Home equipment reviewed - The Saeco Classico

The Saeco Classico (called the Aroma in Canada) 

altLooks | The Saeco Classico pump driven espresso machine sits squarely in the center of standard machine design. This is not a bad thing. The Classico looks great with a stack of espresso cups warming on top. With its stainless steel skin it fits into any kitchen decor.

Of Italian design and manufacture, the Classico serves up good taste in stainless steel and very little visible plastic or screw heads. Beside the Rancilio Silvia, the Classico seems to take up about 1/3 less space. It is actually 12" high, 8" wide and 9" deep. These are good dimensions for galley kitchens and if, perchance, you want to drop a burr grinder next to it, you have swallowed up little more than 2 feet of counter space. The Classico comes in black and stainless, so whichever color concept tickles your fancy, you have two choices. I got the stainless steel version. It has a nice finish, kind of a pseudo sand blasted look that probably would resist abuse and impact much better than a painted surface. Like the steel Rancilio Silvia, hot coffee and coffee grounds splashed onto it are a quick wipe-off and, viola, good as new!

Out of the box | The Saeco Classico is generally shipped double-boxed and all contents and extras are safely packed in styrofoam. Color options include black and stainless steel. The Saeco Classico is the flagship manual machine in a product line increasingly dominated by Saeco's bold initiative of turning out the most sophisticated super automatic or robotic machine available for the home consumer. Saeco makes life a lot easier for the first time espresso-cappuccino consumer by including everything one would need to get started. The manual is complete and well written. The Saeco Classico comes with a video tape to compliment the owners manual, a nice touch. The Classico comes with cups, saucers and sample coffees. Of all the machines, I have unboxed recently, this one instilled the most confidence. It was the first machine I sent out into consumer-land to one of my test subjects. In my weblog section, "The Daily" Judy reports on her experiences with The Classico.

 

altControls | The Saeco Classico control panel is obvious and well laid out. Three rocker-switches control: On - Off, Steam, and Brew. LED (light emitting diodes) ready-lites, within individual switches, indicate power on and brew/steam readiness. The steam knob is on the front, above the steam switch. This is neither out of the ordinary or common, but it avoids some confusion when looking to reach for the right switch.

Creature features | The Classico has quite a few things going for it. It has a corrosion resistant stainless steel boiler and 1000 watts worth of heating power. It is quick to heat up and with a few "dry" runs of flushing some water through the brew head and steam wand, the Classico is ready to deliver. The Classico has a 2 quart water reservoir for a parties worth of coffee. The water level is visible through creative and stylish slots on the left and right sides of the unit. The Classico, with all of its sheet steel, sits firm on any kitchen counter. Rubber feet rule! The Classico comes with a fairly solid 'pressurized' coffee-filter and a solid portafilter or coffee holder. The coffee filter is considered 'pressurized' because it has a gasket built into the filter than generates higher than usual bar pressure in the brew basket. Having a pressurized portafilter also means that your machine is less sensitive to the grind of the coffee and how much you 'tamp' it into the portafilter.

 

altFirst use | A hot machine means great espresso

  • Run some water through the Saeco Classico as your heat it up. We coffee nerds call this 'seasoning the machine'.
  • Fill up the reservoir and power on the unit.
  • Open the steam knob fully counterclockwise and press the brew switch. This will fill the boiler with water and the overflow will come out the steam wand.
  • If you feel daring, switch the machine to 'steam' mode by pressing the steam toggle switch. This switch bypasses the 'brew" thermostat and allows the boiler to superheat the boiler water to a few degrees above boiling point. Now be careful and do not injure yourself!

You can: Run some water through the brew group by pressing the brew switch. Be careful! It will be a mix of steam and water. What does this do? It heats up the machine a little faster if you are in a hurry. You can also open the steam wand when you hit the brew switch but this does not accomplish much. If you are not in a hurry, let the machine sit for 15 minutes to properly warm up. Great espresso should never be hurried.

The Saeco Classico is very forgiving of grind type. That said, use the finest espresso grind you can put your hands on. The grind that my Rancilio Silvia likes is a touch coarse for the Classico.(No, I am not kidding: FINER than my Rancilio Silvia!) When you are buying coffee and having it ground (if you do not own your own grinder), ask for a notch or two finer than regular espresso. The Classico had no trouble brewing 2 ounce double shots in 22 seconds or so. If the shot seems rushed and comes out to quickly, tamp the coffee a little harder or get a finer grind. I attached my Wavetek Meterman digital thermometer to the Classico brew group and found the brew temperatures spot on the desired range of 195 to 204 degrees. Espresso shots varied in temperature depending on whether or not the machine had been 'seasoned' but, overall, they were hot and properly extracted.

altFacts | Espresso brews best when everything is warmed up. Our Saeco Classico brewed from 195 degrees (F) to 202 degrees (F) after a 20 minute warm up period. A Hot machine means great espresso. This is one of the basic tenets of espresso. Heat up your cups! Brewing coffee into cold cups, unless you are making iced coffee mochas, is silly. The Saeco Classico is well powered (1000 Watt boiler) and uses the same internals as every other home espresso machine on the market. No, I am not kidding. Don't believe me? Buy another machine from another manufacturer and take them both apart! All pump driven espresso machines have a boiler. The good ones are made of marine brass, steel or composite coated aluminum. They all have a brew thermostat that stops the water from being heating beyond the boiling point. They have a steam thermostat that takes the boiler water to a few degrees above the boiling point for steam. They all have a third 'overheat' thermostat that kicks in if one of the other thermostats fails. This is a very important feature. An unchecked water boiler that is allowed to superheat the water beyond the boilers capabilities rapidly becomes a kitchen grenade!

Results | The Saeco Classico is designed to extract very good espresso from virtually any fresh coffee beans. The Saeco Classico is more than adequately powered at 1000 watts. There are a couple of magic numbers in the world of espresso brewing and one of them is power. At 1000 watts, there is lots of juice to heat and regulate the boiler water to the right temperature. The boiler is more than capable of steaming-foaming enough milk in 90 seconds or less for two big lattes or cappuccinos. According to my Wavetek digital thermometer, boiler water temperatures varied between 195 and 202 degrees. This is exactly where the water temperature should be for brewing perfect espresso. Initial and subsequent shots of espresso were intense and capable of supporting any latte, cappuccino, americano or straight espresso.

 

Beefs | The Saeco Classico is an all steel affair and this contributes to a better than average experience. In contrast to solid body design, the filter holder (portafilter) which holds the espresso coffee is somewhat lighter than what I would have expected. That said, shots of coffee were hot and properly extracted.

Compare | Compared to the Gaggia Carezza and Gaggia Espresso, the Saeco Classico is very forgiving of coffee beans, coffee grind and tamping pressure. This is because the Saeco Classico comes with standard pressurized filter gaskets. The coffee filters in the Saeco are smaller than the commercial sized baskets on the Gaggia series. The Saeco filters are 51mm across as opposed to the commercial standard of 58MM. As a result, the Saeco (and Solis) filters hold slightly less coffee. Now this might mean that your double shot of espresso is slightly less in terms of volume but you probably will not notice. The pump in the Saeco (and the Solis SL70) is a pile-driver and has no problem plowing through espresso coffee that would choke the commercial portafilter on my Rancilio Silvia.

For the first time machine owner, the Saeco Classico is the one to beat. I get asked a dozen times a week: "Which machine should I buy, Colin?" The Saeco Classico, I feel, is most definitely in the top 5 of any/all machines that I have tested.

Buy | The Saeco Classico (Aroma in Canada) is available from EspressoTec.Com in Canada. Price: Under $400.

 


Colin Newell lives, works and plays with coffee equipment in Victoria, Canada.