Using it for a week now, with the same pre-ground coffee (Lavazza Rossa), same tamper and pre-heating procedures as before, but I don’t seem to get a good espresso with this one- always has a bitter and burnt taste! Crema is thick & stable, ~30sec for a double…
    Any thoughts?

  18. Very interesting reading. I’ve had a Gaggia Classic for about 4 years now, but I’ve never really been 100% happy with the results. I generally get a reasonable crema but I do not seem to be able to get a good dense froth on the milk and certainly not one that would allow me to produce ‘artistic effects’ similar to thoses in some coffee shops.
    I would be grateful for any help here but particularly answers to the following:
    I have the Krupps grinder mentioned above, what setting is recommended?

    One correspondant mentioned that he has changed the frothing wand – more information on this would be appreciated
    thanks in anticipation for any replies

  19. David,
    From my experience the pump itself is less likely to get clogged than other parts of the unit (I’m equipment designer, so I should know such stuff :)) unless the pump is physically damaged.
    I think it would be sufficient doing normal descaling to the pump without disassembling it.
    Anyway, do the descaling to the whole unit first. Before that, disassemble as many parts from below the heated tank as possible. For this exercise sake remove the handle with filter, then remove the mesh disc covering the hot water outlet underneath. Clean/descale all that separately.
    For descaling I’m using either normal universal descaler you can buy in any shop or citric acid you can buy in any pharmacy, but be careful with that one as it creates quite strong solution (small pack with 1 – 1.5l of hot water does the trick for heavy lime scale). I was going to use Gaggia stuff (they have their own) but didn’t have chance to lay may hands on it so far.
    With citric acid don’t keep it too long in the unit. I’m not sure what effect it will have on heated tank and other parts of your unit despite the fact it is quite weak acid. A few minutes will do, I think. Afterwards flush it thoroughly. Don’t forget to use both paths of the unit – milk frother as well.

    When I’m back at home tonight, I’m going to have a look inside mine unit again and give you some some checks to do in order to find out which parts are actually clogged. Or perhaps you’ll figure it out by then… 🙂

    Best regards.

  20. Thanks for the advice on descaling. Makes sense to me. Since I can’t get water to flow out of the holding tank, I assume I will need to descale individual parts by hand. But I don’t know which parts need descaling or how to descale. Can I disassemble the pump to descale it as it appears that it does not produce enough suction to move water into the system. Are there instructions I can download from the web that explain what to do? If the pump does not come apart, where can I buy a new pump?

  21. Hi Folks,

    First David: I would try proper descaling first but I’m affraid it may not be enough. If you weren’t using filtered water then your unit looks inside like 10 years old electric kettle. Most likely you will have to take it apart to remove the clog. Gaggia classic is rather basic inside but it might be tricky to open 10 year old unit.

    Second: I did solve my problem as well. As suspected the double filter was an issue. I’m using the other one, single, at the moment and I’m going to visit Gaggia shop this Wednsday. I did a decent check of all the components inside – they are in immaculate condition, only the filter clogged.

    Best regards

  22. I bought my Gaggia Classic ten years ago and loved it, but I have not used it for at least four years. I just tried to use it and no water comes out.

    I unscrewed and removed the top cover. I can see the rubber tube leading from the fill tank to the pump, and even with the pump running, the water does not rise very far out of the fill tank.

    Any suggestions?

    anxious for a good espresso

  23. No, I just used some generic descaler for coffee machines from the supermarket!

  24. Hi Jon,

    Thank you for your quick comment.
    Well, I think I’m getting quite decent flow without coffee in the filter.
    I was experimenting recently with different grind sizes because of the issue and I found one which works but it seemed inappropriate – it was quite coarse actually.
    Now I’m quite sure I really have some issue as you guys are using normal Lavazza grinds which are very fine. And to me now it looks like either the filter itself is clogged or the over pressure solution leaks too much.

    I’ll give a descaling a try first. Are you using original Gaggia descaling solution?

    Best Regards

  25. Hi Radek,

    What happens if you put no coffee in at all? How much water do you get out? A decent flow, or very little?

    I had a similar problem when I moved house – very little water would flow when I set up the machine at the new place. Descaling the machine did the trick – it removed some blockage somewhere and then the water flowed once more.

  26. Hi Jon and all coffee lovers,

    I bought my Gaggia Classic about three months ago and at this point I have exactly opposite thing to Simon (previous post).

    I have always been using filtered water, usually decent self-grinded coffee, my unit had decent cleaning and everything was fine at the beginning. To make a nice coffee it usually was taking about 20-30s.

    Recently though I’m having troubles with making any coffee at all. Basically nothing flows. Despite my efforts to clean everything properly (even too deep I think :)) to make a cup takes 3-4 min. It just drips slowly.

    I’m using Lavazza Qualità Rossa and Lavazza Decaf at the moment.
    I must admit I have never descaled the unit so far (it is 3 months old).
    The pump inside have some sort of popet valve (NOT the solenoid!) which protects it from over pressurizing (second pipe to the tank). If that leaks I will never get decent pressure out of it although without coffee in the filter the flow looks just fine.

    Did anyone experienced something similar with this machine?

    I thought I’ll share my milk frothing experience as well. I don’t know if this unit had different design nozzle before but with current one it does beautiful job. Works every time creating very nice micro foam or however you call it. The only thing is that I always wait until the frother reaches the temperature. I usually use 2% UHT milk as my family doesn’t tolerate normal milk too good. I think the secret is to get the temperature of the milk right – it shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. With too hot milk even if you create nice foam it will quickly disappear, with too cold (out of fridge) milk you will never create decent foam at all.
    Anyway, this unit makes far better foam than my previous Kenwood Espresso maker or DeLonghi I’d had even before.

    Best Regards

  27. simon pointer

    Hi Jon / Hi Folks
    I have the same gaggia classic as you, and have been brewing my own coffee for quite a while – before the gaggia I had a great kitchen aid machine.
    Recently my lovely lady bought a little coffee machine (a delongi) which was much cheaper than mine, and on the surface would appear to be built for the price – it has an aluminium tamping cup and insert with a strange addition that the manual calls a creme enhancer. In truth however it has made me question my machine as it genuinely produces excellent rich smooth creme espresso that tastes great.
    Compared to my previous machine I have never been too sure I always get the best from my gaggia classic despite my best efforts and wonder if you could help with a little advice?
    I always try to use fresh from bean coffee and I grind it myself with a decent burr grinder on it’s finest setting which does produce a good consistent grind similar to wet sand as you describe. I keep my beans in the fridge and I use a nice firmly pressed tamp in the double size cup insert. I always fill the machine with filtered water, and when the machine is clean and descaled it seems to do the best job and I do this fairly often.
    When it goes well it’s great, but all too often I find the water passing through the coffee too quickly and producing a rather watery weak effort and the expelled tamp is more like watery slop than a nice firm wet tamp which I think it should be.
    The only thing I think I do differently to you is that I always heat the milk before I pull the coffee, but I always purge the steam from the boiler before I pull the espresso, and I always prepare the tamp into a pre heated hot tamp holder. I like to do it this way as I like a nice large milky cappuccino and it takes a while to heat the milk and I like to add the freshest newly pulled espresso to my milk.
    Do you think this order and pulling the coffee first would really make that much difference? Do you think there is something else I am doing wrong or could do better? Do you think my grinder could be better or is wearing out? Thanks for your help.

  28. Andrew

    I have had a Coffee Gaggia, of which the Classic is an improved version, for about 11 1/2 years now, received as a wedding present. It took me ages to figure out how important the grind was. And proper constant cleaning. And the rubber seal in the group.

    I still love my Coffee Gaggia and would gladly purchase another.

    The wand, by the way, is the old one (obviously) and I can get great foam after learning a trick from a NYC espresso joint: dropping the jug several times through the steaming process from a height of about two inches. Drop it so the bottom hits flat. You’ll know it’s right because it doesn’t make a clang or bang sound but kind of a glunk. It seems to compress the foam and if I take care while doing it I can sculpt angels with it the microfoam..

  29. Robertr

    Thanks Jon. I have heard mention somewhere else of that grinder. I will give it a whirl.

  30. Hi Robert – I have this Krups model. It has been producing a perfect grind for more than 4 years, and it’s not too costly either!

  31. Hi everyone.
    I haven’t read all of the above posts, so apologies if I am going over ground (no pun intended) but having been the owner of a Gaggia Classic for almost a year, it has taken a recent visit to a cafe at a local Garden centre to find out why all of my efforts and various brands and strengths of ground coffee have produced bitterness whether making espresso or Americano. Yes sir ! It was all down to the grind. The nice man behind the counter, a trained barista, showed me the right grind- consisting of something like what can only be described as ‘wet sand’.It’s that fine and as someone else has said on this site, you shouldn’t be aware of individual grains. I was even given me some to try at home -Result ? Perfection.
    Could anyone recommend a burr grinder that will grind to a sand like consistency (UK). Thanks

  32. Good advice, One thing I have found is that the nut holding the steam arm can work loose over time (ours shot off and hit my wifes hand after 6 months ownership while it was obviously hot) also the allen key bolts holding the bit that you put the head group into worked loose, so keep an eye on these points. Great machine though , I would buy again.

  33. Christos P

    I’m a happy camper with the Classic for over a year. Good machine, reliable, sturdy, makes good espresso. Gaggia’s steam wand sucks, so I replaced it with one from a Rancilio Silvia and I can now froth milk correctly. My piece of advise is, use a Brita jug with Maxtra filter to descale the water (unless you can afford a better method – I also use an extra in-tank ion exchanger), and never use vinegar to clean it as the boiler is made of aluminium.
    In my experience espresso quality with the Classic has more often been a question of proper grind adjustment than anything else. I highly recommend this machine to the value-for-money conscious. Coffee snobs should look beyond, but I guess they already know that.

  34. Henry N

    Thanks, I’ll try the Lavazza if avail in espresso grind.

    I switch on the steam tank early and use a steel jug – so no opportunity there.

    Apparently Watermark (Gaggia dealer) in Amersham offer training free if you buy machine from them, otherwise £20 for 1.5 hours. Seems good value. Anyone tried it?

  35. No idea re. training… I’m just a content user of a Gaggia Classic, and worked out my own way.

    Coffee – have a go with Lavazza Qualita Rossa. That has always worked OK for me, although I normally grind my own beans.

    Milk – I’ve had that issue too. It’s handy, I’ve found, to switch on the froth switch on the front of the machine, wait a couple of minutes, and only then turn the knob to start the steam. That makes sure the steam is hot enough. I’ve also used glass and metal jugs for the frothing, and the metal one works better.

    I hope that helps a little!

  36. Henry N

    Jon, Thanks for your reply. I use Costa coffee for espresso, and I do tamp it. Any other ideas on this or the milk frothing?

    I live near Birmingham (England) and was wondering if there are any “training” sessions anybody knows of about to get the best from the machine. This could be a good opportunity for someone!

    Henry

  37. @HenryN – sounds like your coffee is not ground finely enough, or not compressed enough – are you compacting it with a tamper?

  38. Henry N

    Ive had the Classic for about 3 years, and quite honestly its never lived up to expectations. The crema is light brown and dissapears quickly. When doing cappaccino, it is hit and miss if the milk foams and never reaches “microfoam” state. I see the new models have a different milk nozzle design.

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  40. Hi Sven,

    Very sorry, but I don’t know a good coffee place in Brussels… The Gaggia Classic was purchased in the UK and I brought it with me to Brussels. I’m sure there must be a place to get them in Brussels or Antwerp though.

  41. Hi,

    Just moved to Brussels. In need of good espresso machine. Gaggia is one of the options. Do you know of any good places to buy coffee machines in Brussels?

  42. I have the same machine. Filtering the wtater is vital in Brussels, where the limescale is a big problem. I find that Lavazza Crema e Gusto makes the best coffee. I need two double shots before I am human.

  43. Maggie

    Good you don´t have a Nespresso as they turn out a huge amount of aluminium waste in the form of those little capsules (which can´t be put in the normal aluminium recycling bags or bins because of the coffee dregs) . It seems the only country in which they have a recycling centre is Switzerland so far. Time for a campaign amongst Nespresso users around Europe and elsewhere perhaps…

  44. Laurent

    And for the ones not in hurry, how about grinding your beans manually?

    I highly recommend the Zassenhaus experess coffee grinder (Kaffeemühle Santiago schwarz “Espresso”: http://www.zassenhaus.com/index.php?id=17#)

    You can adjust the finess of the grind, it’s garanteed for a couple of centuries (or so) but it’s not for those in a rush (it takes 2-3 minutes of grinding to fill a Bialetti moka coffee maker: http://www.bialetti.it/uk/catalogue/scheda.asp?id_cat=24).

    Great feeling though.

  45. Espresso connoisseur, seems like you have a good system running there. But since you’ve mastered your machine, what about the beans? I just came across this article about how to get the more (or less) caffeine from your coffee
    http://lifehacker.com/5170684/get-more-or-less-caffeine-from-your-coffee

    So if you need to measure you caffeine level, here’s the rule of thumb from the Starbucks co-founder:
    An espresso made from 100% Arabica, on average, has about 70 milligrams of caffeine per shot; a 12 oz. cup of drip coffee made my way in a press pot, using two scoops of coffee per 12-ounce cup — would have 200 milligrams.

  46. We had a Gaggia cubika: smart shiny steel thing – it died in 6 months. The DeLonghi basic shiny black plastic thing that we’d bought the Gaggia to replace (back in those Halcyon days pre-credit crunch when you could replace things because you wanted to rather than needed to) is still going strong. My top tip is buy one with the ESE system and use the Illy pods…

  47. I tell you what – A good cup of coffee in the morning definitely makes a whole lot of difference to the day ahead.

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