Looking to really lean into your caffeine addiction and take your coffee kit to the next level? Well, an espresso machine is a great place to look. However, if this is your first rodeo and you don’t have the. time to invest in mastering a serious learning curve, you might be hard pressed to find a machine that suits your needs. That’s where the Gaggia Brera comes in.
This is one of the most popular mid-range, super-automatic espresso machines out there. So read on to find out what all the hype is about and to see if this is the right machine to get you started on your espresso journey.
Why Buy a Super-Auto Espresso Machine?
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Before you continue on, you need to assess why you would be buying this type of machine in the first place.
The Gaggia Brera is a super automatic espresso machine. That means that it has some functionality beyond basic shot pulling pre-programmed to be done for you with minimal to no input. The target audience for this type of machine is those interested in specialty brewing with a bit of experience on the coffee scene but aren’t keen on being super hands-on with their espresso brewing.
Getting to Know Gaggia
Now, let’s take a look at the brand behind the machine: Gaggia. This Italian small appliance company was founded in 1947, 9 years after Achielle Gaggia applied to patent his uniquely innovative espresso machine.
Fun Fact: Achille Gaggia was the first person to introduce the barista-operated spring-piston lever. Not only did this innovation improve pressure control for espresso machines, but the result of its introduction was the potential for producing crema. Thus, the hype around the thin brown foam began, as it indicated the machine being used had this feature and produced a higher quality pull.
The company got its start in commercial machines but quickly shifted to offer machines intended for the domestic sphere. However, the commercial background has given their machines a great foundation for quality craftsmanship.
Gaggia was eventually punched by another Italian company, Saeco, and later by Philips (a Dutch manufacturer). The main change that came with these shifts were a couple Saeco designs and new, stainless steel boilers (rather than aluminum).
Gaggia Brera Review
Now that you have some background to get you started, let’s get into nitty-gritty of the matter: the actual review. Here’s a look at the machine itself:
The Gaggia Brera is favored as an entry-level espresso machine. It is delightfully user friendly and will serve you well both as a go-to or a stepping stone to more complex brewers. Overall, it is simple and straightforward, with a clean, sleek look.
Some of the highlights of this machine include the programmable espresso brewing, LED screen, rapid steam technology, bean-to cup technology, and water filter compatibility.
- Compact, sleeker and functional design
- Built-in ceramic burr grinder, perfect for those with minimal kit
- Removable parts make for easy cleaning
- Respectable programmability range for a super-auto
- Competitive pricing for this type of machine
- Prevalent plastic components reduce not only the price but also the lifespan
- Pannarello steaming wand can be a bit flimsy
- Water tank is slightly on the small side
- Grinder may be too loud for some (63-72 dB for brewing and grinding respectively)
Check out the Gaggia in action below, then we’ll jump into the features and review.
Features to Note
The Gaggia Brera measures 12.4″H x 10″W x 17.5″D, so it looks pretty slim from the front with a little bit of junk in the trunk– nothing to really complain about there. Cup height ranges from 3.1 to 4.5 inches.
Some other basic functions and features include the automatic shut-off, programmable clock/ timer, “Decalcification Needed” indicator, low water warning, and digital display.
Build and Warranty
At this price point, which is relatively low for a super-automatic machine, you should expect to see some plastic parts. Here is a list of the different machine components alongside what material Gaggia used for them:
- cup warmer & drip tray: plastic
- drip tray cover: stainless steel
- bean hopper: plastic
- coffee ground container: plastic
- housing: stainless steel & plastic
- steam wand: stainless steel over plastic
- water reservoir: plastic
- brew unit: plastic
- boiler: stainless steel lined aluminum
As you can see, there are certainly a healthy few stainless steel parts (bolded). However, the majority still goes to the plastic. That doesn’t necessarily mean your brew is going to be terrible, it typically just means that the machine will not last as long as others that are much closer to being entirely stainless steel.
Thankfully, this machine does come with a 1-year warranty. So if anything goes south before its time, Gaggia will likely take care of it for you.
Overall, this build isn’t particularly durable, but it isn’t too bad either. It is great for a beginner’s stepping stone machine, so you can learn the ropes before jumping all in with a semi-auto or a more advanced super-auto.
One of the most notable features on this machine is its grinder.The Brera has a flat ceramic burr grinder with a 8 oz airtight bean hopper. It has 5 settings, which is plenty for espresso experimentation. (Separate grinders have more settings to accommodate a wider range of brew styles).
Another interesting and handy feature is the “smart system,” which adjusts the grind speed and time to better suit the roast of your beans. You just tell it what you are brewing with and it’ll hop to it. This way, you don’t have top worry about accidentally clogging up. your machine.
Additionally, the hopper being airtight means you can store your beans in it without worrying about them going stale. It’s even UV proof, so you know Gaggia is taking this matter seriously. Plus, if you decide you want to use a pre-ground every once in awhile, you can use the integrated bypass doser without missing a beat.
Brewing and Programmability
We’ve already gone over the grinder, so you know you’ll be getting a nice, fresh brew. So, let’s talk a little bit more about how this thing brews and what all you can change.
First, there is the brew strength.This is controlled by Gaggia’s Optiaroma technology, and you can choose between light, medium, and strong brews. In addition to the strength, you can also select. the volume, choosing between espresso and Lungo. The machine saves your preferences, which is a nice touch.
Another brewing related features the pre-infusion technology. Basically, this function soaks your grounds in the internal portafilter post-tamping, pre-shot pulling. By pre-wetting the grounds, the machine helps to ensure full, even saturation and extraction.
This step is especially important because you cannot pre-infuse the ground yourself. Also, because espresso machines require a fine grind, complete saturation without pre-infusion can be difficult.
Just so you know exactly how it works, the pre-infusion feature starts saturation at a lower pressure before slowly building it until it reaches the standard 15-bar amount for espresso brewing.
Now that we’ve covered how it brews, we’ll look into how the water behind the brewing is handled. The standard for most espresso makers is to have some sort water filter to remove impurities or at least recommend which one to use for their consumers. Filtering your water before brewing with it is important because it helps prevent scaling and improves the flavor of your brew.
Gaggia, for their part, recommends the Mavea Intenza Water Filter in the Brera. These filters use little capsules and are placed inside the water tanks that provide four-stage filtration, making for some seriously clean water. It does need to be replaced regularly, but they aren’t too difficult to find.
As for the water reservoir itself, we mentioned it is a little on the small side compared to other espresso machines. At 40 ounces, this is best suited for one person. You can pull from 4-6 shots before refilling. If you have more people, that amount won’t last more than a couple days.
Before You Buy…
Semi vs Super Automatic
We talked a little bit at the beginning about how super-automatic machines like the Brera are different from their semi automatic counterparts. But in case you still aren’t sure which type is right for you, here’s a bit more information on it:
We mentioned earlier that Achille Gaggia is responsible for creating the spring-piston lever. Innovations following this development, mainly that of the motorized pump mechanism by Ernesto Valente in 1961, have led to the creation of the semi-automatic machine.
This design still gives the barista control over timing shots but eliminates the need to manually pump to build pressure. The result is a more even pull that is still highly customizable because the barista gets to choose when to start and stop the shot.
Additionally, semi-automatics tend to allow temperature control and require manual tamping and grinding. They are preferred in commercial settings, but are also popular with home baristas with at least some espresso brewing.
On the other front, we have super-automatics. Unlike semi-autos, these take a lot of the guesswork and off of your plate and automate most (if not all) of the brewing. This label is occasionally used interchangeably with the term “fully automatics.”
Auto-tamping and preset sizes and times come pretty standard on these machines. Other machines, like the Brera, will grind your beans for you. Still other machines will even auto-steam and froth your milk, perhaps even pour that straight into your cup for you. (But, you won’t get any latte art with this functionality, unfortunately) p
In order to get the same level of customizability as a semi-automatic, you are generally going to have to invest a good bit more in these machines. However, even more entry-level models like the Brera are great for people who are just dipping their toes into the coffee scene.
Ease of Use
Along the same lines as that last section, you need to consider how easy your espresso machine needs to be to suit your lifestyle and experience level.
Like we mentioned, while semi-automatics may have more potential for experimentation, they can be harder to figure out, especially for beginners. So let’s look at the ease-of-use features on the Brera.
This espresso machine is operated using a pretty standard push-buttons plus LED display combination. The icons are intuitive, so even if you are pretty clueless, you should be able to figure things out.
You can also program and save your brewing preferences if you are a more stick-to-your-routine type person. Alternatively, you can change things up every time, or even just stick to the options they already have for you.
One concern that a lot of beginner and novice baristas have is how to froth milk. But this machine makes it pretty simple. The Pannarello frothing wand has enough maneuverability to accommodate a nice range of containers.
The intake hole simply pulls in air and blasts it into your milk to create a nice, silky milk foam. All you have to do is hold the container. It’s not the most advanced steaming wand out there, but it will definitely do the trick.
Lastly, let’s talk about everyone’s least favorite part about owning any appliance: cleaning. Thankfully, Gaggia didn’t make this one too difficult for us. This machine doesn’t have a whole lot of crevices to get dirty in the first place, due to the sleek, simple construction.
As far as basic, everyday maintenance, the drip tray is removable and pretty easy to hand wash. The machine itself has a self-cleaning cycle that runs any time you turn the machine on or off.
Additionally, you will need to descale the machine every month or so to make sure things are running smoothly. This can be done a bit more infrequently if you keep up with your water filter. To do this, you can either purchase Gaggia’s descaling solution or go with the usual vinegar and water mixture.
The Gaggia Brera has a ceramic, flat burr grinder. But if you are pretty new to the espresso machine scene, that probably sounds like gibberish. So let’s break it down:
Starting with the element that makes the most difference in the quality of your grind. Burr grinders come standard on just about any respectable super-automatic machine, and that’s the way we like it.
Burr grinders tend to give significantly more consistent grinds than their blade grinding counterparts. Instead of having helicopter-like blades that slice and dice your beans pretty haphazardly, burr grinders have teeth-like mechanisms that rotate and grind the beans between them.
Flat grinders are generally something you would see more on commercial kit, but the choice isn’t all that surprising considering Gaggia’s commercial background. While the coffee community is split on whether conical or flat is better, there are a few things you should expect with a flat grinder.
While conical burr grinders are formed by two concentric circle, flat grinders consist of two horizontal rings/discs that are more teeth-like in design. Unfortunately, they are known for having more issues with clogging, heat transfer, and static when grinding in large quantities. But, you likely won’t be so you should notice too much issue there.
Some do claim that these grinders give a more even grind than there conical counterparts, but that’ll be up to you to determine.
Now, this choice is even less common on super automatic espresso machines. While ceramic grinders are often seen as the better option as opposed to stainless steel, many super automatics opt for the latter. Generally, this is because, while ceramic grinders stay sharper longer and eliminate heat transfer, metal ones are less likely to break
To read the full break down on the difference between ceramic vs stainless steel grinders, read the linked article.
Another Super-Auto: De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica
Another potential candidate for newer home-baristas in the mid-range of price points is the De’Longhi Magnifica. Like Gaggia, De’Longhi has a great, longstanding reputation for quality in the coffee community.
Like the Brera, the Magnifica has a built in burr grinder, but it steps things up a notch in a few other areas. This machine has a double boiler, specialized cappuccino system, and a 60 oz water tank. However, even with all these automatic features, you still have a manual steam wand, which is fun for people who want to feel a bit more involved (but not semi-auto level involved).
The one drawback with this machine you won’t find with the Brera is that it tends to work better with medium to medium-dark roasts more than it does with true dark roasts. For some, that’s not much of a problem, but many people favor darker roasts for their espresso. So it is something to be aware of.
A Semi-Auto: Gaggia Classic Pro
If you have decided you want to stick with Gaggia but want to go with a semi-automatic at a similar price point to the Brera, then you’ll be looking at the Classic Pro (aka the New Classic).
This machine is 100% Italian made and comes with an updated commercial-style steaming wand. It has been one of the entry-level fan favorites for years and the 2019 update simply made it quieter and a little more streamlined without changing the things consumers love.
It comes with a plastic tamper, a single and double shot commercial basket, and a pressurized double shot basket and two-way pin along with a bit steeper of a learning curve compared to the Brera. However, this machine should still be pretty accessible to newer home-baristas.
Overall we think the Gaggia Brera is an excellent choice for a beginner barista who is interested in trying their hand at espresso. The espresso region of the coffee scene can be a little intimidating, so we appreciate that Gaggia has made an attempt to make it a bit more accessible with the Brera.