Buying a new espresso machine

After six or seven years of hard, dedicated service, my espresso machine is finally giving up the ghost. It’s a Starbucks Barista and made gallons of fantastic coffee over the years. I’d buy this exact machine again, but I’m feeling ready to move up to a commercial portafilter instead of the pressurized one this uses.

I make coffee at home because I drink a lot of it and I’d go broke if I had to buy it all. While writing this, I finished my third double-shot espresso of the day. So far. At a conservative average that’s $10 a day in coffee, and most days would be more. Saving $300-400 a month on coffee pretty much justifies any price for an espresso machine. A $500 machine will have absolutely paid for itself in just 6 weeks.

Super Automatic machines don’t interest me much, not just because they’re a fortune, but because they have too many moving parts to maintain and postpone maintenance. Additionally, we occasionally have roaches in our building, and NYC roaches love coffee. Having a reservoir of spent grounds on the counter would be inviting an infestation. Besides, I don’t like the idea of putting off cleanup for days: I make coffee, I clean up, I’m done.

I’m leaning towards a Gaggia Classic, because the reviews are universally excellent, it uses a commercial portafilter, isn’t too big, has a powerful pump and heats up quickly. I have a few reservations and I’ve been trying to find one to look at in person, but I’ve had no luck at stores near me, and I kind of hate shopping anyway. My three main questions:

  • What is the vertical clearance between the portafilter and the drip tray? (ie. will my preferred 3 inch tall cups fit underneath? My guess from pictures is about 2 5/8 inches — WLL lists the clearance as 3.25 inches, see note below)
  • Can the steaming wand be replaced with a bare metal tip?
  • How well sealed are the internals? (roach concern again)

I’m going to call Whole Latte Love when I get a minute and find out the answers. If you are shopping for coffee products, their site together with CoffeeGeek are incredible resources.

Update: I haven’t yet called Whole Latte Love, but I did find that they list cup height in their “Compare-o-matic” page. That lists the Gaggia as having a cup clearance fo 3.25 inches, though I’m not certain that measures the new spouted portafilter, which extends lower.