Review: Gaggia Brera Espresso & Coffee Machine

Maybe I Was Expecting Too Much

  • The Facts:

GAGGIA: Creator of the original espresso machine in the 1930’s. Their name is synonymous with espresso.

BRERACountertop Espresso, Coffee machine, 15 bar pressure.

WEBSITE: Whole Latte Love

As you probably already know, I’m a coffee nut. At any given time I own 4 - 7 different types of coffee makers. From the manual Aero Press to fully automatic espresso / coffee machines and everything in between. I love how different methods can make the exact same beans taste different. For years I’ve coveted the Gaggia brand, especially after I animated the creation of the original espresso machine by Achille Gaggia for “Good Eats” on Food Network. Who wouldn’t want an espresso maker from the company that INVENTED espresso makers!

When a Whole Latte Love email recently showed up with a great price on a Gaggia Brera I pulled the trigger. Sight unseen, untested, I jumped at the chance to own the Gaggia name. Well not completely unseen, one of the beauties of Whole Latte Love is they have a review video for almost every machine they sell, so I was able to see how the machine works before buying. Compact, space saving on the counter, looked like a great brew in the video, so I pulled the trigger. There’s a lot to love but given the chance to do it over again, I would not have purchased this machine.

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Size and Layout:

This is a fantastic looking design standing only 12” tall, 10” wide and 17” deep. For reference that’s slightly wider but shorter than a standard Keurig machine. Looks great on the counter and takes up less space than my former Saeco Vienna automatic machine. The entire front is a brushed metal which gives it a really nice clean look.

Water tank and coffee dregs drawer are located in the front of the machine making for easy access even when the machine is positioned in a corner. The bean hopper is on top of the machine behind the cup warmer. You can also use pre-ground coffee with this machine by using a dosing area within the bean hopper.

Super easy Steam / Brew / Water controller right in the center of the front makes it obvious what the machine is set for. The four push buttons are for coffee size, coffee strength, pre-ground coffee and on/off. The digital display gives you various information on the machine settings as well as warning messages such as no water.

The Pannarello steam wand is metal, not plastic which is nice. The drip tray also has a metal top which continues the clean metal finish on the front of the machine. You can open the right side of the machine and get to the Brew Group for easy cleaning.

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Controls:

On the left side are the coffee size controls. Top button for espresso and bottom button for large coffee. You can program the machine to adjust the size of the espresso and large coffee by pressing and holding the large or espresso button. If you want a double espresso or a double large coffee, the machine will do two complete brew cycles instead of running more water through one cycle of beans. This prevents the coffee from becoming bitter due to over-extraction. I would have put the large coffee button on the top because that’s how I think. Larger item on top, smaller item underneath, but it’s something I’m getting used to.

On the right side is the power button on the top and the Aroma or “strength” setting. The machine goes into standby after 60 minutes and the power button will blink with a red light to let you know it’s in standby. The Aroma button cycles you through the three strength levels of coffee or to select pre-ground coffee.

The digital display shows what you have selected to do along with any alarm messages. The large silver knob below the digital display is the dispensing switch for Steam, Brewing and Hot Water.

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Start Up and Shut Down / Standby.:

When you first turn the machine on or wake it up from Standby, the machine goes through a rinse and pre-warming cycle. This takes about 30 seconds where you’ll see the digital display go through a series of screens and a small amount of hot water will come out of the dispenser.

After one hour of no use, the machine will go through another rinse cycle and then switch to Standby mode.

Making Espresso and Coffee, Adjusting Size and Strength.

To make coffee, simply set the Dispensing Switch straight up.

Press the Aroma button (on the right side of the digital display) for the desired strength of coffee. You’ll see one, two and three beans on the digital display as you press the Aroma button. One coffee bean = mild, two coffee beans = medium, three coffee beans = strong. If you hit the button a fourth time a spoon icon appears meaning you’ll add your own ground coffee.

Press either the Espresso button or the Large Coffee button on the left side of the display and the machine will prepare your coffee. You can further adjust the strength of the coffee via the grind setting in the bean hopper. The finer the grind, the stronger the flavor. When you first get the machine it’s set to the most coarse setting. I now have it set to the second to most fine grind as I am finding the large coffees to be quite weak and not full bodied.

For my palette, using Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans (medium roast) and pulling a Large Coffee, I’ve found the ‘Mild” Aroma setting tastes like water, “Medium” tastes like watered down coffee and “Strong” is the most flavorful. For an Espresso pull, both Medium and Strong Aroma settings have full bodied flavor. Sometimes I’ll pull a Large Coffee and then pull an Espresso right behind it. That really tastes great but I’m going through two coffee cycles to get something that really shouldn’t take both cycles.

I will be experimenting with other beans such as Illy Ethiopian and other medium roasts. The machine recommends only medium roast, non-oily beans as the oil can cause issues internally.

Steam, Frothing and Hot Water

The steam for milk frothing is far superior to any other machine I’ve owned.

Turn the Dispenser Knob to the left for a few seconds to clear out water and it turns to steam in a matter of seconds. Turn it back to Brew, place your milk under the wand, turn the knob back to Steam. You’ll see the steam icon flash in the control panel while the steam is being prepared and then it will start up. It’s super hot, it’s steam and it’s fast. The Pannarello wand is awesome.

So this part of the machine I flat out love. You can also turn the Dispensing Knob completely to the right and hot water will be dispensed from the wand. This is great for your tea drinkers in the house.

Water, the Brera drinks it like a fish.

The machine goes through water faster than any machine I’ve ever owned.

The water tank is only good for about two Large Coffees and then you’ll have to refill. Part of this is due to the rinse / preheat and rinse / standby cycles on the machine. Part of this is due to the smaller size of the water tank.

The most annoying feature of this machine is that it will start a coffee pull even if there’s not enough water to complete the request. So if you ask for a large coffee and the water runs out halfway through, that’s all you get. The machine will simply stop at that point and you can either drink what you have, or refill and pull another coffee.

A LOT of water ends up in the drip tray, much more than any other machine I’ve owned. So you need to empty that often.

Maybe I was expecting too much

Maybe it was the Gaggia name, but I find the coffee to be weak with a watered down taste vs. a full bodied flavor that I was expecting. I’ve tested Breville and Jura machines at the local Sur La Table and the coffee is just so much more full bodied with rich flavor that I’m just not getting from the Gaggia.

I’ve used these same Jamaican Blue Mountain beans for years in the Saeco Vienna, french press, Aero Press and pour over methods and the flavor has been much more rich and full bodied. I’m not sure why it’s so weak from the Gaggia.

As I said I’m going to test the machine with other beans but I have to be honest and say that given the chance to do it over again, I would not purchase the Brera. I would go with the Jura line, probably an Impressa or something like that.

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