When it comes to coffee, I am a purist. My first choice is espresso… no sugar, no flavors, just pure, wonderful joy in a little cup. When I’m at home and I want something that won’t be gone in 60 seconds, I make an Americano, which is simply a double shot of espresso with enough hot water added to it to fill a normal coffee cup. I don’t add anything to those, either. In a pinch, I settle for regular drip coffee, but I tend to add a little hazelnut creamer to it because the coffee where I work stinks.
It’s nice to have a home espresso maker, but it can quickly become an obsession. The general consensus for making espresso at home is that, for the most part, there are three main components: the machine, the grinder and the beans. There are near infinite variations on these themes, like the weight used to tamp the grounds, dosing just the right amount of espresso into the portafilter, etc, but that is for another time.
Concerning the machine, I’ve learned to trust the advice out there that this really isn’t the most important part of the deal. True espresso requires a minimum of about 8 atm of pressure (around 120 PSI) to extract the coffee properly. As long as a machine can produce the requisite pressure, the rest is sort of details. I went with a refurbed Gaggia Espresso from Whole Latte Love for under $150. It doesn’t even look like they sell that model anymore, replaced by something prettier. Mine is pictured on the right. It’s a decent machine. Once you ditch the frother attachment thingie, it does a serviceable job of frothing milk, the portafilter is a stout 58mm. It’s a fine machine, especially considering the price I paid.
Second on the list of primary components for making espresso at home is the grinder, which goes hand-in-hand with #3, the beans. The grinder is where the real money is spent. It’s virtually impossible to buy a grinder good enough for espresso for under $200, and until fairly recently, one worth buying new would be closer to the $300-$400 range! Ouch! I haven’t made a commitment yet, but it looks like my personal decision for a grinder is coming down to the Cunil Tranquilo or the Le’Lit PL53. They are both serious, dedicated espresso grinders and both run around the $250 mark. Ouch!
Grinding coffee for espresso is really, really important. The grinds need to be uniform without any big chunks or dust to sneak through the portafilter. Consistency is everything. A mediocre grind will, along with a few other factors I won’t get into, cause over or underextraction of the espresso, creating crap in a cup.
The other part of this story is the beans. You need fresh ones. Always. So, it can become an obsession to be out buying fresh beans every few days, grinding them perfectly, etc. What a lot of people end up evolving to is the mad scientist at home roasting their own green beans every few days. The labor of good coffee borders on obsession, truly!
So, in the meantime I settle with cans of pre-ground espresso from the grocery store. For what I can buy around here, I like Alessi Caffé Espresso. It costs about $6 per can. I’s not like fresh, so it doesn’t give the best extraction no matter how I tamp it, but the bottom line is that it is still better than most cups of coffee I can get locally, and I am not spending $2.50 at a coffee shop to have my little espresso shot, although there is at least one place here in Kansas City that is well worth the price of the shot (and it’s under $2, but it’d be worth it at $10!).
The bottom line is that I decided to be fancy this morning and I also needed to get rid of some milk in the fridge, so I made myself a latté. Was it good? Yeah, not bad at all. It cost me about 50 cents to make, so that made it taste a lot better! lol