Gaggia Babila review: A stylish, capable bean-to-cup coffee machine
When it comes to coffee machines there’s no more evocative name in the industry than Gaggia. In 1938, the Italian brand filed a patent for the first “steamless” coffee machine, the grandaddy of all modern espresso machines – the first step along the road to what is, today, a multi-billion pound industry.
In the beginning, Gaggia produced machines solely for commercial use, but over the years, it’s also been a pioneer in home coffee machines – and it has used all its experience and expertise to produce the Gaggia Babila.
Gaggia Babila review: What you need to know
The Babila is a bean-to-cup machine in the same category as the Sage Barista Touch. It does things its own way, but largely it’ll achieve the same thing: that is producing a range of espresso-based drinks fully automatically, from grinding the beans, right through to frothing the milk for your and adding it in the correct proportions.
It’s customisable, so you can create your own recipes based on the coffee you prefer, there’s an automatic milk frother, and it looks pretty slick, too, all decked out in shiny chrome, topped with a monochrome OLED display and a phalanx of buttons. It’s a serious-looking machine with a matching price tag.
Gaggia Babila review: Price and competition
The Gaggia Babila’s list price is £1,199, but you can pick one up for closer to £1,000 if you look around and at that price there’s only one coffee machine you need to worry comparing it with: the Sage Barista Touch (read our full review here), which costs £999. This is just as stylish and produces a similar range of drinks, but despite the presence of a colour touchscreen, it takes a less automatic approach, encouraging you to froth your own milk rather and tamp the fresh grounds before brewing the coffee.
Gaggia Babila review: Design and features
If you like your coffee machines big and imposing, the Gaggia Babila is for you. It’s not only tall at 360mm but it’s also 420mm deep and 245mm wide and will need its very own space on your worktop. It looks the part, though, fronted with softly curved brushed aluminium adorned with an impressive number of spouts and attachments, most finished in shiny chrome.
Unusually, there’s no cup warmer up top but that’s because this is the place where you access the Babila’s coffee bean hopper and sizeable 1.5-litre water tank: by lifting two large, chrome-plated flaps upwards.
What you do get is a 15-bar double boiler, which means it can maintain different temperatures for steaming and brewing, and pretty much every other coffee-making feature you can think of, including an integrated “Aqua Clean” water filter, good for 5,000 cups of coffee and the facility to use ready ground coffee instead of beans.
I’m not sure why you’d want to do this with a proper automatic ceramic coffee grinder on hand, but if you run out of beans it might come in handy as an emergency backup.
Gaggia Babila review: Ease of use
If there’s something you definitely can’t accuse the Babila of it’s over-simplicity. With a total of 12 buttons on the font, that large OLED display and various swivelling, rotating and sliding attachments to deal with on the front, it’s a daunting sight, and it took me a while to get to grips with all of its features and the way they work.
Before you start, you need to prep and fit the water filter and fill the hopper with coffee beans, and if cappuccinos or macchiato lattes are your thing you’ll have to get your head around how the 0.5-litre milk carafe attaches, too.
I’m not too keen on the way the latter works. On a coffee machine this pricey I’d expect it to snick into place like a beautifully engineered door latch, but it feels at times as if something’s going to snap off when you shunt it into place. It’s also positioned oddly. With the carafe attached to the front, there’s only room for one cup under the spout.
Other than that, though, everything seems well-engineered and sensibly laid out. I particularly like the way the coffee spout at the front can be adjusted for height, and that you can use cups up to 150mm in height. Maintenance is pretty straightforward, too: to access the drip tray and used grounds collector, simply swing unlatch the front panel and swing it out of the way. The Babila even cleans the milk carafe’s frothing nozzle automatically, so dry crusty milk deposits are a thing of the past.
With everything topped up and ready to go, it’s remarkable how easy it is to make one of the Babila seven available drinks: just hit the appropriate button on the front, wait 30 seconds or so and out pops your drink. The Babila will make espresso, espresso macchiato, ristretto, latte macchiato, cappuccino, regular coffee and flat white. Oddly, there’s no Americano setting, but this is easily enough replicated by making an espresso and topping up with hot water via the steamer wand.
Gaggia Babila review: Coffee quality
I tested the Babila both in the office and against a professional grade coffee machine at Square Mile Coffee roasters, using the company’s popular Red Brick beans. As with initial setup, it took a little experimentation before I was able to get the espresso to taste just right. Out of the box, I found the default settings produced a rather watery espresso, lacking in the requisite oily, tangy zing.
But the key is that, once you’ve tweaked each drink setting to your preference, that the machine remembers your settings. From then on it’s simply a case of pressing the requisite button to reproduce the recipe.
And there’s basically every adjustment you can think of here. The first thing you’ll need to think about is how finely you want it to grind your beans: there are eight settings to choose from here, from coarse to super-fine, all adjusted via a simple dial in the top of the hopper.
Next, you can tinker with the on-machine settings, of which there are quite a few to get your head around and all of which affect the strength, flavour and appearance of the resulting brew. You can adjust “strength”, the “body”, the amount of coffee the machine produces, the amount of milk added and the temperature. A knob on the front allows you to tweak how much crema is produced and, as I mentioned above, all these settings can be applied to each type of drink individually and stored for use again next time.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the settings are a bit opaque in nature. For example, I’d prefer the strength and volume of coffee produced to be stated in grammes and millilitres. Instead, strength is indicated by an abstract series of coffee beans (5 is strong, 1 less so), and coffee volume indicated by a graphical progress bar, with no indication as to how this translates to the actual amount of coffee produced.
For coffee nerds who want to know about things like grammes to coffee ratios, this could prove frustrating. And the rather coarse foam the milk frother produces might offend the purists, too, although you can always manually steam your milk using the steamer wand if you prefer.
The bottom line is, though, once you know what you’re doing, it’s possible to get excellent results out of the Babila. And, most importantly, once you do settle on your favourite settings it’s child’s play to reproduce that same coffee time and time again. All you have to do is empty the drip tray and grounds every now and then.
Gaggia Babila review: Verdict
There’s no doubting the Gaggia Babila is a great bean-to-cup coffee machine. It looks great, it has all the tools you need to produce an impressive range of espresso-based drinks and, of course, the kudos of the Gaggia brand.
At this price, though, there’s plenty of competition. If you don’t mind putting in a little more effort then Sage’s Barista Touch produces better coffee, and it has to be said that some of Gaggia’s design decisions are a little on the odd side. However, once you’ve got the hang of the myriad controls, the Babila is capable of producing great coffee over and over again – and with a bare minimum of effort. And for a bean-to-cup machine, that’s what really matters.
For coffee aficionados who don’t want the bother of fiddling around with tamping and scraping and knocking out, it’s a dream machine – as long as you have a grand to spare.