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Today, we’re going to take a look at two of my favorite entry level machines. Over the past six years I’ve answered more than 10,000 questions from people like you reading this blog. One of the most common ones is "Hey, can you recommend a good entry level machine for me?" These are my go to recommendations. Both are low cost, very capable, and have features that beat the competition.
However, these machines are very different, so we want to see which one is a better fit for you. So, let's look at the Gaggia Carezza and the Gaggia Classic. The Classic, by the way, has been rated a Consumer's Digest best buy.
So, what do these machines offer out of the box that you will not get with other entry level machines? Number one, you can brew in pressurized filter baskets with both of these. The Classic also comes with a regular standard non-pressurized basket. With that, a grinder, and some skill, you can make a better espresso. Now the Carezza is pressurized basket brewing only, but not all pressurized basket brewing is equal, and in my opinion the Carezza is the best in the business.
The really cool thing I think that you’re not going to find on any other entry level machine at this price is the latte art. Both of these machines can froth to latte art quality. This does require some skill and a little bit of practice, but both of these machines can do it. If you don’t want to go there, they do both come with auto-frothing wands for no-skill required frothing for cappuccinos and lattes.
So you can get started in espresso without a grinder with either of these machines, using pre-ground coffee or ESE pods. If down the road you add a grinder, you will be able to make a better espresso on either machine. There’s just nothing that beats whole beans ground fresh right before brewing.
Again, the Carezza is, in my opinion, the best entry-level pressurized basket machine available. It goes from turn on to ready to brew in about a minute and is up steam temperature for frothing in about 30 seconds. What really sets it apart from the competition is it’s pressurized brewing system. First, it can take a much larger coffee dose, about 18 grams, while most other entry level machines max out at around 12 grams. That 18 gram dose is what you get in a cafe for a double shot. Beyond the dose size, the Carezza has the best pressurized brewing system. Most competitor machines use a filter basket with one tiny restriction to create the pressure, while the Carezza’s basket resembles a non-pressurized basket with hundreds of tiny holes. The restriction happens after the filter basket. What that means is better espresso. You can use grind size and tamping to effect the extraction if you want. That’s something you really can’t do on different competitors' machines.
The Carezza is ready to go quickly, and when you’re done don’t worry about turning it off because it automatically turns itself off nine minutes after its last use. It’s a convenient and easy to use machine. With those larger coffee doses and a better pressurized brewing system, it makes better espresso than the competition. Plus, it’s got the latte art capabilities and also comes with an auto-frothing steam wand. An auto-frothing steam wand automatically injects air into the milk when steaming and produces a nice froth for cappuccinos and lattes with no barista skills required. However, you can take the wand off and with a little skill, steam manually straight from the steam pipe. Steaming manually, you can create the super-fine micro-foam required for pouring latte art.
On the outside, the Carezza’s housing is mostly plastic, the water reservoir slides out of the front for easy filling, and a large volume drip tray catches any spills
Moving on to the Gaggia Classic. Again, its been rated a Consumer's Digest best buy, and for good reason. It’s a true machine. With an all metal housing, it’s built to last. There’s simply no other machine at this price with similar capabilities. It has a 63 millimeter commercial size and weight chrome-plated brass portafilter, which is exactly what you find on commercial machines. That portafilter locks into a substantial group head. All that metal means extra temperature stability, one of the keys to great espresso. Now with all that metal, you do want to turn on the Classic at least 10 minutes before use so it’s fully warmed up. The Classic has a three-way solenoid valve, meaning that at the end of brewing, a valve opens which drains excess water from the portafilter, leaving you with a dry, easy to knock out coffee puck.
For steaming milk, the Classic comes with that auto-frothing wand, and like the Carezza you can remove that wand and froth manually for a finely textured milk capable of pouring latte art. For both machines, Gaggia has an optional accessory that makes going back and forth easier: the Latte Art Wand. With the outer sleeve on, it auto-froths with no skill required. Slide off the sleeve and it’s a manual wand for those serious about getting a perfect milk texture.
With it’s non-pressurized brewing capabilities, the Classic is capable of producing a better espresso than the Carezza. To get there, you will want a grinder, but the Classic does come out of the box with pressurized filter baskets so you can get started without a grinder using pre-ground coffee or ESE pods.
So which is right for you? If you like it quick and simple, but want better quality espresso and more capabilities than the competition like latte art frothing, it’s the Gaggia Carezza. If you want to dive a little deeper into espresso and have a grinder or might add one in the future, choose the Gaggia Classic. It’s a true machine and built to last.