I just retired my Gaggia Classic after ten years of trusty use. I learned a bunch over that decade and figured I’d jot it down and share it in case it helps you.
Here are three tips for extending the life of your Gaggia Classic or Gaggia Classic Pro to ten years and beyond. And for getting good quality espresso throughout your machine’s lifetime. These tips are learned by having a machine for a long time and not easily found on the web. I reckon I’d have gotten 15-20 years from my machine if I’d known these tips when I started out. The main thing I’ve learned is that the Gaggia Classic isn’t really a consumer device, like a food blender or a kettle. It’s better to think of it like a professional device shrunk and simplified for the home. It needs to be cleaned. It needs to be descaled. Occasionally it’ll need to be serviced. It needs looking after.
Context is important, here’s mine. The Gaggia Classic is a semi-manual espresso machine for making coffee at home. I had an old-model Gaggia Classic but most of these tips are equally useful for more recent models and the Gaggia Classic Pro. I live in London (England, United Kingdom) which is significant in a couple of ways: my home city has ‘hard’ water; and I will reference products from my territory but you’ll probably be able to find your own versions closer to home.
Tip 1: Descale your machine
I’ll start with the tip I learned latest and I wish I’d heard earliest. Descale your machine. Remember I said I live in London and it’s a ‘hard’ water area? Well this is the reason my machine’s retired. I didn’t descale my machine the whole time I owned it. Limescale built-up in the Gaggia’s boiler until it was so bad it started breaking-off and clogging the machine. It was bad. And beyond the point of realistic repair.
So what would I do differently now I know what I know? Descale my machine. Every 2-3 months (because I live in a ‘hard’ water area). This video from Whole Latte Love show’s what happens when you don’t descale your machine. They also published a video on how to descale your machine. Here’s another video from Tom’s Coffee Corner that goes into a little more detail.
A build-up of limescale can be fatal for your machine (like it was for mine) but there are situations where your machine can have a full service and live to make coffee another day. There are professionals who’ll do this for you. Or, if you’re feeling brave and have a high-risk appetite, you could try it yourself. See this video on how to do a full service and descale I have to be honest. I’d think twicee about doing this myself as it’s involved and can go wrong. But if you’re machine is so bad the alternative is you’re going to ditch it, you’ve got nothing to lose.
In a city like London the advice is to descale every 2-3 months. Other areas with better water might get away with a couple of times a year. This further depends on useage. I make one double espresso a day, if you make more than you need to adjust accordingly.
Tip 2: Filter your water
Hot on the heels of talking about descaling, it makes sense to talk about water. Water is the main ingredient in most coffees so it’s worth making it decent. I discounted using bottled water because it’s wasteful. I tried Brita water filters for a while but felt they still involved a lot of wasted plastic. I got bored one day and cut a filter open to see what’s inside - it’s a mix of charcoal and beads. After doing some research I found that activated charcoal performs the same function as a Brita filter but with less waste, so I tried those for a while. They do work but the downside is they take a relatively long time to work. With a filter, you pour the water through and you have filtered water normally within a couple of minutes. With activated charcoal, you immerse it in the water and have to wait 5-6 hours + before it’s done it’s thing. Nowadays I’ve found a happy medium called Phox. Phox is a British company that manufactures and sells water filters. The filter itself can be reused - you just buy a sachet of charcoal to refill it every month or two. Quick results and a little less wastage.
It’s worth being up-front: I got a build-up of limescale even with this filtering. It’s hard to filter-out everything in water, particularly in a hard water area like London. Over time it’ll build up. Filtering water will make your espresso taste better and might delay the need to descale but it won’t remove it.
Tip 3: Clean your machine
Water stopped flowing through my Gaggia Classic after 5-6 years. I figured this was the end and started researching new machines. Something told me I should do a bit of research into common reasons for water to stop flowing out of the group head and I quickly learned something obvious: machine’s get dirty over time if not cleaned regularly. Eventually old coffee builds up and blocks water. I simply hadn’t cleaned the machine for a long time.
This was the first time I’d done some maintainance on the machine and it felt a little daunting at first but, as ever, Youtube came to the rescue with loads of guidance. This video from Christoph Biallas is what I’ve used most often to get step by step instructions. I got the cleaning kit (a backflush basket and cleaning powder) from Doppio coffee because they have a store near me. I’ve been lazy and only cleaned the machine when the water stops (probably about every three months in the last few years of having it) but think I’ll do it more often with my next machine, aiming for at least once per month. It’s a pain but makes a huge difference to how well the machine runs which in turn improves the quality of your espresso.
To resummarise, I slowly learned that a Gaggia Classic isn’t really a consumer device like a food blender or a kettle. It’s better to think of it like a professional device shrunk and simplified for the home. It needs cleaning, descaling and servicing. If it’s looked after, I reckon a Gaggia Classic or Gaggia Classic Pro could last 10-20 years making good quality espresso.
There’s lots of other tips for making good espresso and they already exist. I’ll point you at them rather than recreate them. There’s a vast amount more accessible information on making espresso at home now versus when I started a decade ago. Back then it was mainly word of mouth or coffee forums and both of those were hit and miss, as likely to confuse you as help you. There’s a wealth of accessible guidance in 2022 that means you can learn and improve quicker than I did.
I shared how I make espresso with a Gaggia Classic after eight years of ownership and published a post on reasons not to make espresso at home a couple of years earlier.
James Hoffman’s Youtube channel is probably the most popular coffee series you’ll encounter. There’s loads on all aspects of coffee to help improve how you make it and how you appreciate it. There’s a load on espresso including the birth of espresso, the best espresso machine under £500, a beginner’s guide to grinders, how I make espresso, understanding espresso dose, understanding espresso grind size, understanding espresso ratio, espresso drinks explained, and everything you need to know to steam milk.
Other Youtube channels that I’ve found useful are Seattle Coffee Gear and Lifestyle Lab for reviews of kit, and Whole Latte Love for guidance on how to use and look after your kit to make good coffee.
My Gaggia Classic was a great machine that lasted for ages. I can heartily recommmed one and with these tips yours might last even longer.