Having worked in Italy for years, and returning to Italy on every occasion I can, I sure couldn't live without the "Italian coffee", although everybody knows there is no such thing as "Italian coffee", there is just coffee, but prepared "the Italian way".
So I looked out for a good espresso machine, and finally decided that the Gaggia was the one to go for. First of all, Giovanni Achille Gaggia is the inventor of the espresso machine, so Gaggia does have a lot of experience in this matter.
After some looking around, I decided to go for the "semi automatic" machine, which is what you see in Italian coffee bars. It is called semi automatic because you have some manual work to do, like grinding the coffee, putting the coffee in the lever handle, tamping the coffee, ... . Finally, the machine "pushes" the water on the right temperature and the right pressure through the tampered coffee... this is what one could call the automatic part. At the end, the removal of the coffee-pad, the cleaning, ... is - again - a manual job. The manual machine is the one where even the "pushing of the water through the coffee" is done manually, by means of a piston, The automatic machine is the one found universally in the modern kitchen, where everything happens at the push of a single button. But Italian coffee-bars still use the semi-automatic machines, so I decided that - for me - that was the way to go.
Not finding Gaggia represented in Belgium, I bought my Gaggia during a trip in Italy. The machine you see here is my Gaggia Milady, which is a discontinued model, which is now replaced by the Gaggia Classic (which will be the one I'll buy when my Milady will die).
Next to the espresso-machine itself, I needed a grinder. Yes, another common mistake... you hear people speak about "espresso-coffee". Here again, there is no such thing as "espresso-coffee". There is just coffee, grinded the "espresso way". Coffee for espresso must be grinded much "finer", that's all. So you need a special grinder for this. The Gaggia grinder I own (as shown in the picture on the right) has 34 positions, so that you can experiment until you find the correct grinding position. And yes, this varies upon the coffee beans you buy, not al lot in my experience, but it can vary.
To make a correct espresso, you need to extract 25 a 30 ml of "coffee" in about 20 a 25 seconds. The machine is responsible for the correct water temperature and pressure, while the "barista" is responsible for the correct "grinding" and "tamping". The "grinding" determines how fine your coffee is. With "tamping", the goal is to create a pellet of coffee through which the hot water from the espresso machine will penetrate evenly. Since the water from the espresso machine is under pressure, the espresso pellet must be hard and evenly tamped. The water only knows how to go from a region of high pressure to a region of low pressure. Therefore it is important to prevent paths of least resistance in the coffee pellet and force the water to evenly permeate and extract the coffee.