The Gaggia Classic Pro and the Breville Barista Express are two popular semiautomatic home espresso machines, but they differ in the capabilities and experience that they offer. Here’s a breakdown of the different features that might lead you to choose either the Gaggia Classic Pro or Breville Barista Express.
In This Guide:
- The Machines at a Glance
- Approximately Comparable Price Points
- Durability and Maintenance
- Aesthetics Limited to Basic Color Choices
- Unique Bar Tool Storage
- Classic vs. Modern Espresso-Brewing Features
- Grinder: Breville Has Mediocre Built-In Grinder
- Portafilter: Gaggia Has a More Standard Size
- Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Portafilters
- Water Flow Control: Breville Has More Adjustments
- Steam Wand: Gaggia Offers More Control
- Water Spout: Breville Has One for Hot Water
- Water Reservoir: Gaggia Has a Front-Filling Option
- Mug Clearance: Breville Accommodates Full-Sized Mugs
- Which should you choose?
The Machines at a Glance
The aptly named Gaggia Classic Pro provides a traditional (or classic) experience, where you prep, pull and steam. The well-made machine has been around for a long time, and will likely continue to be around for years to come.
- Note: 1)Too coarse a grind, too little coffee, or insufficiently tamping the grounds before brewing can all lead to inadequate pressure for a proper brew. 2)It is important to note that the amount of espresso extracted will vary depending on the grind size and amount and reprogramming may be needed when the size and amount are adjusted
- Rugged Brushed Stainless Steel housing
- Commercial three-way solenoid valve. Capacity water tank - 2,1 liter
- Commercial-style 58mm chrome-plated brass portability and brew group
- Commercial steam wand. Rotating steam want movement type
The Breville Barista Express comes with more features, but more features doesn’t necessarily mean more fun or better espresso. The features modernize the espresso-brewing experience in ways that some will like, but others won’t value as improvements to the classic way of making espresso.
- Please refer to user guide or user manual or user guide (provided below in PDF) before first use
At the end of the day, each machine will appeal to a slightly different coffee fan. Budding baristas who enjoy hands-on control will likely prefer the Gaggia Classic Pro. While those preferring convenience will be better suited for the Breville Barista Express.
Approximately Comparable Price Points
Both the Gaggia Classic Pro and Breville Barista Express are fairly priced as quality home espresso machines. Neither is the cheapest you’ll find nor the most expensive, but either is a good choice for the roughly $500 price point.
The Classic Pro in stainless steel is priced at $449, making it the cheapest version of either model. It’s also substantially less than the Barista Express’s suggested price of $699, and $50 lower than colored visions of the Classic Pro.
If you’re near a Bed, Bath & Beyond, the $150 price difference can be reduced if you purchase the Barista Express from your local store. The model qualifies for the regular 20% off coupons that Bed, Bath & Beyond regularly offers, thus bringing the price down to $560.
Other retailers sometimes also offer discounts on the Breville Barista Express (and other Breville models). Gaggia models are less commonly carried by major general retail chains, and instead can be found more at specialty retailers that are less likely to offer coupons.
Not the Primary Consideration
While $150 isn’t an amount to ignore, it’s also not the most important consideration between the two models. The difference is even less if you consider a colored Classic Pro or a Barista Express with a coupon.
If $150 makes a large difference in your budget, there are other acceptable home espresso machines. Gaggia itself makes the ~$300 Beans and Carezza Deluxe Machines, and Breville has the Duo Temp Pro that’s ~$450.
Otherwise, budget somewhere over $500 for your espresso machine purchase. Select whichever machine has the features that you prefer, and put anything left in your budget toward a grinder, accessories or good coffee.
Durability and Maintenance
Build quality is similar between the Gaggia Classic Pro and the Breville Barista Expresso. Both machines should last for years in a home kitchen, but wouldn’t hold up to the demands of a commercial cafe.
The Breville does have more features, and more features always means more parts that can malfunction. You should expect the models to have an approximately equal life span, though. Gaggia and Breville are both established brands known for decent build quality.
You’ll have to perform periodic maintenance on either machine. The Barista Express has a notification that’ll alert you when the machine needs maintenance. No such feature is on the Gaggia Classic, but you can periodically take care of the machine and it’ll be fine.
The maintenance notification is a good example of the Barista Express’s features. It’s something that’s nice to have, but certainly not necessary.
Aesthetics Limited to Basic Color Choices
Neither of these espresso machines comes with many aesthetic options, although the Gaggia Classic Pro technically has more than twice the number of options as the Breville Barista Express.
The Classic Pro comes in stainless steel, thunder black, polar white, cherry red or classic blue.
The Barista expresso is only available in stainless steel or black sesame (which looks eerily similar to thunder black).
- Please refer to user guide or user manual or user guide (provided below in PDF) before first use
Your best option is to match the espresso machine to your appliances, or go with your favorite color. If you’re really creative, you might find a Classic Pro that matches your car.
Because of the limited aesthetic options, the color of your machine probably won’t be a deciding factor between the two models.
Unique Bar Tool Storage
The Barista Express has a unique bar tool storage area, which is hidden behind the drip tray. Storing your accessories in here helps keep a clean counter, which might be a consideration if you’re tight on space. You can always neatly arrange the accessories on the drip tray when you aren’t using them, though. The storage is another example of a neat but not necessary feature.
Classic vs. Modern Espresso-Brewing Features
The main differences between the Gaggia Classic Pro and the Breville Barista Express are ones that actually impact how espresso is brewed and how beverages taste. There are numerous differences in internal components that might seem subtle — but can have a substantial impact.
Grinder: Breville Has Mediocre Built-In Grinder
The most obvious difference between the two models is the grinder that’s built into the top of the Barista Expresso. Whether this grinder is an advantage, however, isn’t guaranteed.
The grinder you use will have the second-largest impact (after your espresso machine) on shot quality. This isn’t an area where you want to just “make do” with, and it’s often even advisable to not spend your entire budget on a machine so that you can also get a good grinder.
While the convenience of a built-in grinder can’t be denied, there are severe limitations that come with this setup. Your ability to dial in the grind setting is severely limited, and the grind consistency is suitable for espresso at best.
Perhaps the built-in grinder’s quality is best exemplified with a simple question: If the grinder were so great, why does Breville include a pressurized portafilter that’s meant to be used with inconsistently or coarsely ground coffee? A true espresso grinder doesn’t require a pressured portafilter.
Using the Classic Pro with an espresso-specific grinder will invariably yield better results, and let you practice dialing in the grind. The Classic Pro also comes with a pressurized portafilter in case you only have a standard coffee grinder.
For the $60 – $150 price difference, you could pair the Classic Pro with a good coffee or budget espresso grinder. You can pair the Barista Express with a different grinder, but that’d beg the question of why you’re paying for the built-in grinder feature to begin with.
Portafilter: Gaggia Has a More Standard Size
The Classic Pro has a 58 mm portafilter, which is standard in most high-end home espresso machines and virtually all cafe machines. The Barista Express’s portafilter is slightly smaller at 54 mm, which is a somewhat common home espresso machine size.
By using the standard 58 mm portafilter, Gaggia ensures that you can easily switch out the portafilter and/or basket should you need to. Compatible competition-grade baskets and bottomless portafilters are readily available if you want to upgrade this part of the machine.
You should generally be able to find different baskets and portafilters for the Barista Express, since Breville machines are popular. You probably won’t find quite as many different bottomless portafilters or competition baskets, though. It’s also questionable whether these would make a large difference in quality given the limitations of the grinder.
Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Portafilters
Both machines come with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters. Non-pressurized are needed when dialing in grinds for great espresso, but pressurized ones make it possible to pull shots that have crema with not-ideal grinds (including those produced by standard coffee grinders).
Water Flow Control: Breville Has More Adjustments
Remaining true to its name and nature, the Classic Pro has a standard water flow control. There’s an on/off switch that you toggle in order to start or stop the flow of water through the group head. You don’t have any control over the flow rate.
While this does create some limitations for preinfusing grounds and prevents pressure profiling shots, many cafes have semiautomatic machines with the same type of water flow control.
You can preinfuse by letting a portafilter sit on the group head for a few seconds before starting the flow of water, or by providing a quick initial injection of water before running enough water to fully pull the shot. The control setup is perfectly capable of pulling excellent shots.
Nonetheless, the Barista Express does allow for more control over the flow of water. The machine’s proportional integral derivative switch provides a more consistent water temperature, and it also allows for low-pressure preinfusion. There’s also a pressure gauge that allows for pressure profiling. You can either preinfuse and pressure profile manually, or you can program specific settings for pulling single and double shots automatically.
Again, the actual benefits of the Barista Express’s temperature control and pressure profiling are questionable. Any home espresso machine will overheat if pulling many shots back-to-back, and either of these models is able to maintain a consistent temperature for one or two shots. Pressure profiling can produce varied results, but it first requires a grind that’s fully dialed-in and consistent.
Steam Wand: Gaggia Offers More Control
While Breville affords more control over water flow, the Classic Pro allows more control when steaming milk.
The steam wand of the Barista Express has one setting, and one hole in its tip. While this suffices for making cappuccinos and lattes, it limits your control over both the steam’s pressure and the steam’s angle. That can be a minor hindrance if you want to make detailed latte art.
The Classic Pro has a knob that allows you to control how much steam pressure is allowed through, and the steam flows out of a two-hole tip. Two holes aren’t the best (many steam wands have three or four), but the design is better than a single hole. You’ll have an easier time making the microfoam needed for latte art with a want that gives you more control.
(Both models have a single boiler, which slowly loses pressure as you pull shots. You may have to wait for pressure to build up between pulling shots and steaming milk. At most, you might need to wait a half-minute — or approximately as long as it takes to move your mug and grab the dairy pitcher.)
Water Spout: Breville Has One for Hot Water
The Barista Express has a hot water spout in addition to its steam want, and the convenience of this is hard to understate if you regularly make americanos or tea. Simply pull your shots (or get a teabag), and add hot water directly from the machine.
The Classic Pro isn’t equipped with a hot water spout. If you want americanos or tea from this machine, you’ll need to heat water separately in a kettle.
Water Reservoir: Gaggia Has a Front-Filling Option
The Barista Express has a standard top-fill boiler, like virtually every home espresso machine does.
The Classic Pro likewise has a top-fill boiler, but it’s paired with a front-filling option too. This won’t make much difference for most users, but you might want to consider it if your machine will sit underneath of low-hanging cabinets.
The actual boiler size is roughly comparable, with the Barista Express holding a negligible additional 5 ounces.
Mug Clearance: Breville Accommodates Full-Sized Mugs
In keeping with the Classic Pro’s lower profile, it also has a lower clearance for mugs. There’s approximately a 7.2 cm clearance between the drip tray and portafilter basket. That’s plenty to accommodate demitasse cups, and most cortado and cappuccino mugs. You won’t fit a full 12-ounce mug beneath the group head, however, and even an 8-ounce one might be questionable.
The Barista Express has a clearance of 10.7 cm below the portafilter basket. A 3.5-cm difference might seem small, but it’s enough to provide enough space for substantially larger mugs. Most 8-ounce and even 12-ounce mugs will fit below the portafilter without issue.
You can always pull shots into a demitasse cup, and then transfer them to a larger mug like cafes commonly do. Heat is lost, however, and the cooling is only magnified when shots have to sit while a home espresso machine steams milk. Cafes are able to steam while pulling shots, and thereby minimize any cooling.
Cup Warmer: Gaggia Has a Simpler Setup
Like almost all espresso machines, both of these models allow you to keep one or two mugs on top of them. This is a common way to preheat mugs before using them.
The Classic Pro again accomplishes this in a classic way, and the Barista Express once again adds a feature to do this. Place mugs atop the Classic Pro, and rising heat from the boiler will warm them. The Barista Express actually has a thermo-coil heating system that’s specifically for preheating mugs. Between the two, the Classic Pro warms the mugs a little more.
This is a difference that has no practical effect on use. It’s probably the one entirely inconsequential difference.
(Keep in mind that mug warming is a moot point if you’re choosing the Classic Pro so it’ll fit beneath low cabinets.)
Which should you choose?
All of these differences can be summed up with a single question. Would you rather have a classic espresso machine, or a feature-rich espresso gadget?
- If you want the experience of dialing in a grind, perfecting a tamp, and perfectly steaming milk, get the Gaggia Classic Pro.
- If you want a convenient way to make espresso beverages and lots of neat extras, the Breville Barista Express has many more modern features.
Scott M. Brodie has over 20 years of professional experience working in coffee shops and writing about coffee (including selling superautomatic machines). When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work.