With its combination of old-world charm and new-age technology, the Gaggia Achille is a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Although it may seem to be nothing more than the average lever machine with an exceptionally handsome exterior, a closer look reveals that it’s actually a high-powered overachiever that just happens to look like a million bucks.
What sets the Achille apart from its predecessors and current competitors makes it just as enticing as the things that are still the same. The first of these advancements is a heat exchanger boiler that allows you to go from brewing to steaming without waiting. The main portion of the boiler is filled through a screw-on cap located underneath the removable reservoir. In order to keep an eye on the water level in this portion of the machine, Gaggia has added a water level sight glass to the left side of the Achille. Just make sure the water level is between the 2 red bars on the sight glass and you’ll have constant steam pressure, as this part of the boiler is what supplies steam to the stainless steel Turbo frother mounted on the right side of the Achille. Water for brewing is actually pulled from the removable reservoir through the center of the steaming portion of the boiler. Here, it’s flash heated to the perfect temperature and then directed out of the machine through the group head and portafilter as you pull the lever down. And thanks to the clear plastic construction of the reservoir, you can keep an eye on the water level with just a glance.
The second addition to the Achille is a 58mm commercial portafilter. The portafilter, like the brew group, is constructed of chrome-plated brass for the best temperature stability possible. But the Achille is the only machine of its kind that currently features a 58mm portafilter for optimal, commercial quality results and the ability to brew using ESE certified pods in its single shot filter basket.
Old World Charm
As far as brewing is concerned, the Achille is just like every other lever espresso machine. After adding coffee to the portafilter and attaching it to the machine, brewing is completely in your control using the brewing lever arm that protrudes from the front of the Achille. You start by lifting the lever up, which in turn, raises a piston inside the machine and allows water under pressure to enter the brew group. Then, by pressing down the lever, the water is forced through the coffee and out of the portafilter. The rate at which water flows through the coffee is completely determined by the barista and how quickly they actually bring the lever from point A (the up position) to point B (the down position). So in relation to the golden rule, you are actually what determines if the shot is produced within 20 to 25 seconds. That being said, the art of brewing with a lever machine requires much more practice and finesse than any other type of espresso machine. Since you manually control the brewing rate as well as the grind setting and tamp pressure, brewing with the Achille is a learned skill that is quite accurately, an art as well.
This particular brewing system was the first that created enough pressure to produce real espresso. The Achille’s namesake, Mr. Giovanni Achille Gaggia himself, was also the first to patent the spring lever group that is still used in these and most semi automatic espresso machines. But not only the brewing design of this machine is true to the original form. Both the lever arm and the portafilter’s handles are authentic to Gaggia’s original design, as is the ribbed boiler/column that makes up the body of the machine. When you purchase a machine like the Achille, you’re getting espresso as it was when it was born and all the nostalgia that goes along with it.
Up Close and Personal
Now that we’ve discussed what makes the Achille similar to and different from other manual espresso machines, let’s take some time to get acquainted with the machine itself. As we discussed above, you’ll start by filling the main portion of the boiler, which can be accessed through a screw-on cap that sits beneath the removable water reservoir - a portion of the machine that will also need to be filled with water prior to turning on the machine. The main On/off switch is located on the bottom right side of the Achille. Just flip the switch and the red indicator light next to it will illuminate, signifying power to the machine. A green indicator light, situated directly above the red one, will illuminate when the Achille is up to steaming pressure. You can also tell the machine is up to steaming pressure by monitoring the pressure gauge that’s mounted above the water level sight glass on the left side of the machine. When the gauge reads 1.2 BAR, you’re all set to begin steaming.
All of these pieces are attached to a sturdy stainless steel column that houses the Achille’s boiler, which happens to be constructed of stainless steel as well. Attached directly to the front of the machine is the chrome-plated brass brew group, which is topped by the brewing lever arm. The portafilter attaches to the bottom of the brew group and beneath that, you’ll find an easily removable drip tray covered with a stainless steel drip grate that acts as the perfect pedestal for your demitasse cups. And if you need someplace to keep your cups in between brewing sessions or as they wait in line to be filled, the Achille also features a cup tray that sits on the back of the machine, easily accessible from either side.
The right side of the Achille features one more very important espresso machine component - the frothing wand. Gaggia added their stainless steel Turbo Frother to this manual espresso machine, taking the guesswork out of creating luscious steamed and frothed milk for cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, steamers, and everything else you can imagine. What’s more, the Turbo Frother is mounted on a ball joint fairly high up on the machine, so it easily accommodates any size frothing pitcher. And since the steam arm also features a rubber grip, you don’t have to worry about burning yourself either.
The Perfect Combination
Although manual espresso machines are nothing new, the Gaggia Achille is the first machine in years to take the lever brewing method and give it a modern twist. Its ideal marriage between the traditional and contemporary give it an edge above its competitors and a charisma that simply can’t be beat.
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