Gaggia has impressed me recently with its range of high-quality, good-value bean-to-cup machines. The models that I’ve tested have had a traditional steam wand, but the Babila is the first of the company’s coffee machines I’ve seen with an automatic milk-steaming unit.
Despite this, the Babila remains one of the smallest bean-to-cup machines I’ve tested.
Bean-to-cup machines can be rather hefty beasts, but the Gaggia Babila is one of the smallest (245 x 420 x 360mm). That makes it easy enough to tuck out of the way on a kitchen counter. As well as being small, the Babila looks great, too, and its metal body feels reassuringly robust. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is one high-quality coffee machine, at least from a build-quality point of view.
The water tank is housed under a flap on the left-hand side of the machine. This keeps the Babila looking neater from the outside. When you want to fill it, you can just pull the tank out and fill from under a tap, which makes the job straightforward.
A flap on the other side of the Babila hides the bean hopper. It’s big enough to take a standard-sized bag of beans. There’s a small flap on top that can take pre-ground coffee, too. The front of the machine is dominated by the quick-dispense buttons for the most common drinks. They’re neatly labelled and feel responsive to the touch.
The milk carafe can be held in place, but if you don’t want to use it, there’s a metal cover that hides the tubes. The only downside is that when you remove this cover, there’s nowhere to store it.
Gaggia Babila – Features
As this is a bean-to-cup machine, making coffee is a simple matter of tapping a button, letting the coffee machine grind and pour. To get things right, you may need to adjust the bean grind to suit the type of coffee you’re using. Inside the hopper, there’s an easily reachable dial, clearly marked with grind settings, which makes adjustments easy.
The Babila has dedicated buttons, programmed to dispense all of the most popular coffee recipes, from espresso and lungo up to latte and cappuccino. For the black coffee recipes, a double tap of the button dispenses two cups (or a double if you prefer). You can adjust the recipes to suit your tastes and cup sizes, but it’s fiddly.
When adjusting drink volume, you’re given a status bar (full means more liquid, empty is less), but there’s no indication of how much you’re dispensing. This turns the process into one of trial and error. It’s far better when coffee machines let you set the volume in millilitres.
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Gaggia Babila – Espresso quality
It’s important to get the right balance for your tastes, so be prepared to adjust a few settings to get your favourite shot of espresso. I found that setting the coffee strength to three (out of five) and upping the water temperature to the hot setting worked for me.
That produced a shot of espresso at 65°C; the default temperature setting was a little cold at 55°C. Once dispensed, the crema was a nice colour, but a little on the frothy side, bubbling down slightly quicker than I’d expect. An oilier consistency is what I look for, for perfection.
The taste of the espresso was pretty good. A touch on the bitter side, the coffee’s bold flavour was preserved, although a little subtlety was lost. Still, overall, the Gaggia Babila produced a decent shot of espresso quickly.
Gaggia Babila – Milk-based drink quality
Getting the milk carafe in place, the Babila can automatically steam and pour milk. I went with a cappuccino to see how good the coffee machine was. For taller cups, the dispensing spout can be removed entirely.
My first attempt was a bit of disaster, with my cappuccino cup overflowing; I had to adjust the drink volume the in the menus, using the fiddly menus.
Once I had the amount right, the result was good but not outstanding. Rather than neat microfoam, the milk was too frothy with bigger bubbles in it. Taste remains good, but I’ve seen bean-to-cup machines that are more capable than this one.
Gaggia Babila – Maintenance
The Babila has two drip trays to empty. There’s one on the front of the machine, and one inside, accessible by swinging the front panel forwards. The internal drip dray also has a holder for the used coffee pucks, with the Babila letting you know when it’s time to empty it.
Having two drip trays works quite well: a lot of bean-to-cup machines have a single, very long tray that’s hard to carry without a spillage; the two smaller trays are easier to work with. The brewing unit can be popped out of the front, which makes cleaning it easy.
When the Babila lets you know, you have to replace the water filter. It’s a straightforward job, with the manual taking you through the exact steps.
Descaling is just as easy, with the Babila letting you know when it’s time to clean, and the manual showing you the exact steps that you need to take. In day-to-day use, the Babila automatically rinses itself and, after making milk, runs a steam-clean programme.
Why buy the Gaggia Babila?
Its compact size and good-quality drinks make the Gaggia Babila an attractive choice, but the competition is tough. For a similar price, the Melitta Caffeo Barista TS produces better coffee, has a wider selection of drinks, and is easier to program. Alternatively, the Gaggia Anima produces excellent espresso and its manual steam wand lets you control how you make milk. It represents excellent value, too.