Whilst I drink gallons of tea everyday and don't really care which brand is in my tea bag, I will confess to being somewhat of a coffee snob. I cannot bear instant coffee in any shape or form and very rarely drink it. However, if there is an espresso machine on the premises then I'm first in the queue for a decent cup of java. Having enjoyed several really good cups of coffee over the Christmas festivities from espresso machines at various relatives and friends houses, we decided it was high time we bought one of our own so we, too, could enjoy a decent cup of coffee in our own front room.
There are a bewildering array of espresso machines on the market nowadays, and that's not including the pre-packed coffee pod machines such as Nespresso, Tassimo, Senseo or Dolce Gusto. We really wanted something a little more traditional as this would give us more flexibility to choose our own coffee blend or beans without being tied into purchasing specific brand pods. We quite liked the idea of making our coffees from scratch so we steered away from the pod / capsule models and concentrated on more traditional espresso machines.
We looked at various Delonghi machines as this seemed to be the favoured brand amongst friends and family, but kept an eye on various other makes such as Krups and Gaggia. Some of the models we looked at were just too big and unwieldy with far too many complicated buttons, spouts and tubes. They looked so complicated I felt I'd need an advanced masters degree in mechanical engineering to extract a halfway decent coffee from them. We wanted something that wasn't too big, would sit unobtrusively in the corner of our kitchen and didn't need a trained barista to operate it. We also set ourselves a maximum budget of £150.
In the end a very good offer on a sleek looking Gaggia model sealed the deal and we duly placed our order for a brand new Gaggia Cubika Plus for the bargain price of £97.99 on Amazon. Currently this same model is £129.99 on Amazon, but you'll pay a whopping £194.99 for it from Sainsbury's and £194.49 from Tesco...so it pays to shop around and find the best price.
** WHAT'S IN THE BOX? **
The Gaggia Cubika Plus looks extremely classy. It's all jet black and chrome minimalism and it looks very smart sitting on my worktop. We've had the machine for getting on for five months now, and it still looks as good as the day we purchased it. It's reasonably small (height 29.5cm width 20cm and depth 23cm) but quite robust and not at all plasticky.
Our new toy arrived neatly packaged in a large box with plenty of bulky polystyrene to cushion it from any hard knocks. The instruction book is in several different languages, the first few pages of which are all in Italian what with Gaggia being an Italian company. The English pages are next up, but the instructions are a bit vague. I'm afraid that setting it all up took some time as the instruction book was all diagrams rather than explanations. The diagrammatical instructions are on pages 2 to 4 of the booklet with plenty of arrows and labels stating fig 1, fig 2 etc.....but you then have to turn to pages 16-20 to find an explanation as to what fig 1 etc; means. We got there in the end, but it was rather frustrating and caused plenty of arguments. We really felt like we had earned our first cup of coffee from the machine by the time we got there!
Inside the box you have the coffee machine (obviously), a power lead and various coffee making accoutrements such as a ground coffee measuring scoop, a rather heavy duty metal ground coffee Portafilter and various pod filters (depending on whether you want to use ground coffee or pods for your coffee). The coffee machine itself is jet black with just a few silver buttons, and it looks rather minimalist and elegant on our kitchen worktop. There are just two silver buttons to the front (the brew button and the steam button) and a larger silver knob which one turns for hot water and stream. Finally there is a black plastic steam spout (also known as a Pannarello - that's frother to you and me) and a removable black drip tray with silver grill.
The on/off switch is on the side of the unit and the removable water tank is tucked away out of sight at the back of the machine. It's reasonably easy to remove the water tank from the back of the machine if you want to fill it with fresh water. However, we don't usually bother to detach the tank, and just top it up with a jug of tap water as and when the level gets low.
** GETTING STARTED **
The Gaggia Cubika Plus coffee machine is ideal for brewing a maximum of 1 or 2 cups of espresso. It's specifically been designed for domestic use so it's fairly easy to operate once you get the hang of it.
The first thing you need to do before you can enjoy your first espresso is prime the water circuit on your new machine. You need to fill the water tank at the back of the machine (which is very easily done by simply removing the lid and tipping a jug of fresh water into the tank). You press the on/off button on the side of the machine and then place a jug / container under the steam spout/Pannarello. You then twist the silver steam/hot water knob by turning it anti-clockwise and also press the brew button. This will force water through the system and out of the steam spout. You then press the brew button off and close the steam/hot water knob by turning it clockwise. When you have done this you machine is now ready to brew your very first coffee.
First off you need to decide if you're going to use ground coffee or coffee pods to make your brew. For an ordinary ground coffee I use the supplied plastic measuring spoon to scoop the coffee into the metal ground coffee filter. As a general rule its approximately two level scoops if you like your coffee strong or if you're making two cups of espresso, and one and a bit if you're just making a single coffee. You then slot the filled Portafilter into the brew unit and turn it gently from left to right until it locks into place. It has a bit of a knack to it, but it's easily learned after a few tries. The Gaggia Cubika Plus has an auto-tamp feature which compacts the ground coffee for you once it's screwed into the brew unit.
So far we've only ever used ground coffee in our Gaggia, so I cannot comment on the ease (or otherwise), nor on the taste of a pod make cup of joe with this machine. If you want to go the pod route with this machine then you simply remove the silver metal ground coffee filter and replace it with the supplied Coffee Pod Adapter (curved part facing down) and then the pod filter.
The machine is operated by three simple buttons which illuminate red when the machine is ready to brew your espresso. Take 1 or 2 preheated cups (there's a cup stacking heated tray on top of the Gaggia), and place them under the Portafilter. You then press the brew button and the machine will then begin to dispense coffee into your cup(s). Once you have the required amount of liquid in your cups you need to press the brew button again to shut it off. Unfortunately there is no automatic shut-off point and the machine will continue to pour coffee until the water tank runs out! Once you've shut the water off you can remove the Portafilter and dump the soggy coffee grounds into a nearby bin. If you like your espresso strong and black you're done. Put your feet up and enjoy your brew. However, if you like your coffee whiter than white, you need to move onto the next stage and fire up the steamer.
It's best to use milk straight out the fridge as cold milk makes a better froth. Pour your milk into an empty cup or jug and then switch on the steam button. Once it flashes red you can start to steam your milk. Carefully insert the milk container below the steam spout/Pannarello/frother and then turn the silver knob anti-clockwise. The steamer attachment rotates so you get a nice cup of frothy milk in seconds (and you can also use the steamer simply for delivering hot water to make a cup of tea or other hot drinks if you don't want a coffee). You need to turn the milk container with slow upward movements so the milk is warmed evenly. This is quite a noisy process and I'm always slightly worried I'm going to scald myself as the steaming process can sound and feel quite ferocious at times. Once your milk container is full of a nice head of froth, you need to turn the steamer off by twisting the knob clockwise.
Pour your lovely frothy milk into your espresso and you're done - one perfect cappuccino or latte. A sprinkling of chocolate or cinnamon to the top of your froth finishes the drink off very nicely...and so does two or three chocolate biscuits. Delicious :o)
** MY CUP OVERFLOWTH **
My Gaggia really does make a delicious tasting cup of coffee every time. Whilst I don't run to Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee beans budget wise, I will treat myself to a decent blend given half a chance. Gaggia recommend that you use blends which have been ground especially for coffee machines as the grind will be finer. If you prefer to do your own grinding, you can of course buy coffee beans and do your own. We've had some of our best cups of coffee from Whittards blends, but Waitrose have some nice ones too. However, it has to be said that the best ground coffee we had was from Starbucks, though I'm ashamed to admit to using them. Although I was pretty annoyed with my partner for buying freshly ground coffee from Starbucks (I'm boycotting them over the recent revelations of their non-tax paying status in the UK), it did make the best coffee in our machine with a real depth of flavour and richness.
One of the nicest things about this coffee machine is the lovely layer of crema it creates with every cup of coffee. Evidently the Gaggia Cubika Plus coffee machine has an inbuilt Perfect Crema system in its filter holder which gives that lovely crema layer you only ever normally get at Starbucks or Costa. The milk frother is pretty good too and it doesn't take much effort to create a cup of boiling hot milk with a lovely head of foam.
Another huge plus point with this machine is that is it reasonably quiet. This model is a lot quieter than many espresso machines I've encountered, which often sound like a washing machine on a final spin cycle. Making the espressos themselves is nice and quiet, but the milk frothing process is slightly noisier.
** MY CUP RUNS DRY **
Whilst my Gaggia makes a superb cup of coffee, it's not all perfection in a cup here. This model has a rather serious design fault, which most purchasers seem to grumble about in one forum or another. The problem is that there is not enough space between the drip tray and the brew unit so you end up using two small espresso size cups to make the coffees. We then have to tip the contents into two bigger mugs once the espressos are brewed. Add in the fact that you need a fifth cup to warm the milk through and it makes for rather a lot of washing up simply for two cups of coffee. It would be much simpler if there was enough room to fit two medium sized mugs under the brew unit. Removing the drip tray and trying to get two mugs under the brew unit doesn't work either as there's simply not enough width space. You can *just about* get one mug under the brew unit by removing the drip tray, but not two.
The other grumble is that the coffee isn't particularly hot when it comes out. Despite the Gaggia having a heated cup stacking service, it does next to nothing to warm the cups through first. It's best to boil the kettle and warm your cups up with hot water if you like your coffee hotter than hot. It's not a massive problem for me, as I like my hot beverages lukewarm before I sip them anyway, but my partner often complains that his coffee is rather tepid.
** SCRUBS UP WELL? **
The Gaggia is very easy to keep clean. A simple wipe over with a soft damp cloth keeps the machine looking good. The steamer attachment does need to be cleaned every time you use it to froth milk otherwise it will become rather gunky and smelly after a while. However cleaning the steam spout with a wet cloth removes most of the milky debris. Likewise the Portafilter does need to be given a quick rinse after you've emptied out any old coffee grinds (we tip our old coffee grinds into the flowerbeds in our garden as they're ideal for keeping ants and slugs at bay).
We don't empty the drip tray every time as it's quite deep and will take a fair amount of liquid. However every few days I simply lift the drip tray out of the bottom of the machine and tip any coffee down the sink. The drip tray and grill only need a quick rinse with some Fairy Liquid and they then look as good as new.
** RECOMMENDED? **
I do love my Gaggia Cubika Plus as it always produces a lovely tasting cup of coffee with a very decent level of crema and a good head of milky froth. It's quick to work and relatively silent as it does its thing. It's also a classy looking unit and it scrubs up very well.
However, what is not so good is the amount of clearing up one has to undertake simply to get two cups of cappuccino or latte. Five cups to wash up, emptying the drip tray, cleaning out the coffee filter and wiping down the milk frother is quite a lot of phaffing about just for two cups of coffee. No one ever said that making an espresso wasn't going to be messy, but the design fault with this model means you end up with more mess than many machines. If there was simply more space between the drip tray and the brew station so one could use an ordinary sized mug this machine would get a full five stars from me. However, the fact that I have to use 4 or 5 cups every time I want two mugs of coffee means it loses a star. Because of all the cleaning up, having a cup of coffee from this machine is rather too involved to do it more than once or twice a day at the most (or you run out of clean cups!).
Recommended for espresso drinkers (but with reservations for cappuccino or latte lovers who don't like too much mess)
** TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS **
* Gaggia Cubika Plus model number RI8151/60
* Uses ground coffee and pods but not coffee beans or capsules
* 15 bar pump pressure
* Large 2.5 litre water tank
* Makes 1 or 2 cups of ground coffee
* Special filter for easy serve espresso pods
* Gaggia "Perfect Crema" system delivering a great crema layer to your cup
* Black all-metal body with a large stainless steel cup warming plate
* Pannarello steamer attachment rotates for easy frothed milk in seconds
* Removable drip tray
* Removable water tank
* Height 29.5cm Width 20cm and Depth 23cm
* Weight = 5.85 kg
* Non-slip feet
* Makes espresso, cappuccino, latte, Americano, mocha, macchiato - even iced
* Wattage 950W
Compact and stylish this Gaggia Coffee Maker will delight you with freshly made delicious tasting coffee. Presented in a sleek black finish it'll add a touch of sophistication to any home. Choose from café Americano cappuccino espresso latte ca