Customer Reviews: Gaggia for Illy Espresso Machine
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In the past six years I've owned two other brands of single-serve espresso makers. And I still love my Nespresso machine the best. I don't drink a lot of regular coffee, but I do enjoy my shots of espresso in the morning, and I particularly appreciate the ease and simplicity of these single-serve machines. So, when offered an opportunity to review this Gaggia machine*, I enthusiastically agreed, then waited impatiently for it to arrive. Neither of my other two machines have a milk frothier. This one does, so I was especially looking forward to that new experience, too.

There are a lot of espresso machines available. How do you choose? Consider how much convenience you need in a machine. If you decide on the convenience of a single-serve machine, then you better do a lot of research on the flavors of the espresso offered in the proprietary capsules/discs/pods of each brand. Consider the footprint/size, color and style of machine that will suit your kitchen. When you've got those questions answered, then it's time to compare prices.

Personally, at our house, the workers in the family wake up and are out the door one short hour later. We are away from home for the next twelve hours. So, our philosophy is this: Connoisseurs may debate that taking shortcuts by using a single-serve espresso maker cannot produce a "perfect" cup of espresso or, latte or cappuccino, but for the people in our family, these single-serve machines allow us a little luxury while expending a minimum amount of time. We're willing to sacrifice perfection for the opportunity of a few sips of wonderful coffee. What have we learned? We feel that flavor is NOT diminished by using a single-serve machine.

This is what I learned when we experimented with this Gaggia machine: We not only get beautiful espresso, but the milk frothier with this machine produces terrific foam--with tiny, tiny bubbles--very easily and in a minimum amount of time. We love the Pannarello Wand! I don't know how I've lived without a milk frothier all my life....We are having a great time and a lot of fun with this frothier--in the morning and after dinner, too. (We've been experimenting with steamed milk and froth and some of our chocolate, mocha, coffee and French vanilla liqueurs. Very nice!)

This machine only uses illy brand capsules--called iperEspresso capsules. I don't have any problem with a machine that only uses proprietary capsules; my other two machines are the same way. The problem I did have with the illy brand capsules is that I couldn't find them anywhere in the Houston, Texas area.* I contacted customer service at the company that distributes this machine in the US, and they were surprised to hear that I couldn't find capsules in my area. I was told that they are easy to find in many other areas of the country. So, if you do NOT want to take advantage of the company's mail order delivery service immediately (as in PRIOR to receiving your machine), check out capsule availability before you decide to buy this machine.

Another important point: Capsules are available in only four different types of espresso--two strengths, one lungo and one decaf. (One of my other machines has 16 different blends of beans.) If you are already an illy fan, you already know this: The flavor, aroma and crema is top notch: Not bitter, a little citrusy, robust-- all-around nice and consistent. The intensity of the dark roast is not as high as available in some other brands. And I found that I did not appreciate the medium roast when milk was added.

A few other observations: 1.) The water heats up quickly: Equal with the other machines I have. 2.) Clean-up is not difficult. 3.) Customer service is friendly and helpful, but not available on weekends or holidays--but hey, that's okay, since during the week you get to talk to a real person from the first hello! And, it sounds as if she's always smiling! 4.) This machine is black and blocky--no beautiful design here. There are other companies out there that produce white and other colors. And there are some beautifully designed machines, too. And some have smaller footprints if you're short on counter space. 5.) The platform for your cup is adjustable, but the height allowance is still limiting. There are machines that allow for a taller cup. (Sometimes I like to froth my milk in a cup, then add a shot of espresso to that same cup. I know, unconventional, but it works for me.)

Here is a short list of what you need to buy and/or have on hand before your machine arrives: Capsules--crazy as it sounds, not a single espresso capsule arrives with the machine; a frothing pitcher, preferably stainless steel and 20 ounce size is recommended; a variety of cup sizes--take a look at the Bodum double-walled cups, they are great.

*I was offered this machine through the Amazon Vine Program. Because I had such difficulty in locating capsules, the Vine Program removed the machine from my list of items to be reviewed. I was told I was not required to review this product, but they did not tell me I couldn't review it.

UPDATE: We still love our Nespresso machine the best. The frothier on the Gaggia machine has stopped producing the great foam that it used to create and now we get a lot more larger bubbles. I've faithfully cleaned the frothier per the instructions, but it's still not working right. I continue to look for the pods at the grocery stores, but--still--no one is stocking them. I do see they are available by mail from Amazon.
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VINE VOICEon November 25, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoy making and drinking espresso, so I jumped on the chance to review this Gaggia espresso machine.

* How does it work?

This machine is very easy to use and care for. There are two compartments: On the left is a removable water tank, and on the right is the removable drawer for the spent pods. To brew you just pop in an espresso pod, which must be the Illy brand or compatible, and press the brew button. 30 seconds later you have a hot cup of espresso which is very drinkable. For those of you who don't like straight espresso, you can add hot water (via the steam wand with the turn of a know), you have an "americano". You can also set the machine to brew longer, which will give you a fuller-tasting americano. To make a cappuccino (less milk, foamier) or latte (more milk, less foam), just fill a large mug with milk, then press the Steam button and wait for it to heat up. Turn the steam knob with the tip of the wand submerged in the milk and soon you have hot frothed milk.

* How does it taste?

Straight Espresso: I drink espresso straight, about 1-3 times a day. It is so concentrated this way that it is very easy to taste any defects in the espresso. This Illy machine, using the red medium roast capsules, made a very mild and drinkable cup of espresso with nice crema and very mild bitterness. It wasn't the best espresso I've had, but better than you get from many "espresso" cafes in the US.

Other drinks: The steam wand is an automatic frother type, which means you can make nice foam without practicing on a commercial machine for a week. If you are making other drinks with added water, sugar, and/or milk, I recommend going with the darker roast (blue) Illy capsules, as you'll want the more robust flavor to stand up to what you are adding.

* Likes:
- Super easy to use. Compared to my manual grinder and espresso machine, which leaves a huge mess and takes lots of practice, but can make better espresso, this Gaggia machine is dead simple. You can't really mess it up with this machine.
- No mess. I spend a lot of time cleaning around my grinder and espresso machine.
- Price: Very affordable.
- Brand: Gaggia has been making espresso machines for decades. I have one of their grinders and it has worked without any issues for many years.

* Dislikes:
- Coffee expense. See my thoughts on pods/capsules below.
- Packaging waste. Pods don't seem very recyclable/compostable.
- Hard to find capsules. Order online or go to a fancy kitchen store. My supermarket didn't have these capsules.
- Build quality. You get what you pay for. Nice design but it is mostly plastic. This is expected at this price range.

* Summary:

If you want an affordable machine that uses no-mess, Italian-flavor Illy capsules, this is a solid little machine. I recommend it with my caveats about coffee capsules below. 4 of 5 stars. Will update this review if anything breaks.

* Footnotes: Coffee capsules (a.k.a. pods)
I'm not a big fan of coffee capsules, but I did not count this against this review. The benefits and drawbacks of capsule machines are pretty obvious: You pay 3x the price for coffee, waste 3x the packaging, and make 1/10th the mess of a manual grinder and espresso machine. You have very little control but the results are pretty consistent. Getting really fresh coffee is pretty hard. Illy has made a science of packing coffee for long shelf life (nitrogen purged canisters, for example), and it always seems to taste decent. But getting a local roasted bean that was roasted a week or two ago and extracting it just right can be worth it. The choice is yours. If you want the simplicity of capsules but don't want to waste so much packaging, you may want to consider a fully automatic machine. These machines are 3-5x as expensive as this one, and do require more maintenance, but offer the simplicity of one button brewing and no separate grinding, and the ability to use whatever whole bean you want.

Again I didn't count the capsules against this rating of this machine but now you know..
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on May 14, 2012
Machine initially was good, but failed in short order, where the machine couldn't generate the pressure needed and struggled to put out a succession of drips of lukewarm espresso. No parts on hand led to a 6 week delay, which has just been updated to a 12-14 week delay. Whole latte love does not offer an advanced exchange program, nor a loaner, nor the option to swap out for a refurbished model, so be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait.

Whole latte love has been courteous and professional, and their service staff has been very helpful. That doesn't change the fact that my machine is out of commission for an extended period.

Not sure if this is simply a failure to stock parts or if this model has such a high failure rate that they can't keep them in stock. Either way, one may wish to take this into consideration while making your purchasing decision.
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on August 9, 2014
Very happy with this machine. I am actually writing this because I found a little quirk that is actually documented in the instructions, but some of the other reviews have mistakenly assumed that the machine is broken. Sometimes (especially if the unit hasn't been used in a week or so) it seems that it can not produce enough pressure to make the coffee. This is because the unit needs to be "primed" again. If you find that it is not producing coffee, just open the steam valve for a second or so. This will bleed the air from the system and remedy the problem. I thought I had this great discovery until s friend pointed out that it was in the user guide. (Duh, who reads manuals). With that, it has been flawlessly making delicious coffee for two months now.
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on June 19, 2013
First a confession: I grew up in Italy and love real espresso, with crema on the top. The ideal machine for me is a superautomatic, i.e. a machine that grinds the coffee, makes the espresso with a pump at very high pressure (thereby generating the crema) and dumps the grounds in an internal container, (like the ones I have at home: a Miele built-in, a Gaggia Titanium countertop model and a Saeco Idea). These machines require methodical cleaning at least once a day to ensure reliable service, as well as relatively frequent descaling and rinsing.

At work however this would not be practical as we lack a sink in our suite, so for office use last December I chose this little Gaggia using Illy single-dose Iperespresso pods of ground coffee. So far (over 6 months of medium use: two inveterate coffee drinkers plus several visitors per week) this little machine has performed very well.

What I like:
- small footprint: takes very little space on the countertop.
- very modest energy consumption in energy-saving mode (which it switches to automatically after about 15 minutes of inactivity), yet reasonably short time to switch from "energy-saving" mode to "ready-to-brew" mode: about one minute.
- reasonable price (at the time I bought it from Amazon, right before Christmas 2012,I paid $216.11, but I notice the price has gone up a bit since).

What I like less:
- Difficulty brewing a coffee that is more than 1/3 of a 8oz cup: while it is true that you can easily program the machine for a "longer" coffee, the pump is a bit undersized and clearly straining to go beyond this quantity. Even at this quantity it takes a subjectively longer time to brew that one would expect. Furthermore, Illy's pods have a relatively small amount of coffee, so if you brew it really long it tends to taste somewhat bitter (exception: their "lungo" variety, see below).
- Relatively small water tank: needs to be filled frequently.
- The pannarello wand is rather flimsy: we never used it but I suspect it would not last long before getting clogged and requiring cleaning: if you are into frequent cappuccinos or milk-frothing this is not the machine for you.

Other observations:
This machine is made in China: however, it has many proprietary Gaggia/Saeco (Saeco bought Gaggia many years ago) features, such as the brief pre-brewing phase where a very small amount of water flows through the pod to pre-warm the coffee, then stops for about 2 seconds before brewing the rest of the water. This leads me to believe that it was designed by Gaggia in Italy. It also cannot accommodate cups taller than an 8oz size (approx. 3 3/4inches): we use Dixie 8 Styrofoam cups. Pods are easily available not just from Illy but also on the web, from Amazon, WholeLatteLove (which is the Gaggia US distributor) and others. They are not cheap, but not overly expensive either, especially if you take advantage of the frequent promotions.

A word about Illy Iperespresso pods:
The Coffee comes directly from North-eastern Italy (Illy is a well-known Italian family with over a century of history in the city of Trieste, which was until 1918 the main port of the Austro-Hungarian empire, hence a name that does not sound Italian). Illy makes several different varieties. After trying most of them, I recommend:

- For a strong brew, one of their Monoarabica single-source varieties: Ethiopian ( for a strong "wake-up" call, Guatemala ( for a somewhat smoother taste with a hint of chocolate flavor. I do not like their Brazilian single-source as much: a bit milder but not a lot of character.

- For a milder brew, their "rosso" (red cap) medium roast ( this is the favorite of my American colleagues.

- For an extra long brew where you program the machine to use a lot of water per serve (but see my caveat above about the pump), their "lungo" (blue cap) ( Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a milder brew, as many assume: on the contrary, it contains a bit more coffee in the pod to ensure that the product is not "annacquato" (watery). You may want to check my reviews of these varieties for more details.

Not perfect and with some limitations (hence 4 stars instead of 5) but an ideal solution at a reasonable price for a small office suite. Quite reliable so far in my experience (contrary to the experience some other buyers have reported here). You should read the (somewhat cumbersome) owner's manual carefully before using.
UPDATE AS OF 3/3/14:
Almost a year and a half later, this machine is still working perfectly, despite being in a small office environment with multiple users, so I'm quite happy about the reliability: recommended!
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on November 25, 2011
The espresso is really good but the frother doesn't heat the milk and I have to put in the microwave to heat it.
It would be better without the frother and of course less expensive.
I'm considering sending this one back and get one without frother unless someone knows of a machine with a frother that works.
I just read where there is a model without frother but it is only sold in Italy.

I think I will try another one of these machines to see if frother could be defective. I like the espresso it makes.
I'll report back after using another one.

The second one I've tried also had problems with the frother.

I have returned the Gaggia and have purchased the Nespresso without frother and a separate frother.
Hoping that it will be a very favorable report or ...... back to the expresso bars.
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VINE VOICEon December 21, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had another Illy machine a while ago and did enjoy it. This one in comparison is so much easier to use. It is no wonder it's the top seller in Italy.

Illy makes great coffee. And their capsules for these machines give you ease of use and consistency. The set up was pretty straightforward. Fill with water (after rinsing), prime it and add a capsule of Illy coffee. Now, keep in mind this machine comes with NO capsules. I knew that from before so I ordered some from Amazon and they arrived about the same time. You would think they would include a couple of capsules just to get you started. They have a long shelf life so that shouldn't be a factor.

The machine worked flawlessly. The crema is wonderful to see at the top of the glass. And the taste was excellent.

You can also use the wand to steam milk if you like. This is very easy to use and do.

The only thing I would point out is that if you don't use this for a bit, you will need to prime it again. Not a long process, just a bit inconvenient. The solution is of course to use it regularly. The coffee is a bit expensive, but it takes minutes to get an espresso, a great tasting one at that, and there is no clean up.

I very much recommend this great machine. It also looks good on your counter.
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on November 25, 2011
I bought the Illy-Gaggia Iperespresso Pod machine for my wife. She absolutely loves it. Since we have twin infants and are regularly in a state of sleep deprivation this little unit sure does the trick when holding one infant in arm! The crema is perfecto and having the ability to set the "pull" of the shot is super useful as we both like it a bit shorter and rich. We've been using it daily for two months now and have not had any mechanical issues or quality issues with the pods. The only downside for us, being mindful of waste and design issues, is the necessity of sourcing non-recycable/reusable pods that have to be thrown out. The other part of the pod dilemma is the cost per pod...hopefully one day it translates to less then $.70 cents per shot on average. Aside from that we're both happy come morning, afternoon, or evening shot!

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on March 3, 2012
I generally consume lattes and prefer to prime the cup I will ultimately drink out of then dispense my espresso. This required me to dispense in a smaller cup then pour the espresso into the cup I would be drinking from; I believe this increases the rate the espresso cools. I like my espresso drinks hot.
I respect the illy brand but this device was also not sleek enough for me. I returned it and bought a machine that was more versatile as well as one that uses freshly ground beans.
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on June 10, 2012
I did not buy this through Amazon, instead I purchased it directly from Illy...and I set up my auto-shipment of iperEspresso pods at the same time. I've read all the reviews and can't say that I understand all the negative comments. I will say that to get the best experience from this unit you should buy a frothing pitcher and a thermometer to go with it. This will allow you to make sure your frothed milk gets to the 160 degree range which should warm up the espresso sufficiently if it cools while you're frothing for a latte or cappuccino. I use two shots of espresso, a couple squirts of vanilla flavored syrup and enough hot, frothed milk to fill an average sized coffee cup...its worth every penny as well as the effort to produce it. It's every bit as good as the big name coffee places and its considerably cheaper. I use this machine with no real issues most every work day...its convenient and produces an espresso drink that I enjoy. I think that's what I bought it for so I'm very satisfied. It has never leaked in the year that I've had it...unlike my bosses Keurig set up. The "pods" are a bit on the pricey side, but they deliver what they promise...convenience and great flavor/crema. The frothing wand has a short learning curve, but once you "get" it you'll wonder why you never used one before. I recommend this machine and would definitely buy fact, I'm thinking of pitching my coffee set up at home and getting one of these to replace it...the me that good!

Update 06/14/13
Well...I just received an advertisement about a new Illy iperespresso machine from Cuisinart and I noticed this machine is no longer listed on Illy's site. That's too bad because I'm still lovin' this little guy even after two years of use. Learning how to use the frothing wand and getting a frothing well as figuring out which flavored syrups from Monin you like to flavor your coffee drinks...seem to be the determinants of how happy you are with this machine. I also think remembering to prime the frother's water pump by having it pump some hot water into an empty cup is a good lesson to remember. I make fantastic coffee creations with this machine and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Unless it breaks down, I don't see any reason to change equipment. Cheers! Ray

Update 5/24/2016 - Well, I am sad to say about a week ago, my Gaggia for Illy Plus finally gave up the ghost. The pump appears to have worn out. This is the bad news. The good news? Well, Whole Latte Love still has these available as refurbished units for only $99. Illy is still going strong with its iperEspresso pod subscriptions so I see no reason to mess with a winning combination. I was considering a fancier solution...but when I realized I could get the same unit I've enjoyed for many years well I decided to buy a couple so I had one as a spare. I still highly recommend this unit and my only advice beyond what I've previously posted is setting up a reminder for yourself to decalcify it every three to four months.
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