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The Gaggia Years
Home >> Obsessions >> Progression >> Gaggia Years

The Gaggia Years

Gaggia in Black
The Gaggia Baby
Mine actually looked different from this one. They've changed it over the last 10 years.

Moving to Vancouver saw changes, including my appreciation for quality coffee. Besides some early west coast Starbucks experiences, the biggest improvement was the acquisition of a Gaggia Baby espresso machine.

I bought a used Baby Gaggia in the local classifieds in Vancouver. I really liked the machine, and I found myself intrigued by the entire process of making espresso. I tinkered and fooled around with it quite a bit, and I learned how to build some of the drinks I used to have in Europe.

There were a few factors about this machine and my technique I should detail. Early on I could never get the amount of crema on top of my espresso shots that I got when I bought espresso locally - and forget the tons of crema I remembered from Italy! I tried everything but couldn't seem to make it happen. My shots ran pretty fast in this machine - about 13 seconds for a double shot. That was too fast from what my limited knowledge told me.

It took a conversation with Carlo, the old crusty owner of a local Italian cafe, to show me what was up.

It was my grinder! To get good crema on your shots you need a burr grinder, one that can produce consistent, fine grade grinds. "Finer than the sand at Jericho Beach" (a beach in Vancouver) Carlos told me. Using his own commercial grinder, he ground about a 1/4 pound of dark Kenya AA for me "at a setting just perfect for your Baby Gaggia" and he sent me on my way.

More mysteries solved.

Carlos, as old and crusty as he was, was right. The first shot was pretty damned fine and there was definite crema on top. Problem was, I still didn't have nearly as much as I got at Carlos' shop and it didn't taste nearly as good. I went back, and Carlos had me go over my procedure... "well, I measure the coffee, pat down with my scoop, put in the machine, turn it on, and when the indicator is ready, pour the shot?" I said. Carlos scratched his head, and then a little light lit... "What about tamping? Do you tamp?"

Tamp? What the heck is that? When I see Carlos make his espresso on his commercial Rancilio machine, I did notice he would take the groupo with the filter full of grounds, and press it up to something on his machine but I didn't know what tamping was really about. Carlos demonstrated, and he lent me an old tamper from his drawer of doo dads to use at home.

And it worked. My espresso shots weren't as good as the ones Carlos did but damned good enough. The next thing I did was buy myself a little Melitta burr grinder and I continued to buy beans from Carlos. For the next year or two, I was enjoying quality espresso at home. My frothing technique needed a bit of work, but that came with time as well.

Then several events happened along the way. I met my current partner, Jeanette, and slowly I lost interest in high quality espresso at home. Jean never drank coffee, and sometimes the amount of effort seemed too much. During my schooling, I had less and less time to fitter with my machine. And in the interest of convenience I even started drinking (gasp) instant again - though this time I was buying Tasters Choice Columbian (one of the more expensive instants on the market, and probably the best tasting).

No moolah!

The Unthinkable

Finally, when I moved in with Jeanette I had some decisions to make. One of them was to solve money problems I was having at the time (I was broke, and going to school). Another was that Jean and I had conflicting furniture and kitchen stuff. So I sold off a lot of my possessions, including the Gaggia. I figured if I wanted decent espresso, I should just pay my buck a shot and shut up about it.

That lasted about a year. As I got out of university and struggled that first year to pay bills, I yearned to have a home machine again. With money being so tight, I bought a Krups Il Primo II machine from a refurb sale for something like 30 bucks. For a while this machine sufficed. Espresso was not something I made in this machine (steam powered espresso machines are dubbed "steam toys" by coffee aficionados because they don't produce true espresso), but I could make a passable cafe au lait or cappuccino.

Delonghi Trieste
Delonghi Trieste
Okay, okay, I'm not very proud of it, okay? But it did brew a great pot of coffee! And the frother was, well, cool!

Around 1996 I got enticed by a late night commercial for the Delonghi Instafroth machine. Okay, so I was vulnerable. I was desperate. I figured this machine would save me time and effort, and provide me with the cappas I was getting very addictive to. If I bought the machine, I was leaning towards the Cafe Trieste machine because it also had a drip coffee maker. Jeanette solved my wishy washyness by giving me the machine as a Christmas present. (note to self: Jeanette rocks).

This machine was okay and it certainly looked good. It made some of the best drip coffee I'd had to date, as the brewing temperatures were high, higher than my old Braun Auto Drip machine. But it was still lacking in the espresso area - being a "steam toy" it could not produce good shots of espresso. I was living in Kitsilano at the time, and I was lucky that there were plenty of great cafes in the neighbourhood, many of which could pull a decent shot. So while its espresso production was a joke (it was a "steam toy, after all) I kept the Delonghi Trieste for two years.

Did I keep it because it was convenient, what with that auto frothing ability and all? Not really - cleaning the milk chamber was a real pain at times. But, as I mentioned above, the drip coffee maker was top notch for its class, one of the best I'd ever tried up to that point, so I "put up" with it.

Other Parts of the Coffee Progression Section.
The Nescafe Beginnings Going Krups Novo
What was good enough for my Dad should be good enough for me, right? I didn't know until I went to Europe... [ more ] By 1998, I knew it was time to get back into the good stuff. I was spending too much loonies on cafe espresso. I wanted it in the home again. [ more ]
Hello Miss Silvia! Rockys and Vacuums
I should have been happy with the Novo, I really should have. But no, I wanted more. Enter Miss Silvia, Stage Right. [ more ] Silvia was rocking, but not rocking, if you know what I mean - she needed Rocky. And I needed to get a new old product I saw for the very first time - a vac pot. [ more ]
Livia Kicks Silvia Out of the House  
Soon, I felt the need to upgrade, and one machine seemed the very natural choice: the Pasquini Livia. How was the introduction? [ more ]  

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Quirky Facts

- I had my first Starbucks coffee around February 12, 1993. It was really good, if I remember correctly.

- Vancouver saw the Starbucks "revolution" early on. When I first got to Vancouver, Starbies was so popular that there were two of them facing diagonally across an interesection on Robson Street.

- The Delonghi was just a gizmo lust thing.

- I still feel like crying about how I had to give up the Gaggia. I regretted it within a few days of selling it.